Friday, 22 November 2013

The Never-ending Debate on the Age of Consent - a Countdown.

John Ashton
"He claims that lowering the age would make it easier for 15 year-olds to seek contraception and sexual health advice from the NHS and would "draw a line in the sand" against sex at 14 and younger. "My own view is there is an argument for reducing it to 15 but you cannot do it without the public supporting the idea and we need to get a sense of public opinion about this," he said in the interview."
Peter Tatchell
"The existing consent at 16 law was introduced over 100 years ago in a puritanical Victorian era. Since then, society has moved on to more informed and enlightened attitudes about sex. Most importantly, the average age of puberty and sexual arousal has fallen dramatically to around ten to 11. In the light of new evidence, the issue should be revisited and re-examined."
"Any review of the consent laws should be premised on five aims. First, ending the criminalisation of consenting relationships between teens of similar ages. Second, protecting young people against sex abuse. Third, empowering them to make responsible sexual and emotional choices. Fourth, removing the legal obstacles to earlier, more effective sex and relationship education. Fifth, ensuring better contraception and condom provision to prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions and to cut the spread of sexual infections like HIV."

Luke Bozier

"Lower the Age of Consent to 13, which is the current average age of puberty onset + 2 years. This standard should be tested every ten years, with the Department of Health being required to produce a standard definition of the average age of puberty each decade."
Barbara Hewson
"As for law reform, now regrettably necessary, my recommendations are: remove complainant anonymity; introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions; and reduce the age of consent to 13."
The past few months have seen quite a few news articles concerning the existing age of consent in the UK, and calls for it to be lowered. Firstly by Barbara Hewson back in May, then in the past couple of weeks by John Ashton and Peter Tatchell. In amongst these three, the gem of a blog by Luke Bozier in which he discusses legalising prostitution for anyone over the age of consent (ie 13 in his ideal world), redefining "child pornography" (his words not mine), and legalising necrophilia (with prior consent of both parties prior to death) - not going into this though, you'll have to read his blog if you want to find out more.
Now, regarding the ever present AoC debate, why is it continually being brought up on a regular basis? What is the problem with leaving it as it is - ie 16?
In all the above articles, the underlying reasons for this call to lower the age of consent seems to be the fact that teenagers are having their first sexual experience when they are under 16. In my opinion, just because teenagers are experimenting prior to the age of consent is not a good reason for lowering it.
So, questions -
  • Using this methodology then, shouldn't we be reducing the age of consent for alcohol and tobacco to maybe 13 or 14 as well? After all, a lot of teenagers are drinking and smoking as well. What's the difference? Just because teenagers are experimenting prior to the age of consent is not a reason for lowering it. Thoughts anyone?
  • Peter Tatchell implies in his article that teenagers are "being criminalised" and are ending up on the Sexual Offenders register and getting criminal records for this - "being lumped together with paedophiles and rapists". Over the past decade in the UK, exactly how many teenagers have been criminalised in this way? Rather than generalising in this manner & (deliberately?) scaremongering, perhaps Mr Tatchell could provide accurate figures for this as I don't know of any that I have seen.
  • Three out of the four people above have purely called for the age of consent to be lowered. No indication of whether plans would be put in place to protect 13-16 year olds from child abusers and paedophiles. Only Mr Tatchell has indicated putting measures in place to protect this age group by having a two tiered system similar to other countries. The other three have basically opened to door to exploitation and abuse - and therefore cannot and should not be taken seriously in any way.
  • Regarding the above statement, and although he has indicated a two tiered system, I disagree with Mr Tatchells argument as although it seemingly closes the door to the potential exploitation by older predators, it opens the door to the pressure of having sex at an earlier age. I would imagine that there are plenty of teenagers of 14 or 15 who use the age of consent as a valid argument - a reason for them not to be pressured into having sex by slightly older peers until they are 16. I would also imagine that this reason does work in a lot of cases. By lowering the AoC to 14, this removes this protective barrier and will result in more pressure for youngsters.
  • Professor Ashton indicates in his article that "lowering the age would make it easier for 15 year-olds to seek contraception and sexual health advice from the NHS and would "draw a line in the sand" against sex at 14 and younger". Has professor Ashton never heard of Brook here and here? I am sure there are other equally good organisations that offer the same advice as Brook does. Poor argument in my opinion.
  • The other underlying justification in the articles is that teenagers are reaching puberty at an earlier age. Is this a good enough reason? What about emotional and mental readiness - are younger teenagers developing earlier mentally and emotionally as well as physically?
  • Lastly are there any other reasons such as more peer pressure, the greater accessibility of pornography and the sexualisation of youngsters, drinking etc that are contributing to teenagers having sexual experiences at an earlier age than they might have been years or decades ago? If there are, is this a good enough reason to just lower the AoC on this basis?
So here is the simple solution. Leave it at 16. Why the need to change it? Personally I think that we have it about right here in the UK.


  1. The body might develop the urge and feeling to have sex at that age,but the brain and sense of some will not be fully developed.Again there will be someone there,ready to exploit them.

  2. IMO children and particularly teenagers do NOT need protecting form sex. But they need to learn in a safe and healthy environment.

    Early healthy sexual attitudes (or even experiences) may be important in preventing the development of perversions and Paraphilia.

    On the other hand, some of the characters you cite above seem to have been involved in a decades long campaign to make children available for sex in a legislative free-for-all.

    Peter Tatchell is a left of centre gay activist. Other than that I know little about him but I was struck by the good sense and balance of his quote.

    Any debate on the Age of Consent must also involve debate on RAISING IT in certain circumstances. Perhaps to 18 where the elder person is in a power/influence relationship - carer, teacher, lecturer etc. or even arguably a 'priest'.

    There are also biological and social sex differences which should perhaps not be ignored in legislation even where an unsophisticated approach might seem to be at odds with quite correct concerns for equality in sex and sexuality. It may be possible to partially frame situations in terms of the more active and the more passive participants with the responsibility of care being primarily on the older or more powerful individual.
    In parallel with the criminal law here could be civil law arranged to reinforce a "duty of care" where appropriate with financial or compensation repercussions.

    I make no apology for the following being recycled from a previous comment on one of your postings.


    IMO children and particularly teenagers do NOT need protecting form sex. But they need to learn in a safe and healthy environment. It may be that some more mature teenagers healthy development would benefit from sex before the age of 16, safely & within their own age group. Sexual frustration, unguided imagination and also the availability of extreme porn put developing youngsters at risk of psychological attachment to un-real sexual experience which may skew their attitudes. The sexual instinct is irrepressible, artificially repressing it will likely cause it to burst out in inappropriate directions which may become habitual.
    I should like my own children to wait, but ultimately it is far more important to me that their sexual experiences are happy, healthy and free of coercion -far more important than the actual age of their first sex.

    Coercion can more broadly include manipulation or manipulative behaviour, and an adult wanting sex can be capable of manipulation far beyond the understanding or experience of a young teenager even if it stops far short of the blackmail and entrapment techniques discussed in the article. Victims may understand immediately or only years later how they have been used or violated and were no more special than a long line of other youngsters befriended or targeted by the paedophile, Hebephile or Ephebophile.

    Age of consent legislation will always be problematic but it does give a level of protection to the vulnerable who need it. Lowering the age of consent to 13 would lead 'lambs to the slaughter' - possibly literally as sexual activity and rebelliousness may take teenagers into bad company and dangerous situations, not to mention the danger of STDs and AIDS -and bullying and suicide.

    Unmitigated changes to the age of consent could cause massive imbalance of power issues too countless to list. For example, would a 13 year old feel in a position to argue if the "grown up" wanted to take pictures or said that they did not need to use a condom? Would the child be consenting, or would they just be doing as they were told -like at school?
    A girl could legally get pregnant at 13 but she would still be at school and she would have to wait half a decade before she could buy alcohol - that's mad !

  3. lancet / natsal / guardian - further to my comment above

    *** "somebody who has been victimised at a young age is much more likely to be victimised later" ***

    The findings from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) survey ....
    ..... schools needed to address sexual coercion, which had become "normalised … with rape at the extreme end of the spectrum".

    Those surveyed were asked "whether anyone has ever actually made them have sex against their will" and 9.8% of women said they had, at an average age of 18. For men the equivalent figure was 1.4%, according to the research, which is published in the Lancet today.

    Macdowall said that there was a need for early intervention in schools to help address the problem "before those gender stereotypes are developing" and because "somebody who has been victimised at a young age is much more likely to be victimised later".

    "We know that people who have experienced what would meet the legal definition of rape do not describe it as such. We've always known police reports are the tip of the iceberg and there's always been the suspicion the crime survey figures are low."

    Among female victims who were aged 13 to 15 when the event occurred, a family member or friend was responsible in nearly half of cases (45.2%), while for women aged 25 and over, a former or current partner was responsible in seven out of every 10 cases.

    The responses also confirmed huge under-reporting by victims, with 12.9% of women saying that they had reported the matter to the police, compared with 8% of male victims.

    "We need to start thinking about sex differently – sexual health is not merely the absence of disease, but the ability to have pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free from coercion.
    "Improving the quality of peoples' sexual experiences and their relationships will not just improve the effectiveness of sexual health programmes, but is also something that is important in its own right."

    More detail at

    "In Britain one woman in 10 and one man in 70 have experienced sex against their will since they turned 13. More than half of them have never told a soul."

    Based on natsal2012 ....