Age Of Consent Lowered To 13? Why Is Barbara Hewson Defending Pedophiles?

By Philip Ross on May 9, 2013 11:25 AM EDT

age of consent to 13
Former BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall admitted last week to 14 counts of indecent assault on underage girls, including a 9-year-old. (Photo: Reuters/Phil Noble)

Prominent UK lawyer Barbara Hewson, who specializes in reproductive rights cases, argued today that the age of consent, which now stands at 16 in the UK, should be lowered to 13. She also says that old men who sexually abuse young, teenage girls are over-vilified.

Her statement follows a slew of high-profile celebrity sex abuse scandals involving older men. One of them is the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal in which the late British TV presenter and DJ was accused of abusing hundreds of children over a 40-year period.

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Among those recently fingered for child sexual abuse is 83-year-old former BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall, who admitted last week to 14 charges of sexually assaulting girls, including a 9-year-old, over a nearly 20-year period.

"I do not support the persecution of old men," Hewson wrote in an article published in online magazine Spiked.

"With its emphasis on outcomes over process, the post-Savile witch-hunting of ageing celebs echoes the Soviet Union," she said. "Touching a 17-year-old's breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting one's hand up a 16-year-old's skirt, are not remotely comparable to the horrors of the Ealing Vicarage assaults and gang rape." (The Ealing Vicarage rape incident occurred in 1986 when a gang of robbers brutally and repeatedly raped then-21-year-old Jill Saward at knifepoint as her boyfriend and dad were forced to listen.)

Hewson's most egregious statements include her arguments that the age of consent for sex should be lowered to 13 and that complainants in sexual abuse cases should no longer receive anonymity. In her essay, the lawyer also tried to correlate the prosecution of playwrights and gay men in 18th-century England with the prosecution of pedophiles today.

Hewson is a leading UK lawyer with London's Hardwicke law firm.

"Stuart Hall has pleaded guilty to abusing children as young as nine years old, we think most people would agree that crimes of this nature are incredibly serious," said Peter Watt, director of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. According to The Week, Watt added that he believes lowering the age of consent would only empower pedophiles who prey on vulnerable young people.

Ages of consent vary worldwide, with some countries, like Syria, Spain and Japan, having it at 13. Colombia's age of consent is even lower: 12 for females and 14 for males. Mexico's laws also vary between 12 and 18. A few countries say you must be married. Others, like Algeria, Ecuador and Fiji, don't even have age of consent laws.

According to a paper from the University of Sydney, Australia, age of consent laws first surfaced in 1275 in England as part of rape law (it was simply a misdemeanor to "ravish" a girl under 12 years of age). In 1576, a new law made it a felony to "carnally know" and "abuse" a girl under the age of 10. From the university paper:

By the 1970s, feminist rape law reform campaigns had helped to expand age of consent laws. Aiming to challenge stereotypes of female passivity and growing concern about male victimization, they made it clearer that the laws concerned all youth-male and female-and that the laws protected them from exploitation rather than ensuring their virginity. European nations in general did not follow suit. Only Britain, in 2003, revised its legislation, making an act committed by an individual under 18 with one under 16 a separate, lesser offense.

In response to Hewson's call to lower UK's consent age to 13, Hardwicke released a statement disassociating themselves from the lawyer's comments.

"We are shocked by the views expressed in Barbara Hewson's article in Spiked," the statement reads. "We did not see or approve the article pre-publication and we completely dissociate ourselves from its content and any related views she may have expressed via social media or any other media outlets."

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