Thursday 28 January 2021

Consent No More

A recent Radio Four documentary on the huge increase in reports of child sexual abuse by women has attracted the pertinent criticism that many perpetrators might now be men who self-identified as women. 

But a conviction today indicates that these things do indeed go on, and there is an ongoing storyline in EastEnders, in both cases involving postpubescent boys. Mick Carter is presumably supposed to be the same age as new grandfather Danny Dyer, who, like me, was born in 1977. In our formative years, there was no male heterosexual age of consent, and there never had been.

2003 was the midpoint nadir of Tony Blair’s horrendous second term. The House of Commons approved the Iraq War. As the price of that war, it passed the hunting ban on the specific understanding that it would be a dead letter from the start, with neither the Prime Minister nor the Government Chief Whip voting in favour of it.

It abolished the protection against double jeopardy. It extended Police stop and search powers, and it allowed for persons who were merely accompanying the Police to participate actively in searches. It enabled the Police to issue conditional cautions that might still lead to a prosecution.

It permitted the admission of hearsay, and of a defendant’s previous convictions and general bad character, but it restricted the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses on their own criminal records. It provided for leading City figures to be acquitted of fraud by judges sitting alone.

It abolished the right of prisoners to apply to the High Court for bail, but it extended the right of the prosecution to appeal against the decision of a Magistrates’ Court to grant bail. It required that a list of defence witnesses, along with their names and addresses, be given for interview by the Police, and that the details of any defence expert witness instructed be given to the prosecution, whether or not that witness were then used. 

It empowered the prosecution to appeal against rulings of Crown Court judges that terminated cases or excluded evidence. It introduced indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for public protection for offences that would otherwise carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

It made it a criminal offence for two people under the age of 16 to kiss each other; like the hunting ban, that was on the stated understanding that only a message was being sent, with absolutely no intention of any attempt at enforcement.

And it created a male heterosexual age of consent of 16 by default due to political horsetrading among the feminist and gay groups around Harriet Harman, of all people, which insisted that both sexes and all acts be treated in exactly the same way.

That would be fine, except that the age of criminal responsibility remains 10, meaning that boys can be prosecuted for rape, itself significantly redefined in 2003, six years before they can legally have consensual sex. And they are. Indeed, boys who allege abuse by women are routinely accused of having raped them. It is topical again this week, so what, exactly, would be the correct conviction rate for rape, and why, exactly?

We need a criminal offence of sexual activity with any person under the age of 18 who was more than two years younger than oneself, with a maximum sentence equal to twice the difference in age, and the abolition of different rules for “positions of trust”. 

We need to ban abortion and contraception for those under 18 at least without parental knowledge and consent, just as they thankfully cannot now be given puberty blockers. What sort of parent would want to put his underage daughter on the Pill, anyway? There is only one possible reason for doing so.

We need the replacement of the existing categories of sexual assault with aggravating circumstances to the general categories of offences against the person, such that the sentences could be doubled. There should be no anonymity either for adult defendants or for adult complainants. Either we have an open system of justice, or we do not.

We need to rule out the legal possibility of being a specifically sexual assailant below an age of consent that had been raised to 18, and we need to specify that intoxication was a bar to sexual consent only insofar as it would have been a bar to driving. We need to end the blocking of progress into paid or voluntary work even though one had been acquitted. C5 notices should be outlawed.

And we need to make it a criminal offence for anyone aged 21 or over to buy or sell sex, with equal sentencing on both sides. The Universal Basic Income, the Jobs Guarantee, and the dividends from public stakes in the FTSE 500 companies, distributed equally to everyone, would remove any conceivable excuse for prostituting oneself.

This would of course include filmed or photographed prostitution. We need to define obscenity as material depicting acts that were themselves illegal or which was reasonably likely to incite or encourage such acts, with sentencing the same as for the illegal act in question in each case, and with the law enforced equally in relation to both sexes.

Many of us ended up as exasperated critics of Jeremy Corbyn’s. But we were not his enemies. When it came to those, then nothing struck more fear into their hearts than his popularity with young men. 

Alongside a collapse in male employment that had in any case largely happened by the time that they had come along, the defining experience of their own politics had been to have grown up under Governments, of all three parties, that had harvested young men in wars with a sheer pointlessness that had not been since 1918.

Hence their attraction and attachment to a politician who has opposed every single one of those wars, just as he had opposed the collapse in that employment. Think on.

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