Lowering the Age of Consent would compound State failures to protect the older child

Rape Crisis Network Ireland today strongly suggests to the Cabinet that it is not timely to consider the lowering of the age of sexual consent. The State continues to fail to meet its obligations to protect and empower children.

Fiona Neary, RCNI Executive Director said, ‘RCNI read with dismay today that the Cabinet is to discuss lowering the age of consent to sexual activity today (17th Dec. 2013) from 17 to 16. RCNI are opposed to lowering the age. The age of consent is there to protect vulnerable children from coercion, pressure and abuse. The age of consent is not designed or used to punish teenage respectful experimentation.

‘Sexual experimentation and relationships between children are commonly far from benign. In RCNI’s latest report, Hearing Child Survivors of Sexual Violence we found that 37% of the perpetrators of sexual violence against children were themselves children. These child perpetrators were near or of the same age as their victims.

‘When we live in a culture obsessed with protecting our children from the less common stranger danger and the older predator, it leaves the child being threatened and abused by a peer isolated and vulnerable. Already we struggle to empower these vulnerable children to even name their experiences of sexual violence in the face of an increasingly sexualised culture and the complicity of so many commentators and leaders who characterise these exploitations as romantic. In the face of these gross failures, the age of consent is one of the paltry supports we offer our vulnerable older children.

‘Lowering the age of consent may simply undermine the State and the justice system’s capacity to respond to these crimes.

‘RCNI would respectfully suggest that before consideration of lowering the age of consent the government might consider its statutory obligations in terms of supporting, protecting and empowering children, in particular, the neglected older child.

‘RCNI call on the Cabinet to consider urgent action on addressing the vulnerability of the teenage child. With insufficient resources, time and commitment our education system does not equip children to engage safely, within our cultural context, in respectful sexual relationships. Within the proposed new junior cycle even the little we have is to become an optional short course. There are no national guidelines or action plans to address sexual harassment and assault in our schools. There is no prevalence study of the everyday assaults and harassment teenagers are subject to by their peers. Specialist support structures are inadequate and under resourced. The nascent Child and Family Agency, Rape Crisis Centres and CARI services are not adequately resourced.

‘The State has turned a blind eye to the specific needs of the teenage child. To contemplate lowering the age of consent with so little done or said to address their vulnerability would be to compound this neglect.

‘RCNI continue to support the Minister Alan Shatter’s stance which he articulated in 2006 regarding the age of consent. In the Oireachtas Committee Report on Child Protection in 2006, lowering the age of consent was the only recommendation of 62 in total that did not receive the unanimous support of the Oireachtas Committee, it is therefore appropriate in our opinion that it would remain un-actioned.’