Public masturbation: a seminal issue!

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As Heretic TOC’s castration theme proved rather controversial, today’s topic will be soporifically bland, in order to calm everyone down. Rummaging around for something suitably anodyne, I needed to look no further than a reader’s comment commending public masturbation. I am sure we all agree with this reader that only “rules imposed by the humourless and convivially challenged” could stand in way of allowing anyone of an exhibitionist bent to jerk off in the shopping mall for the entertainment of passersby. Why, without a few sad killjoys standing in the way it might even catch on as a popular busking performance – a new source of income, perhaps, for superannuated porn actors.

Even so, it might come as a bit of a surprise that only a week or so ago it was reported that a court in Sweden had declared it is legal to masturbate in public. A 65-year-old man had been charged with assault after dropping his shorts on a beach in Stockholm and masturbating in front of people. But the court decided there was no assault, a verdict the public prosecutor said he accepted because nobody had been “targeted”. He said: “For this to be a criminal offence it’s required that the sexual molestation was directed towards one or more people. I think the court’s judgement is reasonable.” He added: “…we can conclude that it is okay to masturbate on the beach.” A targeted act might be considered disorderly conduct but, otherwise, carry on jerking your junk!

The exceptional nature of this judgement reminds us that “civilization” has largely been built upon the dourly restrictive precepts of the “convivially challenged”. The very dawn of European civilization, in Ancient Greece, affords us a tantalising glimpse of how alternative, let-it-all-hang out (literally) values might have developed and where they might have taken us in some parallel universe. They are to be found in the life of the philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, who achieved notoriety for many aspects of his lifestyle, including public wanking. He also defecated in the theatre – making him surely the most pungently effective theatre critic ever. Believing in a simple life, shorn of the hypocrisy and artificiality of much human conduct, he lived as a beggar on the city streets, with only a tub for shelter. Opposing Plato, he insisted that reason should replace authority in guiding human affairs – a point of special note for a particular contributor here who questions the standing of those whose reasoning he doesn’t like!

Being asked where in Greece he saw good men, Diogenes replied, “‘Good men nowhere, but good boys at Sparta.” Make of that what you will! He believed virtue was better revealed in action than in theory. He used his simple lifestyle and behaviour to criticise the social values and institutions of what he saw as a corrupt society in Athens and elsewhere. He publicly mocked Alexander the Great – who admired the oddball philosopher’s pluck and confessed that if he were not Alexander he would gladly have been Diogenes. Standing against property and government, the sage can be seen as an early anarchist – as can Lao-tze (Laozi), from a similar depth of antiquity in Ancient China, whose name was cited with approval by a reader who also expressed his dislike of “moral philosophy” – a point that perhaps has some resonance for us when we note one of Lao-tze’s sayings: “When goodness is lost, it is replaced by morality.”

We can see instantly what the legendary founder of Dauism means, or at least have our own ideas about it. The word “morals” derives from “mores” which means customs and rules of supposedly proper behaviour. All too often it means conventions which have needlessly constricted our lives like a corset, and which have no sound basis in fostering goodness. It is this conception of morals that gives “moral philosophy” a bad name: it is seen by some as mere moralising. In his excellent BL novel The Moralist, Rod Downey offers a vision of morality as window-dressing: we rationalise our own behaviours as moral while denouncing (especially if we are comfortably conventional in our tastes, and thus part of the moralising majority, as we might say) the desires and lifestyles of others.

Reviewing The Moralist, I welcomed Downey’s exploration of a deeply cynical take on life. His novel advances a way of thinking which guards against sentimentality and the smug moral complacency of authoritarians. Downey, although he does not shit and wank in public, so far as I am aware, might even be seen as a modern Diogenes in one respect: Diogenes was not only cynical, he was a founding father of the Cynics, one of the most famous and influential of all schools of philosophy. Unlike modern cynicism, though, which is often seen as a corrosively negative view of life, the cynicism advanced by Diogenes and his school was not lacking in a positive, constructive side – to an alarming degree, some might feel. A key idea was living in harmony with nature, which carried with it all the hair-shirt implications we now see in the modern environmental movement: green enthusiasts tend to berate us for being slaves to luxury and wasteful consumption. Diogenes would have agreed, and he also inspired the early Christian ascetics.

In other words, although Diogenes rejected moral conventions in such spectacular fashion, he very much believed in living a good life, and that we need to cultivate mental clarity in respect of what constitutes such a life. In effect he was saying, forget morals (“mores”, mere customs) and think about ethics, which considers moral values and their application in a systematic way. Confusingly, though, this is often known as moral philosophy!

Let us, then, call it ethics, for clarity. Indeed, this word, clarity, is absolutely key to the reason why moral philosophy – oops, sorry, ethics – was raised in the blog comments in relation to what mentally impaired young people are allowed to do or not do in the sex lives.

I said I would deal today with public masturbation, but in fact the Good Ship Heretic TOC has been stealthily navigating towards the more general issue of how to resolve ethical dilemmas. These dilemmas are occasions when we are faced with a puzzling conflict between different things, each of which seem desirable: such as upholding the seemingly legitimate rights of both parties when two people are at odds. We could just let the parties slug it out by force on a “might is right” basis, but in most cases – such as when one of the parties is mentally handicapped – we tend to feel a principled approach is needed in order to untangle the web of competing interests and resolve the issue as fairly as possible.

This sort of procedure is generally taken for granted in serious discussion, but it has been contested here on the grounds that “…humanity drives law, not abstraction. The merits of any given matter supported by factual evidence and interpreted fairly and reasonably on a case by case basis are primary, not some moral treatise…”

Judges, to be sure, must judge on a case by case basis. That is what they are paid to do. But our critic of “moral philosophy” had already specified in an earlier post that cases should be settled not just by a judge interpreting the law but that the law itself must be “reasonable and fair. It must observe the person’s human rights. It must comply with policy on social justice.” But the concept of “human rights” did not just plonk itself down among us. It did not spring, fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, nor arrive with preternatural sagacity, like Lao-tze, who is said to have stayed in the womb for decades before being born with a full grey beard and adult wisdom. While even little children of less wondrous beginnings than Lao-tze have a sharp intuitive sense of fairness, the development of rights that prevent slavery, give votes to women and allow gays to marry, has been the work of ethical deliberations – and, yes, “moral treatises” – that validate and encourage political pressure towards such ends. These ethical ideas, centuries in the making, are a work in progress, and we must hope that further work will advance the cause of sexual rights for children and the minor attracted.

In the meantime, we should at least do our best to understand the work that has already been done and its significance to us. This very much includes the rights of the mentally handicapped, which have proved such a contentious issue here. This theme – of mental handicap – is one I hope to pursue shortly, both for its own interest and because a principled investigation, grounded in the ethical reasoning that underpins human rights, has implications for considerations of “consent” that can be applied more widely.

Chemical castration and B4U-ACT: a challenge

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A few days ago a Briton living in the US was sentenced to serve 27 years in prison before being deported back to the UK, after plotting to kidnap, rape, kill and eat children. Authorities last year found a dungeon, homemade child-sized coffin, a child-sized cage with exterior locks, butchering kit and torture tools at the Massachusetts home of Geoffrey Portway, who had engaged in online discussions with others about a mutual interest in abducting and murdering children.

Castration tools were among the equipment found. In view of that grisly detail, there are some who might feel castration would be poetically appropriate as a precondition of Portway being considered for parole. Personally, I would prefer he were never released. His plans went far beyond S/M fantasy: even surgical castration – as opposed to the reversible chemical sort – would leave the more grotesque aspects of his criminal motivation untouched.

There are many other cases, though, in which offenders who have sexually assaulted children in a coercive or forceful way, or even those who have not so offended but have good grounds for fearing they are in imminent danger of doing so, could be considered appropriate candidates for treatment aimed at eliminating or greatly reducing their sex drive. B4U-ACT was castigated by a commentator here at Heretic TOC recently for failing to distance itself from such treatment. This was Jeff, who asked how could it be right for such an organisation to promote a treatment that would inevitably be harmful to a MAP’s mental health when it had been set up to improve standards of mental health provision?

Decca Aitkenhead, writing in the Guardian, visited some of the relevant issues in an informative and thoughtful article last year which makes a useful starting point for me to take the matter a bit further. She introduced her piece through the story of “Barry” (not the Barry who was responding here to Jeff!), who was sentenced to life in prison in 1976 for murdering a random stranger who had refused him a light for his cigarette. He had never been convicted as a sex offender but was put on a sex offender treatment programme (SOTP) in prison. This was because he committed an offence of common assault after being let out on licence: he had lured a girl behind some bushes and the assault occurred following a sexual advance, when she tried to escape. During the course of the SOTP he admitted to being a serial voyeur in constant danger of attacking young females.

So when a prison doctor offered him a pill that might take away his sex drive, “I didn’t think twice,” he reportedly said. “I jumped at it. And I haven’t looked back.”

For patients with obsessive sexual fantasies, Aitkenhead continues, antidepressants from the family of SSRIs that includes Prozac, often prescribed to treat obsessive compulsive disorder, can help them control their sexual thoughts. The second and more radical approach is an anti-androgen drug, such as leuprorelin, which reduces testosterone levels and makes the patient impotent. Research from Scandinavia, she writes, has reported a drop in reoffending rates from 40% to between zero and 5%. Barry was among those who advanced beyond SSRIs to anti-androgen treatment – which one would have thought would stand him in good stead with the Parole Board in order to secure a further release from prison. Herein, though, lies a tale to which I will return.

For the moment, let’s just review Barry’s situation as reported so far. He wants to be free; he does not wish to harm anyone (unlike Geoffrey Portway); he professes to be happy with the treatment, which he feels is a success; I imagine his supervisors on the SOTP feel he has made progress, judging by his attitude as it comes across in what he reportedly told Aitkenhead. So, if he can go back into society with a good prospect of making a success of it, what’s not to like?

Let us now turn to a very specific objection raised by Jeff: how could something as drastic as chemically blasting a man’s sex drive away (with side effects including growing breasts that may need to be surgically removed) be considered a voluntary treatment, as is usually claimed? In prison, especially, if castration appears to be the only way of getting released, it is surely a totally coerced choice, isn’t it, and therefore ethically dubious?

This is where I am going to bring in Mike Bailey. As I said in a previous comment, Prof. J. Michael Bailey once wrote a paper in favour of castration but more recently declared that “persuasive evidence for the harmfulness of pedophilic relationships does not yet exist”. These two positions at first blush may seem poles apart, as though Bailey’s views must have changed very radically. But it is not necessarily so. Among several possible interpretations of his position, he may believe that non-coerced adult-child sexual contacts are intrinsically harmless, and that castration, whether castration “lite” (chemical/reversible) or the real thing (surgical removal of the testes) cannot be justified in such cases, and maybe not prison sentences either, or indeed any kind of punishment. My point here is not to pin down Bailey’s position exactly but just to show that even belief in such a drastic treatment as surgical castration does not necessarily make the holder of such a belief an ogre of anti-sexuality and illiberal dogma. Indeed, I think Bailey’s unusual combination of views indicates that he is a thoughtful guy who is not afraid to go where evidence and logic take him, even when that makes him look a complete bastard to conservatives and liberals of the more emotional, knee-jerk, type for totally opposite reasons.

What more specifically is of interest to us here is the fact that his paper on castration, co-written with fellow psychologist Aaron Greenberg, addresses Jeff’s point about coerced “consent” to castration in detail and, I would say, with considerable care in around 1,250 words which I have posted online here.

In a nutshell, their argument goes something like this. Everything we do in life involves weighing up alternatives, and we are often forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. Whether a particular choice offered in the penal system is coerced to an improper degree is something that might possibly be defined [TOC: constitutional or human rights grounds come to mind] but the criteria would probably be very hard to agree upon. Instead of puzzling over what is or is not voluntary, a more productive approach is instead to ask simply whether it is morally acceptable to put the offender in the position of being subjected to one of the alternatives offered. If the prison sentence is fair [TOC: but at Heretic-TOC many of us believe sentences in this field are often appallingly unfair], why would a less disagreeable alternative chosen by the prisoner not be fair? If the prison sentence is unfair, that is a different issue. Far from decreasing the offender’s freedom, all adding castration (or anything else) as an option does is increase his freedom. If he prefers the full prison sentence to castration, he will refuse castration and will be in exactly the same position as if it were never offered. His position with the castration alternative will be better than or the same as, but never worse than, his position without the alternative. In addition, it is by no means clear that castration is a morally unfair punishment for certain sex crimes, even if imposed without the offender’s consent: in the case of very serious crimes, a punishment that may greatly reduce the chance of recidivism seems particularly appropriate.

So far as it goes, I think the reasoning here is quite strong (please point out flaws I have missed) but rather limited in the scope of its moral vision. It seems to me that true castration, like capital punishment, is one of those extreme ways of dealing with offenders that not only violates fundamental human rights but which also endorses violence: these punishments make the state look as vicious as the offender, or worse, and underpin, rather than undermine, a social climate in which violence is seen as a solution rather than a problem.

The point about the effectiveness of surgical castration in stopping further offences, is worth dwelling upon. Elsewhere in their paper, Bailey and Greenberg quote a 1970s German study, by Wille and Beier, indicating a very impressive postoperative recidivism rate of only 3%, whereas a comparison group of uncastrated offenders reoffended at a rate of 46% over 11 years. However, the also extremely good results reported above from Swedish research in relation to chemical castration do not appear to find support in the latest major study of the effectiveness of all types of sex offender treatment (or possibly all types in the UK: surgical castration does not seem to have been covered) published as recently as last month in the British Medical Journal by Långström et al. Well over a thousand studies were considered in this systematic review of the literature.

Embarrassingly for science, none of them were deemed good enough to demonstrate that any particular treatment is truly effective, including chemical castration. The paper notes: “The lack of credible studies of antiandrogen drugs is particularly striking given the prominence of ‘chemical castration’ in public debates concerning the treatment of known perpetrators.”

In that case, we might think, the ethical arguments reviewed above become redundant. What possible justification can there be for B4U-ACT, or anyone else, to promote a treatment that could be held to violate human rights, and which certainly has the humiliating and degrading (for a man) side effect of breast enlargement, if it may well be utterly ineffective? Isn’t it all a bit of a sham?

In practice, it is often a sham in other ways, too. Prisoners sometimes undergo castration on the basis of false hopes, as Bailey and Greenberg’s paper shows in the case of an offender called Jeffrey Morse in America. A particularly egregious injustice occurred in that case because Morse ended up being surgically, and hence irreversibly, castrated but then found himself given an increase over the expected sentence (from 25 years to 26), not a reduction.

There are false hopes and pervasive bad faith in the British penal system too. As Aitkenhead reveals, prisoners are in effect being led up the garden path: they are encouraged to undergo chemical interventions in the belief that their cooperation with suggested treatments will help secure their release. What they are not told, it seems, is that under existing rules the Parole Board is not even allowed to know whether prisoners have been on a course of SSRIs or had chemical castration! It is thus impossible for treatment to help secure their release but they are left with totally the opposite impression. This strikes me as utterly unjust and even fraudulent.

So where does all this leave us? Conscious of the rather heated clash in Heretic-TOC’s comment space over B4U-ACT’s apparently pro-chemical castration (in certain circumstances) stance, I have tried to approach the issues in a balanced and reflective way. It was not always so. As a young man, back in the 1970s, I delivered a fiery speech against chemical castration at a conference of the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty). It was later written up as an article in Gay Left after being attacked by Patricia Hewitt, who was later a cabinet minister in Tony Blair’s government. Reading that article again online, for the first time in over thirty years, I must ruefully note that it achieved nothing: chemical castration is still with us. Hewitt scoffed at my rather amateurish efforts – factual research by the unfunded non-professional was much tougher in the pre-internet era – and I now find my moral certainty at the time more than a touch simplistic.

The whole of the Gay Left issue in question is online as a PDF, and there is a Table of Contents. I might just mention in passing that the same issue includes a discussion of paedophilia by the Gay Left Collective, to which I replied in the following issue. Those who are interested in the changing attitude of the gay movement over time towards paedophilia might thus find these particular issues of Gay Left to be revealing. One of the leading lights of Gay Left was Jeff Weeks, then a radical young historian but sadly now – as I remarked in Tromovitch sets a poser on prevalence  – a rather bland and boringly PC emeritus professor.

What has not changed much, though, after all this time, is my opinion of chemical castration. Jeff (not Jeff Weeks!) is basically right, I think: chemical castration is an extreme form of intervention which is very hard to justify, especially as its efficacy is still in doubt after so many years. But that does not mean B4U-ACT is in some sort of conspiracy with the authorities or is anti-sexual.

This story related by Barry is worth recalling:

 …one young man … recently came to us seeking help. He had been on probation after he was released from prison for sexually assaulting boys, and during that time the state paid for him to receive anti-androgen medication. Now that probation was ending, he could not afford to continue the treatment and he was desperately asking for help to continue as he felt very strong urges to go out and assault another boy… What in actuality would be punitive is the 10- or 20- (or more) year sentence the MAP could receive if he were to act out on his urges. That would also certainly be more deleterious to the mental health of a MAP than a reversible course of medication…

These are strong points. It is not easy to know the right course to take when faced with responsibility for a case like this, which may be about self-coercion as a result of state brain-washing but is a very different situation to the hard choices faced by MAPs in prison or still under tight control during probation. If Jeff or anyone else can put forward a coherent and compelling policy for an organisation such as B4U-ACT in these circumstances, Heretic TOC would be pleased to hear it. Indeed, this blog would be interested to hear from B4U-ACT itself, in either its American or British manifestations.

MAIN REFERENCES

Aitkenhead, D., Chemical castration: the soft option? The Guardian, Friday 18 January 2013

Bailey, J.M. & Greenberg, A.S., “The science and ethics of castration: Lessons from the Morse case”, Northwestern University Law Review. 1998;92(4):1225-1245.

Långström, N. et al., Preventing sexual abusers of children from reoffending: systematic review of medical and psychological interventions, BMJ 2013;347:f4630 (9 August 2013)

Wille, R. & Beier, K.M., Castration in Germany, Annals of Sex Research 2, 105-9 (1989)

The heinous crime of truth-telling

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Two men awaiting sentence in Britain’s latest child sex scandal face an exceptionally steep fall from grace. Unlike the stars whose celebrity sparkle has been so abruptly snuffed out in the last twelve months, following the torrent of allegations about the late Jimmy Savile, this pair have made their name not as mere entertainers but as pillars of the establishment and icons of probity.

They are a judge and a public prosecutor. The crime in which they conspired together and which has already destroyed their high-flying careers and good name is apparently considered – judging by the outcry – the gravest sex crime that can be perpetrated in modern society: they have told the truth!

As readers in the UK will be aware, I refer to Crown Prosecution Service lawyer Robert Colover, QC, and His Honour (now Dishonour!) Judge Nigel Peters QC, who, jointly and severally, did knowingly, wilfully and most guiltily commit an act of truth-telling in Her Majesty’s Court at Snaresbrook last month, contrary to the Inappropriate Truths Act, which has an existence in the minds of child “protection” lobbyists as real and substantial as any government legislation.

Colover has been suspended from prosecuting sexual offence cases pending a review by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), while Judge Peters’ comments are being investigated by the Office for Judicial Complaints. The seriousness of the case could not have been made clearer than by Prime Minister David Cameron, no less, who made it his job (in a notable constitutional development!) to pronounce judgement in the case himself. Handing down his verdict, the Prime Minister told the press the CPS was ”absolutely right” to label Colover’s comments “inappropriate”.

What, then, was the nature of this terrible truth-telling? This is not for tender ears, but it was this: in a case in which 41-year-old Neil Wilson was given an eight-month suspended jail sentence for sexual activity with a child, the prosecutor and judge both “blamed the victim”. They made the well substantiated claim, which has not been publicly rebutted on factual grounds, that the girl who was the 13-year-old “victim” was a more than willing participant in the sexual acts.

The girl reportedly looked older than her actual age and told the man she was 16, which is the age of consent in the UK. Wilson met the schoolgirl when she asked him to buy cigarettes for her while she was playing truant. She stripped out of her school uniform and performed oral sex on him.

In accusatory language Heretic TOC would not support, but which appears to have been backed up by the facts of the case, prosecutor Colover, said in court, “The girl is predatory in all her actions and she is sexually experienced. There was sexual activity but it was not of Mr Wilson’s doing; you might say it was forced upon him despite being older and stronger than her.”

Well, quite! Resistance would have been useless! The poor man was practically raped! The judge in effect agreed, saying that “On these facts, the girl was predatory” and had been “egging on” the defendant. He said his lenient sentence took account of this.

With a prosecution like that, it may be thought, the fortunate Mr Wilson hardly needed a defence lawyer, and indeed none was quoted in any of the reports I saw. What prompted this rare (these days, at least) outbreak of commonsense in court is as obscure as it is welcome, but Heretic TOC needs only to congratulate the Judicial Dynamic Duo!

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Observant readers will notice a gap of several lines (and some stars) after the last paragraph. I am just attempting to prove to myself than I can still write a reasonably succinct blog when I really try. The one above, at well under 600 words, is far shorter than many of my recent efforts, which have ballooned to thrice this length, and more. However, like poor Mr Wilson faced with his striptease Lolita, I still find myself powerless to resist going a bit further than I perhaps should. I must therefore place myself at the mercy of you, dear readers, as my judge and jury in this matter, and hope you will be as forgiving as the two QCs at Snaresbrook Crown Court!

One announcement I feel confident you will forgive:  a few moments ago, as I write, I was informed over the airwaves by the BBC that the latest celebrity show trial in Britain has ended in a verdict of Not Guilty. Michael Le Vell, actor in Coronation Street, one of the nation’s longest-running and most popular TV soaps, has been cleared of a number of CSA charges, including rape. I haven’t followed the case closely but I think it was one of those “his word against hers” allegations, with no corroboration. If that is so, the jury were right to settle for nothing less than a proper standard of proof.

And another bit of good news you may not have caught yet: Richard Dawkins has been making waves by saying he and other children in his school peer group had been molested by a teacher but “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.” Peter Watt, director of child protection at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, immediately went public, in effect to contradict him, insisting on the usual dogma of life-long trauma. An advocate of “listening to the victim”, he clearly did not have ears for this one!

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And now a bonus blog, offering a few reflections on the case of the Judicial Dynamic Duo:

1)      The girl was 13, which in English law is significant in terms of consent. If a girl below this age consents to sexual intercourse, any man who has sex with her is liable to be charged with rape, because her consent counts for nothing. But if she is over 13 and under 16 he can only be charged with the lesser offence of “sexual activity with a child”. This is because her consent is in effect taken into account as real and it acts as a mitigating factor. This being the case, the public outrage over acknowledging the active role of the child in the Snaresbrook Crown Court case flies in the face of the law. The competence of many young people under 16 to make important decisions in their life is also acknowledged in English law in what is known as “Gillick competence”, following the case of Gillick v. West Norfolk & Wisbech Area Healthy Authority, 1986. The highest court in the land, the House of Lords, ruled that those under 16 could give consent to medical treatment as long as they had sufficient understanding and intelligence to appreciate what was proposed and to express their own wishes. Lord Scarman identified the principle that parental rights yield to the young person’s own right to make their own decisions if they have this “Gillick competence”. Significantly, the medical treatment in question can include advice on contraception for sexually active youngsters. As the admirable lawyer Barbara Hewson recently noted, “It has been Department of Health policy since the 1980s that underage teenagers choosing to be sexually active should receive contraceptive advice and treatment, in confidence. Sexual health charities working with young people have been telling policy makers, for years, that the existing age of consent law does not deter those underage teenagers who are sexually active. And the UK’s teen pregnancy rate is one of the highest in Western Europe. Yet if one of these ‘Gillick-competent’ teens is involved in a criminal case, these uncomfortable facts are conveniently forgotten.”

2)      Have there been precedents for the Judicial Dynamic Duo’s approach? Definitely, but it’s been a while. In 1993 an 18-year-old babysitter who tried to have intercourse with a nine-year-old girl after climbing in her bed was freed on probation by a judge who described the child as “no angel”. Judge Ian Starforth Hill was unsurprisingly castigated for this remark by the appeal court. Even more notorious from a protectionist point of view were the remarks of Judge Brian Gibbens in a case 10 years earlier, that of William Watson-Sweeney, who admitted having sexual intercourse with a seven-year-old girl. The judge was clearly sympathetic to the defendant, a former soldier, twice wounded in action, who had a drink problem. His Honour made an unfortunate remark to the effect that people could get themselves accidentally into all sorts of problems in life. This emerged as the following headline in The Times: “Sex with children could happen to anyone accidentally, judge says”. Imagine how that would go down today, especially regarding intercourse with such a young child! Not that the “intercourse” was more than minimal: the penis needs only to slightly enter the labia to qualify. The judge pointed out that the child’s virginity remained intact.

3)      An even more fascinating aspect of the Watson-Sweeney case was reported in an appendix to a Home Office report some years ago. The defendant pleaded not guilty to rape on the grounds that the child – aged seven remember – had consented to sexual intercourse with an understanding of what that entailed. Remarkably, the court accepted that the girl’s statement that “she knew what mummies and daddies did in bedrooms” was sufficient evidence of her understanding of the true nature of the situation. (From Setting the Boundaries: Reforming the law on sex offences, Vol. 2 Supporting Evidence page 136, Appendix D2, Literature Review of Research into the Law of Sexual Offences Against Children and Vulnerable People, by Caroline Keenan and Lee Maitland).

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