Whitehall study wanted age of consent lowered to 14 and sentences for sex cut

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Home Office advisers argued that the age of consent be lowered from 16 to 14 and called for a dramatic reduction in statutory punishments for "consensual" sex with girls as young as 12, according to an internal 1979 research study obtained by the Guardian.

The authors of the study from the Home Office research unit suggested the overall age of consent be lowered so that "sexual behaviour with a girl over the age of 13 (the average age of puberty) is not criminal, provided that she was clearly as aware of what she was doing and its implication as might be expected of a girl of 16". They also said the maximum life sentences could be reduced to no more than two years in cases of underage sex with 13-year-olds where "consent" could be shown. In cases of "younger offenders" greater leniency would apply when the "consenting" victim was 12 - below the average age of puberty. Today sex with a 12-year-old can attract a life sentence.

Roy Walmsley and Karen White, the authors of the Home Office booklet, entitled Sexual Offences, Consent and Sentencing, argued that many girls reach puberty before their 10th birthday and may not only want sex but initiate it themselves. They conceded that "the younger the partner, the more problematical the use of the words 'consent' or 'willingness'". It was commissioned after the then home secretary, Roy Jenkins, ordered a review of sexual offence laws.

source: Article 'Whitehall study wanted age of consent lowered to 14 and sentences for sex cut - Girls as young as 12 'may not only want to take part in but initiate sexual activity', said 1979 Home Office report' by Robert Booth; www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/jul/08/lower-age-consent-14-1979-home-office-report; The Guardian; 8 July 2014