Let Kids Be Kids

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;

Age of consent should be 13, says barrister

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!

Discuss…

Don’t Blame The Dog – Part 1

Compulsory microchipping will come into effect in April 2016, but is it enough to stop the rising number of dog attacks in Britain?

For the last 5 years I have been a dog owner. Before that I lived in a house where there were dogs. Before that I had relatives with dogs. There have always been dogs in my life, so it should come as no surprise that I’m quite fond of the hairy, smelly creatures. A lot of the dogs I currently know are cross breeds; my own girl is a labrador with a healthy dose of what I suspect may be boxer. I know a whippet x staffie, a retriever x rottweiler and a collie x german shepherd. To look at them you wouldn’t really be able to give them a breed name (no – I don’t accept ‘Boxador’; my dog is a labrador cross, or is a straight forward cross breed. Boxador’s just a made up word.) To a degree, dog ‘breeds’ don’t really exist any more. You have a selection of breed standards, dictated and managed by the Kennel Club, but in some cases they’re somewhat deviated from the dogs first given that breed name. Most of us dog owners who don’t show our dogs can’t be certain that our cocker spaniel hasn’t got a clumber spaniel somewhere in its ancestry. In fact if we go back far enough we’ll find that they are all descended from wolves. And yet there are people who shell out thousands on a certified ‘Standard Poodle’ with papers showing its lineage back through a series of champions and what-not. This I don’t understand. But if it makes the owner happy, whilst simultaneously ensuring the dog gets a good life with food, water, fuss and a comfortable bed, then who am I to pass judgement?

I’m a blogger, that’s who!

But seriously I don’t judge people who want to spend that much money to get a dog with a known history and who has certain physical attributes. We all have our preferences. I personally prefer larger dogs, would pick a short-haired critter over a long-haired critter, and I would favour a longer nose over a shorter one, but that’s just me.

What I do have issue with is the notion that a dog of a certain shape and size is deemed dangerous regardless of its temperament.

I’m presuming the majority of our readers are in the United Kingdom, but for the benefit of any who aren’t, or any who are here but aren’t aware of this, here’s a quick run down of Breed-Specific Legislation, or BSL. I will try to remain unbiased… Basically BSL is a general term for the legal ban on the ownership of certain breeds of dog. The legal act responsible for BSL in the UK is the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, This act means it is illegal to own, sell, breed or abandon any of the following breeds; pit bull terrier, Japanese tosa, Argentine Dogo or Filo Brasileiro. And yet it doesn’t end there – you don’t have to have a piece of paper proving your dog is one of those breeds in order to find yourself in great trouble and your dog put down. If a police officer suspects your dog may be the same ‘type’ of dog as one of those breeds, then they have to seize your dog. It’s a magical word, ‘type’. What it means is that if your dog fits within the rough measurements that they have decided make up the ‘pit bull type’ (or the ‘Tosa type’, but pit bulls are a lot more common here. Or would be, were they not banned!) then it’s probably a dangerous dog and thus ought to be put down. The RSPCA weigh in on BSL here.

This might be the appropriate time to point out my additional layer of bias. For fairness, and in the name of honest bloggery… I would love a pit bull type dog. Not as an attack dog, nor as a personal protection dog, but as a regular pet dog. When my beloved labrador cross leaves me (which will not be in the next 4 years. We’ve made a bargain, she and I, that we’re aiming to hit 15 at the very least!) and I reach the point where I’m looking to allow another dog to join my family, I would love to take in a pit bull. It won’t happen, I know this. Not least because I have no intention of breaking the law, but also because I would be going to a local rescue and, judging by their webpages, I’m almost certain to come away with a staffordshire bull terrier; the smaller cousin of the pit bull because I feel so sorry for these small bull-breeds being so grossly overbred by idiotic urban and suburban youths thinking they’ll look tough with a ‘ferocious’ staffie by their side. All the same, I have a great fondness for the pit bull.

Continuing the theme of openness and honesty, I’ll admit that the only research I’ve been able to find on dog attacks split out by breed did have pit bulls and rottweilers as the clear main perpetrators. This was an American piece of research, where the pit bull isn’t a banned breed and, at first glance would indicate that we’ve done the right thing with our ban, but the stats didn’t tell me was how many pit bulls there were in America who weren’t tearing about and hurting people. It’s very hard to find true data about dog attacks here in the UK, let alone anything going into detail about what dog was responsible. If you keep reading you’ll find out what I think is a better alternative than a flat out ban.

The first dog I was ever bitten by was an English springer spaniel. I was probably 5 or 6, and no doubt played some part in causing the incident. I was given a Mickey Mouse plaster and everything was ok. In more recent years I’ve been playfully savaged by a rottweiler-golden retriever cross, and even as I type this I bear the still-healing wounds of a staffie. In both cases the dogs doing the biting were puppies and were playing with me as if I were another puppy. Young dogs do not know any better than to explore the world with their teeth. It is completely down to their owners to be aware of this and to train their dog against this behaviour. That’s the best thing about dogs – aside from the smell of their paws and their adorable big brown eyes – they’re all completely trainable. Not that my dog is perfect; her recall isn’t the best if there’s something more interesting to smell, but we’re constantly working on that, even despite her advancing years. You can teach an old dog new tricks, you just have to try.

I am a firm believer that a dog’s behaviour is its owner’s responsibility. If a dog bites a person then that falls on the owner; either for not training their dog not to bite, for not restraining a dog who was at risk of biting (i.e. a newly rescued dog, or a dog which is afraid/in pain) or for not supervising their dog when it was with a person who did not know how to act around dogs/was doing something to incite the dog to bite. There are so many dog training programs on tv these days, as well as a growing number of books on training techniques and behaviours, an d a wealth of local behaviourists and training groups that there is simply no excuse for having an out-of-control dog.

This is the exact reason why I support the microhipping movement; not only can a lost or abandoned dog be more easily returned home/have its owners brought to justice for said abandonment, but if a dog is on the loose and causing damage or injury it will be possible for the police to find out who is responsible for it. However, I don’t think microchipping is enough. People simply won’t do it, and when will their dog get checked for a chip? When it’s too late. I think the government needs to go further in their legislation. I strongly believe that the dog licence is the way to go. Similar to a car licence I think a prospective dog owner ought to sit a theory test before being allowed to collect a dog from a rescue/a registered breeder (I could write so much more against ‘back yard breeders’ but this is already a long post – look for part two to see my opinions on them!) this test would ensure the owner knew the basic requirements for a dog, what to do in an emergency, where dogs can and cannot go etc. In my ideal world neutering would be compulsory, unless the new owner was a registered breeder, and had passed some higher test on breeding and associated welfare requirements etc. I would insist all dogs were microchipped, vaccinated annually and all puppies/rescues/first time owners would be required to attend training classes and achieve at least the Kennel Club bronze award. (I’m not a particular fan of the KC, but their bronze award training covers all the basics a dog owner should be able to do.)

Only once all of these measures were in place, would I repeal the banning of the four breeds mentioned above. Once all dog owners are licensed and all dogs are trained, the dog attack stats should start to fall, and pit bulls could start to be safely reintroduced. Gavel!

Discuss…
A fantastic site I found in my research for this article is Deed Not Breed