Should the age of consent be lowered?
In an article for Spiked, (http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/13604/) Barbara Hewson, a well-known barrister specialised in reproduction rights, argues that the age of consent should be lowered to ‘stop the persecution of old men’. She also wrote that, ‘Touching a 17-year-old’s breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting one’s hand up a 16-year-old’s skirt’ is not comparable to atrocities such as gang rape and should be seen as ‘low-level misdemeanours’. In the concluding paragraph, she argues for a reduction of the age of consent to 13, the removal of the anonymity that victims receive in the media and in courts and a strict statute to prevent prosecutions after a set amount of time has passed since the alleged offences. Is Barbara arguing for an update of the justice system or is she just being outrageous?
Some may support Hewson in that there are ‘lower level’ sexual crimes. In the UK, the age of consent is currently 16 but it is not exactly enforced. If two under 16s have sex, the authorities do not care. It only becomes an issue if one party complains that they did not give consent or if someone of age has sex with someone underage. Several surveys will show that the vast majority of teenagers lose their virginities before or close to the age of consent. The lax enforcement of the age of consent may cause some to agree somewhat with Hewson. However, touching and kissing a teenager is only a minor crime if it is committed by a fellow teenager, who only meant to touch and kiss. The difference between these crimes and the likes of Saville etc are that they were fully grown men committing offences against children, who did not give consent or did not know what was happening, and they most likely intended to go much further. The victims in those cases have probably suffered greatly. Being groped one day, whilst still technically sexual assault, is not along the same lines as the offences investigated in the Yewtree investigation. I agree with Hewson’s comment about the low level misdemeanours but they are only low level if only committed once and by a person of similar age, of course, there are many grey areas. On the other hand, those low-level crimes become major crimes if committed over a substantial amount of time, to many victims or by a much older person. The persecution of anyone who commits such a crime, no matter how long ago, is just and should happen.
In a country where you cannot get behind the wheel until you are 17, cannot drink or be seen as a legal adult in your own right until you are 18, there appears to be no reason why the age of consent should be changed. When you are 13, you are only just experiencing puberty, how can you be mature enough to decide whether you want to have sex? Lowering the age of consent would imply that the government believes that at that age, you are intelligent enough to decide what to do with your body, when you most certainly are not. Aged 13, you have only just begun secondary education, it is your choice if you decide to have sex, but the age of consent should definitely not be lowered as it would give the wrong impression. The NSPCC said her ‘ill-informed and outdated’ views ‘beggars belief’ and this was echoed by many victims involved in the Yewtree investigation and I wholeheartedly agree.
In the wake of Hewson’s comments, there has been a sort of witch hunt for her. She wrote on her Twitter that people had called for her to be raped and to be ‘hunted into obscurity’. One article on Spiked (http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/13612/) was somewhat in favour of her in that Furedi said that the response to her comments was a ‘moral lynching.’ Unfortunately, I have little sympathy for her, especially since her comments were made around the time of the Cleveland girls being freed. A Google search for her comes up with no news stories in support of her views. Many comment pieces write that 13 year olds may be thinking about sex, but are not emotionally or physically ready to make such a decision and so the laws in place should stay there. To quote an article on the Action Institute website, (http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/lower-the-age-of-consent-to-13-why-stop-there/) ‘Lowering the age of consent would simply put a stamp of approval on predatory behavior. Ms. Hewson, as an officer of the court, you should know better. For shame.’