Monday, 23 February 2009

The Law, the Government, Teenagers...and Sex

The Times and the Mail are suitable outraged about a new government leaflet on talking to your children about sex. The outrage arises from the fact that the leaflet will apparently suggest that parents consider avoiding banging on about right and wrong when telling their kids about the birds and the bees, apparently because of the fear that said children will switch off and stop listening if it becomes a lecture, rather than a groovy bonding session about johnnies. A conservative Christian is wheeled out by both papers to condemn this government-sponsored hostility to morality.

The advice, which talks about 'teenagers', is aimed, officials have confirmed, at all teenagers, not just those over the age of consent, because children under the age of consent have sex too. And the advice is not to prevent such children having sex, or even to advise them against it; but rather to ensure that they understand what sex is, and, especially, about contraception. "Why not offer to go [to the doctor] with your daughter or encourage them to take a friend to support them", it says.

I don't find this, in itself, especially extraordinary. What is striking is the disconnect between government policy in this area, as exemplified by this leaflet, and the law. Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 it is an offence for a person under the age of 18 to have sex with a person who is under 16, without a reasonable belief that he or she is over 16, or with a person under 13. And it's a serious offence; on conviction, you can go to prison for up to five years.

The 2003 Act also creates, at section 14, a specific offence of 'arranging or facilitating the commisison of a child sex offence', which without more would catch a parent taking his 15-year old son to the doctor, pursuant to Beverly Hughes' advice, to get some condoms. Now the offence specifically exempts from liability a person who is acting to protect the child, which means acting for the purpose of

"(a) protecting the child from sexually transmitted infection,
(b) protecting the physical safety of the child,
(c) preventing the child from becoming pregnant, or
(d) promoting the child’s emotional well-being by the giving of advice

so the parent of the 15-year old would not be committing the s14 offence. (Interestingly, there is no reason why said parent would not be committing the common law offence of 'aiding and abetting' a child sex offence, though there is no way the CPS would prosecute in those circumstances.)

But the key thing, it seems to me, is that the 15 year-old himself would, in having consensual sex with his girlfriend (or boyfriend), be committing a serious criminal offence; and the government is encouraging his parents to help him arrange contraception and/or protection against STDs, so that he can continue to offend.

Doesn't that seem just the teensiest bit odd?


dNo said...

So, in your humble opinion, should my new hero and modern day Casanova, Alfie Patten be arrested and charged with child sex offences. He seems incredibly proud of the fact that he banged up his 15 year old girlfriend - does that not constitute a confession?
Bang him up I say. After all, he banged her up.
Boom, as they say, boom...

Jonny Mac said...

It does, dNo. I don't think he should be locked up; I think this section of the SOA 2003 is daft. But he has, as you say, effectively confessed to having committed a serious sexual offence.