Coercion Law May Be Better Than Age of Consent, Says Professor

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Byline: By Neville Dean

A law to protect young women from coercion may be 'more useful' than the current age of consent legislation, a leading sexual health academic said today.

Professor Kaye Wellings, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, insisted she was not advocating lowering the legal age limit for youngsters to have sex from 16.

Figures from the 2000 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NSSAL) show some 26 per cent of girls and 29 per cent of boys admitted to having intercourse before the age of 16 - and Prof Wellings said she was not sure how much 'value' there was in the current regulations.

Speaking after the launch of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) report, Seven Deadly Sins, she said: 'I don't think the age of sexual consent as it exists should be lowered but it may be more useful to think in terms of how that protects young women .... against coercion.

'It is very difficult to have a law when a quarter to one-third are breaking this law.

'The thing is to take into account individual differences.'

She added: 'Without saying we should abandon the age of sexual consent I believe that legislation is not the most appropriate way.

'The most effective way of modifying sexual behaviour, I think we should have an internal conscience about relationships with other people, rather than external rules and laws.

'Having said that, I do think there should be an age for very young women.

'I am not sure how much 'value there is in having an age of sexual consent that almost tells them 'this is the right age'. …