Age of Consent Debate: Probation officers back consent at 16

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

PROBATION officers have added their voice to the campaign to equalise the age of sexual consent at 16, claiming they are currently wrongly forced to make moral judgements when preparing reports and supervision of young men convicted of homosexual activity.

The National Association of Probation Officers also argued that continued criminalisation of young gay men's activity conflicts with the 1991 Criminal Justice Act, which places a duty on workers within the justice system to avoid discrimination.

Over the past five years more than 1,700 consenting males aged 16 to 21 were prosecuted and convicted, and 153 sent to prison.

In preparing court reports, probation officers are asked to assess the risk of further offending, of the behaviour itself and the attitude of the defendant to the alleged crime.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: 'This puts officers in an impossible position where they are forced to make moral decisions. This is patently absurd.'

He said a case recently referred to Napo involved a 16- year-old put on two years' probation for under-age sex. The purpose of the sentence, according to the judge, was for the boy to decide whether or not he was homosexual. But the boy says that instead, his probation officer regularly reduced him to tears, while confronting him with his behaviour.

'This is totally unacceptable,' Mr Fletcher said. 'It is not a dilemma which our colleagues have to face in the rest of Europe, where the age of consent is between 14 and 17.

'The law should be equalised at 16 on these grounds alone but our work with tens of thousands of males aged between 16 and 20 each year shows that most - like young women - are able to form their own views and decisions governing their sexual behaviour.'