I woke up this morning and checked my e-mail, checked my facebook, then had a look at the BBC news webpage in case something had happened overnight that I would need to be aware of.
What I found was the following headline;
The barrister in question, one Barbara Hewson, specialises in public and administrative law; human rights and civil liberties; and professional discipline and regulatory law. She lists her interests as the following; ‘abortion rights, autonomy, childbirth, civil liberties, due process, privacy’. And yet I almost don’t need to know any of that. My entire view of this woman, whom I had previously never heard of, is now tainted by an article she wrote for online magazine Spiked.
Hewson’s article does not make for very pleasant reading. Her attitude is awful as she stomps eloquently from the 1880s Social Purity movement, when the age of consent was raised from 13 to 16, to the last few decades and revelations of what was happening at the BBC and, I believe, more widely spread. I could easily give a strongly worded retort to each sentence in her article, but I will restrict myself to just a few.
I do not support the persecution of old men. The manipulation of the rule of law by the Savile Inquisition – otherwise known as Operation Yewtree – and its attendant zealots poses a far graver threat to society than anything Jimmy Savile ever did.
This is Hewson’s opening line. This pretty much sets the tone for the entire article. It’s disgusting, especially when you consider that this is coming from a barrister; from a woman whose job it is to uphold the law, to ensure justice is done. She seems to be missing the major facts; that these ‘old men’ being ‘persecuted’ are actually suspects of rape and sexual assault who are being questioned and/or arrested for actual crimes which happened to actual people. Actual young, unwilling girls. This is not persecution – there are no pitchfork-wielding mobs traversing the streets and baying for blood; this is an attempt at justice.
In the 1880s, the Social Purity movement repeatedly tried to increase the age of consent for girls from 13 to 16, despite parliament’s resistance. At that time, puberty for girls was at age 15 (now it is 10).
The second sentence in this quote was where I am startled at Hewson’s attempt to twist logic and factual accuracy to make her point. The fact is that, on average, puberty for girls in the 21st Century begins at 10 or 11 and finishes by 15 or 16. Thus the age of consent standing at 16 makes sense. There is a school of thought that puberty in girls happens earlier now than it did in the 19th Century – this would make sense; puberty is triggered by how physically capable a girl’s body is of carrying a child – 150 years ago girls would have been thinner, possibly weaker or more unhealthy, and so their bodies would not change so early. What these facts say to me is not that the age of consent should lower as the average age of puberty has, but in fact that the law change of the 1880s was much needed, and did not go far enough to protect the girls of the time.
(‘Behavioural Endocrinology’, edited by Jill B Becker provides some scientific back up for the above statements.)
It is depressing, but true, that many reforms introduced in the name of child protection involve sweeping attacks on fundamental Anglo-American legal rights and safeguards, such as the presumption of innocence.
In a way I don’t disagree with this quote. It follows a strangely-worded rant about how the NSPCC and the Metropolitan Police, in a report on Operation Yewtree and, in particular, Jimmy Savile’s crimes, are calling the accusers ‘victims’ rather than ‘complainants’. It’s a fairly major step in terms of semantics.
I do firmly believe in the adage ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’, and this is a place where I really struggle. It’s said that one of the main reasons victims of rape or sexual abuse don’t come forward is because they are afraid they won’t be believed. They are ‘alleged victims’ and ‘complainants’, and in the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ way of thinking there was no rape or abuse until a court of law has proved that it happened. This doesn’t seem right, but at the same time I can’t in good conscience advocate the switch around to ‘Guilty Until Proven Innocent’. To me, the whole thing is so dangerously convoluted I don’t think I’ll work my thoughts out today, so I’m not going to dwell too long on it. What I am going to do is distract you with a subject change, then continue my reading of Hewson’s article. Charli has much clearer views on this issue, so I’ll eagerly await her comment, putting forth her better-structured opinions!
Mumsnet have a campaign entitled ‘We Believe You’. This campaign exists to support victims of rape and to break down rape myths.
Touching a 17-year-old’s breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting one’s hand up a 16-year-old’s skirt, are not remotely comparable to the horrors of the Ealing Vicarage assaults and gang rape, or the Fordingbridge gang rape and murders, both dating from 1986. Anyone suggesting otherwise has lost touch with reality.
I guess I’ve lost touch with reality… sexual assault on anyone (regardless of gender or age) is, in my eyes, a major crime. Arguably it is the fore-runner to rape and gang-rape, if we’re going to simplify things to a hierarchy of criminal activity. To say to a child or teenager ‘don’t make a fuss dear, it was only a little bit of groping – at least he didn’t rape you’ is tantamount to saying ‘you’re a sexual object for men to do with as they wish; let go of whatever self-worth you had and accept the abuse. The fact that you don’t want it to happen is irrelevant.’ I am not cool with that. I am incredibly not cool with that. I, and every man, woman and child on this earth has the right not to be sexualised against their will.
As for Hewson’s ‘regrettable necessities’, let’s take a look at them one by one…
It’s time to end this prurient charade, which has nothing to do with justice or the public interest.
She’s talking about Operation Yewtree… I’m pretty sure it does have something to do with justice. Children have been assaulted, have lived their lives with this hanging over them, afraid to come forward and speak against a tv star. Undoubtedly their lives have been affected by what happened to them and they bloody well deserve justice. It doesn’t undo what happened to them, but it’s the right thing. Lessons have to be learnt from the things that were allowed to happen; those criminals still alive need to be brought to justice for the crimes they committed (if proven by a court of law they actually happened, but that’s what the justice system is for.)
Adults and law-enforcement agencies must stop fetishising victimhood. Instead, we should focus on arming today’s youngsters with the savoir-faire and social skills to avoid drifting into compromising situations, and prosecute modern crime.
I do think people wear their ‘victimhood’ as a shield at times, but having never been a victim of that nature of crime I can’t possibly say I wouldn’t do the same. Making today’s yougnsters responsible for protecting themselves against the unwanted attentions of people in positions of power, on the other hand, is preposterous. How is the molestation of a 9 year old down to the child to prevent rather than the molester? Children should be aware that there are some bad people in the world, but they shouldn’t have to live in fear and paranoia. There should be no ‘compromising situations’. Celebrities should not be allowed to use their position to shame/intimidate children into being abused and remaining quiet about it.
As for law reform, now regrettably necessary, my recommendations are: remove complainant anonymity;
…and force more victims to not report their assault/rape for fear of repercussions? This is such a dangerous suggestion, more likely to allow crimes like those of Jimmy Savile and associates to remain hidden than to do anyone any good.
introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions;
Just because a crime happened 20 years ago does not make it any less of a crime today. Speak to the families of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster. Sexual abuse is such an awful, life-affecting thing to be put through, it can take the victims a long time to come to terms with what happened to them. As much as I would wish all victims could report it as soon as it’s happened, realistically this does not and will not happen.
and reduce the age of consent to 13.
No. Just no. As I wrote at the top – the average girl does not reach sexual maturity until 15 or 16, boys tend to be a year behind. Allowing/encouraging sexual activity to happen at 13 (the average age of a girl’s first period and a boy’s first ejaculation, and thus the age the average child is able to make a baby) is just madness. At 13, most children are simply not ready for the complications that come with sex; family planning, STDs, what is and isn’t ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ (horribly vague terms, I know, but this isn’t the place to talk about what’s wrong or right between consensual adult partners…)
To conclude; Barbara Hewson’s article represents one of the worst pieces of writing I’ve seen in a long time – her thoughts and ideals just strike me as unimaginably wrong, and I can’t help but to wonder whether she has a 13 year old daughter.
Let children grow up in their own time. Let them reach adulthood (be that 16 or 18 – I’m still unsure) in their own time, and for pity’s sake protect them from predators. Gavel!