WHAT a time to be alive – the counterculture is upon us! After the rape and sex pest allegations against Russell Brand, and hot on the heels of #MeToo, comes the debate on the age of consent.
It has occurred to people musing over their soya decaff lattes that perhaps, just perhaps, there is something fundamentally wrong about a thirtysomething man having sex with a 16-year-old girl. As long she consents it’s all legal, it’s all fine, but these days, in 2023 and not 1973, well, it seems a bit wrong – in the moral sense. So from the left to the right some people are of the view that it is ‘time to rethink the age of consent’.
The Guardian reports: ‘There are growing calls for the laws and social norms around the age of consent to be reassessed after allegations that Russell Brand sexually assaulted a 16-year-old when he was in his 30s.
‘The alleged victim, who told the Sunday Times that Brand had a three-month relationship with her which started in 2006, has called for a debate around staggered ages of consent.
‘Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour this week, the woman known by the alias Alice said: ‘There’s a reasonable argument [that] individuals between the ages of 16 and 18 can have relations with people within that same age bracket,’ adding that there should be a way to prevent older adults from exploiting 16- and 17-year-olds. ‘You’re allowed to make mistakes as a teenager, they should be with other people your own age.’
This seems reasonable enough. The argument seems to be that it’s fine for 16-year-olds to go at it with each other, but fornicating with a 30-year-old is exploitation. In such cases the 16-year-old girl doesn’t really consent, she is ‘groomed’. I notice you can blame ‘grooming’ on all the idiotic mistakes you make as a young adult and look back on with regret.
So please, can someone protect the vulnerable 16- and 17-year-olds who despite the fact they will shout at their parents that ‘you can’t tell me what to do any more’ are now to have some sort of zone of protection that will hold the adult men who exploit their stupidity and vulnerability criminally responsible for such exploitation? Fair enough. I’m all in.
It should be noted that Alice’s mother, after driving her to Russell Brand’s house, did in fact ask Alice not to go in. The Sunday Times: ‘When [Brand] invited her over on his 31st birthday, Alice’s mother insisted on driving her, to emphasise to him that this was a girl with loving parents. When Alice’s mother went to meet Brand on the doorstep, Alice says that he blocked the door and ‘leant down and kissed my mother on the mouth’. She says that afterwards her mother was ‘very, very upset’ at Brand’s behaviour and pleaded with Alice to come home with her, but Alice chose to stay.’
It wasn’t just Alice’s mother who tried to protect from her having relations with Brand. A complete stranger, in the form of a taxi driver, tried to do the same. ‘As her taxi approached Russell Brand’s home, Alice remembers the driver begging her not to go inside. Recognising the destination, he had started to ask questions. Alice admitted she was 16 and still in school. She says the driver replied that his daughter was the same age and entreated Alice, “Please, I’m asking you not to go in there, you could be my little girl, and I would want someone to do this for her.” He offered to take her home without charge, but Alice insisted she was fine. “He had just such a sad look in his eyes,” she recalls.’
Now Alice looks back with regret. Would a ‘staggered age of consent’ have protected her? Perhaps. Perhaps it would have prevented self-confessed sex addicts such as Russell Brand taking advantage of her, which is what this was.
Anyway, I am old enough to remember when the fashion was to call for lowering the age of consent. Sure, the youth were all at it, and we should just accept it. In 1979, ‘Home Office advisers argued that the age of consent be lowered from 16 to 14 and called for a dramatic reduction in statutory punishments for “consensual” sex with girls as young as 12, according to an internal 1979 research study obtained by the Guardian.’
We are told: ‘The authors of the study from the Home Office research unit suggested the overall age of consent be lowered so that “sexual behaviour with a girl over the age of 13 (the average age of puberty) is not criminal, provided that she was clearly as aware of what she was doing, and its implication as might be expected of a girl of 16”. Roy Walmsley and Karen White, the authors of the home Office booklet Sexual Offences, Consent and Sentencing, argued that many girls reach puberty before their tenth birthday and may not only want sex but initiate it themselves.’ How lovely, I just wonder where those authors are now? Ah, the 70s, when people in the Home Office thought girls of 13 should be fair game.
And let’s not forget the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) was gaining some traction among the idiotic and stupid. The Guardian: ‘PIE had been campaigning for the removal of any age of consent, arguing that a child of four should be able to communicate verbally and that at ten the majority of children can communicate their consent or otherwise to a sexual act.’
In 2013, Professor John Ashton, then president of the Faculty of Public Health, said the age of consent should be lowered by a year from 16 to 15. He said society had to accept that about a third of all boys and girls were having sex at 14 or 15, and the change would make it easier for 15-year-olds to get sexual health advice from the NHS. Professor Ashton said lowering the age of consent by a year could ‘draw a line in the sand’ against sex at 14 or younger.
Thankfully, the then Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour all opposed any lowering of the age of consent. Unsurprisingly, a lawyer representing 72 of the victims of Jimmy Savile warned against any move to reduce the age of consent. Liz Dux said: ‘Predatory adults would be given legitimacy to focus their attention on even younger teenagers and there is a real risk that society would be sending out the message that sex between 14- to-15-year-olds is also acceptable.’
What I’m saying is that the views on what should be the age of consent go in and out of fashion. When being ‘socially liberal’ is all the rage, people want to lower it. In the era of #MeToo, people want it raised. Clearly, the motivation of those previously calling for lowering the age of consent is very different. One was for public health reasons, but others such as PIE always lurk in the corner and their reasons are purely evil and exploitative.
This is why arguments to lower the age of consent are always for the naive and gullible: given the amount of sexual exploitation of children and teenagers which has been revealed in the last two decades; from Jimmy Savile to the Catholic Church, the US gymnastics team and Asian grooming gangs, children and teenagers deserve greater protection not less. People might be ‘experts’ in the area of mental health but they are clearly fools when it comes to understanding the dark side of human nature.
I imagine drafting laws on ‘staggered consent’ would be very difficult but not impossible. Perhaps the next time we conservatives oppose the latest move to liberalise a law that would obviously lead to exploitation of the vulnerable, we will not be dismissed as mere reactionaries. Sure enough, a decade or so later, our opposition will be seen as both moral and logical.