Agony aunts could face prosecution over advice on sex

Agony aunts such as Clare Rayner and Deirdre Sanders could face prosecution under the Government's Sexual Offences Bill as well as newsagents that sell teenage magazines to children.

Politicians are concerned that clauses in the Bill, which is going through Parliament, could even catch out family-planning advisers who publish material for children about sex education.

Health advisers who hand out condoms to under-16s and biology and sex education teachers could also be affected by the Bill, which will make it a punishable offence to communicate "with a child, where any part of the communication is sexual". Opposition MPs are afraid that a clause making an offence of "giving a child anything that relates to sexual activity or contains a reference to such activity" could have unforeseen victims.

Nick Mazur, the deputy chief executive of the Periodical Publishers Association, the industry association for magazines in the UK, said: "We are extremely concerned if the Sexual Offences Bill restricts the access of young people to bona fide advice and information on sexual issues.

"Teenage magazines, and their problem pages, are often the only source which young people can turn to for this advice. Agony aunts or teen magazine columnists who address these emotional aspects of sex are now at risk of committing an offence under Clause 15, such as 'encouraging a child to take part in sexual activity'."

A cross-party group of peers is planning to amend the Bill when it comes back to the House of Lords next month, to stop innocent people being subjected to sexual offence orders. Failure to abide by the orders, which could prevent distribution of the material, is punishable by prison.

The campaign to change the wording of the law is being led by Baroness Walmsley, the Liberal Democrat frontbench peer and a former biology teacher.

"It's very important that we have high quality sex education and it's vital that we don't legislate in any way to get in the way of bona fide people delivering advice, including agony aunts," she said. "It is difficult enough to get people to do these jobs without the danger of prosecution. The law has to be clarified." Childline, the children's advice line where sexual matters are often discussed in confidence, is also concerned that it could find itself inadvertently on the wrong side of the law. Also, youth workers who hand out condoms at nightclubs to promote safe sex could be at risk.

Ministers have admitted that the wording of the Bill could catch out people innocently discussing sex with children, although they say police would not pursue them because they are not harming the child.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, a Home Office minister, said Lady Walmsely was right. "The requirement could in theory catch the sex education teacher or a biology teacher at a school showing children diagrams or models of reproduction," he added.

The Home Office said last night that the sexual offence orders would not be imposed on people who did not intend to harm children and that it did not intend to change the law. But the Family Planning Association (FPA) and the Periodical Publishers Association said there "was no room for any ambiguity" and safeguards must be added to the Bill

An FPA spokesman said: "We produce printed material which is used in schools about how young people develop physically, contraception and sexual infections. The problem is that the law is ambiguous and you never know how it could be interpreted once it goes through."

News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Sport
England’s opening goalscorer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battles with Scotland’s Charlie Mulgrew
FootballEngland must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Sport
Wigan Athletic’s back-of-the shirt sponsor Premier Range has pulled out due to Malky Mackay’s arrival
Football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines