Age of consent and child abuse

This week Human Rights barrister Barbara Hewson  called for the age of Consent to be lowered to 13 in response to the “persecution of old men” by the police involved in Operation Yewtree.  Miss Hewson believes that men arrested in relation to sexual offences should be given special dispensation to be anonymous  (unlike any other criminal offence) and that prosecutions should not be brought for older offences.  Worse still Miss Hewson seems to mock and belittle victims of sexual abuse who have suffered anything less than a murder or a gang rape.

It is, in my view, precisely this type of attitude that has allowed predators such as Saville et al to continue unchecked with sections of society who in some cases have colluded with the abusers by bringing them into contact with young girls and boys or turning a “blind-eye” to abuse that was clearly being carried out.

The law of consent is there as a protective measure to make it clear that sex with a child – with or without “consent” is wrong and that those who violate this will be punished by the criminal law.  The law recognises that girls under 16 often may not be able to give their full informed consent particularly when the other party is far older and perhaps in a position of power or authority. It is extremely rare for prosecutions to be brought against the 15 year old boyfriend who has sex with his 15 year old girlfriend.  However if the “boyfriend” is 58 then that surely it is a vastly different matter?  Some of the victims of the Rochdale sexual exploitation cases were 16 or older however most would agree that they were clearly abused by men who were usually much older and that the girls were targeted by them because they were vulnerable young people and seen by the perpetrators as easy prey that nobody cared about.

The law regarding sexual consent has been fixed at 16 since the 1800’s so it is hardly a new-fangled  cultural attitude which suddenly, in 2013, finds sex with children abhorrent leaving hapless old entertainers caught wondering whatever happened to the good-old days when sex with children was the norm.

Many victims of abuse do not feel able to talk about their ordeal to anyone until long after it has stopped and therefore often allegations of abuse are historical however just because the perpetrator has psychologically damaged the victim to such an extent that it takes them years to find the courage to speak out should not mean that they get away with it.  In addition to this victims of sexual abuse have often been let down by the police and the CPS in the past meaning that their complaints were not taken seriously – allegations about Saville were being made since the 1960’s however nothing was done.

If Saville and Hall had not been named by the police it is unlikely that they would have been able to obtain the evidence required. It was said that the accounts of many unrelated children and young people were so similar that evidentially the case against them was very strong.  If alleged perpetrators were not named then many victims would not come forward as it is only when they realise that they will not be a lone voice and that it is being taken seriously, that they feel able to speak out.

Crimes such as sexual abuse and domestic abuse are well known to be perpetrated by serial offenders making it more likely than many other crimes that there will be more than one victim.  For these reasons it is essential that the current system of naming the alleged perpetrator is retained whilst maintaining the belief of innocent until proven guilty.

Hewson’s argument that children should simply brush off sexual abuse that does not meet the severity of rape and murder is insulting to victims of abuse and fails to realise the devastating effects of sexual abuse on victims.  To describe the acts of Saville and Hall as “low level misdemeanours” is highly derogatory and fallacious.  The youngest of Saville’s victims is said to have been only 9 and it was said by the enquiry that the offences also included the rape of a 13 year old.

This bizarre protection of paedophiles suggests once again that the victims were to blame, that the majority of allegations of sexual abuse are false or that actually sexual abuse isn’t that bad really and young girls should just get used to it and quit complaining.

Keir Starmer the head of the CPS recently made clear that false allegations of sexual abuse are very rare however sexual assaults continue to be treated as fantasy by some – a view which allows abusers to get away with it.

Miss Hewson offers no real explanation as to why she believes that the age of consent should be lowered to 13 other than to prevent perpetrators from being prosecuted – however she does highlight that the law regarding the age of consent was enacted in the 1800’s when girls didn’t reach puberty until 15 whereas now it is 10 years old, does this mean that the age of consent should be lowered to 10? Or that once a girl reached puberty she is “fair game” whatever her emotional maturity?

The justice system has been working over the years to improve the way it deals with victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence and the views expressed by Miss Hewson are thankfully not those of the majority of professionals working within it.  Victims need to feel able to come forward and speak about these issues and should be able to expect that they will not be met with the prejudice that was rife in the past and fortunately now is the exception.

It is a heinous that adults and particularly children are ever sexually abused and this is compounded tenfold if the allegations are not dealt with adequately.  Successful prosecutions should result in justice for the complainant, punishment of the perpetrator and potential futures victims being protected.

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  1. Great article Rachel, full of common sense and a good grasp of an illogical and clearly deluded barrister! Look forward to more interesting articles!


    1. Thank you Saj that’s very kind! You don’t expect to hear things like that from people who should know better. Just shows we still have a long way to go but the reaction from so many against her comments has been given me hope!


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