A statement

Early in 2018, an extract from a letter I wrote 21 years previously was circulated on social media, presented in such a way as to encourage readers to think that I support child sexual abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. This statement explains the issue.
The clip is a postscript to a letter I wrote in 1997, the year in which the sex offenders’ register was first introduced. The letter itself was an argument against ‘Megan’s Law’, a suggestion being made at the time for a legislative measure to give people the names and addresses of sex offenders who had moved into their area. The letter was not against the sex offenders’ register itself. My letter argued that although the motivation behind ‘Megan’s Law’ was understandable, in practice it would encourage vigilantism and prevent rehabilitation, and – most importantly – would not help, and might hinder, the fight against child abuse. The intention of the postscript was to make the point that there were some people who would be included in the scope of this but who it was probably not appropriate to do so.
The examples I gave were young gay men (the age of consent for sex between men was 21 at the time), teenagers just below the age of consent (eg. a 15-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl), and a 14-year-old male and 34-year-old female forming a romantic (but not sexual) relationship. I was questioning whether the appropriate way to deal with it was to put the people involved on the sex offenders register along with child abusers, rapists, etc.
It is worth noting here that French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife first ‘fell for’ each other when he was 15 and she was 40.
I do not believe that a sexual relationship between a 14-year-old and a 34-year-old is acceptable or should be legal. It is unacceptable and it is right that it is illegal. The reference in my letter was to a scenario of an ‘elopement’ that did not involve any sexual activity – there was such a case being discussed at the time, although two decades on I can not recall the details. I also do not believe that such a non-sexual elopement is appropriate. It will inevitably involve differences of power and experience such that even when it appears consensual it can not be considered to be unproblematically so. It also, rightly, breaches the law about the custody and residency of the young person.
The point I was raising was to challenge whether this scenario could be considered to be a sexual offence in the same way that rape or child sexual abuse would be, and whether inclusion of either of the people involved on a sex offenders’ register – with their name and address circulated to their neighbours – would be the appropriate way to address it. It seemed to me that to do so may not help the younger person to break their attachment and move on to healthier relationships; indeed, it may make it more difficult. There would be more effective interventions to help the young person and to prevent abuse.
If I were writing the same letter today, outside of the context of the other articles it was published alongside and the public discussion of which it was a part, which made its intent clear, I would word it differently. Both the law and the terms of discussion of these issues have changed significantly over the 21 years since I wrote it. For example, the term ‘grooming’ to mean preparing a person for sexual assault entered the dictionary only as recently as 2003.
Our society must act urgently and effectively to stop child sexual abuse. This requires us to discuss rationally the most appropriate measures to take, in the interests of children and young people. It is right for left-wing newspapers and magazines to publish a variety of views on this issue, just as the Morning Star has done recently (including publishing a letter from a paedophile). Whether you agree with the view I expressed two decades ago or not, I hope that you can see that it was a contribution to such a discussion and not an endorsement of paedophilia or child sexual abuse.
I have a long record of campaigning against sexual abuse and violence, and this 21-year-old material is being circulated in a factional attempt to discredit me. It is being done by the same Facebook Page (‘Red London’) which tried to humiliate my 15-year-old autistic son in 2017 by mocking him on social media, in a post which attracted sexualised comments from the Page’s supporters suggesting that people were getting him involved in politics in order to sexually abuse him. Its supporters followed this by barracking him and his friends in a pub, shouting “Paedo! Paedo!” at them. This shows just how little they really care about the rights and welfare of children and teenagers. Using child abuse as a factional weapon in this way is disgraceful.

Originally posted in 2018; amended slightly since then for clarity.

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