Calls for a British Megan's law miss the point

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Why is the debate around child sex abuse framed almost entirely in terms of repressing the abusers, to near the total neglect of any attempt to empower young people to resist and report abuse? Don't get me wrong, abusers need to be controlled and constrained. But this is only part of the answer. A British version of Megan's law, now under consideration by the government, may provide reassurance to anxious parents, but its practical value is doubtful. It ignores the best defence against sex abuse - children themselves. Cracking down on paedophiles is surely only one dimension of a necessarily two dimensions solution. [...]

Let's get three facts straight. First, most abuse victims are not very young children. They tend to be aged between six and 16. Second, the sexual abuse of young people rarely involves coercion or violence. Psychological pressure and manipulation are the norm. Third, schools are failing to educate pupils in how to protect themselves against sex abuse. [...] But lessons in how to deal with abuse, from the first year of primary school onwards, could empower many of the over-fives with the confidence to say no and the confidence to disclose attempted sexual exploitation; thereby halting would-be perpetrators and enabling them to be bought to justice. [...]

Despite the UN Year of the Child and the major child-centred legal reforms of the last three decades, the reality of children's rights remains ambiguous - particularly in the realm of sexual rights. According to the law, a person under 16 is incapable of consenting to a sexual act. They are deemed unable to understand the implications of having sex. Any sexual relationship with such a person, even if freely entered into by both partners, is therefore categorised, in law, as an indecent assault. By saying that the under-16s are not allowed to consent to a sexual relationship, the unspoken message is that they have no sexual rights - which is also the mind-set of the abusive adult. Aren't we sending mixed messages to our children? Curiously, the age of criminal responsibility is 10. From that age onwards, the law says that a person who commits a crime, such as murder or robbery, can be assumed to know what they were doing and can therefore be held responsible for their behaviour. But it is not until the age of 16 that the law acknowledges young people's ability to give sexual consent. The implication is that a decision to have sex is more complex and grave than a decision to kill or rob. [...]

To help combat abusive relations, schools, children's homes and youth clubs need to positively encourage young people to assert their rights, including the right to control their own bodies. This means the right to say yes to sex they want, and the right to say no to sex they don't want. The affirmation of young people's right to sexual self-determination, and their education and empowerment to assert that right, deserves to be given a much higher priority in the fight against abuse. It is one of the most effective ways to combat sexual predators and protect our children.

source: Article 'Calls for a British Megan's law miss the point' by Peter Tatchell;; Guardian; 22 June 2006