Lowering age of consent would harm anti-trafficking efforts - claim

by - 11th December 2013

A PUBLIC HEALTH official’s bid to lower the age of consent would undermine the fight against human trafficking, warns an Australian professor.

Human rights activist Dr Mark Durie said the current law was ‘necessary…in order to prevent the trafficking of children’, as he spoke out against Faculty of Public Health President, Professor John Ashton’s suggestion to lower the age of consent to 15.

In an attempt to provoke ‘a debate’ on the age of consent, Prof Ashton had told The Sunday Times that society should accept around a third of boys and girls are having sex at 14 or 15.

His comments were quickly slapped down by leading political figures including Prime Minister David Cameron who said there were no plans to change the current law.

Speaking this week Dr Durie explained, ‘The age of consent is not designed to prevent younger people from having sex with each other, but from being abused by people who are older and whose life experience has made them skilled at manipulation of someone who is young and vulnerable'.

Citing a 1885 Pall Mall Gazette report written by William Thomas Stead and a 2013 police report titled Threat Assessment of Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Dr Durie said, ‘both identify 14-15 as the target age group for trafficking girls for sex’.

'To remove all possible legal uncertainty about whether young people have 'consented' to being trafficked or prostituted, the age of consent is needed. 16 is a minimum age when a child begins to have more adult-like ability to discern danger and say no. When the age of consent was raised in the 19th century, there was a measurable reduction in prostitution of younger girls.

‘There is an argument that even 16 is too young for the age of consent’, he added.

The Anglican pastor also claimed there is a lack of political will to fight human trafficking and that both the government and Christians need to take more action.

‘Few people are willing to get out of bed in the morning for the sake of trafficked girls. This is a measure of the low state of Christianity in the UK’.

Dr Durie’s words follow Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s rallying call in the Church Times  that human trafficking ‘demands concerted action from the Church’.

But Salvation Army spokesperson Isobel McFarlene believes the root problem is not lack of action but a lack of awareness and said the organisation was ‘working hard…to raise awareness’.

The organisation, which was founded in1865, was praised in a speech earlier this year by the Ministry of Justice’s Helen Grant MP.

She said they were 'at the coalface, looking after and supporting victims of the terrible crime of Human Trafficking'.

Speaking about the connection between human rights and faith, Professor Bernard K. Freamon, who teaches a course on Human Trafficking and the Law at Seton Hall, New Jersey says all three monotheistic faiths have texts that 'accepted the institution of slavery'.

He argues that the Hebrew Bible, New Testament and Qur’an all 'sought to humanize and regulate the practice of slavery rather than seek its outright and immediate abolition'.

But Dr Durie has argued abolitionist George Stephen (1794-1879) believed the 1833 act to abolish slavery in the UK was inspired by belief in God.

Stephen wrote, ‘The main strength of the abolition party lay among the middle and lower classes, and this support had been created by faithful adherence to the text, that to uphold slavery was a crime before God, and consequently that its abolition must be immediate and unconditional'.

Modern organisations such as the International Justice Mission (IJM) and Passion City Church have sought to follow in the footsteps of Wilberforce and Stephen as they often target their campaigns at young Christians.

In a speech last year President Obama mentioned both IJM and Passion City Church by name, saying they, ‘like the great abolitionists before them, are truly doing the Lord’s work’. He also praised Christians who 'were answering the Bible’s call -- to "seek justice" and "rescue the oppressed".'

David Batstone, who profiled the rise of the 21st century abolitionist movement in his book Not For Sale and has been described by Bono as a ‘heroic character’ said, ‘Slavery takes so many forms, as it is interwoven within legal industries and is embedded into the supply chain.'

The struggle against it was a sacred calling, he said.

‘This is a serious battle for us…I really believe that God gives us a vocation, and I believe there is a purpose for our lives on this earth.'

How widespread is sex slavery in Europe?

  • Over 1200 women are trafficked from Lithuania annually, mostly to the UK
  • More than 5000 children are being forced to work as sex slaves in the UK
  • Girls trafficked to the UK for prostitution are in some cases, forced to see up to 30 to 40 clients a day
  • 300,000 people are trafficked within the EU every year

More about the Salvation Army campaign here.