Illiberal sexual offences and the age of consent

England and Wales' sexual offences, particularly regarding young people, are ridiculous and overly restrictive. The "abuse of a position of trust" offences relating to persons under the age of 18 but over the age of 16 should be scrapped (with the obvious exception of young people in mental health institutions) and sexual intercourse between people under the age of consent should be decriminalised within particular conditions described below.

The age of criminal responsibility for sexual offences (a group of selectively defined offences) should be raised to 13, and people over the age of 13 should be allowed to have consenting relations with another person between the ages of 13 and 15. In addition, people over the age of 14 would be allowed to have consenting sexual relations with a person no more than 4 years older than them (i.e: a 14 year-old and an 18 year-old, a 15 year-old and a 19 year-old). This move would not abolish the age of consent but would water it down slightly, providing a 'cascading' effect as young people take on increasing maturity before attaining a full right to consent at 16.

Why does this idea matter?

As I stated in the introduction above, the laws on sexual offences in England and Wales are restricitive and contradict the notion of liberty. They are the product of a moralising and prudish Victorian era in which the ruling classes were convinced that their behaviour was the best example for the rest of the country to follow.

Insulating young people in cotton wool does not work to protect them and nor is it in their best interests. A high age of consent, coupled with restrictive rules and an almost Puritan atttitude on the part of the public has conspired to make the subject of sex taboo and substantially weaken the teaching of sex education in schools. Many┬áteachers are wary when dealing with students under the age of consent lest they be accused of ‘corrupting’ their innocent minds, and the students themselves cannot be frank out of fear they reveal their own (illegal) sexual exploits.

Maturity and majority do not develop overnight and the law must change to reflect this; to allow a gradual and well thought-out transition from childhood to adulthood, a very generalised minimum age to act as a kind of watershed is of little use. Indeed, on the face of it the notion of ‘innocence’ is probably more damaging than the notion of ‘promiscuity’.

These claims are asserted by human biology: in the 1880s (when the original age of consent of 13 was first raised to 16) the average age for the onset of puberty was 16 for a girl and 17 for a boy, today that has fallen to 12 for a girl and 13 for a boy. The case for reforming this outdated law is surely evident to all.

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