Barrister Barbara Hewson caused controversy yesterday when she argued for the lowering of the age of consent to 13, the removal of complainant anonymity and the imposition of a strict statute of limitation in criminal and civil claims.
Ms Hewson also argued that the Savile scandal has infantilised adult victims of sexual abuse because they have reported their abuse to children’s charities like the NSPCC.
Ms Hewson’s article has been met with strong criticism. The NSPCC called her views ‘outdated and ill-informed’. One of our clients, who was raped by Savile at the age of 12, expressed outrage arguing that these suggestions would take the UK back ‘to the dark ages.’
Slater and Gordon's Abuse Lawyer, who represents over 65 victims of Savile, appeared on Sky and BBC to challenge the views put forward by Ms Hewson. In particular, the Abuse Lawyer argued that the reduction of the age of consent to 13 would lead to ‘vulnerable children being targeted by the likes of Savile.’ It is important to note that many victims of sexual abuse are sought out because of their vulnerability. Decreasing the age of consent would not help to protect these children from sexual exploitation by adults.
Ms Hewson’s comments about ‘bottom pinching and groping’ belittle the severity of the abuse that many of our clients have suffered. The most serious of the assaults perpetrated by Savile, and other abusers, are not disclosed to the media because our clients have not been able to speak publicly about the abuse.
Further, we fail to see how the crimes recently admitted by Stuart Hall, which include 14 charges of indecently assaulting girls including one aged nine, could be viewed simply as ‘misdemeanours’.
We recognise that there is a scale of severity of abuse and are therefore baffled by Ms Hewson’s comments that people are comparing non-consensual kissing or groping with ‘gang rape and murders’. However, Ms Hewson misses the point that those who have endured, what she would view as, relatively minor assaults can go on to have long-lasting psychiatric or sexual problems.
As a result of the Savile scandal, we should be encouraging victims of sexual assault to come forward rather than criticising, as Ms Hewson does, people for speaking to charities such as the NSPCC and NAPAC. These charities provide key support and advice for those who have experienced sexual abuse. The sad circumstances of Ms Andrade suicide, as we have previously discussed here, demonstrates what can happen if victims of sexual abuse are not provided with adequate support.
If you would like to speak to one of our specialist child abuse team about any of the issues raised in this article please contact us on 020 7657 1658/1653/1502 for free confidential advice. Any communication will be dealt with in strict confidence.
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