Selwyn professor in teen sex row

A Cambridge professor has called for the age of consent to be decreased to 13 years old, arguing that youngsters who choose to have sex before 16 should not be criminalised.

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A Fellow at Selwyn College has caused a storm by calling for the age of consent to be lowered.

Britain’s age of consent was confirmed as 16 in the 2003 Sexual Offences Act.

Law Professor John Spencer has slammed these guidelines, saying they “criminalise half the population” because few teenagers deliberately delay sex until it is legal.

Professor Spencer aired his views on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Iconoclasts’ series.

One panellist on the show, Peter Tatchell, pointed out that over half of all teens have their first sexual experience by the age of 14.

These youngsters are “branded by the law as criminals and sex offenders, lumped together with paedophiles”.

Current legislation means sexually active young teens can be given criminal convictions, and forced to sign the sex offender's register.

A few months ago, one 16-year-old hanged himself during a police investigation into his 15-year-old girlfriend's pregnancy.

Chief Superintendent Clive Murray has backed up Professor Spencer’s claims, noting that the law does not distinguish between sexual abuse and “youthful natural instinct”.

Professor Spencer also highlighted how Britain does not tally with Europe, where 20 states have lower ages of consent.

Sex is legal at 15 in France and Denmark, and at 14 in Italy. The age of consent in Spain is 13, the same as Professor Spencer is calling for in the UK.

Some countries, such as Canada, have ‘close-in-age’ exemptions. This legalises sex between two youths of similar ages, while protecting teens from older predators.

Despite such measures, Spencer’s controversial views have still aroused some vocal opposition. Tory MP David Davies said, “It is vital that the law protects vulnerable young people from exploitation by adults”.

Ann Widdecombe, MP, was also outraged: “The proposition that the age of consent should be lowered is absolutely appalling”. Widdecombe, who once named TV and sex as two things she “did very nicely without”, is not usually known for her expertise in the field.

This backlash is not just targeted at the Professor. The BBC has found itself in hot water for inviting Professor Spencer to speak on the Radio 4 show.

David Davies grumbled, “I’m astounded that the BBC is giving airtime to someone with such views.”

A BBC Spokesman bit back, claiming “The programme does not advocate the issue, but is a platform for an individual viewpoint and a starting point for serious debate.”

The call comes just months after ex-Selwyn student, Jonathan Jenkins, was tried for possessing child pornography. He was arrested from college accommodation in October 2007.