The Christian Institute

News Release

Tory move to weaken the age of consent law condemned by Christians

As the House of Commons debates the remaining stages of the Sexual Offences Bill, the Conservative front bench will attempt to weaken the law on the age of consent.

Oliver Letwin has tabled an amendment which legalises masturbatory sexual acts between children aged between 13 and 18 if there is less than two years age difference between them and both parties consent.

Under the Conservative proposals it would become lawful for 16-year-old boy to masturbate a boy who has just turned 14. The 16-year-old could perform any homosexual sex act on a 14-year-old as long as there was no penetration.

The Letwin amendment would also legalise a 16-year-old boy getting a 14-year-old girl to masturbate him. It would also become perfectly legal for a 15-year-old boy to intimately touch a 13-year-old girl.

A separate amendment by the Liberal Democrats goes even further. It legalises full sexual intercourse between a 17-and-a-half year-old and a 13-year-old.

Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said:

“The Tory and Lib Dem moves significantly weaken the law’s protections for children. It is grossly irresponsible to dismantle the age of consent. The proposals ignore Home Office research which shows that over a third of those who sexually offend against children are under the age of 18. The Utting Report found that half of all child abuse against children in care was committed by children.

The amendments turns the clock back over a hundred years. It was 1885 when Christian campaigner Josephine Butler and journalist W T Stead finally succeeded in their campaign to raise the age of consent from 12 to 16.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are sending out a powerful message that children should engage in recreational sex acts.”

– ENDS –

Note for Editors:

(a) Under the age of consent law no child can be deemed to consent to sexual activity. This means that no child can ever be cross examined in a witness box as to whether they consented. All that has to be proved in court is that the sexual act took place.

(b) The age of heterosexual consent was raised from 12 to 13 in 1875 and from 13 to 16 in 1885. This was as a direct result of the 17-year campaign led by Josephine Butler, the Salvation Army and the journalist WT Stead.

(c) The age of homosexual consent was lowered from 18 to 16 in 2001.

(d) In 1998 official police figures indicated that the true level of child sexual abuse may be as high as 72,600 cases a year (1). The Home Office Research Report by Professor Grubin highlighted the fact that adolescents commit around one third of all sex offences and that many of their victims are children:

“In terms of England and Wales, Vizard et al. (1995) noted that about 30% of all sex offence convictions or cautions are of individuals under 21 years of age, while in Liverpool, Horne et al. (1991) reported that 36% of those who sexually offended against children were under 18. In our own survey of five police forces described earlier, one force recorded the age of perpetrator: in that force area sex crimes committed by perpetrators aged under 18 against victims under 16 accounted for on average 12% of recorded sexual crime.” (2) [Emphasis added.]

In addition the Utting Report into abuse within children’s homes found that “Children abuse each other too. Possibly half the total of abuse reported in institutions is peer abuse”(3). An NSPCC survey of 3,000 young people claimed that young people are more likely to be sexually abused by people their own age than by adults.(4)

(1) Grubin, D, Sex offending against children: understanding the risk, Home Office, Police Research Series, Paper 99, 1998, page 12

(2) Ibid, page 21

(3) Utting, W, People Like Us, The Report of the Review Of The Safeguards For Children Living Away From Home, Dept. of Health/Welsh Office, TSO, 1997, Paragraph 9.12