Antony Grey and the Sexual Law Reform Society 2Posted: September 29, 2014 Filed under: Abuse, Labour Party, PIE, Westminster | Tags: albany trust, angela willans, antony grey, ben whitaker, Catherine Jay, christopehr bradbury-robinson, greek love, Helen Jay, j.z. eglinton, jo richardson, Judy Todd, keith hose, mary whitehouse, maurice yaffe, michael ingram, nambla, neville armstrong, paedophile action for liberation, paedophile information exchange, release, roger moody, theresa may, tony smythe, walter breen, william burroughs 6 Comments
A few articles were published by Dominic Kennedy in The Times in August of this year, relating to Antony Grey. I reproduce them here. One of them deals in particular with Grey’s role in the publication in the UK of J.Z. Eglinton’s book Greek Love (New York: Oliver Layton Press, 1964). Eglinton, whose real name was Walter Breen, was associated with NAMBLA, and was convicted for child molestation as early as 1954, then on various later occasions (involving boys aged 10 and above). This book is an absolutely key text in the paedophile canon.
The Times, July 23rd, 2014
Dominic Kennedy, ‘How paedophiles gained access to establishment by work with the young; Child sex campaigners boasted the education system could not cope without them’
Paedophiles became so entrenched in jobs working with children in the 1970s that one of their leaders suggested that if they staged a national strike many schools would close.
Campaigners openly admitted that men who were sexually attracted to children were being employed as teachers, clergymen, scoutmasters and youth workers.
The campaign to legalise sex at all ages gained access to the establishment via apparently progressive organisations such as mental health groups and gay and civil rights campaigns.
The evidence has emerged as the government prepares a national inquiry into historical child abuse.
The Times has discovered that childsex campaigners and doctors admitted that many paedophiles had found jobs working with children. Paedophile groups also wooed government-funded charities so that they could gain access to opinion formers. They also invented a “children’s rights” movement, campaigning on issues such as corporal punishment, as a cover for their real purpose of decriminalising sex between adults and children.
Roger Moody, writing for a magazine published by the campaign group Paedophile Awareness and Liberation (PAL), stated: “If all paedophiles in community schools or private schools were to strike, how many would be forced to close, or at least alter their regimes?”
In a factsheet prepared by the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), the organisation observed that teachers, clergymen, scoutmasters and youth workers were particularly prone to “child love”. It said: “Paedophiles are naturally drawn to work involving children, for which many of them have extraordinary talent and devotion (often they are also the ones the children value most). If this field were to be ‘purged’, there would be a damaging reduction of people left to do the work.”
Maurice Yaffe, a senior clinical psychologist, identified the same four professions in an article for a medical pamphlet, saying “it is fair to say that a high proportion will have sought out positions” in these fields.
The government-funded Albany Trust, a counselling service, was used by paedophile campaigners to gain access to influential people in society. “Recent talks with the Albany Trust have proved useful in a number of ways,” said an article in PAL’s newsletter, seen by The Times. “Firstly, the trust’s present policies are such that their co-operation has more to offer PAL than groups interested only in homosexuality. Secondly, the trust is in a position to provide useful contacts with other groups and organisations. [We will continue] to work with the Albany Trust in the coming months, and we are confident that this will not only be of great value to PAL and its members, but also as regards furthering the understanding and acceptance of paedophilia amongst non-paedophiles.”
This lobbying strategy bore fruit when Antony Grey, the director of the Albany Trust, privately urged Ben Whitaker, the former Labour MP for Hampstead, author and fellow executive member of the National Council for Civil Liberties, to discuss child sex at a forthcoming meeting with the chairman of WH Smith.
“I feel very strongly that Smiths should be called on to justify their attitude and not merely to use the word ‘paedophilia’ as a dirty brush with which to smear … anyone,” Mr Grey told Mr Whitaker. There is no reply in the archive. Albany Trust now says that it disassociates itself from organisations promoting child sex abuse.
PAL warned its subscribers “to use the utmost discretion in any communication with us” because police might seize their mail.
PIE was introduced to Albany Trust by the mental health charity Mind. The director of Mind at the time was also a senior figure in the NCCL, which accepted PIE and PAL as members. Mind has apologised.
PIE was helped by Release, the drug users’ charity. A submission from PIE to the Home Office, arguing for the decriminalisation of sex with children, gave Release’s offices as PIE’s holding address. Release said that it was “shocked and deeply upset that there was, or could have been, any connection between our work and the repugnant activities and despicable views promoted by PIE”.
An edition of PIE’s newsletter includes an art review by Christopher Bradbury-Robinson, a former head of English at a Home Counties preparatory school, describing “the eroticism of paedophilia … the yearning to touch the untouched”. Bradbury-Robinson became an author and friend of the novelist William Burroughs. Often mentioned in articles promoting paedophilia was Michael Ingram, a Catholic monk who portrayed himself as an expert in counselling and child sex, but was convicted in 2000 of sex offences against six boys during that era. He died after crashing his car into a wall.
The Labour MP Jo Richardson sent a supportive message to a PIE journal Childhood Rights saying that she supported its campaign against corporal punishment.
PIE infiltrated the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and PIE’s leader tabled a successful motion at its 1975 conference. He said that it was “absurd” for it to disassociate itself from paedophilia because there were “many gay paedophiles” inside and outside of the campaign group.
Who’s who from the era of misguided civil rights
(above) The national director of Mind, the mental health charity and a former general secretary of the National Council for Civil Liberties.
director of the Albany Trust, secretary of Homosexual Law Reform Society, a member of the executives of the NCCL, Defence of Literature and the Arts Society and British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
The first Labour MP for Hampstead (1966-1970). Executive director of Minority Rights Group. Head of George Orwell Memorial Trust. NCCL executive. Author. He was lobbied by Antony Grey to urge WH Smith, the newsagent, to stop using ‘ “paedophilia’ as a dirty brush with which to smear” anyone.
Christopher “CJ” Bradbury-Robinson
PIE magazine arts reviewer. Former prep school teacher. His friend William Burroughs referred to Bradbury-Robinson’s “sexual interest in small boys” in his introduction to a novel.
(below) Catholic monk who sent message of support to PIE’s magazine Childhood Rights. His purported research into child sexuality was taken seriously by experts in the 1970s but he was later exposed as a serial abuser of boys, jailed and died after crashing his car.
Feminist Labour MP. She thanked Childhood Rights for sending her a copy: “Of course I’ll support the campaign against corporal punishment,” she wrote.
GRAPHIC: Outraged women greet members of the Paedophile Information Exchange arriving for their first open meeting in London in 1977 with a barrage of eggs
NEVILLE MARRINER / REX FEATURES
Mary Whitehouse, the morality campaigner, delivers a 1.5 million signature petition against child sexual abuse to Downing St in 1978. Ben Whitaker, the Labour MP, campaigning in Hampstead with Catherine Jay, Judy Todd and Helen Jay, was an associate of Antony Grey
The Times, July 22nd, 2014
Dominic Kennedy, ‘Trust head helped edit book about sex with boys’
The head of a charity that received a government education grant secretly helped to edit a book about sex between boys and men, The Times can disclose.
Antony Grey, who was director of the Albany Trust, which provides counselling for homosexuals, protested his innocence when the morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse accused him of using taxpayers’ money to promote paedophilia. He omitted to disclose that he had already helped to produce the UK edition of Greek Love, a book by the American paedophile Walter Breen, who would eventually die in prison.
The book was on a recommended reading list issued by the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE).
The Department for Education said yesterday that it would look into what payments were made to the trust, after The Times told it that the organisation reported receiving thousands of pounds a year in funding. It stated that in the late 1970s it was receiving money from the Home Office and what was then the Department of Education and Science.
Theresa May, the home secretary, published an independent investigation this month after it was realised that the Home Office had given grants to the trust. The review was unable to allay fears that some of the government funding may have been spent supporting the PIE campaign to legalise sex between children and adults.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “We will look in to the question of whether the department funded Albany Trust in the 1970s.”
The trust first came under the spotlight when Mrs Whitehouse claimed in a speech that it had been using grants to support paedophile groups. Mr Grey denied that any public money had been given to paedophiles.
He said in an article that he had attended a workshop by the charity Mind where a paedophile spoke “openly and bravely about his life situation”. He omitted to mention that the speaker was Keith Hose, the chairman of PIE.
PIE was affiliated to the influential National Council for Civil Liberties, whose executive included Mr Grey and Tony Smythe, the director of Mind.
Records seen by The Times show that the publisher Neville Armstrong wrote to Mr Grey in 1969 about Greek Love, a treatise about men having sex with boys written by Breen, a convicted paedophile, under the pseudonym J Z Eglinton. Breen died in 1993 while serving a ten-year sentence for child molesting. Mr Armstrong said he accepted Mr Grey’s editing suggestions. Mr Grey told the publisher: “Greek Love has caused me to rethink some of my own basic attitudes to human sexuality.”
The trust also proposed to publish a pamphlet about paedophiles which stated that they “represent no special threat to society”. It was abandoned after Angela Willans, a trustee who was the Woman’s Own agony aunt, saw a draft and branded it monstrous.
The Albany Trust said: “Albany Trust wishes to make it clear it entirely dissociates itself from any organisation promoting the sexual abuse of children. Albany’s counselling services continue to provide much-needed support for individuals from all backgrounds, across the spectrum of sexuality.”
It said that the trust adhered to a professional code of ethics.
Antony Grey and the Sexual Law Reform Society 1Posted: August 26, 2014 Filed under: Abuse, PIE | Tags: albany trust, antony grey, AT Work, bernard braine, mary whitehouse, mind, paedophile action for liberation, paedophile information exchange, rodney bennett-england, sexual law reform society, tom o'carroll 8 Comments
This is a first post giving more information about Antony Grey (1927-2010) and his relationship to the paedophile movement. Time does not permit a detailed exegesis of Grey’s life and work (this will have to wait for a later date), I am simply posting here a relevant section from his book Quest for Justice, and some articles about the Sexual Law Reform Society (SLRS) with which he was involved. In another source which I have, Grey makes clear his and some other members of the SLRS’s dislike for the whole concept of an age of consent; I will print this in a later post, whilst such a view is quite clear in the last articles published here. The SLRS was linked to the Albany Trust, who funded the Paedophile Information Exchange ; articles about this can be found here and here. Obituaries of Grey can be read here and here. The Antony Grey papers are indexed here and can be accessed at the LSE library; links here and here give pointers to where more information relating to PIE might be found. The speaker at the MIND conference referenced would have been Keith Hose, then chairman of the Paedophile Information Exchange (my thanks to Matt Lilleker for pointing out the omission of this information in an earlier draft).
My immense thanks to Daniel de Simone for locating the articles on the Sexual Law Reform Society.
Antony Grey, Quest for Justice: Towards Homosexual Emancipation (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1992)
In September 1975 I attended, together with the Albany Trust’s incoming Chairman, Harold Haywood, a seminar on sexual minorities and their problems which had been organised by MIND. One of the speakers was a young man in his early twenties who described in a very courageous and moving way his experiences, thoughts and feelings as a paedophile . Afterwards, Mr Haywood said to me that, of all sexual minorities paedophiles were the most misunderstood, execrated and doom-laden; and that the Albany Trust had a moral duty to see whether anything could be done to help those who carried this heavy burden to live more at peace with themselves within the law.
I agreed with him; and, although I was already worried at the increasing diversification of the Trust’s interests, and the growing workload bearing upon the few of us working full time for it, I arranged for a few private discussions to be held at the Trust’s office between psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers whom I knew to be concerned with paedophiles in their professional work, to explore with them the nature and availability of support needed. I also invited some paedophiles to join in these talks, including the young man who had spoken at the MIND conference and other members of the newly-formed (and ill-fated) Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) and another group, PAL (Paedophile Action for Liberation). 
These meetings were in accord with the philosophy and policy of the Trust as an educating and helping agency. One of the possibilities discussed was the provision by the professionals of a support group for lonely, isolated and frightened paedophiles; another was the joint production by the group (including its professional members) of a ‘Questions and Answers’ booklet on paedophilia, to be published by the Albany Trust. A drafting committee  produced a text, but the Trustees could not agree on it, so the project was dropped. The Trustees decided that, apart from public educational work, any Albany Trust supportive help for paedophiles, including counselling, should be linked to the NACRO sex offenders’ project. I never thought, and did not intend, that paedophilia should become a major focus of the Trust’s work; but it seemed to me – and still does – a legitimate area of potential counselling support and social concern to explore.
I did not foresee what a minefield we were walking into. Years previously, Tony Dyson had said to me that paedophilia was an issue which would not be sensibly confronted by society in the foreseeable future: how right he was.
PIE and PAL were radical in style, fashioned in the mould of the Gay Liberation Front. As one of PIE’s leading lights, Tom O’Carroll (who was subsequently imprisoned for ‘conspiracy to corrupt public morals’) later said, the Albany Trust’s respectable, sober-suited persuasive lobbying tactics of ‘doing good by stealth’ did not appeal to PIE:
There was no way in which we in PIE were going to go through all that palaver. . . . We were just not prepared to wait for decades of centuries before declaring ourselves. It just wasn’t in our nature. Instead, we naïvely supposed we could be both open and play the lobbying, PR game to some extent; we thought we could manipulate the Establishment and find allies within it, simultaneously with being the ogres of the popular press and the Church-based reactionaries like the Festival of Light. 
PIE’s mistake, O’Carroll admitted, was to believe that having identified their visible enemies they would still find elsewhere ‘if not friends, then at least rational, liberally-minded people’. They did not expect The Guardian to react to the notion of paedophilia in the same way as The News of the World.
The Albany Trust’s mistake was to be willing to behave as rational, liberally-minded people towards PIE and PAL, and so to expose ourselves to violent attacks from the ‘moral majority’ upon the Trust’s hard-won credibility.
In the first (autumn 1976) issue of its broadsheet, AT Work the Trust mentioned the meetings we had convened ‘to discuss possible ways of providing supportive help for paedophiles who feel themselves to be in need of it’. In the context of the Trust’s counselling activities, fully detailed elsewhere in AT Work, the meaning of this phrase was perfectly clear. In the same issue I reviewed a new book on paedophilia, The Forbidden Love.  Although the authors (one of them, a Jungian psychiatrist, was a friend of mine) took no exception to what I wrote, it greatly incensed the Responsible Society, who described it as ‘aggressive’ – presumably because I had said that the Victorian assumption that childhood and sexuality were mutually exclusive could no longer be sustained without question: commonplace enough notion in the 1970s, I should have thought.
In the summer of 1976 I had spoken (in my capacity as Honorary Secretary of the Sexual Law Reform Society) about the age of consent at a National Council of Social Service Women’s Forum; and in October I addressed a meeting arranged by the National Council of Voluntary Youth Organisations on the same topic Present at the latter meeting was Mrs Riches of the Responsible Society, who voiced her strong disapproval of the SLRS’ proposals.  Over lunch I vainly tried to convince her that we were as anxious as she was to protect and guide young people during their formative years of growing up, but without making them or their consenting partners into criminals.
A few weeks later, on 24 November 1976, a violent storm burst around the Albany Trust. Mrs Mary Whitehouse, honorary General Secretary of The National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, got shockwaves of national publicity for her claim (in a speech to a ‘Christian Lunch and Dinner Clubs’ meeting at Central Hall, Westminster) that the Albany Trust – which she described as ‘the homosexual lobby front runner’ – was using its public funds to
‘support paedophile groups’ so that ‘we are all subsidising and supporting, at least indirectly, a cause which seeks to normalise sexual attraction and activity between adult males and little girls’.
And she began her reference to the Albany Trust’s public funding by pointedly remarking, ‘One constantly has to ask oneself – does the right hand of the Government know what the left hand is doing? And I MEAN the left hand!’
Her allegations were groundless. All that the Trust had actually done was to invite half a dozen paedophiles to contribute their points of view at some private meetings held under our auspices with medical and social work professionals. The ‘public funding’ which they had received from the Albany Trust amounted to a few cups of tea. However, PIE had bought from the SLRS a single copy of the Speijer Report, which they proceeded – without our knowledge or permission – to photocopy and sell for £1.
My immediate reaction to Mrs Whitehouse’s speech was that it must have been made on the basis of misinformation; and I believed that she should naturally wish to make a public correction when she realised that what she had said was false. The Trustees were legally advised that her words were defamatory, but did not wish to resort to a court action. A carefully drafted letter [See Appendix 3] was therefore sent to Mrs Whitehouse, listing the numerous errors of fact in her speech and requesting her to make a public withdrawal of what she had said. Despite several requests for an answer, the Trust never received one. And though we did not publish the contents of our letter until the summer of 1977, extracts from it had by then been printed in Mrs Whitehouse’s book, Whatever Happened to Sex.
In the House of Commons a number of parliamentary questions concerning the Albany Trust were tabled. Sir Bernard Braine MP alleged that the Trust was using public funds to ‘support’ PIE. His ‘reasons’ were that PIE had sold photocopies of the Albany Trust-annotated translation of the Speijer Report for £1 each; and that under my Directorship the Trust had ‘openly campaigned’ for reduction of the age of consent.
I wrote to Sir Bernard Braine telling him that what he had said under the cover of Parliamentary privilege was totally without foundation, and asking him to withdraw it. He sent me a forceful letter repeating his assertions and full of underlined questions such as ‘May I ask if you are the Mr Grey who spoke at these meetings?’ I replied pointing out the errors in his attach, and stated:
I do not approve of paedophile practices. I do not favour the social acceptance of paedophilia. I do not belong to or support PIE. I disagree with PIE’s aims, pronouncements and activities. I would not advocate or support any changes in the law other than those proposed in the enclosed Sexual Law Reform Society’s report. [I added] Just as I suppose you have done, I have participated in many hundreds of meetings during my working life where numerous bodies with whom I quite violently disagreed were represented – but nobody has ever before accused me of holding views which I in fact reprobate because I have sat round a table and engaged in dialogue.
I heard nothing more from Sir Bernard Braine.
In its autumn 1977 Broadsheet the Festival of Light castigated PIE, and referred to the Albany Trust as ‘a sympathetic and related body’ – a description which they later withdrew following a strong protest from the Trust’s new Chairman, Rodney Bennett-England (practically all of whose time was by now occupied in dealing with anxious enquires from ministers and Government funding bodies about the Trust’s allegedly nefarious activities).
Others, however, were unwilling to retract their twisted versions of the Trust’s views and conduct, so Bennett-England eventually wrote a letter to The Times in January 1978 complaining that for some time the Albany Trust had been the victim of ‘a particularly vicious campaign’ and was ‘completely powerless’ to defend itself against a barrage of MPs’ questions. He was promptly answered by the Responsible Society’s chairman, who reiterated that the Trust had given PIE ‘encouragement and assistance’, and that it was ‘clearly linked’ with the English translation of the Speijer Report (‘a document which seeks to justify adult sexual gratification with minors’). Bennett-England sent a reply which did not get published, pointing out that the Speijer Report’s proposal was to reduce the Dutch age of consent for homosexual behaviour to sixteen; not to legalise paedophile relationships.  Further private correspondence between the two chairmen failed to shake the Responsible Society’s conviction that the Albany Trust condoned child-molesting.
Mrs Whitehouse took up the cudgels again the correspondence columns of The Guardian, declaring that ‘for Rodney Bennett-England to deny an association between the Albany Trust and PIE is to move the debate into such a realm of unreality as to make rational argument impossible’, to which he retorted ‘it is she who makes rational argument impossible by refusing to accept the truth if it doesn’t suit her purpose.’
Echoes of the conflict continued to reverberate around the country for several months, surfacing in a variety of parish magazines and local newspapers and causing the Albany Trust an enormous amount of extra work and worry. One such article, called Gay is Sad – and Bad which appeared in a West Country parish magazine early in 1978, claimed that:
‘the Government has made available large sums of public money to organisations which exist to promote homosexuality and are sympathetic to paedophilia (sexual interference with children)’, and accused the Albany Trust of being ‘aggressively sympathetic to paedophilia,’ of ‘spreading the message that homosexual activity is normal and natural and the equivalent of sexual intercourse’, and of labelling adolescents as ‘teenage gay people’, ‘long before they have the opportunity to develop fully, thereby possibly inhibiting the maturing process to heterosexuality.’
This sensational piece was prominently featured in the local press. Fortunately the Bishop of Malmesbury, who (as he wrote to Bennett-England) had always had a considerable regard for the Albany Trust’s work, and was puzzled and concerned at the sudden spate of adverse publicity which it was attracting, sent a copy of the newspaper to the Trust. Bennett-England had a letter published setting the record straight, and received a handsome apology from the clergyman who wrote the parish item. In a letter also published in the local press, he said:
These allegations [against the Albany Trust] were not manufactured here at my desk. I took them word for word, from a source which one would naturally have supposed to be entirely reliable and trustworthy. Nevertheless, I now contrast the fact that Rodney Bennett-England has set out the Albany Trust’s position clearly and openly with the insistence of my own source that on no account must it be revealed. I must, therefore, prefer the former; and I do so readily and completely.
One can see his point. After all, God made no bones about telling Moses who had inscribed the Tablets of Stone on the mountain.
Looking back upon this sorry episode more than a decade later I am still distastefully perturbed by the way in which such fierce attacks were launched upon the Albany Trust upon such flimsy grounds, and were persisted in even when the Trust repeatedly exposed the falseness of the allegations against it. The chorus of misrepresentations inside and outside Parliament undoubtedly influenced the newly elected Thatcher government to cut off the Albany Trust’s public funding at the end of 1979. Repeated requests for face-to-face meetings at which our real views and actions could be explained to our accusers in a friendly manner were stonily ignored. An appeal by me to Lord Longford to see fair play met only with the plaintive reply that he liked both me and Mary Whitehouse very much, and that she was ‘a Good Christian Woman’.
The protection of children concerns everyone of good will in our society. Children most certainly do need protecting – not only from physical abuse and emotional cruelty, but also from simplistic beliefs which ignore the complexities of living and loving and which see human sexuality through a glass, darkly. The young are not benefited by assiduous efforts to discredit those of us who work for a society with a compassionately balanced and mature approach to sex, a facet of life so crucial to human happiness.
4. Paedophilia is a much misused word. Its accurate meaning is emotional and physical attraction towards, and feelings of lover for, pre-pubertal children. Emotional paedophilia does not always result in sexual activity between a paedophile and a child-object of his or her affections. However, popular usage of ‘paedophile’ as meaning a sexual molester or abuser of children has made realistic discussion of paedophilia extremely difficult.
5. Pilloried by the Sunday People as ‘the Vilest Men in Britain’.
6. Of which I was not a member.
7. Tom O’Carroll, Paedophilia: The Radical Case (Peter Owen Publisher, London, 1980, pp. 219-20.
8. W. Kraemer, R. Gordon, M. Williams, K. Lambert, The Forbidden Love. The Normal and Abnormal Love of Children (Sheldon Press, 1976).
9. See chapter XX, below.
10. See Appendix 3.
11. Wayland, 1977.
12. The Responsible Society’s dim view of the Speijer Report was not shared by the Criminal Law Revision Committee and its Policy Advisory Committee, who referred to the Report several times, in appreciative terms, in their review of the law on sexual offences (see chapter XX). Presumably they too used the SLRS translation.
The Times, January 22nd, 1970
Clifford Longley, ‘Reforming the law on sexual misconduct’
The Times, July 6th, 1972
Basil Gingell, ‘Dr Robinson puts case for age of consent to be 14’
The Guardian, July 6th, 1972
‘Sex and the law’
The Guardian, September 5th, 1974
Michael De-La-Noy, ‘Rights and Wrongs’
The Guardian, September 6th, 1974
Timothy Beaumont, ‘Sex and a single mind’
The Times, September 6th, 1974
‘Report calls for age of consent to be 14 and repeal of laws on pornography’
The Times, January 22nd, 1976
Ronald Butt, ‘Who really wants a change in the age of consent?’
The Times, January 26th, 1976
Tim Beaumont, ‘Age of Consent’
The Independent, January 24th, 1994
Antony Grey, ‘Old enough to choose; The age of consent does not help young people who need protection, not punishment’
I WELCOME the prospect that Parliament will soon equalise the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual behaviour. The law bears especially harshly upon young men who engage in homosexual lovemaking, since those under 21 are still frequently prosecuted for such activities, even though under-age girls commit no offence by consenting to sex with a man. Successful prosecutions for consenting homosexual behaviour that breached the 21 age limit averaged 280 over the six years to 1991, and resulting prison sentences averaged 28 a year, so there is significant hardship – and, I would maintain, injustice.
Equalising the ages of consent must be the most immediate consideration. Ultimately, though, it would be desirable to rethink the whole legal concept of an age of consent to sexual activity and consider a completely new framework. This would give effective protection to those below the age of majority (18), without punishing them for behaviour to which – however unwisely – they have consented.
In 1974 the Sexual Law Reform Society’s Working Party, of which I was secretary, submitted a memorandum to the Criminal Law Revision Committee in which we endorsed the view of our then chairman, the late Bishop John Robinson, that the law’s proper function in relation to personal behaviour is ”not to prohibit but to protect, not to enforce morals but to safeguard persons, their privacies and freedoms”. We argued that it would be in the public interest to abolish ”sexual offences” as a separate category – because all sexual behaviour that merited punishment could be classified as an assault, a breach of protective provisions for children or others in a state of dependence, or an offensive nuisance to third parties.
The working party – which included church people, doctors, lawyers and politicians – concluded after extensive discussion that the traditional framework of an ”age of consent” was a hindrance, not a help, to the effective protection of young people. We reasoned that it is a legal fiction: either someone is a willing partner to a sexual act, whatever their age, or they are not. If they have consented to what they were doing and understood the consequences of their consent, this could be proved in court if necessary; and for the law to treat them as being incapable of giving such consent introduces an element of unreality into the proceedings which is confusing, harmful and in no one’s best interests.
We recognised, however, that as well as punishing those who interfere with or abuse young people sexually, the law may need to protect young people whose sexual behaviour is potentially damaging to themselves or to others. We recommended an ”age of protection” up to the legal age of majority (18), with appropriate civil and social, not criminal, sanctions. If the age of consent was not abolished, we urged that it should be fixed at 14 for both heterosexual and homosexual behaviour.
The CLRC responded by saying that it, too, saw the proper function of the law in sexual matters as protective rather than punitive, but opted to keep an age of consent on the grounds that it was necessary for legal certainty. It was also preoccupied by the ”psychological harm” it believes ”premature” sexual intercourse, heterosexual and homosexual, inflicts on youngsters.
I do not believe these arguments were convincing or conclusive; and I still think we must replace the whole concept of an age of consent with something more realistic, humane and useful for the 21st century.
Certainly there must first be a period of discussion to encourage public recognition of some obvious facts. First, ”ages of consent” do not provide effective protection to those who are sexually active below them; they frequently bring great misery and disruption into the lives of such young people. Second, older men and women who sexually pressurise, interfere with or abuse youngsters can be adequately deterred and punished through other, mostly existing, legal provisions.
Britain in the Nineties is still a very sex-negative society. The ceaseless media chatter (much of it prurient and intrusive) about peoples’ sex lives may seem to contradict this. But many who work in the health education and counselling fields agree that there is an enormous amount of sexual unease and unwarranted guilt around sexuality, much of it resulting from social pressures that demand conformity to outdated ”norms”.
No society can do away with all standards and controls, and a total sexual free-for-all would probably produce even more unhappiness (a prime argument of those who oppose any relaxation of laws concerning sex). But good personal and ethical standards and considerate behaviour towards others are not as closely bound up with legal controls as traditional moralists would argue. As the Wolfenden Committee said in its 1957 report, such views exaggerate the effect of the law on human behaviour; the law itself, it said, probably makes little difference to the amount of (homo) sexual behaviour that actually occurs.
Personal standards of morality and behaviour are the outcome of a socialising process that begins at birth; they are the product of a lifetime’s education in wise choice-making, rather than of legal finger-wagging. In a newspaper interview before she became prime minister, Margaret Thatcher wisely observed: ”Free choice is ultimately what life is about, what ethics is about . . . Do away with choice and you do away with human dignity.”
That, in a nutshell, is the case for replacing the ”age of consent” with protective provisions that pay more respect to the personal choices (including those which others think are mistaken) of adolescents in their growing-up years. By regarding and treating adolescents too much as if they were overgrown children, rather than as young adults, society makes a rod for its back which manifests itself in juvenile delinquency and teenage tearaways.
If we don’t take teenagers seriously, why should they take us seriously? In a recent survey of 146 sixth-formers carried out by JL Randall, Childhood and Sexuality, the young people gave a massive thumbs-down to the notion of confiding their sexual problems to ”helping” adults: only 1.4 per cent of the sample said they would approach a social worker, 2 per cent a teacher, 3.4 per cent a doctor and O.7 per cent a clergyman, although almost half felt able to talk to their parents.
There are lessons here for adults. An important one is that it is high time for us to start treating teenagers’ sexual needs and experiences less dismissively and more sympathetically, and to replace the outdated and punitive legal fiction of an ”age of consent” with a benign and carefully thought-out framework of effective protection.
We British pride ourselves on our devotion to individual freedom, yet in practice we still operate our social system on a basis of ”benevolent paternalism”. This is especially true where personal choices around sex, free expression, entertainment choices, drug use and other aspects of personal life are concerned. Is it not time to enter the 21st century as a personal, as well as a political and social, democracy, and ”trust the people”?
– The author was secretary of the Homosexual Law Reform Society in the Sixties, and of the Sexual Law Reform Society in the Seventies. His latest book, ‘Speaking of Sex’, is published by Cassell at pounds 10.99.
The Guardian, January 24th, 1998
Antony Grey, Letter: ‘… and sex in parts of Bolton. Reform is urgently called for’
IT IS 25 years since the late Bishop John Robinson stated, as chairman of the Sexual Law Reform Society, that the law’s function in this sphere “should not be to prohibit but to protect, not to enforce morals but to safeguard persons, their privacies and freedoms”.
The following year, the Society’s Working Party recommended a wide range of reforms to limit the law’s interference in sexual behaviour to situations where the parties have not consented, are not fully responsible, or have breached others’ privacy in an offensive manner.
Most of the specific reforms which we proposed a quarter-century ago have still not been implemented.
(Secretary, Sexual Law Reform Society, 1962-77), London NW2.