The Russell Model scandal has provoked a lot dialogue about how finest to deal with sexual assault – a lot of it spectacularly ill-advised.

Take the dialogue across the age of consent. It’s alleged that Model shaped a relationship with a 16-year-old woman, referred to utilizing the pseudonym ‘Alice’, who he assaulted and abused in the direction of the tip of their relationship. The lady in query has referred to as for elevated protections for ladies beneath the age of 18 from a lot older males. This would come with making it unlawful for anybody over 21 to have intercourse with a 16- or 17-year-old. Others have referred to as for the age of consent to be raised to 18.

These proposals mirror a broader cultural shift, whereby older males forming relationships with youthful ladies has been seemed upon with rising suspicion. Such relationships are considered as problematic, creepy and a results of predatory male behaviour. In journalist Lynn Barber’s 2009 memoir, An Schooling, she reached comparable conclusions about her personal previous relationship with an older man. In 2017, a manufacturing of Andrea Dunbar’s traditional Rita, Sue and Bob Too, about an older married man cavorting with two 16-year-old ladies, was briefly cancelled on the Royal Court docket theatre, because of discomfort with its content material within the wake of the #MeToo motion. Leonardo DiCaprio’s behavior of courting ladies of their early twenties now appears to impress extra commentary than his appearing expertise.

However, as Julie Burchill identified just lately, our current age-of-consent legislation supplies ample safety for younger ladies, making it unlawful for males to have sexual exercise with ladies beneath the age of 16. Burchill can be proper that the time period ‘grooming’, when utilized to 16-year-olds making dangerous relationship choices, dangers trivialising little one abuse. The present legislation additionally permits nuances in sentencing – a mirrored image of how sexual relationships are usually not at all times black and white. For instance, a 17-year-old having intercourse with a 15-year-old would not often result in prosecution, in contrast with a case of a 30-year-old committing the identical offence.

The present legislation is suitable, as a result of it displays the age that younger individuals usually begin sexual exercise (most frequently with individuals their very own age). It’s a recognition that younger persons are creating a non-public life and needs to be given the house to navigate that for themselves. Positive, younger individuals could make disastrous errors of their relationship decisions, however that’s equally true of older adults. Extra legal guidelines prohibiting intercourse could possibly be a slippery slope, with the state encroaching additional and additional into our non-public lives and relationships.

Advocates for elevating the age of consent to 18, no less than the place there’s a vital age hole concerned, argue it could merely deliver the legislation into line with different age restrictions, which often stop on the age of majority. However sexual exercise is clearly not the identical factor as voting or jury service – the road between our non-public relationships and our public duties actually shouldn’t be blurred on this approach.

Such inconsistency relating to age and rights displays the cynicism of right this moment’s ‘progressive’ campaigners. Decisions that they apparently approve of (comparable to voting for Labour or altering gender) are deemed to be exceptions to the rule. In the meantime, politicians appear intent on making certain that no younger particular person rising up right this moment will ever have the ability to smoke a cigarette.

As a consequence of #MeToo and now the Russell Model allegations, we threat rewriting vital, thought-about legal guidelines unthinkingly. Our age-of-consent legislation strikes the appropriate steadiness. It supplies satisfactory safety for under-16s, whereas being worldly sufficient to recognise when younger individuals are inclined to embark upon sexual exercise and a non-public life. The legislation additionally recognises that younger ladies have the liberty to make dangerous decisions in addition to good.

New legal guidelines successfully chaperoning younger ladies can be an enormous step backwards.

Neil Davenport is a author primarily based in London.

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