Labour vetoes Equality

Government defends discrimination in sexual offences law

OutRage! has warned that the newly-agreed equal age of consent will not apply to Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man, and that Tony Blair is unwilling to press the local parliaments to equalise their ages of consent at 16, to bring them into line with the rest of the UK.

OutRage! is also warning that despite the equalisation of the age of consent, men of 20 or over convicted of consensual “buggery” and “gross indecency” with 16- and 17-year-olds in situations where more than two persons are present or where the sex takes place in parks, backrooms, toilets and other “public” places will still be branded as pædophiles and forced to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register.

OutRage! has condemned the Labour government for opposing equality amendments by Dr. Evan Harris MP. His amendments sought to lift the ban on gay sex involving more than two men, and to remove from the Sex Offenders’ (pædophile) Register men convicted of consenting gay sex with youths aged 16 and 17.

Seven gay and bisexual men in Bolton were convicted in January this year under Section 1 of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which prohibits gay sex where more than two persons are present. Two of the Bolton 7, aged 33 and 55, were also forced to sign the Sex Offenders’ Reigster after they were convicted of consenting sex with a youth aged 17 and a half.

It was to remedy these injustices that two amendments to the Crime and Disorder Bill were tabled by Dr. Evan Harris MP, with OutRage! support. Dr. Harris withdrew his amendments only after the Government indicated it would vote them down.

Dr. Harris was also pressured by other lesbian and gay rights organisations –not OutRage!– to withdraw his amendments. They argued that his attempts at further law reform would alienate the government and cause Labour to vote against equality. A defeat, these organisations claimed, would detract from the age of consent victory.

“Winning an equal age of consent is an important advance”, said Huw Williams of OutRage!. “But it is scandalous that it has taken 31 years. Many other homophobic laws remain unchanged. We won’t be satisfied until all discrimination is abolished. Eguality at 16 has got to be the first step in an on-going programme of lesbian and gay law reform”, said Williams.

Sentencing and Supervision of Sex Offenders

Response to the Home Office Consultation Paper

Mr. K. Hopley,
Action Against Crime Unit,
Home Office,
50 Queen Anne’s Gate,
London. SW1H 9AT

Dear Mr. Hopley,

Consultation Paper: Sentencing and Supervision of Sex Offenders

In our view the Home Office is right to take action to protect children from sexual abuse. However, the new proposals set out in Sentencing and Supervision of Sex Offenders mistakenly lump together consensual and coercive sexual offences, and those between adults and those involving children.

We believe the proposals should be restricted solely to people convicted of sexually abusing children, and should not penalise persons convicted of consensual sex with other adults or other young people of a similar age.

In accordance with the Indecency With Children Act 1960, we propose that the definition of a child should be a young person under the age of 14.

The requirement to register with the police, and other penalties outlined in Sentencing and Supervision of Sex Offenders, should exclude those convicted of consensual sex offences involving persons aged 14 or over, and those convicted of similarly victimless offences where both partners are under 14 and of roughly comparable ages.

We furthermore believe that those convicted of consensual offences involving one person over 14 and the other under 14 should also be excluded from these proposals, providing there were no more than three years difference in their ages (as in the case of mutually agreed sex between a 13 year old and a 15 year old).

Some young people under 14 knowingly and willingly sexually experiment with each other. They are not a threat to children and should not therefore be subject to the provisions set out in Sentencing and Supervision of Sex Offenders.

We particularly want the largely gay and consensual offences of buggery, indecency, soliciting and homosexual acts on merchant ships deleted from the index of offences in Annex A. Accordingly, we propose the removal of:

(1956 Sexual Offences Act)

* Section 12 – Buggery (or attempt to commit buggery)
* Section 13 – Indecency between men
* Section 32 – Solicitation by a man

(1967 Sexual Offences Act)

Section 2 – Homosexual acts on merchant ships.

There are plenty of other laws (apart from the four mentioned above) which can be used to protect young people against abusive, coercive and violent sexual exploitation, such as the Indecency With Children Act 1960, and the laws against rape, incest and indecent assault (under the Sexual Offences Act 1956).

There is no need, or justification, to punish the thousands of gay and bisexual men who have convictions for consensual sex with other adult males.

Our research, based on Home Office and police statistics, suggests that there were nearly 20,000 convictions for homosexual acts between consenting adults during the period 1980-89 (mostly for victimless cruising and cottaging).

In 1994 alone, about 500 gay and bisexual men were found guilty of offences which caused no harm and had no victims. All these men will now be required to notify the police of changes of address, as will many thousands more if these proposals are made indefinitely retrospective to cover anyone who has ever had a conviction for a sexual offence (a proposition we urge the Home Office to reject).

Under the Home Office proposals, the Bishop of Durham, Michael Turnbull, who was convicted of gross indecency with another man in a public toilet in 1968, would be required to inform the police of any change of address and alert them if he went away on a holiday or religious retreat lasting longer than four weeks. The idea that men like the Bishop are a threat to children is absurd.

It is a gross mistake to classify men involved in consenting sex with other adult males alongside child sex abusers, rapists and other harmful sex offenders. Most importantly, it will not help to protect children from unwanted sexual advances and molestation.

Yours sincerely,

Marina Cronin
OutRage! London