Letters: The value of the age of consent has been lost

These letters appear in the Friday 22nd November edition of the Independent

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As I grew up in the Sixties I understood that I was not allowed to have sex (“do it”) until I was 16. I and my peers understood “it” to be vaginal sexual intercourse.

That gave us the freedom to experiment with sexual touching and exploration short of intercourse; to begin to enjoy and relish the feelings, get an idea of the powerful urges involved  (for both girls and boys), but still be in a position to say no with authority. Because, at least for a girl, there is a vast difference between sexual touching and intercourse.   

It would appear that the way the age of consent is now interpreted is that any sexual touching below the age of 16 is unlawful. That is unhelpful in so many ways.

It infantilises boys and girls by assuming that they are unable to trust themselves (and their choice of boy/girlfriend). It assumes that they are incapable of self-control.

It removes a girl’s chance to learn how to handle the conflict between her own immediate engendered desire and a sense of her own worth and greater destiny (because any intercourse could result in a pregnancy).

If, as seems to be argued, the current implementation also inhibits the provision of proper sexual and relationship education, then society is making problems for itself rather than reducing them by taking such a narrow attitude.

The mechanics of reproduction can be understood much earlier than the mechanics of sexual activity. Both can be understood much earlier than a young person can appreciate the role and power of sex.

Relationship education may well be better left to English and language and arts teachers – a proper reading of any worthwhile book will yield plenty of material for discussion and with a deal more subtlety than following a course in an ill-defined and vapidly expressed field entitled perhaps “communications studies” might provide.

For the record, I was raped at 12, started dating at 15, but delayed having consensual intercourse until I felt ready at 18. 

Julia Cadman, St Helens,  Merseyside


I was shocked and appalled to hear Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston declare that the age of consent must remain at 16 because “it is there to protect children from predatory old men”. Is there any evidence that the problem of child sexual abuse is restricted to elderly males? Are there no young males, or for that matter females, committing these crimes?

With absurd, injudicious prejudices like this on the Government benches, how can the public have confidence in efforts to deal with such damaging criminal behaviour, especially as Wollaston also garners credibility on this subject by being a medical practitioner?

Henry Page, Newhaven,  East Sussex


Greenpeace should learn its lesson

John Sauven of Greenpeace really should be asked to justify the risks involved in sending young passionate activists into such a dangerous situation (“Greenpeace tells of ‘huge relief’ as activists are freed”, 21 November).

International waters are very dangerous places, and from the expressions of relief from those people released on bail, they must seriously question  repeating such actions. Alexandra Harris and Kieron Bryan were clearly terrified.

No doubt Mr Sauven would have briefed them about the risks, but youthful zealotry doesn’t do rational thinking.

Surely Greenpeace could have attacked Gazprom’s actions in a safer, more public location – and created a much better effect. Gazprom has taken up sports sponsorship; why not campaign in that arena  without risking young lives?

Greenpeace has laudable objectives but does tend towards often using dangerous methods. Like all provocative pressure groups, it has its extremists; don’t let this element undo all its good work.

Greenpeace should give each of its supporters a copy of Rose George’s book Deep Sea and Foreign Going. It describes the complete lawlessness of the high seas. Contrary to current thinking that the absence of law is limited to Somalian waters, and that international maritime organisations seek out perpetrators, merchant ships are regularly attacked in many parts of the world, and crews are seized, tortured and killed.

The sea is a dangerous place; use it as your stage at your peril.

Rees Martin, London SW8


Wrong time to ask for an amnesty

I wonder if Northern Ireland’s Attorney General had any foreknowledge of the scheduling of the Panorama programme detailing the activities of the British Army’s Military Reaction Force (MRF).

Probably not, but it illustrates why a de facto amnesty is the very opposite of a good idea. The absence of any meaningful acknowledgement that the Army operated outside its own rules of engagement in targeting unarmed citizens not involved with paramilitary organisations continues to this day.

That a unit of the British Army was given licence to operate in such a way will surprise no one who has looked at the history of the Troubles in any depth.

This policy reflected the view held by many in the security forces that the Catholic/Nationalist community was the “problem” that needed to be solved, that the whole Catholic/Nationalist community supported the IRA, and that the best way to address terrorism was to act like a terrorist.

This led to a whole community being labelled as terrorists and to innocent men and women being killed by the forces of the state for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Colonel Richard Kemp, who served in Northern Ireland, although not while the MRF was operating, has credited their actions with being so effective that the IRA was forced to the negotiating table. Really?

And this from a man who commanded the British Army in Afghanistan, another arena in which it has been argued that the actions of foreign military forces have radicalised local communities, leading in turn to the deaths of our own forces.

Robert Hall, Stone, Staffordshire


Not the only one to say ‘bloody cyclists’

The plight of Emma Way, out of pocket to the tune of £637 and with over 50 per cent of the points needed for disqualification, aptly demonstrates that today’s youth are severely disadvantaged.

We old idiots fire off stupid letters to newspapers and, luckily, some kind editor saves us by simply binning the nonsense. But youngsters, instead, tweet and find themselves in a world where there is no guardian angel.

The clue is Twitter: you have to be a twit to tweet. Many motorists, myself included, complain about “bloody cyclists” but we draw the line at boasting about knocking them down. Maybe the youth of today are just too honest.

Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey

 Boris Johnson’s latest comment (“Boris turns on cyclists with threat to ban headphones”, 20 November) is typically inane. I have cycled, on average, 100 miles a week for the best part of the past 20 years with headphones on. I can still hear the traffic, probably better than most car drivers. The major elements I use to preserve my safety are my eyes and my brain. Would Boris ban deaf people from cycling?

Jim Alexander Maidenhead


If cyclists should be able to hear the traffic, the same rule should apply to pedestrians and other road-users. Motorcyclists’ all-encompassing helmets must be banned. Motorists must drive with their windows open and not be allowed to have the car radio on.

Laurence Shields, Wingerworth, Derbyshire


Andrew Charters (letter, 21 November) notes the difference in attitudes towards cycling in Britain and the Netherlands. It’s well known the Dutch have much better facilities for cyclists; but perhaps not so well known is the ANWB.

The ANWB is the nearest Dutch equivalent to the AA. ANWB stands for Algemene Nederlandse Wielrijders Bond – the General Club for Everyone on Wheels – and “everyone on wheels” includes cars and cycles.

The ANWB doesn’t exhibit the selfish lobbying for motorists that the AA does, because it also represents cyclists, and that is part of the reason why there isn’t this antagonism between bike and car that we find in Britain.

Ian K Watson, Carlisle


Driving in heavy rain at night, on a road with long pools of darkness between streetlights, I came within a shaved inch of hitting a weaving cyclist. He was wearing dark clothes from head to foot and had no lights on his bike. Some  of these idiots really do court death.

Richard Humble, Exeter


Is the invisible condom a good idea?

Steve Connor (21 November) tells us the miracle of graphene is going to allow the manufacture of a condom that the wearer (and, one assumes, his partner) can neither see  nor feel. Am I alone in thinking that some small visual identifier might be in order? Or would that entirely ruin the experience?

Manda Scott, Abcott, Shropshire