Storm Over Paedophile Age Claims
A Welsh police chief was last night at the centre of a furious row over paedophilia after suggesting illegal sex with teenagers was “a grey area”. Terry Grange, who is in charge of the Dyfed-Powys Force, drew a livid response from politicians and children’s charities after he said the term paedophile should not necessarily be used for adults sexually involved with children between 13 and 15.
The comments come just days after he hit the headlines for criticising the Government’s “hairy chest” approach to law and order legislation.
His words were denounced as “wholly unhelpful and irresponsible,” while one AM said he should give up his day job to become a politician if he wanted to continue publicly airing his views.
Mr Grange, spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers on child protection and managing sex offenders, said he believed paedophiles should be classed as men who had sex with pre-pubescents.
The UK law states the age of consent is 16 and anyone who has sex with a younger child has committed an offence.
Mr Grange said, in his opinion, men who had sex with children should not be classed as paedophiles if their victim was between 13 and 15. He also said the law on child pornography should apply accordingly.
“It is much more of an issue for me if a child is under 13,” he said.
“I think the closer they get to 16 the more it becomes a grey area and I think everyone in the field of dealing with sexual health and sexual activity acknowledges that.
“As it [the age] goes down so I think the liability of the adult gets greater, so if the girl is 13 and the adult is in his 20s I am not particularly prone to accept the ‘I thought she was 16’ excuse. And if she is 12, it is rape.”
In terms of the definition on paedophilia Mr Grange said, “We are talking about very young people [when] it is paedophilia, and I wouldn’t want to mix up kids who are just the wrong side of 16 with paedophiles.
“I don’t actually personally adhere to the 15-year-old being with a 20-year-old boyfriend being paedophilia, or even if the boyfriend is 30.”
NSPCC said yesterday the term paedophilia could “cloud, rather than clarify” issues surrounding underage sex.
But a spokesman for children’s charity NCH Cymru said, “Any proposal by a serving child protection officer to define child pornography as that which only involves children under 12 years old – even if presented as a personal opinion – is wholly unhelpful and irresponsible.
“Denial by sexual offenders is often the result of their twisted, distorted and biased thinking, which, arguably, stems from explanations used to excuse their behaviour.
“The comments show a lack of understanding of the wider issues in relation to sexual offenders and the devastating impact sexual abuse has on a young person and on families.”
Meanwhile, Michele Elliott from Kidscape, a charity focusing on bullying and child sex abuse, said, “He seems to be only talking about child protection for those under the age of 13. I think he is misguided – it is not a grey area.
“I do understand what he is saying about 18-year-olds having sex with 15-year-olds – that cannot be classed as paedophilia – but the law has to do a broad sweep.
“As for the rest, I disagree with him entirely.”
And Roger Williams, Liberal Democrat MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, said the comments would cause “concern and confusion”, adding, “By bringing doubt into the issue, I don’t think he has helped the issue and he has made it less clear for people.”
Mr Grange sought to clarify his views, originally reported in The Sunday Times, saying, “I was very specific about what I said. I was referring to 13, 14 and 15-year- olds [girls] and teenage boys and nothing else.”
He added, “If you prosecute each and every time a boy has sex with a girl under 16 and above 12, then we’d be in schools across Britain and youth clubs across Britain pretty regularly because, since I’ve been alive, it’s been pretty normal. It’s what teenagers do.
“The 16 age thing is an artificial barrier that we have in Britain.”
And he said he would endorse the prosecution of any man over the age of 20 who had sex with a girl aged between 13 and 15.
“If the fella concerned … is in his 20s, 30s or 40s then I believe you should prosecute them ruthlessly and the law allows for that.
“If the girl is under 13 it’s called, emphatically, rape.
“That is what the legislation says. It is legislation brought about by this Government. It is, in my view, well thought-through legislation.
“It says a girl under 13 cannot consent to sex and the man should be prosecuted. I think if that is how the law defines it, then I would accept that as where paedophilia begins.”
However Mark Isherwood, Conservative Assembly spokesman on children’ issues, said it was not the role of the chief constable to be involved in highly public debates, and that he should leave those to politicians.
He said, “It’s right for senior police officers to be outspoken if they feel they’re not being provided with the resources or legal framework allowing them to fulfil their duty.
“It’s quite another thing to be directly involving themselves in a debate in the public and political arena.
“If they want to do that then they, like all politicians before them, should take the risk of giving up their day job and taking up politics full time.”
A spokesperson for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner For Wales said, “The overuse of the term paedophile is something that has been the subject of debate for many years. It is a term that has a relatively precise clinical definition but tends to be applied more loosely – sometimes very loosely.
“Our understanding of Chief Constable Terry Grange’s remarks, as they are reported, is that they are concerned with how the term is often misunderstood and applied. That does not detract from the seriousness of sexual offences against children and young people.”