A few weeks ago, Barbara Hewson, a London barrister specialising in reproductive rights, spoke out against the “persecution of old men” following the fallout of the Jimmy Savile investigation. She argued that the age of consent should be lowered to 13 and that sexual assault complainants should no longer have anonymity. Furthermore, she also said that adults who suffered sexual abuse as a child should not be allowed to report it years after the incident.
She argues in her article that we should be “arming today’s youngsters with the savoir-faire and social skills to avoid drifting into compromising situations.” If I heard one of my peers suggest we do that I would assume they were being sarcastic in order to highlight the ludicrousness of victim blaming, but Hewson is being scarily serious. The idea that young children can simply avoid sexual assault is an incredibly harmful ideology to adopt. Hewson is perpetuating the belief that preventing rape or assault lies with the victim rather than the fully grown adult who is actually committing the offence. Instead she’d have our culture preach “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape”.
Enough! Thank you, Ms Hewson, we don’t need you telling 9 year olds they can save themselves by avoiding “drifting into compromising situations” with adults that should know better. Maybe Hewson should give the “old men” she thinks are being “persecuted” a little bit more credit; they are not, as she seems to think, men at the mercy of sirens, helpless in the face of underage girls and boys. They are not the victims here. It is interesting, then, that her argument behind lowering the age of consent is that teenagers (particularly girls) are not as helplessly innocent as they once were painted and thus don’t need the same levels of protection. Hewson hands the responsibility over to the children. Hewson probably thought Lolita was asking for it.
Former BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall has admitted to abusing girls as young as 9, but Hewson claims this is not a “really serious” crime and compares the prosecution of Hall to be akin to the witch-hunts of the Soviet Union. So as well as trying to tell children they can avoid sexual assault, she is also trivialising instances of assault that might not be as “dramatic” as “flogging and rape in padded rooms” but can clearly have just as much of psychological impact on the victim. The reason the victims of these kinds of assault didn’t come forward at the time is because of fear of reception from people holding the kind of views Barbara Hewson is currently expressing. Not coming forward sooner is not indicative of the severity of the offence, but of prevailing attitudes in society, as well as those in the justice system.
Perhaps one of the more ridiculous things written by Hewson in her article is her argument that those reporting assault that happened a long time ago are “[acting] like children” by doing so. Recounting something that happened when you were a child is not juvenile; reporting sexual assault is not the same as holding a grudge. How dare Barbara Hewson have the gall to suggest reporting a crime is anything but brave, let alone childish.