Age Of Consent & Legal Sexual Activity for the State of
19th February 2000
Feature article in the Courier Mail (19th February
2000, page 27) “Reasonable Age” written by Deborah Cassrels. Deborah
presents arguments which overwhelmingly favour equal treatment and protection
of youth through a truly equal age of consent, by interviewing eminent gay
community activists Dr Wendell Rosevear of Stonewall Medical Centre, Janet
Fitzgerald of the Gay and Lesbian Welfare Association and Lindon Oldfield of
the Gay and Lesbian Business Association. She also quotes clear support for
reform from Terry O’Gorman, vice-president of the
the big error in the article headline “Reasonable Age - An open invitation to paedophiles, or an end
to sexual discrimination? Lowering the age of consent for boys is an issue
which inspires strong debate.” is that in
Click the small picture above to go to a 120dpi jpg full size image (1.3mb) of the original printed article
THE COURIER-MAIL SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2000, page 27
An open invitation to paedophiles, or an end to sexual discrimination? Lowering the age of consent for boys is an issue which inspires strong debate, writes Deborah Cassrels
The cult 1991 Gus Van Sant film about gay street
boys, My Own Private Idaho,
launched into the stratosphere the careers of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves.
No thoughts of
suicide for them. Not like the escape route taken by NSW judge David Yeldham,
who killed himself in
Clearly such cases - involving sexually mature teenagers - are not what the public normally thinks of as child molesting. They involve post-pubescent males and no element of force. But they are treated in the courts as paedophilia because, according to Australian law, homosexual sex between consenting males must involve people over 18.
Sex with a 17-year-old female is legal sex in most states. But sex with a 17-year-old male is paedophilia.
Not so in
Gay law reform advocates, while often quiet about the predicament of non-openly gay men in relationships with boys under 18, certainly point to the discrimination felt by young homosexuals beginning to experiment with the gay life. They are at the forefront of the campaign to ensure that 16-year-old boys have the same freedoms under the law as 16-year-old girls.
Lindon Oldfield, president of the Gay and
Lesbian Business Network, thinks the law should not discriminate. “However, particularly in
He says applying a different age of consent for males is bigotry.
Terry O’Gorman, vice-president of the Queensland
Council for Civil Liberties, supports the
O’Gorman says that 16-year-olds are worldly and sexually wise: “Sixteen year-olds are not children, they’re not children in lifestyle, they’re not children sexually, they’re not children in any sense of the word.”
Co-convener of the Gay and Lesbian Welfare Association, Janet Fitzgerald, believes abuse will occur whatever the age of consent. But she says it’s important to be equitable.
“The difference in age gives some sense of inherent danger in same-sex relationships that supposedly doesn’t exist in an opposite sex relationship - I think that’s incorrect,” she says.
She believes the focus on age is unrealistic. “I know very canny 14-year-olds who could probably hold their own in relationships, others who are naive who could be victimised.”
So where do we draw the line?
Fitzgerald believes that rigid laws leave no room for humanity, especially in the sex industry. Youngsters may have been kicked out of home over sexuality issues. They learn survival techniques way beyond their years.
“You could get a young male underage working the streets but if he’s having sex with a guy who doesn’t identify as gay… someone with a baby seat in the back of the car, that could give the younger person huge power. The potential for blackmail is there but conversely someone who’s older can shift the power dynamics. It’s an issue people prefer not to have to deal with - something for the too-hard basket.”
But Jeffrey McLaren, president of the management committee of Self Health for Queensland Workers in the Sex Industry says the Government should ensure people in the sex industry do not work under the age of 18.
Although lowering the age of consent would bring the law into line with modern times “in the sex industry there are people who are 16, some who are under 16, but I don’t think they have the - maturity… it’s totally inappropriate. You’re having sex because you’re being paid and you’re open to exploitation.”
McLaren said some street boys were as a young as I3. “We had extensive talks with (Minister for Families, Youth and Community Care) Anna Bligh and (Health Minister) Wendy Edmond about trying to put together exit programmes to try to get those sort of people off the streets and the Government was quite enthusiastic but it’s gone very quiet in the past few months. There’s just no funding for it.”
Sex education in schools focuses on biological facts but seems to miss the mark on emotional concerns. Which leaves government open to scrutiny. Does it turn a blind eye to indiscretions by our youth, or criminalise their actions after they experiment with the very lessons they have been taught in school? Is government doing more harm than good?
Lindon Oldfield says that an Out With Homophobia project is being implemented in schools in conjunction with the Family Planning Council of Queensland. “Education is an area where we have to make huge advances,” he says.
President of the Australian Family Association, David Grace, opposes any move to lower the age of sexual consent for males. “I don’t believe present day circumstances are such that there is a need for a change of that law. I think if anything there is a greater need for protection of such young people,” he says.
Grace says in our society, where sexual abuse and toilet cruising are facts of life, “there is a need to say these things are unacceptable. That’s the message of the criminal law. Should it be changed? No. There must be limits.”
Within the harsh reality of desperate lives - where men move in the shadows of self-denial, and boys live lives of crime — who is exploiting whom?
Powerful men exploiting young boys, or young boys exploiting old men? Is a teenager violated if he flaunts his sexuality? How fine is the line between teenager and adult at 17?
Wendell Rosevear, a Brisbane doctor who provides gay medical services, counselling in prisons, drug counselling, and has dealt with hundreds of sexual abuse cases, believes Judge Yeldham’s self-denial was crushing. “He couldn’t accept himself because he was a victim of a society which said if you were honest we’d reject you.”
If he was not a paedophile (and we do not know), would it have made a difference? Perhaps, because according to Janet Fitzgerald, most paedophiles do not identify as gay: “We’re looking at a group of people who prey on certain people who are vulnerable where there’s a huge age difference, no matter what the age of consent.”
Rosevear knows of 12-year-old boys on the streets. “They may not be aware of the consequences but they’re aware that it’ll get them what they want, it (prostitution) becomes a survival dynamic — opportunistic sex or keeping-a-roof- over-their-head sex.” A lowering of the age of consent would help gay males, says Rosevear. “But as a whole society we tend to want to believe that external control will address these people’s needs so thinking that a law can fix it is really naive.”
He says teenagers’ engagement in illegal sex is often precipitated by homophobic comments from family or schoolyard taunts. He tells of a 14-year old boy who had sex in a public toilet and was banished by his family. His downhill slide ended in prostitution and a fatal drug overdose.
against boys is not confined to homosexual relationships. Rosevear cites one