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It's not often The GOS finds himself unsure whose side he's on, but the so-called "row" about Terry Grange, chief constable of Dyfed-Powys Police, is a bit of a puzzle and no mistake.
He is spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers on child protection issues and the management of sex offenders. In a newspaper interview this week he said that men who had sex with children should not be classed as paedophiles if their victim was between 13 and 15. On the face of it that's a rather rash comment, calculated to cause widespread offence.
Predictably there has been the normal knee-jerk reaction. Michele Elliott of the children's charity Kidscape said "The definition of a paedophile is a person who is sexually attracted to children. In this country we class this as children who are under 16. I think he is being irresponsible, we have been having this debate for ages. 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."
But actually, that's exactly what it is. Teenagers are becoming sexually active at an increasingly young age - regrettable and very worrying, but undeniably true. A study by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that 38 percent of British 15-year-olds had had sex in the period from 2001-2. That was a far higher figure than any other European country, and is also reflected in the alarming numbers of teenage pregnancies. But no matter how regrettable and worrying it is, and whether we wish it or not, it's also a fact.
Let's say a 17-year-old boy (or should that be man these days?) goes to a party and meets an attractive 14-year-old girl. Drink is flowing, fun's being had, she's obviously up for it, so they go upstairs and have sex. Should he have done it? No. Is it illegal? Yes. Does it make him a paedophile? No, it doesn't. It makes him a randy little scrote, like most 17-year-olds.
Could he be prosecuted? Yes, he could. UK law says that the age of consent is 16 and anyone who has sex with a younger child has committed an offence. But official Government guidance on prosecuting suggests that teenagers who have sex when one is below 16 should not necessary be prosecuted, and that's surely what Terry Grange was getting at when he said "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. You take a look at the circumstances and try to make the right decision for that case. It may be nothing, it may be formal warnings, it may be prosecution."
Mr.Grange is right, of course. There is the world of difference between this kind of sex and those dreadful cases where older men use positions of trust to seduce young girls. Or the tragic ones where a foolish man is misguided enough to think a teenage girl could really be in love with him, or that it'd be all right to do something about it if she were. Even Ms.Elliott from Kidscape admitted "I do understand what he is saying about 18-year-olds having sex with 15-year-olds - that cannot be classed as paedophilia" - thereby contradicting herself, I would have thought. Clearly there is a grey area, both in her mind and in Terry Grange's.
Since Elliott and Grange seem to have reached a measure of agreement, perhaps the people we should be cross about are the journalists (guess which paper?) who penned the headline "Children's charity slams police chief in paedophile row". Not much of a row, is it, when both are saying the same thing?
The trouble is that "paedophile" has become such an emotive word that it's probably impossible to have a constructive and rational debate about any aspect of it, and a senior policeman like Grange should probably have known better than to try.


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