No sense please, we’re British

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on the new Sexual Offences Act.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics

Voyeurism is just one of many crimes created by the new Sexual Offences Act that came into force at the weekend. If prurient peering into other people’s private lives is now an offence, the Home Office should be the first in the dock, with this Act offered as evidence for the prosecution.

New Labour is promoting the reforms as ‘sex laws for the 21st century’. It is right that the law needs updating, for example by removing such 19th-century homosexual offences as ‘gross indecency’. But the main thrust of the Act is not to liberalise sex laws based on Victorian values. Instead, it writes into law the illiberal and priggish prejudices of our own time.

The reformers seem to have a nasty fantasy that society is suffering an epidemic of sexual abuse, from drug-assisted date rape to paedophile ‘grooming’. When they talk about ‘protecting vulnerable people’, they have just about everybody in mind as a potential victim. They have dreamt up a law to cover every imaginable type of interpersonal abuse.

Because the Government imagines that there must be thousands of sex criminals walking around at liberty, it has altered the law on consent with the explicit aim of convicting more men of such serious crimes as rape on the basis of less evidence. The view of women inherent in the new law on consent is equally stereotypical. As Barbara Hewson, a barrister, argues: ‘It assumes that women are frail creatures, who must be protected from sex and can’t be trusted to make their own wishes clear.’

Some of us might innocently have thought that there were already plenty of laws against the sexual abuse of children. Yet the Sexual Offences Act manages to invent several more such crimes, notably the offence of paedophiles ‘grooming’ young people on the internet. In Whitehall’s worldview, that few such cases have ever come to light is simply proof that there must be a ‘hidden’ crime wave. As David Blunkett made clear in welcoming the new law, the wonders of the internet are little more than a stream of ‘vile and degrading material’ and an easy way for perverts to get at ‘vulnerable people and the young’.

Even the practice of underage teenagers fumbling with one another is now officially a sex crime. However, the Home Office has made clear that it does not want such heavy petting cases brought to court. Instead, the new law is apparently intended to send young people a ‘message’ about right and wrong. What the actual message of such a confused measure might be is anybody’s guess.

Unabashed, the Sexual Offences Act continues its awkward fumble through layer after layer of legal definitions, leaving its fingerprints all over places they had no business to go. It is now written into law, for example, that a silly young teacher who falls in love with a sixth-former must marry the pupil before sex if she/he hopes to avoid jail. There are detailed provisions specifically prohibiting everything from ‘inciting a child family member to engage in sexual activity ‘ and ‘engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a person with a mental disorder impeding choice’, to ‘intercourse with an animal’ and even ‘sexual penetration of a corpse’.

This legislation captures a misanthropic outlook in which intimacy is always dangerous and nobody can be trusted with anybody else. In this lowlife judgment on human sexuality, we are all assumed to be potentially vile or vulnerable, and probably both. In which case, we need the State to act as a legal chaperone from cradle to grave.

Since nobody wants to be seen as a defender of ‘perverts’ rights’, the only criticism of this authoritarian law has come from zealots insisting that it does not go far enough. No doubt they have a point. After all, it is all very well outlawing sex with ‘a living animal’ or ‘a dead person’. But what about protecting dead animals from non-consensual touching and grooming?

This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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