If you don’t live in England, you may not have been following it, but there’s a roiling scandal over pedophilia in the media, entertainment industry and even the government. It began with the revelation that the late Jimmy Savile, a beloved BBC television personality, had repeatedly raped and molested girls over the course of his life. That revelation — and the concurrent revelation that the media and police had chosen to ignore clear evidence of abuse for decades — led to outrage among the people of Britain and forced Scotland Yard to open Operation Yewtree, to look into cases of sexual abuse that had been ignored.
The scandal has shown no sign of abating; indeed, a series of high-profile arrests have come out of the investigation, including that of publicist Max Clifford, who is accused of assaulting women between 1965 and 1985; Australian singer and entertainer Rolf Harris; and perhaps unsurprisingly, musician and previously-convicted pedophile Gary Glitter.
For people who view child rape as a serious problem — that is to say, pretty much everyone — the arrests have been welcomed. Certainly, attorneys for those charged have argued that the cases are old, and come from a time when they wouldn’t have been charged. But the pursuit of justice, even years after the fact, has been seen as a welcome sign that British society is no longer going to turn a blind eye to abuse if it’s committed by someone famous.
Fortunately for the pedophiles, there is one brave voice speaking out for them — Barbara Hewson, an abortion-rights attorney based in London, who argued Thursday that the men being charged are old now, that their victims successfully fought them off, and that really, 13-year-olds are totally ready for sex anyhow — so why not lower the age of consent?
In a column which seems like it should be parody, but isn’t, Hewson makes a rambling and incoherent argument that the age of consent should be lowered, and everyone should leave the poor possibly-pedophiles alone. Hewson begins with a Reductio ad Hitlerium, by noting that hey, Victorians crusaded to raise the age of consent, and women are totally more mature now, so…something:
In the 1880s, the Social Purity movement repeatedly tried to increase the age of consent for girls from 13 to 16, despite parliamentís resistance. At that time, puberty for girls was at age 15 (now it is 10). The movementís supporters portrayed women as fragile creatures needing protection from menís animal impulses.
Perhaps they did; it would be par for the course in the West in 1880 — or indeed, in 2013. But Hewson rather ignores that a 13-year-old is not, in fact, a woman. In England, as in America, she is a child. And that hasn’t changed because the average girl reaches menarche earlier now than in the 1800s; as anyone with an 11-year-old can tell you, they’re not cognitively adults. Or even adolescents. They are still, as they have ever been, children.
After pausing to sneer at organizations dedicated to stopping child sexual abuse — because really, what kind of crazy moral scold thinks child rape is bad? — she then moves on to Reductio ad Stalinum, comparing the pursuit of justice with Soviet show-trials.
All of that is bad, yes, but perhaps the worst part of Hewson’s argument is when she minimizes the crimes of Stuart Hall, a BBC personality who has pleaded guilty to 14 counts of indecent assault. Yes, that’s right — he’s now a convicted pedophile, who assaulted girls as young as 9.
But really, according to Hewson, Hall didn’t do anything that bad.
[T]he low-level misdemeanours with which Stuart Hall was charged are nothing like serious crime.
Touching a 17-year-oldís breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting oneís hand up a 16-year-oldís skirt, are not remotely comparable to the horrors of the Ealing Vicarage assaults and gang rape, or the Fordingbridge gang rape and murders, both dating from 1986. Anyone suggesting otherwise has lost touch with reality.
Well, yes, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not nearly as bad as Osama bin Laden, and bin Laden pales in comparison to Hitler, but all three guys either did or allegedly did awful things. Is what Hall has admitted to as bad as a gang rape or a murder? No, but frankly, it’s only a minor difference of degree.
Then again, according to Hewson, it isn’t that bad, because the girls managed to stop some of the attacks. “Itís interesting that two complainants who waived anonymity have told how they rebuffed Hallís advances,” she writes. “That is, they dealt with it at the time.” Well, yes. One supposes they did. But few people would view a 14-year-old managing to ward off an adult as reason not to prosecute, any more than escaping one’s kidnappers undoes the kidnapping. A crime is a crime, even if the victim manages to survive it.
Which, of course, is why Hewson wants to make raping a 13-year-old okay.
Adults and law-enforcement agencies must stop fetishising victimhood. Instead, we should focus on arming todayís youngsters with the savoir-faire and social skills to avoid drifting into compromising situations, and prosecute modern crime. As for law reform, now regrettably necessary, my recommendations are: remove complainant anonymity; introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions; and reduce the age of consent to 13.
If one can come up with a worse idea than this, good luck. It makes the Ryan budget look like a model of consistency and wisdom. Essentially, Hewson argues that we should simply make it open season on 13-year-olds. If their 43-year-old swimming coach wants to assault them, well, we’ll just teach them to handle it politely but firmly! Frankly, if they’ve drifted into a compromising position, it’s their own fault anyhow. Also, if there is a bit of sexual assault, those wanton 14-year-olds should have to come forward publicly. I’m sure lots of teenagers will gladly open themselves up for a national victim-blaming!
Hewson has made her career arguing in favor of abortion rights. I am amazed that anyone who claims to take the side of women could possibly advance the arguments she has. If she had her way, teenagers in Britain would be at the mercy of adults — and they would not just be girls, and they would not just be fending off men.
This is abhorrent. It is morally bankrupt. It is wrong. And Hewson should be ashamed of herself.
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