New laws aim to clamp down on sex abusers

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The Independent Online

An overhaul of sex laws to clamp down on child abusers and rapists and to sweep away discriminatory legislation on gay sex was proposed by the Government yesterday.

An overhaul of sex laws to clamp down on child abusers and rapists and to sweep away discriminatory legislation on gay sex was proposed by the Government yesterday.

At the heart of the plan is a new definition of consent - "free agreement" - which is expected to lead to more successful convictions. Defendants would have to show that they had taken "all reasonable steps" to obtain the agreement of their sexual partners or face a possible life sentence.

The Home Office wants forced oral sex to be treated as rape and to deal with serious indecent assaults as a new offence of sexual assault by penetration, punishable by life imprisonment. Groping would be treated as sexual assault, a new offence that would carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Suggestions that so-called "date rape" should be treated as a lesser offence than rapes by strangers were rejected. The review calls for tougher penalties, of up to seven years' jail instead of two, for those found to have administered drink or drugs for the purpose of obtaining sex, which has been a feature of some date rape cases. The proposals include a raft of measures to deal with child sex abuse, particularly exploitation of minors in pornography and prostitution.

The consultation document, called Setting The Boundaries, proposes a shake-up in the laws on incest to reflect modern family structures. A new crime of familial sexual abuse will cover offences by foster parents, step-parents and others living in the child's household.

Using child prostitutes or child pornography will be treated as commercial sexual exploitation of a child and punished by up to 14 years in jail instead of the current maximum penalty of two years.

Charles Clarke, a Home Office minister, said the proposals aimed to stop non-consenting people having their "rights violated often in vile and unpleasant ways" while at the same time showing a "modern understanding" of consensual relationships between adults.

Laws on buggery and "cottaging", where men are procured to commit homosexual acts, are to be repealed.

Gay sex will only be punished - by up to six months in jail - if it is in public with participants knowing they are likely to cause "fear, alarm and distress".