Essay on Does age of consent criminalise youth

Submitted By Hege-Lindborg
Words: 3586
Pages: 15


One of the most heinous crimes committed in society is a sexual offence against a child. Sexual predators, monsters, pure evil, are often words used by society (through the media, etc.) to describe those who molest children and often these groups of individuals are categorised by one word which encompasses any and every description available - Paedophile. However, not all offenders are "paedophiles" in the strictest interpretation. In a few cases there have been instances where offenders against children have been rehabilitated. Of course, there are many more who do not alter their views and feelings and are still released (due to limits on sentencing) back into society. Since this is so, why do we continue to attempt to treat and rehabilitate those offenders; also, as we do not know which will offender be successfully rehabilitated, should we not just refuse all treatment and keep them indefinitely in prison?


Historically, men often married much younger women, some of whom were in their very early teens, possibly to ensure compliance, health and an ability to conceive. In 1860, the agent of consent was twelve years old. This meant that anyone of twelve or over could (legally) consent to having sexual intercourse. Fifteen years later, the age was raised to thirteen by the House of Commons after much campaigning by Josephine Butler (a social reformer). This was still believed to be too low and the campaign continued for some years until 1885, when Parliament passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act which raised the age of consent to sixteen .

Laws on consent are now sixteen in the United Kingdom and America has many states which have a similar or higher threshold. Unfortunately, this is not world-wide. In Albania, Bulgaria, Canada and China the age is fourteen. In Chile and Panama it is twelve years of age, whilst in South Korea, Spain and Japan, the age is thirteen. . However, according to ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism), a "child" is anyone under the age of 18, in line with the European Convention of Human Rights . This is at odds with many countries who state that anyone in the mid-teens should be able (and is able) to consent to sexual relations.

Child sexual abuse was thrust into the public domain in the UK through the incidents in Cleveland, in the 1980s. There, over one hundred children were removed from their homes due to the belief by social services that they were subjected to [ritualistic] sexual abuse (though many of these accusations were never substantiated). The outcry which followed the horrendous treatment of both parents and children in this case resulted in an inquiry into the matter (and the Children's Act 1989 being brought into UK legislation). Various bodies, such as the NSPCC, Social Services and other agencies dealing with vulnerable children, undertook research into the matter of sexual abuse of children and theories arose as to what type of person committed such an act. These included brain deficiencies, psychopathy, mental illness and the "cycle of abuse". Many cases continued to highlight the deficiencies in the system including that of Sidney Cooke, a known paedophile was released and offended again (resulting in the death of Jason Swift, a male teenage prostitute).


The most apparent way forward was to rehabilitate those who offended against children since many sentences given by the courts were less than ten years. Prison could not hold these people forever, not least since many were segregated for their own safety. Following a survey into sex offending and offenders, which showed that 63 establishments had some form of specialist programmes, the Prison Service adopted the "Sex Offender Treatment Programme" (also known as SOTP) in 1991. The SOTP was, at the time of Iain Crow's book, in place for approximately eight years. He states, although the early indications of the SOTP are good (in that attitudes