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Socialist Review, May 1994

James Drummond


Blanket ban


From Socialist Review, No. 175, May 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


It is obvious that no socialist would advocate the abolition of all laws ostensibly designed to protect children from physical and/or sexual abuse. Children and young people are oppressed in a variety of ways under capitalism, and they need protection.

However, Richard Purdie (Letters, April SR) seems to be saying that socialists are doing no favours to children and young people by advocating the abolition of the arbitrary age of consent laws. These laws are apparently needed to safeguard children from the specific threat of sexual abuse by adults.

No doubt they can be used to prosecute child sex abusers, but that is not their purpose. Richard is right to point to the inequalities in power between adults and children under capitalism, but fails to recognise that the age of consent laws are an expression of this inequality rather than its antidote.

Youth oppression is structured largely through the nuclear family. Ruling class morality baulks at the idea that young people can be sexually active outside of marriage. Criminalising sex involving those under 16 – and now 18 for gay men – is but one more buttress for an increasingly unstable family structure.

The moral hypocrisy of the ruling class knows no bounds: they argue that teenagers are not in a position to make informed choices about their sexuality, and then deny them the right to proper health and sex education and contraception on demand. They believe that the age of consent laws protect young people from ‘harm’ when what is really harmful is not sex itself but sexual oppression, and the ignorance and confusion it often leads to.

Of course, the issue can never be clear cut – precisely why socialists must oppose an age of consent.

Rather than criminalising young people, we fight for a society where people can enter into sexual relationships on a free and equal basis, without fear of the consequences. Sex which is not equal and freely consensual – and that includes child sex abuse and adult rape – cannot and should not be dealt with by prescribing a blanket ban on sexual activity under 18 or 16, both at present and in any future socialist society. We can point to the example of the Bolsheviks two months after the successful workers’ revolution in Russia in 1917. They abolished the age of consent.


James Drummond
North London

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