New Age of Consent Laws: Adulthood and Childhood

  • Matthew Waites


In this chapter, I examine the Home Office review of sex offences in England and Wales initiated in 1999, and the subsequent reform of age of consent laws in England and Wales in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. I explore debates over the utilisation of the concepts ‘childhood’, ‘adult-hood’ and ‘abuse’ in the formulation of new age of consent laws, focussing in some detail on the contestation of proposed new offences in the policy-making process to reveal the emergence of a new field of political conflict over the regulation of young people’s sexuality. The chapter draws on an analysis of submissions made to the Home Office review, and of responses to its consultation paper, obtained from a variety of organisations. I begin by describing the emergence of proposals for an offence of ‘Adult sexual abuse of a child’, and develop a critique of this proposal through engagement with debates over the definition of boundaries between adulthood and childhood, and the extension of the concept of ‘abuse’. I argue that support for this proposal from children’s organisations during the review, and its endorsement in the review’s consultation paper, reveal worrying protectionist tendencies in contemporary policy-making. I then discuss developments following the Home Office’s publication of draft legislation, examining the emergence of a new offence of ‘Sexual activity with a child’ and the definition of ‘Child sex offences committed by children or young persons’ in the Sexual Offences Act 2003.


Sexual Abuse Sexual Activity Child Sexual Abuse Parliamentary Debate Sexual Politics 
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© Matthew Waites 2005

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  • Matthew Waites

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