THE BLOG

Jeremy Corbyn Is Wrong on the Sex Industry, But Labour Needs to Reform the Laws on Sexual Offences

04/03/2016 17:42 GMT | Updated 05/03/2017 10:12 GMT

I am a supporter of the Leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. He has brought world class economists into the British political debate for the first time in 35 years. He has broken the hegemony of neoconservative foreign policy. He has forced the media to admit the existence of the strong left-wing critique of the European Union.

But, just as I favour withdrawal from the EU at this stage rather than once Corbyn's proposals for a Social Europe had been rejected, so I also disagree profoundly with him about the sex industry.

There cannot be a "free" market in general, but not in drugs, or prostitution, or pornography, or unrestricted alcohol, or unrestricted gambling. That is an important part of why there must not be a "free" market in general, which is a political choice, not a mere law of nature.

It is very high time for Parliament to tidy up the shambolic laws on sexual offences.

First, it ought to be made a criminal offence for anyone aged 21 or over to buy or sell sex, with equal sentencing on both sides. No persecution of girls and very young women whose lives had already been so bad that they had become prostitutes. No witch-hunting of boys and very young men who were desperate to lose their virginities. But the treatment of women and men as moral, intellectual and legal equals.

Secondly, the age of consent should effectively be raised to 18, by making it a criminal offence for anyone to commit any sexual act with or upon any person under that age who was more than two years younger than herself, or to incite any such person to commit any such act with or upon her or any third party anywhere in the world.

The maximum sentence would be twice the difference in age, to the month where that was less than three years, or a life sentence where that difference was at least five years. No different rules for "positions of trust", which are being used against male, but not female, 18-year-olds looking after female, but not male, Sixth Formers visiting universities.

And no provision, as at present, for boys to be prosecuted at any age, even if they are younger than the girls involved, whereas girls have to be 16. The law on indecent images is also enforced in totally different ways in relation to boys and girls of the same age, and even to boys who are younger than the girls. That must end.

Children under the age of consent can have abortion or contraception without parental permission. That is an argument for banning children under the age of consent from having abortion or contraception without parental permission. Unless they decided as adults to seek to make contact with their children, then the financial liability of male victims for pregnancies resulting from their sexual abuse ought also to be ruled out. Talk about victim-blaming.

Thirdly, the offences of rape, serious sexual assault, and sexual assault, ought to be replaced with aggravating circumstances to the general categories of offences against the person, enabling the sentences to be doubled. The sex of either party would be immaterial. There must be no anonymity either for adult accusers or for adult complainants. Either we have an open system of justice, or we do not.

In this or any other area, there must be no suggestion of any reversal of the burden of proof. That reversal has largely been brought to you already, by the people who in the same year brought you the Iraq War. The Parliament that was supine before Tony Blair was also supine before Harriet Harman.

Adults who made false allegations ought to be prosecuted automatically. Moreover, how can anyone be convicted of non-consensual sex, who could not lawfully have engaged in consensual sex? If there is an age of consent, then anyone below it can be an assailant. But a sexual assailant? How?

Similarly, if driving while intoxicated is a criminal offence, then how can intoxication, in itself, be a bar to sexual consent? The law needs to specify that it was, only to such an extent as would constitute a bar to driving.

Like several others on the more-or-less Corbynite Left at and around the University of Durham, I am proud to call the staunch Tory, Louis Richardson, my friend.

And fourthly, obscenity ought to be defined as material depicting acts that were themselves illegal, or which was reasonably likely to incite or encourage such acts. Sentencing would be the same as for the illegal act in question in each case.

American-style legislation for internally administered "balance of probabilities" or "preponderance of evidence" tests to sexual assault allegations at universities or elsewhere must be banned by Statute.

It is incompatible with the Rule of Law to punish someone for a criminal offence of which she has not been convicted. It must be made impossible for anyone to be extradited to face charges that fell short of these standards, or for such convictions to have any legal standing in this country.

As for teaching things in schools, how is that curriculum time currently being filled? Apply the Eton Test. Would this be taught in a school that assumed its pupils to be future Prime Ministers or Nobel Laureates? If not, then instead fill the hours with something that was. Teach Latin. Someone will.

Convictions under laws predating these changes ought to be annulled along with those of men whose homosexual acts would not be criminal offences today. Labour should vote against that unless it also annulled, not only all convictions in the above categories, but also all convictions and other adverse court decisions arising out of Clay Cross, Shrewsbury, Wapping, and the three Miners' Strikes since 1970.

This would set the pattern for all future feminist and LGBT legislation. Without a working-class quid pro quo, then Labour would vote against any such legislation. Alongside the DUP, the Conservative Right, or whoever. It is not Blair's Labour Party now.