“The Home Office Sex Offences reform proposals do not go far enough”, according to Peter Tatchell of OutRage!.
“All consenting, victimless sexual offences –homosexual and heterosexual– should be abolished, including the criminalisation of consensual adult pornography and sadomasochism.
“The law on the age of consent should take into account the fact that over 50 percent of young people have their first sexual experience before they are 16. Consenting sex involving partners under 16 should not be prosecuted, providing they are of similar ages and there is no evidence of pressure, manipulation or exploitation.”
While the proposed repeal of Victorian-era laws that discriminate against homosexuals is long overdue and most welcome, the Home Office recommendations ignore two aspects of homophobic discrimination. –
Under the Criminal Justice Act 1991, most consensual gay offences are defined as ’serious’ sex crimes on a par with rape, indecent assault and child abuse. These victimless gay offences should be deleted from the 1991 Act.
The Sex Offenders Act 1997 classifies consenting gay relationships involving men in their late teens as child sex abuse, but the equivalent heterosexual behaviour is not even a crime.
A 20 year old man who has consenting gay sex with a man aged 17 is categorised as a pædophile and forced to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register. In contrast, a 19 year old heterosexual man who has unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl aged 13 does not have to sign the register. The Sex Offenders Act needs urgent amendment to end its anti-gay bias.
Sex Offence Review Team,
50, Queen Anne’s Gate,
LONDON. SW1H 9AT
19th March 1999
Dear Ms. McLean-Tooke,
Herewith our contribution to the Home Office Review of Sex Offences. Please do not hesitate to contact us via any of the addresses above if we can be of further assistance.
We understand the review will take some time, after which there will be a further consultation period. We anticipate taking a further part during this when we will be very happy to explain the proposals, whatever their form, to audiences throughout the land.
Although prostitution is excluded by the terms of reference from the current review, nothing in our submission should be interpreted as condoning the continued criminalisation of prostitution per se.
John Beeson (for OutRage!)
Our Statement of Aims is as follows:
OutRage! is a broad-based group of queers, committed to radical, non-violent direct action and civil disobedience to:
ASSERT the dignity and human rights of queers;
FIGHT homophobia, discrimination and violence directed against us;
AFFIRM our rights to sexual freedom, choice and self determination.
Any organisation with these aims must welcome a chance to review the law on homosexual crime and ‘make recommendations that will provide coherent and clear sex offences which will protect individuals, especially children and the more vulnerable, from abuse and exploitation’.
We believe the present laws against gay men, and to a lesser extent lesbians, are unjust, blatantly homophobic and, compared to similar laws controlling heterosexual behaviour, totally unequal. This inequality extends to the protection of minors, enforcement, penalties, charges and sentences.
We do not believe that consensual actions between adults, no matter how bizarre they might appear to the majority, are any concern of the law, or its agents. Thus we seek to legitimise consenting actions in bath-houses and saunas, ‘backrooms’ in pubs, and all group sex in private, including sadomasochistic games. We would also like to extend the concept of private to include public lavatory cubicles and after-dark ‘cruising’ areas.
Where activities such as ‘cruising’ and ‘cottaging’ are the subject of complaint from a member of the general public, the complainant should be required to appear at any subsequent trial and the offence, if any, should be regarded as a misdemeanour.
This group believes that, since recreational sex is a natural activity and popular pursuit, all laws which seek to control it should be abolished. However, abuse of trust and sex by adults with minors should remain punishable as at present: though there may be a case for the review group to give sensitive consideration to examples of experimentation between those just above and just below a fixed age of consent.
The whole basis of the current homosexual control laws is moralistic and based on a largely medieval concept of Christianity which we believe has no place in a pluralistic democratic society. Terms such as immoral, indecent, unnatural, sodomy and buggery have no place in a modern legal code.
Sex Offenders’ Register
While we are anxious to ensure that the vulnerable are protected from assault and abuse, we are greatly concerned about the implementation of the Register, the ease with which names may unnecessarily be added, and the difficulty in removing names no longer appropriate, (e.g. where the offence for which a person was added is subsequently decriminalised).
We also believe that the best way to promote protection of the vulnerable is through education, in schools and in the workplace, to inculcate the notion of respect for self and for others. Criminalising behaviour is at best a second string to the bow.
HOW OUTRAGE! BELIEVES THE LAWS SHOULD BE CHANGED
The Sexual Offences Act, 1956
This act could be reformed by simply making all sections gender neutral, that is persons instead of man, woman, boy or girl, adding ‘whether anal or vaginal’ to references to sexual intercourse and then repealing sections which no longer apply.
Thus Sections 1 to 10 could be reformed, Sections 11 and 12 and 13 repealed, and the reference to bestiality with an animal in Section 12 transferred to animal cruelty legislation. Section 14 should be reformed and Sections 15 and 16 repealed. Section 17 should be reformed and Section 19 repealed.
Sections 20 to 30 could be reformed and Sections 31 and 32 repealed. Sections 33 to 38 reformed and Section 41 repealed. This only leaves Sections 42 to 48 to be reformed.
Public Order Act 1986
We would endorse Martin Bowley’s group’s proposal that this Act should have Sections 4a and 5 modified to allow it to be used to regulate sex acts in public. They suggest that Section 5 should be modified as follows:
A person is guilty of an offence if he uses threatening words or behaviour, or disorderly or indecent behaviour within hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
A similar modification should be made to Section 4a to cover intentional harassment.
Vagrancy Act 1824
Section 4. Repeal.
Street Offences Act 1959
Section 1 and 2. Modify to gender neutral.
Sexual Offences Act 1967.
Repeal the whole Act.
Criminal Law Act 1977
Section 54 part 1 and 2. Modify to gender neutral.
Sexual Offences Act 1985
Section 1 and 2. Modify to gender neutral.
Section 4 part 1. Modify to gender neutral. Repeal parts 2 and 3.
Today, Friday, 5th March, the Court of Appeal dismissed Terry Connell’s appeal against sentence for consensual gay sex in private: behaviour that would be legal elsewhere in Europe. If he were heterosexual, he would never even have been charged.
The Court sat at 10:30 to hear Terry Munyard QC explain that this was a ‘victimless crime’, where all the participants were willing and no one was corrupted; that the sex took place in private behind closed doors, where no one was outraged or offended; that the video was not made for commercial purposes; and that the British Government has effectively abandoned its case against Euan Sutherland, recognising that, since current legislation breaches the European Convention on Human Rights, the law must and will change.
[The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, shortly to be debated in the House of Lords, is a direct consequence of this.]
Lord Justice Mantell interrupted Mr. Munyard at one point to state categorically that Connell’s work as a gay activist did not count against him, since campaigning for the law to be changed “never could be a matter for complaint”.
The Court rose at 10:45. Three minutes later, after full consideration and due deliberation, the Appeal Judges returned with their typed ruling, which was read by Lord Justice Douglas Brown. They found that, under the existing law, “the learned judge” (Michael Lever) was entirely correct in imposing nine months’ imprisonment: though, in regard to the “special circumstances” of the case (as outlined by Terry Munyard), he had suspended this for two years.
Mr. Munyard commented afterwards: “The attitude of the Court to what they know is a violation of the European Convention is absolutely grotesque”.
Connell, undismayed by today’s ruling, is determined to take his appeal to Europe. “The prejudice shown to gay people in this country is akin to the prejudice shown to black people in America in the 60’s”, he said. “Although we will never be fully rid of racism or homophobia, the powers that be should be doing more to promote equality. The fight goes on.”
Connell was accompanied today by a number of friends, together with campaigners from OutRage! and CHE. John Hunt of OutRage! explained: “Nine months in prison (albeit suspended) seems out of all proportion for a blow-job in any circumstances. It is a bitter blow to have the sentence confirmed today: and, as counsel stated, it is a serious breach of the fundamental human right to equal treatment.
“Last year’s prosecution alone cost £ ½ million; and the costs of the appeal have not yet been calculated. How paranoid are the authorities in this benighted country that they spend hand over fist to persecute peaceful citizens? Terry is to be commended in his resolve to continue fighting injustice. We will continue to support his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, (which ruled in October 1997 that Britain’s unequal age of consent is unlawful).”
[Only on Monday the European Court found prima facie evidence of breaches by the MoD of Articles 3 (torture and degrading treatment), Article 8 (Privacy) and Articles 12 and 14 (right to enjoy rights without discrimination!) in its treatment of lesbian and gay personnel. It is to be expected that they will find similarly in this case.]
The Bolton 7 have appealed against the verdicts and sentences handed out in February 1998. Five of the sentences were reduced on 11th February 1999: but the appeal of Terry Connell has been postponed until 10:30 Friday, 5th March, [Court 8, Court of Appeal, The Strand, London WC2].
Terry was sentenced to 9 months (suspended for two years), placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register, and also charged £ 500 costs. As he himself points out, if the laws of this country didn’t discriminate against us, he wouldn’t even have been charged. The Seven, who now all have criminal records, were prosecuted for consenting gay sex in the privacy of their own homes.
Following the prosecution, Terry has become a dedicated gay rights activist. It is because he believes so strongly that our discriminatory laws are unjust that he is pursuing this appeal: if necessary, to the House of Lords or the European Court of Human Rights, (who ruled in October 1997 that Britain’s unequal age of consent is unlawful).
The case has been supported by OutRage! and Stonewall, (together with MP’s, bishops, and Amnesty International U.K. ). Supporters and well-wishers are invited to join a peaceful protest outside the court from 10 a.m.. [Tube stations: Holborn / Chancery Lane / Temple]
John Hunt of OutRage! stated 12 months ago: “The Bolton-7 case demonstrates that the gay community remains vulnerable to police witch-hunts. These antiquated laws, which are still on the statute books, can be activated at any time. It is a warning against apathy and complacency. We should never assume that equality is inevitable or that an end to discrimination is just around the corner”.
With Terry’s appeal just two weeks away, Hunt added: “The failure last summer of Ann Keen’s age-of-consent amendment to the Crime and Disorder Bill, (with opposition from the Lords expected again over the coming months), means that this is just as true today. Indeed, the Government’s allegedly well-intentioned but nonetheless ill-drafted and sadly misguided abuse-of-trust clauses in the current Bill will, if passed, send completely the wrong message both to the public and to future legislators.
“We must support Terry in his fight against discrimination. This appeal is not just about the age of consent, but also the unequal ‘privacy’ requirement: no more than two people present. Join the demonstration for the right to consensual sex in private”, Hunt urged.
Five of the Bolton 7 have sentences reduced
The Bolton Seven, convicted in January 1998 of gross indecency or buggery, had all been sentenced to probation or community service. On 11th-February-1999 the Court of Appeal cut the sentences because none of the five had previous convictions for sexual offences.
Probation orders for 12 months were substituted for Turner, Godfrey and Love, who had all been sentenced to 12 months’ probation and 100 hours’ community service. Moore had two years’ probation cut to a year; while Abdie’s 150-hour community service was replaced by a one-year conditional discharge.
Under the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, gay sex is illegal when more than two persons take part or are present.
The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, which aims to equalise the age of consent, is expected to reach the House of Lords in March or April. OutRage! and Stonewall are urging other gay groups and individuals to bring candles to a peaceful, dignified Vigil to support equality at Westminster, from 6-10 p.m. on the night of the Lords vote.
Royal Courts of Justice: 020-79.36.60.00
Terry is being represented by Janet Cragg:
Robert Lizar Solicitors,
159, Princess Road, Moss Side, Manchester. M14 4RE
Tel. 0161-226 2319; Fax. 0161-226 7985;
The Government’s abuse of trust clause in the new age of consent Bill is “inadequate, misguided and oppressive”, says OutRage!.
“It fails to give young people sufficient protection against sexual abuse and unjustifiably criminalises consenting and loving relationships”, according to OutRage! spokesperson, Peter Tatchell.
OutRage! is calling on the Government and the House of Lords to amend the Bill to require all schools to provide earlier, better quality sex education which, it argues, is the key to combating sex abuse.
“The age of consent Bill does not go far enough to protect teenagers against sexual exploitation”, said Tatchell.
“We want the Bill amended to require sehools to provide improved sex education. Young people need to be empowered with the skills and confidence to resist unwanted sexual advances and to report abuse if it occurs.
“Current sex education fails to address abuse issues in an upfront, honest way. Pupils are not taught what to do if they are pestered for sex by a parent, teacher or care worker. They don’t get information about how to deal with sexual harassment.
“All the evidence shows that young people who are equipped with the ability and assuredness to say ‘no’ to unwanted sex are much more likely to rebuff and report would-be abusers.
“If the Government and the House of Lords are serious about safeguarding teenagers against sexual manipulation, they should amend the age of consent Bill to ensure that school sex education lessons promote young people’s sexual rights, which include the right to reject sex they don’t want.”
OutRage! is highly critical of the Government’s new abuse of trust law.
“The abuse of trust legislation concentrates on penalising abuse after it has happened. Our emphasis on improved sex education would help stop abuse happening in the first place”, said Tatchell.
“OutRage! opposes the way the abuse of trust clause criminalises consenting sex. Sexual relations between a young person and an adult in a position of authority over them are inappropriate, but they should be subject to discipline under professional codes of conduct, not criminalisation.
“We don’t believe that teachers and care workers should be punished by up to two years’ jail for a sincere, loving relationship”, said Tatchell.
A gay sex “zone of toleration” in London’s Russell Square is being proposed by OutRage! as a way of reducing public complaints and police harassment arising from gay cruising and sex in the Square at night.
The idea is modelled on the “tolerance zone for gay sex” that operates in parks in Copenhagen and Amsterdam with the agreement of the police and city council.
Under the OutRage! proposal, Camden Council and Holborn Police would agree to the creation of an officially-designated “zone of toleration” within Russell Square, where gay sex would be permitted.
“One third of Russell Square could be sectioned off with a high fence and thick shrubbery”, explained John Beeson of OutRage!. “Entrance to the area would be marked with a warning sign. A similar system has worked well in the main parks in Copenhagen and Amsterdam for many years”.
OutRage! is attacking the homophobic campaign mounted by some local residents.
“If local people don’t like gay sex in Russell Square, they should stay away. No one is forcing them to go there. They can use Bedford Square or Coram’s Fields instead. In any case, what are these heterosexual whingers doing wandering around Russell Square at 2 a.m.? They should be at home looking after their children”, said Beeson.
OutRage! is blaming Camden Council for the rise in public complaints of “indecency”.
“The Council increased the lighting in the Square and cut down the thick shubbery, making the sex more visible. No wonder public complaints have increased.
“Having created the problem, Camden is now considerlng closing the Square at night to stop gay men having sex there. This would end more than 50 years of gay cruising in Russell Square.
“To make the sex more discreet, Camden Council should turn off the lights and replant head-high dense bushes around the outer perimeter of the Square, the borders of the flower beds, and the sides of the café. That would cut the visibility of sexual behaviour and minimise public complaints”, said Beeson.
Mr. K. Hopley,
Action Against Crime Unit,
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.