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THE AGE OF CONSENT

22-11-2006

Is it wrong to have sex with a girl under the age of 16 - or just illegal? The Chief Constableof Dyded Powys, no less, has questioned the current law. The Stirrer's resident psychologist Dr Mike Drayton offers his professional view.

Catherine carefully holds the razorbetween her thumb and forefinger. Her hand is shaking as she draws theblade acrossher stomach. She makes a five-inch cut and as the blood starts to flow she experiences a tremendous sense of relief and release. Catherine is twenty-four and is training to be a solicitor.

She has been cutting herself since she was fourteen.

She began self-harming as a way of releasing her anger after being coerced into having sex (some might say raped) by her eighteen-year old boyfriend. At the time nobody had believed her. Here parents were very much wrapped up in their own lives and careers and took the view that she must have done something to ‘lead him on'.

Catherine felt frustrated, invalidated and most of all brimming over with uncontrollable rage. She had to do something, so she cut herself on her arm with a sharp kitchen knife and immediately felt the waves of relief flood her body.

That's how she started, and now, as an adult,when she feels upset, angry or put down she copes by self-harming. It is a legacy of how a fourteen-year old girl does her best to cope with being forced to have sex.

If you talk to a hundred self-harmers you will get a hundred different answers as to why they do it. However, in many cases, the self-harm can be traced back to mistreatment or abuse in childhood. Often this abuse is sexual in nature.

So, is it padophillia when an 18 year old man engages in a sexual relationship with a 14 year old girl? Of course it is, isn't it? Well, thelaw is clear butTerry Grange, Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys and the spokesman on child protection of the Association of Chief Police Officers commented in an interview with The Sunday Times that pornography featuring children at 13 years of age should not be considered child porn.

Grange also said that the term "paedophiles" should only apply to adults who have sex with children 12 and under.

He said: "It is much more of an issue for me if a child is under 13. I think the closer they get to 16 the more it becomes a grey area and I think everyone in the field of dealing with sexual health and sexual activity acknowledges that.” He added: "I don't actually personally adhere to the 15-year-old being with a 20-year-old boyfriend being paedophilia, or even if the boyfriend is 30."

At first sight this is an appeal to common sense and accepting the world as it is, rather than as we would like it to be. However, I wonder how he would feel if his 12 year-old daughter one night brought home her 30 year-old boyfriend.

No more Mr Liberal I'll bet.

Of course, a relationship involves two people. Is the young person's prospective sexual partner 15 year old Jane or Johnny from next door? (which I think is what Terry Grange is getting at) or is it that nice 23 year old Ian Huntley from the local school? Or is it the attractive, but very needy 45 year-old divorced lady from number 22? Most paedophiles are adept at spotting vulnerable youngsters. They are often nondescript or even charming individuals.

Prior to the Soham murders, Ian Huntley was well known for his preference for very young teenage girlfriends

Most young people are, in my experience, vulnerable to exploitation. Their judgment is, understandably, undeveloped. That's why they cannot vote or have credit cards.

If children are protected from having to decide on who should represent them in parliament or buying something "on tick" then surelyit is wrong to burden them with the responsibility of deciding whether to begin a sexual relationship. It's not only the physical side that we need to consider here - young people are usually ill equippedto deal with the strong emotional fallout of an affair.

As any parent will tell you, teenagers need firm boundaries when growing up, especially when learning about relationships and sex. They need to know where they stand and exactly what is and is not acceptable.

When I read Grange's comments I think of all the victims like Catherine I have known and all the on-going misery child abuse causes, how it is sometimes passed on from generation to generation and I feel sad.

And the more I reflect on what he said,the more angry I become. The law is clear, it is illegal to engage in a sexual relationship with a person under the age of 16, end of story.

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