There is no rationale whatsoever to lower the age of consent. Barbara Hewson should know better

Top barrister Barbara Hewson recently called for the age of consent to be lowered. Here the legal representative for over 60 of Jimmy Savile's victim's explains why she's wrong

Related Topics

Barbara Hewson, the barrister who recently called for the age of consent to be lowered to 13 in order to “end the persecution of old men”, has provoked a huge amount of outrage across the media. While we should never seek to silence opinions that dissent from the mainstream, I feel a duty to object to Ms Hewson’s comments, and to encourage others to choose their words more responsibly.

One of my clients, a child rape victim of Jimmy Savile, called me when the news first broke of Hewson’s article. She was desperately angry and upset, and felt the comments were an attack on her and others with similar experiences. Words have consequences, and experienced barristers such as Ms Hewson should know better.

Apart from offending victims of abuse, Hewson’s comments are ignorant and ill-considered. Hewson characterises Operation Yewtree by the allegations that have generated the most media interest – notably those against living celebrities. However, none of the most severe cases have received sustained media attention, always focusing on the “monster” rather than the victim of the abuse. For example, none of Savile’s rape victims have spoken to the press. Put simply, Hewson doesn’t know the half of it.

Furthermore, Ms Hewson is in no position to judge how individual victims are affected by abuse. Many of the victims I represent, who would be considered to have experienced more minor abuse, have gone on to have life-long emotional and sexual problems.

At the end of her tirade, Hewson makes three proposals: remove complainant anonymity; introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions; and reduce the age of consent to thirteen.

Anonymity for victims is essential to giving people the courage to come forward. While some of Savile’s victims did raise concerns at the time, many did not due to fears they would not be believed, and would get into trouble for levelling accusations at such a loved and respected public figure. Furthermore, we need to ensure we get the balance right when considering anonymity for suspects. While we want to avoid a witch hunt, naming suspects in the media is vital. As we have seen with Savile and many other abuse scandals that have erupted in the last few months, many who have come forward have only done so after seeing that others went through the same experience as them. Knowing that others have been through the same ordeal gives victims confidence they will be believed and taken seriously.

There is already a limitation law for civil cases in the UK. In each claim, the court must be persuaded that the evidence is cogent enough, and that there will be no prejudice in bringing a case outside of the three year window that exists for abuse claims. On criminal claims, as with civil claims, I would prefer to see justice done regardless of when sufficient evidence comes to light. Is Hewson really suggesting that no Nazi war criminals should have been prosecuted beyond the 1940s, or that Radovan Karadzic should be released without trial?

And on the most controversial point – lowering the age of consent – Hewson provides no rationale or evidence whatsoever for justifying her recommendation. We are not talking about teenagers having sex with each other, but about people, specifically older men, abusing their positions of power and trust to target children. It is simply wrong to suggest that a thirteen year old can give valid consent. Moreover, I know of many victims who were sixteen or seventeen who may have consented, but really didn’t know what they were doing. The last few months have been about society, and specifically the police and the legal system, recognising abuse when they see it. Hewson’s suggestion would make abuse harder to stop and justice harder to achieve.

The comments on this article have been closed for legal reasons

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Support Analyst - London - £22,000

£20000 - £22000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chel...

KS2 Primary Teacher Plymouth

£21500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd...

Primary Teacher Cornwall

£21500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: ***KS1 & KS2 Teachers ...

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album