Teenage Sexual Predators: An Alien Concept?

The Dolphin's Brain By The Dolphin's Brain, 7th Aug 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/9j5ri5xk/
Posted in Wikinut>News>Politics

The Crown Prosecution Service has today swiftly and publicly rebuked a barrister it instructed in a case relating to the sexual abuse of a thirteen-year-old girl for calling her sexually experienced and her behaviour 'predatory'. Was it right to do so?

Those Notorious Words

On Monday this week, 5th August 2013, a criminal case came before the Snaresbrook Crown Court. It was a sentencing hearing for a 41-year-old man named Neil Wilson who had pleaded guilty to engaging in sexual activity with a child. Appalling though such a crime is, it is unlikely that it would have gained such notoriety as it has if it were not for the language used in the courtroom.

Yes, this is THAT case where the 13-year-old victim was described as “sexually experienced” with behaviour that could be considered “predatory”. These were the words used by the prosecuting barrister, not the defendant’s own lawyer, and then repeated by the judge in his sentencing remarks, or so it has been reported.

It has become one of the day’s major talking points; in addition to a plethora of experts from the child protection field who have been, rightly, universally condemnatory of the language used and its impact, there also has been much comment, predictably, by self-appointed moral guardians promoting an agenda of their own.

The Sexualisation of Modern Life

One of the main thrusts of the latter has been to complain about the modern phenomenon of the ‘over-sexualisation’ of children, borne out of a desire to promote a return to some idyllic vision of childhood when ‘children had the time to be children’. Usually, though admittedly not necessarily always, behind this is some generalised view of sex as ‘dirty’ in itself, with an underlying whiff of religious indignation. This is mistaken on so many levels.

Firstly, there never really has been a ‘golden age of childhood’ and those they claim that there has been are rarely asked to identify the specific era to which they refer. It’s not that long ago in the UK that we sent children up chimneys and married young girls off at 12 years of age. Of course, such campaigners conveniently also forget about the millions of children in the world today who would welcome the opportunity to still be alive at 12. So, if you are reading this, please, tell us all what period of history, exactly, you want to return to.

Additionally, children have always been interested in and fascinated by sex and its implications and have engaged in it when, probably, unprepared for the emotional consequences. To seek to stop young people engaging in sexual activity because they are ‘not ready’ is to miss the point completely. It’s going to happen because the physical drive is compelling and, by definition, less controllable by the ‘immature’ mind. If such campaigners spent more time educating our youngsters about sex and relationships rather than seeking to forbid it, greater progress would be made.

Actually, no, such campaigners are precisely the WRONG people to be handed that education role! “Just Say No!” is never going to be the basis for a successful campaign. A desire to impose a restrictive form of moral behaviour is doomed to fail because the basis for such a desire is often an external and imposed view of what is moral, a view based on, often, a flawed code with a religious motivation. Consider the abstinence programmes in the USA, which have led to greater instances of ‘alternative’ sexual activity for the sake of preserving virginity. And let’s face up to the fact that the sexual morality of adults is also questionable in this context, given there is statistical evidence that, in relation to married individuals, 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women admit to having an affair.

There may well be many concerns about how sex is used, in advertising, in magazines, films or the media generally and it is not just an appropriate concern of child protection professionals, feminists or any other specific group. There is significant scope for greater evaluation of the position of sex in a modern context. The commodification of sex is not, however, a new phenomenon, albeit that modern communication techniques make sexual imagery ubiquitous; it has always been thus. The biggest problem with introducing this element to the discussion, however, is that it blurs the boundaries of what is in issue. This case does not result from the female victim being ‘over-sexualised’ by modern society. It is not some sort of inevitable outcome of teenage sexual activity that society needs to put a curb on. This is a case about individual adult responsibility and the power dynamics involved.

Where Responsibility Lies

The facts of the criminal case, as far as it is possible to tell from the reporting, is that the victim, a 13-year-old girl, was in Wilson’s home where she performed a sexual act on him. I’m guessing that’s likely to be one of two main alternatives. He pleaded guilty to engaging in this act with a child.

Whilst the age of consent is 16, when deliberating on the appropriate sentence to impose the court has to consider what is called ‘ostensible consent’. What this means is the court has to take into account whether the specific crime involved a serious element of coercion, physical violence or something similar or whether the victim was something akin to a willing participant. In the former situation, the sentence will be harsher because the conduct complained of is more reprehensible and deserving of greater punishment. Legally, the court has to have some means of differentiating between crimes in terms of their relative seriousness.

It is in this context that the inappropriate terminology was used by the prosecuting barrister. Whilst he is under a legal duty to bring to the court’s attention all factors relevant to the issue of sentencing, he is also duty bound to be careful in the use of language.

In this case, it seems as if there was some evidence that the victim was not completely sexually naïve, that her personality meant that she actively sought involvement in such activities and that she did not have to be dragged into Wilson’s flat. All of which might well be factually accurate, leading to the phraseology used in the court room. It behoves us all to remember the following, however:

A thirteen-year-old girl, whatever her perceived life-experience, cannot consent to sexual activity per se, let alone with an adult.

A forty-one year-old man is perfectly capable of not engaging in any such activity with a minor.

Whether or not the girl was ‘experienced’, to call her behaviour ‘predatory’ is both wrong and a reversal of the true circumstances. It explicitly confers on Wilson the status of ‘prey’ whereas, of course, Wilson is the abuser and not the victim.

For such a young girl to be ‘compliant’ or ‘willing’ or even active in the pursuit of sexual contact with a man of this age it is likely that she has been groomed or a victim on previous occasions. We do not know whether this is in fact the case but reckless and sexually permissive behaviour is entirely to be expected in any young person who has been previously abused in such a way. To even hint that she may be partly responsible for being a victim is grossly inappropriate. One person and one person alone must bear the responsibility for this crime.

To comment that the victim ‘looked older than she was’ is also a sad indictment of the attitudes on show. She still was, and looked, under age and Wilson pleaded guilty – he did not contest the charge on the basis he though she was a 16-year-old who was consenting!

The outcome, an eight month suspended sentence, together with the reported words used, send out entirely the wrong message. It says to abusers, who need no encouragement to look for excuses, “Blame the victim!” “Don’t worry; we know she was ‘asking for it’.” I thought we had matured past such attitudes; it seems not.

© The Dolphin’s Brain 2013

Tags

Child Abuse, Neil Wilson, Nigel Peters Qc, Predatory, Robert Colover, Sentence, Sexual Abuse, Snaresbrook Crown Court

Meet the author

author avatar The Dolphin's Brain
I am a mixed bag of lawyer, vegan, environmentalist and sports nut and my writing is likely to be passionate, of-the-moment articles on a wide variety of topics. I also write the occasional poem!

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