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Children, sex and the law 17.3.2015 Dr. Laura Janes Legal Director, the Howard League for Penal Reform

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Presentation on theme: "Children, sex and the law 17.3.2015 Dr. Laura Janes Legal Director, the Howard League for Penal Reform"— Presentation transcript:

1 Children, sex and the law 17.3.2015 Dr. Laura Janes Legal Director, the Howard League for Penal Reform Laura.janes@howardleague.org

2 Overview Good and bad sex for children Children have sex Growing up in a ‘hyper-sexualised’ society Legal responses to anxieties children and sex Observations of a ‘concerned lawyer’ – questions arising from practice and research

3 Good and bad sex for children Is sex bad for children? If so, what types of sexual or sexualised behaviour are harmful at various points in a child’s development? Children develop at different rates and in different environments (Stainton Rogers and Stainton Rogers, 1999).

4 Children have sex “Little doubt that teenagers are sexually active” (Home Office, 2000, p.36) 28% of underage boys and 19% of underage girls were sexually active in 1991(Social Exclusion Unit, 1999) Sexual activity at a young age is more prevalent in the UK than elsewhere: Almost 40% of young people in the UK report having had sex by the age of 15, compared to between 15–28% for 16 other countries including most of Europe and Canada (UNICEF, 2007).

5 Growing up in a hyper-sexualised society ‘sexualisation of culture’ has become a major focus of interest and concern in the last decade; ‘growing sense that western societies have become saturated by sexual representations and discourses, with pornography increasingly influential and porous, permeating contemporary culture’ (Ringrose et al, 2012, p.16) A series of reports commissioned by government: –Dr Linda Papadopoulos (2010) charts the pervasive commercialisation of sex aimed at young people and notes ‘empirical research and clinical evidence that premature sexualisation is harmful’. –Similar conclusions drawn in a further report commissioned by the Government (Bailey, 2011).

6 Growing up in a hyper-sexualised society International research suggests that the average age of puberty commencing has reduced by about a year to around the age of nine years over the last decade and a half (Celia Roberts, 2013) Growing up young: The relationship between childhood stress and coping with early puberty- early puberty may become a physical embodiment of a sense of being more grown up than age-peers in the case of girls who are required to take on heavy social responsibilities (Kristina Pinto 2007) 16% of young people surveyed (UK) had been abused under the age of 16 and that three quarters of this abuse was unreported at the time (Cawson et al, 2000)

7 Growing up in a hyper-sexualised society ‘Charlie’ (not his real name) explained that sex was normal amongst his friends: “Most of my friends were having sex aged 10 and 11. Out of my close friends, around 9 out of 13 had sex at that age.” He also described early exposure to porn and the impression it made on him: “The porn I saw had a lot of violence and I thought it was real. I thought people were supposed to get upset when they had sex.

8 Growing up in a hyper-sexualised society Harmful sexual behavior among children is extremely high with around 65 per cent of all sexual offences against children being committed by children (Radford et al, 2011). A study of the use of ‘sexting’, based on focus groups with 150 children from year six (aged 10 and 11) and year nine pupils (aged 13 and 14), concluded that there was a high prevalence of sexting to the extent that it had become normal and even ‘mundane’ for most children by the age of 14 (Phippen, 2012) There may be an assumption that if everyone is doing it, it could not be against the law: ‘all the lads who I was with were having sex with other people. So I thought I would have a try’

9 Legal responses to sex among children Anxieties about the premature sexualisation of children have coincided with on-going attempts through legislation and policy to protect children from sexual abuse by adults and children alike since the early 1990s (Masson, 2006). The Sexual Offences Act 2003 –Sections specifically aimed at dealing with child defendants (together sections 9 and 13 of the Act limit the punishment available to children convicted of sexual offences, –New strict liability offence of rape of a child under the age of 13 applies equally to a child defendant as an adult defendant. –New offences of grooming, voyeurism and internet offences concerning children in the same Act –Notification requirements (flowing from sentence, s82); parental directions, s89 –SOPOs MAPPA, licence conditions and threat of breach or recall Sarah’s Law: child sex offender disclosure scheme

10 Observations of a ‘concerned lawyer’ Children aged between 10 and 17 account for approximately 9.62% (n = 5,359,900) (Office for National Statistics mid-2010 population estimates) If the relatively high prevalence of sexual contact among children is correct, only a very small proportion of children with harmful sexual behaviour are dealt with by the criminal justice system: young people arrested for sexual offences made up 2% of all notifiable offences resulting in arrests of 10 to 17 year olds (n = 210,660), (YJB and Ministry of Justice, 2013b). Children who come to the attention of services are as likely to be dealt with by child protection agencies as by criminal justice agencies (Lovell, 2002).

11 Observations of a ‘concerned lawyer’ Children are much more likely to be cautioned for serious sexual offences. For instance, in 2012, 19.1% of convicted children received a caution for rape of a female compared to 0.3% of convicted adults for the same offence. Children are much less likely to get a prison sentence for sexual offences. Children are more likely end up with a conviction for sexual offences: –More likely to plead guilty to sexual offences: majority of children are processed in the youth court (magistrates court) –According to the Ministry of Justice (2014), on average, between 2004 to 2012, 34 per cent of defendants proceeded against at magistrates court for offences under section 5 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 were children.Sexual Offences Act –on average 20 per cent of all convictions for statutory rape of a child under the age of 13 each year between 2011 to 2013 related to child defendants

12 Observations of a ‘concerned lawyer’ The criminal justice process is too overwhelming, and embarrassing for children to effectively participate: “in Court, I went guilty. I thought that it was taking forever to get through Court so I might as well just say it. The solicitor told me to go not guilty but I didn’t take any notice of her – I didn’t like her.” Child “I couldn’t even understand the Judge because he was just posh. I couldn’t understand the words that they were all saying” Child “YOT practitioners often panic because they don’t get so many of these top end cases. They demonise the behaviour of the young person because there are so few of them.” YOT worker

13 Observations of a ‘concerned lawyer’ The Court process postpones and delays therapy: “what would have helped was, instead of going through Court, I could have done the G-map or Barnardo’s instead of going through all that trauma with my family and then I could have got the work done quicker. I was in and out of Court for two years without doing the work. So when I came to do the work, it was hard to really remember anything”.

14 Observations of a ‘concerned lawyer’ Children don’t know much about sex, even less about what is against the law For children with histories of abuse (dual status), the transfer of status from ‘victim’ to ‘offender’ is a big deal “I knew sort of – it was forcing yourself. Police told me – they were telling me what it was like forcing someone to have sex when they don’t want to do it. It all seemed like mad stuff. It was the first time I ever talked about what rape is even though it had been done to me in the past”.

15 Observations of a ‘concerned lawyer’ Most children are “disgusted” by sex offenders, including child sex offenders Children are capable of making a truly fresh start: –“I know I am [a sex offender] but if I was asked to describe myself that’s not the first thing that comes to my mind. I have my own personality. All that ties in with not judging people straightaway”. –“I don’t like it. I want to try and get a normal life. I can have one sort of but it is hard”. But criminal justice systems will invariably interfere with normal life: “A few months ago somebody liked me and I liked them back but I said just to be friends which is what we did. Although we don’t see each other much now. I don’t think I will ever have a relationship – it’s too much hassle”.

16 References Stainton Rogers, W. & Stainton Rogers, R. (1999) 'What is good and bad sex for children?', in King, M. (ed.) Moral agendas for children's welfare. London: Routledge. pp. 136-150. Home Office (2000) Setting the boundaries: reforming the law on sex offences. London: Home Office. Social Exclusion Unit (1999) Teenage Pregnancy. London: The Stationery Office. UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2007) UNICEF, Child poverty in perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries. Florence: United Nations Children’s Fund. Ringrose, J., Gill, R., Livingstone, S. & Harvey, L. (2012) A Qualitative Study of Children, Young People and 'Sexting'. Papadopoulos, L. (2010) Sexualisation of Young People Review. London: Home Office. Bailey, R. (2011) Letting Children be Children: Report of an Independent Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood. London: The Stationery Office. Roberts, C. (2013) 'Early puberty, ‘sexualization’ and feminism', European Journal of Women's Studies, 20 (2), pp.138-154. Pinto K (2007) Growing up young: The relationship between childhood stress and coping with early puberty. The Journal of Early Adolescence 27(4): 509–544. Cawson, P., Wattan, C., Brooker, S. & Kelly, G. (2000) Child Maltreatment in the United Kingdom: A Study of the Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect. London: NSPCC.

17 References (cont’d) Phippen, A. (2012) Sexting: An Exploration of Practices, Attitudes and Influences. London: NSPCC. Radford, L., Corral, S., Bradley, C., Fisher, H., Bassett, C., Howat, N. & Collishaw, S. (2011) Child abuse and neglect in the UK today. London: NSPCC. Masson, H (2006) ‘Policy, law and organisational contexts in the United Kingdom’. In Children and Young People Who Sexually Abuse Others: Current Developments and Practice Responses. Erooga, M. & Masson, H. (eds) London: Routledge. pp. 18-30. Office for National Statistics (2012) 'Mid-2002 to mid-2010 population estimates: England and wales; estimated resident population by single year of age and sex; revised' Youth Justice Board & Ministry of Justice (2013b) 'Youth justice statistics 2011/12', pp.23 October 2013 Lovell, E. (2002) Children and Young People who Display Sexually Harmful Behaviour. London: NSPCC.


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