HOLYROOD and Westminster governments have rejected a call from a leading public health expert to consider lowering the age of consent for sex to 15.
Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, has called for a national debate, saying that society sends “confused” signals about when sex is permitted. His intervention comes against a backdrop of official figures which suggest that up to a third of teenagers have sex before they reach the present age of consent of 16.
The Scottish Government said it had no plans to lower the age of consent, and Downing Street was equally swift to respond.
A spokesman for No 10 said: “We reject the call to lower the age of consent. The current age is in place to protect children and there are no plans to change it.”
Prof Ashton argues that lowering the age of consent by a year could “draw a line in the sand” against sex at 14 or younger. It would also make it easier for 15-year-olds who are in sexual relationships to obtain contraception or sexual health advice from the NHS.
“My own view is there is an argument for reducing it to 15, but you cannot do it without the public supporting the idea, and we need to get a sense of public opinion about this,” he said.
The Faculty of Public Health, part of the Royal Colleges of Physicians, gives advice to ministers and civil servants although it is independent of government.
David Tucker, head of policy at the NSPCC, said he would be happy to have a debate on the issue but he would want to see the evidence for Prof Ashton’s claims. “Has there really been a significant change in the amount of young people having sex over the past 20 or 30 years? If it has changed, then is reducing the age of consent the most sensible way to deal with it?” he asked.
A lawyer representing 72 of the victims of Jimmy Savile also warned against any move to lower the age of consent.
Lawyer Liz Dux, who heads a specialist child abuse team at Slater & Gordon, said: “I have real concerns about the prospect of the age of consent being lowered.
“Predatory adults would be given legitimacy to focus their attentions on even younger teenagers and there is a real risk that society would be sending out the message that sex between 14 and 15-year-olds is also acceptable.
“My work with victims of abuse results in me talking to many who felt pressurised into having sex at a young age but have gone on to live a lifetime of regret.”