Peter Gary Tatchell was born in 1952 and hails from Melbourne, Australia. His website tells us he “has been campaigning for human rights, democracy, LGBT+ freedom and global justice” since 1967. In his home country he supported the black civil rights movement and campaigned against the Vietnam war before moving to London in 1971 as a conscientious objector. He helped organise the first Pride parade in London the following year. He has campaigned for global gay rights ever since, weilding influence as a human rights activist both here and abroad.
There are plenty of places you can go, perhaps starting with his wiki entry and moving on through his website, where you can read about the great work Tatchell has done and the people he has pissed off while doing it. Yet every time attention is drawn to his views on the age of consent he manages to deflect critcism as if he were in possession of some sort of miraculous cloaking spell.
Tatchell and his advocates accuse his opponents of having prudish, religious or ‘far right’ objections to his opinions. I have none of those. You don’t have to be religious, or a homophobe, or object to sex education in schools to be concerned about child safeguarding. Tatchell’s glowing human rights record means his views on consent and abuse do not receive the attention they deserve. When they are caught briefly in the spotlight, he shows a mastery for avoiding objections and spinning dizzying word webs which somehow leave concerns swept right back under the carpet.
“You’re writing a hit piece about Peter Tatchell?” said Emma, carelessly eating my last vegan Magnum. “Well, that’s not going to make you popular. You know he’s under house arrest in Mumbai right now? Over a protest about human rights and the Olympics. Or something. People won’t like you saying bad stuff about him.”
“It’s not a hit piece because I’m not making anything up,” I replied, slightly irritated. I’d already been working on the piece for three days. “And I’m not going to say ‘bad things’ about him. I don’t have to, it’s all out there in his own words. I just want to bring it all together in one place.”
“There’s a film on Netflix called ‘Hating Peter Tatchell.” Emma pokes the Magnum stick in the compost.“It totally ignores his views on the age of consent. Tatchell’s sister refers to him as ‘Christ-like’. You should put that in.”
We’ll start in 1986.
The Betrayal of Youth 1986
In 1986, Tatchell wrote a chapter for a book titled ‘The Betrayal of Youth (B.O.Y.). It is long out of print, but the British Library has a copy, as do Oxford and Cambridge universities. There’s a copy stored in the national libraries of both Wales and Scotland, and no doubt others survive in less august locations.
The book’s full title is: The Betrayal of Youth: Radical Perspectives on Childhood Sexuality, Intergenerational Sex, and the Social Oppression of Children and Young People (London: CL Publications, 1986)
In the introduction, editor Warren Middleton gives thanks to “Steven Smith and other members of the now defunct P.I.E.” PIE stands for the Paedophile Information Exchange. The Betrayal of Youth (B.O.Y.) contains chapters on incest, child pornography and prostitution. The introduction bemoans that “adults who love children and express it sexually are promptly replacing gays and blacks as society’s newest scapegoats,” and that “paedophilia is an important aspect in the study of childhood rights’.
Nestling between Chapter 8 ‘The Paedophiles’ and Chapter 10 ‘Ends and Means, how to make Paedophilia Acceptable’ is Chapter 9, ‘Questioning Ages of Majority and Ages of Consent’ by Peter Tatchell.
Tatchell’s chapter is really more of a short essay. It has been reproduced in a clearer format here:
When his involvement in the book came to public attention, Tatchell denied knowing anything about the editor or publisher, or details of other chapters in the book.
Tatchell recalled, “The request to write for The Betrayal of Youth was in about 1981 or 1982. It was made by phone call and I was given an address to post it to. I do not remember who asked me to write the chapter or the address to which I sent it… I had no idea that it had any connection to PIE.”
The next question facing curious minds might be, ‘why would fans of P.I.E. be interested in what Tatchell has to say?’. Why was his chapter chosen? We know the book was not short of submissions.
“As with every work of this nature,” observed editor/contributor Middleton, “there are always contributions, which because of lack of space or other reasons, cannot be used’.
It’s easy to see how Tatchell’s notion that an age of consent “reinforc(ed) a set of increasingly quaint, minority moral values left over from the Victorian era,” might have an appeal to those with a sexual interest in children.
Much of B.O.Y. has been scanned and can be viewed here on Ian Pace’s 2014 blog. The post has also been archived here. B.O.Y. is not pleasant reading, veiled as it is by ostensibly genuine concerns for youthful autonomy with repeated suggestions that sex with adults can be beneficial to the child.
Here’s my precis of Tatchell’s chapter. I have tried to be reasonably objective in my appraisal.
In this essay, Tatchell calls the age of consent representitive of ‘quaint, minority values left over from the Victorian era’ because we all mature at different ages. He references child brides and boy soldiers (see footnote) as examples of historically ‘mature’ children. He claims that the same laws that protect adults against ‘forced involuntary sexual acts’ such as rape and sexual assault are sufficient to protect children. Tatchell believes that the social shame of being sexually active ‘usually’ harms a child ‘more than the sexual act itself’. The essay ends with an accusation that those who would protect children against sexual activity are ‘usurping the right’ of the child to be sexually active.
That’s my take and to be honest I think I’ve been more than fair.
It is true that betrothals took place between children aged 13 or 14 in medieval times, yet consider that life expectancy back then was almost half what it is today, even for those who survived the first five years. The same culture that married children at fourteen also left many children uneducated and unprotected. Common law at this time meant children as young as seven could be charged in a court as adults. This culture that married children so young, and sent them to sea so blithley, did little to protect them.
“Radical thoughts on Consent”
“…children, (should be) able to make free, informed and responsible decisions about when and with whom they have sex.”
Fast forward to 2021, and the Telegraph newspaper revealed that in 1987, a full year after the publication of The Betrayal of Youth, Tatchell had written a review of the book for the newsletter of the Communist Party of Great Britain, entitled ‘Radical Thoughts on Consent’.
B.O.Y., he wrote, in this review, “speaks coolly, clearly and radically about a subject which has far too long been shrouded in emotional hysteria and adult chauvinism,” continuing, “Society would remove a lot of fear, anxiety and depression if, instead of repressing children’s sexuality, it acknowledged the fact that many children have sexual desires at an early age and accordingly educated children, so they are able to make free, informed and responsible decisions about when and with whom they have sex.”
When approached by the Telegraph, Tatchell announced he hadn’t got round to reading the book at the time he wrote the review, and had therefore still been unaware of its content. Julie Bindel was having none of it.
“I am very sorry and deeply regret the terrible mistake of submitting this review,” he told The Telegraph.
Not only does Tatchell praise the book in his glowing review but he adds an extra little nugget of his own- his opinion that that children should be the ones to decide ‘when and with whom they have sex’.
1996 – Childhood Sexual Rights
Also in 1996, Tatchell wrote an article for Gay Times, titled ‘Is Fourteen Too Young For Sex?’. The article is reproduced on his website.
“It’s all very well for the lesbian and gay community to call for an equal age of consent of 16, but what about the sexual rights of those who are younger?” asks Tatchell with indignation. He appears surprised and disappointed that “most gay organisations refuse to support the right of the people under l6 to make their own decision about when they are ready for sex.”
As an example of injustice caused by consent laws, he refers to the case of Donna Allen, who received a 14 month sentence ‘for having sex with her 13 year old girlfriend’ when Donna was eighteen. Tatchell observes that a man would have received a lighter sentence for the same offence. Which may well be true, but if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice we are no longer talking about fourteen year olds.
Tatchell also refers to twelve 10-17 year old girls who received a caution for ‘indecent assault on a female’ in the same year. He speculates that most of them were ‘probably guilty of coersive sex’ but admits he doesn’t know. He also, weirdly, refers to these children as women. ‘Twelve women, seven aged 10-13 and five aged 14-17’.
Were they guilty? Weren’t they? Were they star-crossed young lesbians or not? Were they victimised by age of consent laws or not? The fact is, as Tatchell admits, we don’t know the stories behind these cautions. What sort of cautions even were they? Simple cautions? Conditional cautions? Verbal cautions? We have no context.
Although do note how we are now talking about ten year olds.
In the same piece, Tatchell refers to sex between a 21 year old man and a 14 year old girl as an ‘offence without victims’.
There is no evidence to suggest that lowering the age of consent would do anything other than make it easier for predatory men to go after ever-younger children. The fourteen year old that “looked sixteen” becomes the twelve year old that “looked fourteen”.
Tatchell concludes by citing the then-current example of 13 year old runaway Essex schoolgirl Sarah Cook who became pregnant after eloping with her 18 year old ‘husband’ Musa Komeagae.
“If no harm has been inflicted, as in the case of Sarah and Musa, punishment is inappropriate.”
… and we’re talking about thirteen year olds again.
Incidentally, Sarah was described in the press at the time, variously as ‘pudgy’, ‘podgy’, ‘flame-haired’ and ‘scowling’. The Sun newspaper asked her about sex with her ‘husband’ and salaciously published her reply, “Now we can’t keep our hands off each other and sleep together all the time… etc etc”.
Hettie Juda wrote in the Independent “Certainly her parents let it happen, but the motor in this is Sarah herself…”
In 2000 Sarah told journalists “…when I was brought back to England, and he (Musa) thought it was my Mum and Dad’s fault. I couldn’t make him understand that we had to obey the law.”
In a culture that already treated- and still treats- children with such judgement and contempt, how would thirteen year old Sarah have been better protected by a lower UK age of consent?
And here I want to draw attention to the language Tatchell uses, sometimes not answering a question, often answering a completely different question. Sometimes it is what is left unsaid that matters. Children are expected to make choices about sex, and to report ‘unwanted sexual advances’. Remember, chez Tatchell, abuse is wrong but not all sex with children is abuse.
Is that a bit of a reach? I would say not, Tatchell made his position on the subject very clear in 1986. And in 1996. In 1997 he made it even clearer in a letter to the Guardian.
Dares to Speak & ‘that letter’ 1997
The book ‘Dares to Speak’, was edited by Joseph Geraci (who also edited the European paedophile magazine Paidika) and published in 1997 by the Gay Men’s Press. I look it up on Google books and am somewhat surprised to find such a shamelessly brazen bio.
“What was Oscar Wilde imprisoned for a hundred years ago if not the love of boys? Today once more, the “love that dares not speak its name” is despised and rejected, as if the sexual mores of classical Greece, medieval Japan or Islamic civilization could be adequately comprehended under a heading such as ‘child abuse’.”
The book includes a chapter by one Lawrence Stanley, entitled ‘The Hysteria over Child Pornography & Paedophilia’
Journalist Ros Coward saw fit to criticise the book, pointing out in a review in the Observer in June 1997:
“Twenty years ago, paedophile groups caused a real problem for gay liberation politics… a small minority tried to use the movement to free “boy-love” from its social stigmas. In the end, the police solved the dilemma: leading “boy-love” activists were convicted for conspiracy to corrupt. So it is shocking that the Gay Men’s Press is publishing a book on paedophilia in a climate even more alerted to its dangers.”
Coward went on to accuse the book of emphasising “positive accounts of inter-generational and childhood sexuality issues” and dismissing concerns as ‘hysteria’. She ended her article with a disconcerting quote from the book, from a leading Dutch campaigner for “paedophile emancipation” who made the claim:
“Paedophilia is not a problem for the paedophile; it is apparently also not a problem for the child. Paedophilia is primarily a problem for the non-paedophile, for society.”
Coward challenged ‘Dares to Speak’, calling it “a sneaky defence of an exploitative activity.” Tatchell disagreed.
“Not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful”
Tatchell felt Coward’s analysis was unreasonable, unreasonable enough that he wrote the following letter to the Grauniad, praising the book for its claim that not all paedophilia is damaging.
Despite Tatchell’s claims to the contrary, many readers were angered by his letter. In fact, a selection of letters were published collectively under the heading ‘Tatchell Comes in for Abuse’ (which is a pretty clever, if tastless, pun).
“For the past six months, as a solicitor, I have represented a group of victims (who) have described in harrowing detail how as children they were sexually abused by career paedophiles whilst in local authority care.” wrote Richard Scorer of Manchester. “None has described having ‘enjoyed’ sex with adults. Rather their reactions are symptomatic of chronic post traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks, nightmares, disturbed sleep, poor concentration, substance abuse, depression throughout adult life, suicide attempts. This is the real legacy of child sex.”
Twenty years later, in a 2018 tweet, Ros Coward asserts that at the time Tatchell made no complaint about about cuts made by the Guardian to his letter. Indeed, in his response to his critics at the time, he makes no mention of having been edited or misquoted by the Guardian. Rather, he bristles with righteous indignation.
Sticking to his guns
One might expect Tatchell to have appeared contrite in the face of such criticism but no. He was ‘astonished’ no less, to have come under fire for these beliefs.
“I am astonished that some of my critics (Letters June 27,28) accuse me of “justifying” child abuse when I wrote that sex with children is “impossible to condone”. Nor did I suggest that the victims of abuse found it “enjoyable”. I said that a few people claimed to have had sex with adults when they were children and they (not me nor the adults) say it was a pleasurable experience which did them no harm. If that is their opinion what gives others the right to say otherwise?
By writing that “not all sex involving children is unwanted abusive and harmful”, I was clearly implying that most of it is abusive. It is absurd to say that because I acknowledge some exceptions I am denying the suffering of those who have been abused. I don’t for a moment.”
So in his own words, Tatchell is ‘clearly implying that most of it (sex with children) is abusive’. If only ‘most of it’ is abusive, what else are we to infer but that he believes that somewhere between 1% and 49% of it is not abusive?
Tatchell adds, “nor did I suggest that the victims of abuse found it “enjoyable”.
Yet that seems to be exactly what he does suggest. So did he not consider these children to have been abused? Because he quite clearly states “several of my friends… had sex with adults from the ages of 9-13. None say they were abused. All say it was their conscious choice and it gave them great joy.”
One might conclude that a person who believes that ‘not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful’ doesn’t see all sex with children as abuse.
While Tatchell wrote in his letter that it ‘may be impossible to condone’ paedophilia, in his repeated refutations of the very understandable interpretation of his words he leaves out those two vital little words: ‘may be’.
Any time anyone with more than a few followers on social media accuses him of paedophile apologism, they receive this stock copied-and-pasted response.
Beatrix Campbell wrote to Tatchell in 2018 asking for an explanation of the change from ‘may be’ in his first Grauniad letter, to ‘is’ in his second:
“Why change it ‘may be’ to it ‘is’? This is sneaky semantics: you change the words and relocate the direct quotation marks, and what this achieves is to declare certainty where you had expressed ambivalence.”
Tatchell rarely graces this question with a response, but Campbell recieved a reply.
“It is true that my Guardian letter said paedophilia “may be impossible to condone” but I used “may” in the sense that I concurred with the view that it is impossible to condone.”
“To give a different example of the use of the word may in concurrence with a viewpoint: The Earth may be round but in everyday life it appears to be flat. The “may” in that sentence concurs with the view that the Earth is round. It does not dispute or contradict the Earth’s roundness. That is the sense in which I said paedophilia “may be impossible to condone”.
I mean, maaate. What? While paedophilia is bad not all of it is bad?
I look again at the offending sentence. It is clear that the two clauses in Tatchell’s sentence cannot co-exist if you give the ‘may be’ in Tatchell’s first clause the meaning he claims, because the second clause brings into dispute the veracity of the first.
A better linguist than I could explain it, but you have to admit, it’s one hell of a stretch.
So, that aside, why else might the letter lead the reader to think Tatchell was condoning paedophilia?
Well, maybe that bit where he said a nine year old can get ‘great joy’ from sex with an adult?
Or maybe that bit where he talked about the ‘positive nature of many child-adult sexual relationships’?
Or the bit where he advocated for societies where ‘consenting intergenerational sex is considered normal, beneficial and enjoyable by young and old alike’?
But apart from that, nada.
“I made a factual statement about what others think but this does not mean that I agree with them.”
In 2020, after a copy of the letter had been ‘doing the rounds’ on social media, Tatchell told Gary Kavanagh, in an interview published on his website:
“I don’t have a copy of my Guardian letter. It was done on a typewriter and I did not have a photocopier. Some points that were omitted from the published version of the letter include a specific statement that I opposed adults having sex with children…
“I complained to the Guardian by phone. They apologised. I accepted their explanation that it was an inadvertent unintentional mistake. They said they thought that by including my statement that paedophilia was “impossible to condone” it was clear that I was not endorsing child sex abuse…”
May be impossible to condone, remember. Weird how the Guardian would have also overlooked that.
Tatchell concludes by claiming, “It (the letter) has only many years later been mispresented.”
Which we know not to be true from the letters of complaint printed by the Guardian at the time.
Which societies are these anyway?
In early 2023, Malcolm Clark drew attention to the practices of the tribe Tatchell holds up as an example in his letter to the Grauniad. Clark’s illustrated thread can be read here and is archived here.
Clark points out that the tribe Tatchell references, the Sambia tribe of Papua New Guinea, was studied by Professor Gilbery Herdt. Herdt, who was once interviewed in a pro-paedophile magazine on how best to remove the taboo against paedophilia, describes how the boys of the tribe were kidnapped, beaten, forced into sexual activity and to consume sperm to make them ‘manly’. Mothers who protested were beaten. Boys who refused to comply were threatened with castration.
Herdt wrote, “The boy has no sleep for the first two nights… he is led in continuous dancing for approximately ten hours… he experiences many terrifying ordeals… he has had no water and little food…” Boys are beaten, stung and bled and must submit to various acts which “make him feel dominated, even ashamed. A powerful one of these is his felatio performed on a batchelor marked for him by the elders”. Older men tell the boy this act is ‘vital to his spiritual growth’.
““Herdt never says that the boys grow up “happy and well-adjusted” reveals Clark. “Why would he? Anthropologists don’t judge ‘happiness’. In fact, Herdt argues Sambia culture is a brutal response to continual inter-tribal violence…
The story of the Sambia reminds us that children can never consent to sex.”
This page of Tatchell’s website is host to an interview between Tatchell and 14 year old Lee which took place in August 1997. The interview is also archived here and was republished (without permission) in the newsletter of International Paedophile and Child Emancipation. The interview with Lee took place before the equal age of consent (16) came into force (2000).
“Lee is 14. He’s been having sex with boys since the age of eight, and with men since he was 12 … He comes across as bright, articulate, sure of himself, and mature beyond his years. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting away with taking advantage of him.”
Good grief, can we slow down here? Lee is a child who has been exploited by men since he was twelve, possibly younger. TWELVE, FFS. We’re just a few sentences in and the red flags are already waving wildly.
Is it ‘hard to imagine’ an adult taking advantage of this child? And ‘getting away’ with it? Well, sadly no. It’s not. Also, adults do not ‘have sex’ with children. This is the UK, and that is called rape.
“…by having anal sex with another 14 year old boy, Lee would be guilty of a major offence which can, at least in theory, be punished by jail for life.”
Wait… now you want to tell him the law wants to send him to prison for life? You’re using this as an example of why the age of consent should be lowered? When- as we shall see later – such a thing has never happened in living memory?
““The law is stupid”, says Lee, unsurprisingly. “If I know what I’m doing and I’m not harming anyone else, I should be allowed to have sex with who I want”.
Lee’s story seems to be one of neglect and abuse. I’m practically in tears by the end of it.
Lee says he first had oral sex aged eight. He knew what to do because he saw it on TV. Before he was ten Lee had sex with a second boy, and also with this child’s twin sister. And a third boy. All these children were the same age.
Undisclosed family problems meant Lee was moved to a children’s home age eleven. There he became involved with a prostituted older boy and began selling sex to buy drugs.
“When I was doing it, I felt sick. I didn’t enjoy it… Once Andrew and I were tied up and raped.”
Lee then ran away from the children’s home because of homophobic bullying.
“Where did you go?” asked Tatchell.
“I used to stay with this paedophile that I met in the gardens. He was okay. There was no pressure for me to have sex, but I did. I had sex with him because I wanted to feel loved and respected”.
“The paedophiles I knew always asked me if I wanted sex. They didn’t pressure me.” Lee assures Tatchell. “If you consent to having sex with a paedophile, it’s fine. If you don’t, it’s not”.
“Young people who say they have been abused should always be listened to and believed.” continues Tatchell. “Equally, those who say they were NOT abused should also be listened to…”
This should be considered alongside Tatchell’s earlier observation that “several of my friends… had sex with adults from the ages of 9-13. None say they were abused. All say it was their conscious choice and it gave them great joy.”
Lee tells Tatchell of his unstable background and draws attention to his need for love and affection from an adult. He’s learned to feel “loved and respected” through having sex with older men, many of whom, to his dismay, reject him because of his youth. Tatchell may call Lee an ‘under-age gay’, I call him an abused and prostituted child. Would lowering the age of consent really do Lee any favours, or would it just legitimise and facilitate a string of older men using him for sex?
In response to those who were shocked or uncomfortable with the article, Peter penned this response.
“The views that I wrote about were his (Lee’s) own. They are what he told me. They are not my views… Having it on my website does not mean that I approve of what Lee said or did.”
This echoes his earlier observation on his letter to the Guardian, “I made a factual statement about what others think but this does not mean that I agree with them.”
A strange habit, to fill websites and newspapers with opinions with which one doesn’t agree.
Here’s one of Tatchell’s views. This is his impression of Lee from the interview.
“(Lee is) wearing a white T-shirt and combat trousers, his sophisticated gay image makes him look older than 14… it’s hard to imagine anyone getting away with taking advantage of him.”
In 1998, Tatchell wrote an obituary for the Independent newspaper, for activist and gay rights campaigner Ian Campbell Dunn. Among Dunn’s many achievements, Tatchell omitted to mention the most dubious – that Dunn had been a founder member of the Paedophile Information Exchange- the P.I.E. celebrated earlier by the editor of B.O.Y.- and that his residence was a contact address for the affiliated magazine ‘Minor Problems’. Many members of PIE were later arrested and it officially disbanded in 1984, two years before the publication of B.O.Y.
Peter says: “I have no knowledge that Dunn was a paedophile. I rarely met him.”
Moving on into this century, the legal age of consent was set at sixteen for everyone in England, Wales and Scotland by the Sexual Offences (amendment) Act 2000.
Meanwhile, Tatchell and OutRage! were upping their campaign, started a few years previously, for it to be lowered to fourteen.
Consent at 14
Tatchell’s “Consent at 14” campaign claimed consent at 16 was ‘unrealistic and unfair because it criminalised the many young people who have sexual contact and experience before the age of 16’.
Tatchell claimed “the best way to protect young people is earlier, more frank sex and relationship education, to empower them with the knowledge, skills and confidence to make wise, responsible choices and to report unwanted (my italics) sexual advances and abusers.”
Current UK law holds that children under sixteen cannot make these ‘wise responsible choices’ that Tatchell expects from them. He would like to see that changed.
In a statement of breathtaking audacity, Tatchell claims that lowering the age of consent will actually protect children and discourage abusers.
“Paradoxically, it is the present age limit of 16 that contributes to the risk of abuse by reinforcing the idea that young people under 16 have no sexual rights… denying them the right to control their own bodies. ”
Should children also be allowed to ‘control their own bodies’ by driving fast cars while chugging vodka, I wonder? Tatchell also claims that this ‘sexual disempowerment’ and guilt and shame’ play into the hands of adult abusers “by encouraging the furtiveness and secrecy on which abuse thrives.”
Another of Tatchell’s tactics, when putting forwards reasons for lowering the age of consent is to refer to the fact that most children have their ‘first sexual experience’ before the age of sixteen.
“Children… should be given the choice to make their own decisions at whatever age they feel appropriate”
In a 2002 interview with High Profile’s Steve Turner, Tatchell said, “Children… should be given the choice to make their own decisions at whatever age they feel appropriate. I don’t think parents have any right to keep children in ignorance. That is a form of child abuse.”
When asked, “Is there any sexual practice that ought to be illegal?” Tatchell replied:
“The moral framework for all sexual relationships should be mutual consent, respect and fulfilment. Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you. If you wouldn’t want to be raped, don’t rape anyone else. There is no right to fulfil yourself by abusing other people.”
That’s all well and good, but maaate, answer the question.
Also in 2002, the Libertarian Alliance published this leaflet for Peter Tatchell. In it he claims, “there is no medical or psychological evidence that 16 (as opposed to 14 or any other age) is the age of sexual or emotional maturity.”
Children’s sexual rights
In 2009 Shadow Children’s Secretary, Michael Gove, defended the age of consent law, saying it “helps teens themselves to say no and resist the sort of pressure to ‘experiment’ which can lead to disease, heartbreak and pregnancy”.
“Whether we like it or not, underage young people are having sex with each other,” Tatchell told the Grauniad, once again claiming that the current age of consent criminalised such activity.
Of parents, he said, “I sympathise with their concerns. But if their children do have sex before the age of 16, surely most loving, responsible parents would not want them to be dragged to court, given a criminal conviction and put on the sex offender’s register, alongside child sex abusers. This is what can, and sometimes does, happen under the present law.”
By restricting young people’s sexual rights, this limit actually makes abuse more likely.“
Does it though?
Punished by jail for life? Dragged to court? Youth detention centres? Two fifteen year olds having sex & ending up on the sex offenders register? We hear this line from Tatchell over and over again, but I could find no example of this having happened anywhere in England in living memory. Tatchell gives no citations, despite writing on his website about “the blanket criminalisation of sexually-active under-age youth”.
In 2010 Tatchell told the Sex and the Law Conference in Sheffield:
“Any sexual contact between under-age youngsters, even mere sexual caressing, is now punishable by up to five years detention and placement on the sex offenders register.”
He was at it again on Woman’s Hour in 2013, claiming that young lovers “risk being sentenced to five years in a youth detention centre and being placed on the sex offenders register”
and again here
“… even one prosecution is one too many. More get cautioned (rather than prosecuted) and some of these get put on the Sex Offenders Register, which ruins their life chances.”
But I couldn’t find a single example of an underage British teenager being put on the sex offenders register for consensual sex with another underage teenager. Had it really happened? Could it happen?
“I think that’s highly unlikely to happen,” Anya Palmer told me. “CPS guidelines would probably suggest don’t prosecute if you have two under age people and no other power imbalance.”
Simon Blake, chief executive of the young people’s sexual health charity, Brook, told The Independent that such prosecutions are “very, very rare” as they are not usually in the public interest. He was unable or unwilling to provide an example.
If Tatchell was unaware of Home Office guidance twenty years ago, he has no excuse to claim ignorance now. It has been pointed out to him on numerous occassions, including on this 2020 thread.
In England and Wales the Sexual Offences Act 2003 already takes age into account when considering sexual offences. A child of twelve or under is considered less capable of consenting than one aged thirteen or over. Levels of maturity and extenuating circumstances are also already taken into account by courts and prosecutors. Ideally, an age of consent acts as a legal and ethical safeguard and establishes a balance between protection and autonomy.
Safe Schools Alliance, which believes the interests of children would be better protected if the age of consent was raised to eighteen, has this to say:
“… there is no evidence that children who are peers that have sex with each other are criminalised, and there is no reason to suspect that this will change in the future. Indeed, the Crown Prosecution Service states on its website that:
“The overriding purpose of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is to protect children. It was not Parliament’s intention to punish children unnecessarily or for the criminal law to intervene where it was wholly inappropriate.”
Those concerned about children’s lives being blighted by prosecution can, therefore, save their worries.”
Tatchell also mentions that many European countires have a lower age of consent, in Spain, for example, it is thirteen.
“These countries, most of them staunchly Catholic,would not have low age limits if they thought young people were being put at risk. They realise that the laws against rape and indecent assault provide adequate protection against sexual violence and exploitation”
Do they though?
A 2013 Save the Children’s report ‘Eyes that Fail to See’ would probably beg to differ: it suggests that between 10-20% of Spaniards suffer sexual abuse as a child. It goes on to add that “only 15% of schools in which the child has reported abuse inform the authorities” and “around 70% of cases that make it to the legal system never make it to oral proceedings.” Adequate protection indeed.
Figures in a 2013 WHO report suggested that 18 million children in the population of Europe suffer from sexual abuse. This ‘adequate protection’ that Tatchell so blithely assumes could clearly do with some improvement.
“Consensual sex should not be stigmatised or criminalised, not for young people, not for adults, not for anyone.” concludes Tatchell.
2010: Sexual rights for children?
“I want to start by proposing that sexual rights are human rights,” wrote Tatchell in 2010. “…failure to extend human rights into the sexual sphere includes a social and legal failure to acknowledge the sexual human rights of the many young people who have consenting, victimless sex prior to reaching the lawful age of consent of 16.”
This is a startling suggestion. In claiming sexual rights are human rights, Tatchell reframes children’s sexual rights as being a ‘freedom to’, that is the freedom to indulge in sex, rather than a ‘freedom from’, that is, protection from adult sexual advances. Perhaps it is that ‘freedom from’ which is so reminiscent of the ‘quaint, minority values’ which Tatchell holds in such low regard?
What Tatchell also overlooks is that for many children the age of consent offers a ‘get out’ clause. How many girls have used “I’m not sixteen,”as an excuse to get out of an uncomfortable situation which just didn’t feel right? An age of consent can be a guideline for children, a bit of adult support – a boundary if you like. And some young people will ignore this boundary but others will find comfort and support in the idea that it’s ok to stay ‘a virgin’ for just a little bit longer.
Tatchell merrily claims, “despite what the puritans and sex-haters say, under-age sex is mostly consenting, safe and fun.”
See how those who don’t think underage kids should be encouraged to have sex are now ‘sex-haters’?
“It does not result in any damage.”
No even for some nine year olds, so we hear. Pesky puritans, trying to spoil kids’ lovely, safe fun.
In 2013, Professor John Ashton called on then Prime Minister David Cameron to lower the age of consent to fifteen. In this 2013 piece for Huffpost, Tatchell responded by calling for it to be lowered to fourteen.
“Half of all UK teenagers have their first sexual experience by the age of 14… all these sexually active young teens are criminals and sex offenders. They are lumped together with rapists and paedophiles.”
Like the tales of children hauled off to prison, words and situations are here twisted in a way that is demonstrably disingenuous. Tatchell repeats much of what he said in his Betrayal of Youth chapter nearly 30 years previously, again refering to the age of ‘first sexual experience’- which could be as simple as a romantic kiss- as reason for lowering the age of consent. There is no objection in law to teenagers kissing and it is absurd to suggest that there might be. There are often, even usually, long gaps of time between ‘first sexual experience’ and what NHS Borders rather spectacularly calls ‘age of sexual debut’. A 2023 YouGov survey suggested that most Brits ‘lose their virginity’ at the ripe old age of seventeen, and just a fifth before the age of sixteen. NHS Borders suggests the average age of ‘sexual debut’ in the Uk is 16-17 and sets the ‘underage’ figure at between a third and half.
In 2015, Tatchell recorded a video at The International School of Geneva, Switzerland.
“I don’t want to see those young people criminalised,” he told the student interviewing him, claiming many teachers were afraid to give advice on sexual matters to children under sixteen, “in case they are accused of aiding and abetting unlawful sexual acts”.
“I want to ensure,” he says, “that they (under age children) know they have a right to say yes to sex but also a right to say no.”
This all sits very uneasily alongside Tatchell’s belief that children as young as nine can get ‘great joy’ from sex with adults and that such sex is not necessarily abuse. He goes on to re-assert this belief asking ‘who am I or you to dispute it?’
In reality, people who were abused as children often tell themselves they understood the implications of what was happening to them, in an attempt to regain autonomy over the situation. Disassociation, self-blame, chronic self-criticism, or just an attempt to lessen the pain can all be reasons for victims of abuse to shoulder the blame, especially when that abuse comes dressed up as love.
Comments on the video included:
“I was abused at 9. It was my choice and i consented and i was pressured. I did not have the mental capacity to know whats going on. I have difficulty nearly 40 yrs later with maintaining relationships. I have several friends with similar experiences, all of them have problems.”
Another viewer commented “…the perfect definition of a pedophile taking advantage of a precocious child showing signs of curiosity.”
Tatchell’s naming of Derek Jarman as the man who once told him sex age nine had brought him ‘great joy’ seems a betrayal of trust. Charlesworth, Jarman’s biographer, observes that Jarman was “beaten and humiliated by his father as a child (and) sexually abused by classmates at the boarding school he attended”. Would Jarman really have thanked Tatchell for sharing his confidence with the world? Would he have felt that sharing it made vulnerable boys safer? We will never know because Jarman is not alive to tell us.
‘I was defending the right of him to hold that opinion and to express it,’ Tatchell claims. He made similar claims about supporting ‘Dares to Speak’, and again about Lee, and I am reminded again of 14 year old Lee explaining, “There was no pressure for me to have sex, but I did. I had sex with him because I wanted to feel loved and respected”.
Tatchell says some schools that have asked him to come in to give talks to their students want the “really positive” LGBT+ education they are providing to be kept secret from parents: “They fear a backlash,” Tatchell says.
Secret sex lessons from Peter Tatchell? Tatchell, of course, thinks gender identity is marvellous, trans-identified kids should get puberty blockers and men should be allowed in women’s bathrooms and sports. Writing about this side of his advocacy would be a whole other article, and as this one has already stretched to over 8,000 words, I’m not even going to go there right now.
Realistically, kids don’t need grown ups to teach them about experimentation and fetishes. They can find out about that stuff in their own time. They’d rather find out about the rest of it in their own time. They don’t need some old bloke harping on about role play. Yuk. A few may not find out about fertishes at all, and you know, that’s ok too.
Yet suddenly, over the next few years, Tatchell was everywhere, giving advice on sex to kids, schools, even the government. Nobody seems to stop and ask how he is qualified for this job, which hasn’t even been the main focus of his political activism.
In 2015, Tatchell wrote a piece for ‘Teach Secondary’ called Let’s talk about Sex.
In it he claims sex education for older school children should “include advice on how to achieve mutually-fulfilling, high quality sex; including the emotional and erotic value of foreplay; the multitude of erogenous zones and how to excite them; and methods to achieve good orgasms for oneself and one’s partner.”
‘It’s my body and my right to control it’ should be promoted in every school to ensure that young people assert their right to determine what they, and others, do with their body.”
He added that sex education should teach teenagers about “sexual practices that some people find distasteful, such as anal intercourse and sadomasochism.”
Pink News reported that Tatchell had suggested that ‘schools should work to promote oral sex and mutual masturbation as a “sexy” alternative’ to penetrative sex by making them ‘look and sound sexy’.
In 2017 Tatchell suggested that schools should “Celebrate sexual pleasure. Combat sexual shame & abuse” adding, “sex education in schools in the United Kingdom is too often anti-sex.”
In 2018 he said parents who want their children to opt out from sex and relationships education (SRE) lessons should have to go into schools and physically remove their child from each lesson.
Now different people may hold different views on how appropriate or inappropriate such an education is, but the question buzzing in the forefront of my mind is ‘why are schools asking this guy what to teach kids about sex?’.
There are plenty of groups outside of schools willing to give sex education advice to young people. Of all the people out there, what qualifies Peter Tatchell to be advising anybody? Does a sociology degree qualify him to assess what is ‘age appropriate’ sex education for kids young enough to be his grandchildren? He is not a qualified teacher, nor trained in child protection and is not a parent. Is it age appropriate to line six year olds up and teach them about masturbation? Is he the man to decide?
Tory MP Miriam Cates recently expressed concerns that children were being exposed to sex education classes that were “age-inappropriate, extreme, sexualising and inaccurate… graphic lessons on oral sex, how to choke your partner safely, and 72 genders… this is not a victory for equality – it is a catastrophe for childhood.”
Cates is a catholic mum of three, but plently of non-religious parents have their own reservations.
“What kids need is accurate information and a strong counter narrative to that which normalises the hypersexualisation and abuse of women and girls in porn,” suggest South West Wales Resisters.
In 2018, news of Tatchell’s letter in the Guardian resurfaced and for a while he was back in the news, the tabloid press reporting with headlines like “Tatch’s Kid Sex Letter”.
“for the vast majority of children”
Tatchell told The Sun, “The printed version did not include my point that I oppose adults having sex with children. I empathise with victims of child sex abuse and agree for the vast majority of children, sex with adults is neither wanted nor joyful.”
And somehow, this clarification of the fact that he did, indeed, believe some kids could enjoy joyful sex with adults, persuaded people that he actually thought the opposite, and almost immediately Tatchell was back offering up sex education advice, suggesting teachers advise kids to have oral sex or dally in mutual masturbation instead of having penetrative sex, and explaining to them how to do it.
In 2020 Tatchell took part in an interview with Gary Kavanagh, in which he spoke out ‘against lies and smears’.
When pressed about the exact nature of the edit to his Guardian letter, he replies: “Whatever else my letter said, and no matter how it has been misinterpreted by others, my use of the word ‘impossible’ makes it clear that I do not support paedophilia in any way.”
Which we have all heard before, of course. He goes on in a sterner tone:
” I condemn without reservation child sex abuse, the rape of children and adults having sex with kids. It is abhorrent, totally wrong and unacceptable. The perpetrators should be jailed. I have never condoned paedophilia. There are no circumstances where it is acceptable for adults to have sex with children.”
So he’s singing a somewhat slightly different song right now.
When the fourteen year old who ‘looked sixteen’ becomes the twelve year old who ‘looked fourteen’
It’s been a long 8,000 words, reader. There are plenty of declarations on Tatchell’s website asserting that his concern with lowering the age of consent is only to protect children and that he abhors all evil. You can read those, and this, and the other articles about him, and make up your own mind.
Rather than indulge in speculation, I’ll leave you with Tatchell in his own words over the last thirty five years.
There are links to all these quotes in this article.
“Certainly, in the realm of sexual ages of consent, we need to ask whether the law has any legitimate role to play in criminalising consenting, victimless sexual activity.” 1986
“It is usually this social shame (of sexual encounters outside the ages of consent) more than the sexual act that harms young people.” 1986
“…children, (should be) able to make free, informed and responsible decisions about when and with whom they have sex.” 1987
“Several of my friends, gay and straight, male and female, had sex with adults from the ages of 9 to 13. None feel they were abused. All say it was their conscious choice and gave them great joy. While it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged that not all sex with children is unwanted, abusive and harmful.” 1996
“Since children can be held responsible for criminal behaviour from the age of ten, it’s surely illogical for the legal system to say that people below 16 are unable to consent to sex.” 1996
By writing that “not all sex involving children is unwanted abusive and harmful”, I was clearly implying that most of it is abusive.” 1997
Young people who say they have been abused should always be listened to and believed. Equally, those who say they were NOT abused should also be listened to and only disbelieved if there is compelling evidence to do so.” 1998
“Children should be given information on all forms of human sexuality and emotions, which should be presented in a moral framework emphasising the importance of mutual consent, respect and fulfilment. Beyond that, they should be given the choice to make their own decisions at whatever age they feel appropriate.” 2002
“There is no medical or psychological evidence that 16 (as opposed to 14 or any other age) is the age of sexual or emotional maturity.” 2002
“Consensual sex should not be stigmatised or criminalised, not for young people, not for adults, not for anyone.” 2009
“I want to start by proposing that sexual rights are human rights… failure to extend human rights into the sexual sphere includes a social and legal failure to acknowledge the sexual human rights of the many young people who have consenting, victimless sex prior to reaching the lawful age of consent of 16.” 2010
“Despite what the puritans and sex-haters say, under-age sex is mostly consenting, safe and fun. It does not result in any damage.” 2010
“I want to ensure that they (under age children) know they have a right to say yes to sex but also a right to say no.” 2015
“Sex education ought to tell the whole truth about every kind of sex and relationship, including sexual practices that some people find distasteful, such as anal intercourse and sadomasochism.” 2015
“’It’s my body and my right to control it’ should be promoted in every school to ensure that young people assert their right to determine what they, and others, do with their body.” 2015
“(Schools should) celebrate sexual pleasure. Combat sexual shame & abuse. Sex education in schools in the United Kingdom is too often anti-sex.” 2017
“I empathise with victims of child sex abuse and agree for the vast majority of children, sex with adults is neither wanted nor joyful.” 2018
I don’t think anybody needs to edit Tatchell’s earlier statements, misrepresent him or twist his words. I think he makes his position very clear indeed, over and over again, all by himself.