Last edited: February 14, 2005

Discriminatory Consent Laws Label Gay Men Paedophiles

Age of Consent Changed but ‘Offenders’ Still on Register

Guardian Unlimited Observer, January 26, 2003,3604,882827,00.html

By Tania Branigan

Gay men who are being treated as paedophiles because of discriminatory age of consent laws should be removed from the sex offenders register, politicians and gay rights campaigners have told the Home Office.

OutRage!, the gay rights group, said that men were stigmatised, barred from certain jobs and often harassed because they had had to sign the register, for having consensual sex with boys who would now be considered adults.

Men who were 20 and over and had sex with 16- or 17-year-old boys before the equalisation of the age of consent are still on the register because offenders must remain on it for at least five years.

Even now, men who have sex with 17-year-olds must sign the register if they are convicted of consensual offences such as buggery or gross indecency, because legislation specifically refers to their partners being 18 or over, rather than over the age of consent.

Thanks to the minimum five-year term, they will remain on the register, even when those victimless offences are swept away by the government’s forthcoming sexual offences reforms.

"There is nothing to be gained by continuing to punish people convicted of a discriminatory offence when one considers the fact that those persons cannot become repeat offenders since, logically, their actions no longer constitute an offence," Brett Lock, of OutRage!, has written in a letter to the home secretary.

"If the register is to be used as an effective frontline defence against those who pose a danger to society in general and children in particular, it makes no sense to undermine its authority by retaining those people whose ‘crimes’ had no victim."

The call for reform is supported by the MPs Brian Iddon and Evan Harris and the gay rights campaign group Stonewall. "It’s grievously wrong to penalise people in adult consensual relationships as if they were paedophiles," said Dr Harris, who has tabled parliamentary questions on the matter. He said convictions should stand when offences were decriminalised, but added: "The sex offenders register is not part of the punishment but an administrative matter. This is unjust and, I think, a breach of human rights."

The Home Office said it held no figures to show how many men were affected and insisted it would be inappropriate to remove them.

"The notification requirements are not a penalty but an administrative requirement," a spokeswoman said. "There would be practical and administrative difficulties in removing offenders, and a basic principle of justice is that cases are tried in relation to the law at that time. Even where the law is found to be discriminatory or is repealed, it doesn’t follow that convictions properly obtained are quashed.

"We don’t retrospectively impose new laws and, similarly, when offences are repealed, convictions related to them and matters following from that remain in place."

‘It has destroyed everything for me’

He has lost his job, home, and family, and been threatened with violence: all for a consensual act that is no longer a crime.

Norman Williams had to sign the sex offenders register for having sex with a 17-year-old boy—who opposed his prosecution—two years before the equalisation of the age of consent in November 2000.

The warehouseman received a suspended sentence that was later overturned, but found signing the register was worse than appearing in court.

"It has destroyed everything," he said. "We wouldn’t have even gone to court if the law then had been the same for us as it was for everyone else."

His home in Bolton was smashed up by vigilantes. Curious neighbours at his next address asked why police kept visiting him. His colleagues threatened to run him over with a forklift truck, and his bosses told him they were letting him go because they could not risk him being hurt.

"When it all came out I ended up having to move again," said Mr Williams, 38, who now relies on sporadic short-term employment. "I’ve left my hometown and have no contact with a lot of my friends. Social services got in touch warning them that their kids could end up on the at risk register if they had any involvement with me."

Mr Williams’ problems have followed him to his new home. His neighbours have learnt he is on the register, and, although some still speak to him, others steer clear.

His hope is that life will improve when he is removed from the register this autumn after five years. "I hope October will mean I can start again," he said.

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