I recently watched the Channel 4 TV programme about the age of consent, which made me aware of proposals to extend it to include such activities as snogging, sexual touching and petting.
As a retired teacher and parish priest I am alarmed at the possible repercussions should these proposals become law. The programme raised the likelihood that many teenagers could be prosecuted and be placed on the sex offenders' register for fairly normal teenage conduct and thereby criminalised for the rest of their lives. This prospect alone is a frightening one. In retrospect it could criminalise almost all adults.
Equally worrying are the possible consequences for those of us whose professional lives have been heavily involved with young people; clergy, teachers, youth workers, Sunday school teachers and even parents. Activities undertaken with young people are frequently with mixed groups, such as youth clubs, scouting, school discos, school trips, parties etc.
Who is expected to police this law? Are the responsible adults who supervise such activities now expected to become informers and report all or any contacts between boys and girls that may, possibly, be viewed as going too far? And who is to decide that? And if the law expects us to act as informers how then could we ever gain the trust needed to listen to our young people and give them guidance?
If we do not report all such activities this will turn all adults in a supervisory capacity into accessories or accomplices to illegal acts. No longer will the quiet word and discreet guidance be legally permitted. The prospect for adults, especially teachers who can already be suspended on the merest hint of suspicion, is truly horrifying. If this illiberal act becomes law it could create immense barriers between our young people and the very adults upon whom they depend for guidance through the turmoils of the teen years and cause irreparable damage to our social fabric.
Derrick W Cooling (Revd) St Thomas Cottage The Fence St Briavels, Gloucestershire