Some people should engage brain before talking. This morning the news comes that a prominent lawyer has suggested that the legal age of consent for sex should be lowered from 16 to 13. OK, you might think, perhaps there's some clever legal argument or something, so you read on. Unfortunately then the wheels come off her argument, her reasoning is that it would end the current spate of prosecutions of aged celebrities for their youthful sex crimes. As if we lived in a world in which unwarranted sexual attentions were merely comedy in the style of the Benny Hill Show and it was somehow excusable for a dirty old man to molest a schoolgirl or schoolboy.
The trouble is, we do need to have a national conversation about teenage sexuality. At the moment we infantilise our young adults until their sixteenth birthday, at which point they are somehow magically ready for relationship with whoever they choose. Yet we tacitly acknowledge that a percentage of under age teens are sexually active. We are quite rightly concerned about inappropriate attention to the extent of imagining paedophiles lurking behind every lamp post, yet our culture will quite happily ogle teenage celebrities without the tiniest shred of guilt.
It seems insane to me that a consenting teenage relationship strays from a grey area of semi-official disregard into outright illegality when one partner turns sixteen, while a 40-something could legally have a sexual relationship with a teenager one day after their sixteenth birthday. The former criminalises the innocent while the latter legalises the questionable at best.
It's an area in which angels fear to tread, but in not doing so we do our teenagers a disservice. We need to recognise that as young adults they are between childhood and adulthood, and capable of making some of their own decisions while still needing some protection under the law.
Our lawyer in the link at the top of the page seems to be more interested in excusing the criminal actions of dirty old men than protecting the interests of young adults. One does not however join her in the rape apology camp by saying a consenting teenage couple whose ages span a sixteenth birthday should not be criminalised.
Sadly though this debate is forever doomed to descend into a mire of "think of the children" politics. And as always those who gain least are the young adults themselves, because one thing you can guarantee is this: nobody will have asked them.