Although I am apparently one of the few people in England who haven’t been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted by Russell Brand, I follow his case, albeit with flagging attention.
Among his many transgressions, Mr Brand is accused of rape and sexual assault. It stands to reason that anyone caught committing those acts should face charges.
Since these are serious crimes, they are tried by jury in criminal courts. The jury then either convicts or acquits the defendant.
But there exists a little nuance there, called the presumption of innocence. It goes back to the Code of Justinian that states: Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. Loosely translated, it means Russell Brand never raped or otherwise assaulted anyone unless a jury of his peers says he did.
One may argue that Mr Brand’s sleaziness and general hideousness are so peerless that no appropriate jury could ever be convened. Leaving that argument aside, let’s just say that until he has been convicted, all talk of Mr Brand’s propensity to have sex without permission should cease. To rephrase, commentators who keep talking about it should just shut up.
To their credit, most of them do. The talk of Brand’s rapes has attenuated to a point where, after the initial burst of enthusiasm, hacks have instead started to concentrate on his moral decrepitude and lack of proper respect for womankind.
Surprisingly, much of their ire is drawn to a perfectly legal act Mr Brand freely admits he committed: having sex with a 16-year-old. Since the girl is now 33 years old, that liaison happened a while ago. But whenever the papers feel like tickling their readers’ naughty bits, what Americans call the statute of limitations is null and void.
Hence the woman, whose brittle sensitivity is protected by the alias ‘Alice’, is very much in the news. If I were a betting man, I’d offer good odds on her eventually abandoning her anonymity to cash in on her victimhood. That sort of thing can earn her good money with any tabloid – especially if she gets satisfyingly graphic (she is already talking about having choked during an act still deemed illegal in some American states).
Meanwhile ‘Alice’ is laying the essential groundwork for her coming out by explaining why she had to speak up after all these years. (I’ll give you a clue: the word ‘bandwagon’ doesn’t appear in her narrative.) She has been tortured the whole time by “gnawing shame”, knowing that her silence was enabling Mr Brand to target other victims.
Now, the word ‘victim’ implies that a crime was committed, which isn’t the case. The age of consent in the UK is 16, so having sex with a girl that age is as legal as it can be boring.
Sensing that, ‘Alice’, or rather those who are putting words into her mouth, suggests changes to the consent law. No, she isn’t in favour of raising it to 17, as in Cyprus, or to 18, as in Turkey; nor lowering it to 15 (France, Czechia) or even 14 (Austria, Germany, Italy and many Eastern European countries). As far as she is concerned, 16 is about right.
What Alice wishes to see criminalised is older men having sex with 16-year-old girls. She doesn’t talk about penalising older women for sex with boys that age, but that follows logically in our egalitarian times.
Now a grown-up woman, ‘Alice’ is even able to invent a new legal term, ‘staged consent’. This is how she explains it: “There should be staged consent – a change to the law. The age of consent could stay at 16, but I think it would be reasonable to recommend that it be a criminal offence for a person over the age of 21 to engage in sexual activities with someone under the age of 18.”
I congratulate ‘Alice’ on the proper use of subjunctive in her legalese second sentence: few people aged 16 or even 33 are capable of such grammatical subtlety these days. Or perhaps congratulations are in order not to ‘Alice’, but to her ventriloquists, some of whom must be lawyers. (She may be one herself for all I know. But on the balance of probability I rather doubt it.)
However, as a man no longer burdened with his first (or tenth) youth, I have to protest vehemently. Her proposal amounts to ageism at its most blatant, criminalising older people for being just that, older. And ageism sits proudly next to homo-, xeno-, transphobia, misogyny and body shaming in the phantom criminal code of modernity.
But forgetting my righteous indignation for a moment, let me see if I understand her proposal correctly. So a young chap a few days past his 21st birthday would be a criminal if he got his wicked way with a girl a few days short of her 17th. He would be seen as a wily statutory rapist who has manipulated that innocent lamb into sex.
First, our progressively comprehensive, comprehensively progressive education makes sure that children aren’t allowed to keep their innocence past kindergarten age, if then. They may not be taught how to read without moving their lips, but they are extensively educated in such academic subjects as advanced sex techniques and the use of condoms.
Moreover, on their first day at school they are encouraged to plumb the depth of their sexuality to decide which of the 102 established sexes they choose for themselves. And if they assure their disembodied computers they are over 18, they can download for free the sort of films that used to be only shown to mac-wearing audiences in Soho cinemas.
That’s why, by the time they are in their teens, they don’t see sex as something traumatising or even especially exciting. Alan Bloom observed back in the 1980’s that they regard it as no big deal, and things have got worse since then.
It’s also a fallacy to assume that any relationship with an older man would traumatise a girl, even as it’s true that any normal woman of any age should find sex with Mr Brand aesthetically crippling. Quite the opposite – an older man is more likely to treat her more sensitively than a bumbling youth would.
Once we have established the statutory cut-off point of 16, putting legal limitations on the older person’s age is unsupportable. Any limit would be arbitrary and lacking in psychological, physiological or empirical justification.
However, discounting blanket one-for-all limits, individual cases vary. I have seen middle-aged men who wouldn’t know how to manipulate their way to sex in a Soho massage parlour. But then I’ve also seen accomplished teenaged lotharios handling even older women, never mind their own coevals, with the expertise of a lion tamer.
I’ve also known women who were 30 going on 12 in matters carnal, and also 16-year-olds indistinguishable in that respect from women twice their age. If we have to talk about such things at all, individual characteristics are worth talking about.
However, it’s hard not to notice that newspapers devote more space to most cases of alleged sexual impropriety than to most murders and to practically all thefts. Any advertising man could give you the reason in two words: sex sells.
That’s why even broadsheets, and of course tabloids, go into such lurid detail when describing rape cases or even such consensual affairs as Brand’s with ‘Alice’. They know that their panting readers will want to come for more titillation – without the “gnawing shame” of turning to unvarnished porn.
So I can’t blame ‘Alice’ who’ll probably earn a six-figure sum for her belated revelations. I can’t even blame our deranged times. They are what they are, and ‘Alice’ is what she is. The way of the world, friends.