Thursday, 9 May 2013

Teenage minefield

    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.


  1. I think many of us will have read about this Jenny and will have formed an opinion one way or another. The things you say are quite right but I would add my own thoughts by saying yes, some young people are capable of making up their own minds. However whilst hormones are whizzing about all over the place many decisions made may be ill-reasoned. It is for this reason that we have a set age for legal consent but that age should be raised high enough to ensure those more vulnerable remain protected. Setting the bar too low will cause more of our youngsters to be vulnerable as they make the wrong decisions through naivety and immaturity. Personally I think the bar should be raised to 18 when most will be mature enough to understand the consequences of their actions. In an ideal world children obey their parents and abide by the law but we all know that doesn't always apply. This prompts the question how much or how far do we go to ensure their protection without being interfering busy-bodies?
    If celebrities or anyone else is found guilty of breaking the law in these matters they should pay the price, else having the law is meaningless.

    Shirley Anne x

  2. The consideration that you're a child, incapable of decisions, is up to 18 over here in the States!
    (And you can't buy alcohol until you're 21.)

  3. The American alcohol age limit is a wonderful demonstration of how laws have to have public consent to be meaningful. British kids don't know what a fake ID is.

    Of course young adults need legal protection from predatory adults. My concern when writing this piece was that there is none for the over-sixteens while we like to pretend there is no sexual activity at all among the under-sixteens. Both of which stances are IMHO crazy.

    If it were me I'd wish my children didn't have to think about it until they were in their twenties. But I know that's not feasible. So if I were the Government I'd have a two-tier system with a general age of consent higher, say 18, and a restricted age of consent from say 15 onwards with strict limits on age difference. And I'd back it up with meaningful education about contraception, STDs, the ability to say "no", the responsibilities of childcare and the true meaning of spending a life hounded by the CSA for maintenance payments.

  4. I like the idea of limiting the age range for sexual relationships of young people, Jenny! -even when some things are legal there is a strong sense of wrongness about them, sometimes. (Thinking of rather skanky muso type I know who had relationship with 16-year-old girl, with her parents' apparent blessing, and me thinking NOOO!)

  5. Indeed, just because something's legal doesn't make it right.

    That said, I was appalled when in my late 20s a contemporary took up with a 16 year old. 16 years later they've been married well over a decade and their son's well on at school.