Baffled by injustice of underage law
THAT'S MEN:How many lives will this rotten law destroy?
I MAY have broken the law a few weeks ago by failing to have a 16-year-old boy arrested. But the law in question is, in my opinion, a rotten law so I have no regrets.
My lapse as a law-abiding citizen came when my attention was hijacked by a group of three lads, all about 16, on the Luas from Tallaght. They were talking about girls and it seemed that one of them actually had a girlfriend.
The others wanted to know if he was having sex with her though they didn’t put it in quite such refined language. He said he was, as 16-year-old boys are liable to say, but added that it was a mistake to get involved with 15 year olds and he wouldn’t do it again.
It seemed he had fallen for his girlfriend’s best friend and the girlfriend did not approve. He seemed to be under the impression that only 15 year olds could behave in such an unreasonable way and that a member of an older age group would see things differently.
I wondered if he or his friends were aware of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006, otherwise known as the Romeo and Juliet law.
Probably not. But this is where I, as a good citizen, should have reached for my phone, called 999 and arranged for gardaí to meet us at the next stop. There the boy could have been arrested, taken to court and, if found guilty, look forward to spending his life as a convicted sex offender.
For, under the Romeo and Juliet law, if two underage teenagers (as these two were) are having sex, then the boy is guilty of an offence. Though girls reach puberty earlier than boys, the girl is not guilty of an offence.
It makes no difference that the sex may be consensual, non-abusive or, even, initiated by the girl.
This piece of legislation was given to us by the same government that devoted energy to updating the law on blasphemy as the country drifted towards the abyss. Sadly, the Romeo and Juliet law was upheld by the Supreme Court earlier this year.
When I tell people such as counselling students about this law they are baffled by the injustice of it all. Yet it has parliament and Supreme Court behind it so we are stuck with it.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has put forward a Bill which would allow the conviction of boys affected by this law to be erased after a time. The Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, has expressed a wish that health professionals such as doctors be given the discretion to decide whether underage patients having consensual sex should be reported to the authorities or not.
We are still stuck with this wretched law though. It has been suggested that the Romeo and Juliet law is a blackmailer’s charter and so, indeed, it could be. But the blackmail, I think, is more likely to be emotional than financial, used by the parents of teenage girls to end relationships of which they disapprove.
And do you know of any 16 year olds who could go through the trauma of arrest, court appearance and conviction as a sex offender without being destroyed by it?
Moreover, what does it do to the future life and wellbeing of the girl to feel she is an instrument of this destruction?
Right now, many people, maybe most, are unaware of this law. If there was greater awareness I believe there would be support for change. But generally speaking we only become aware of these matters when we come up against them in some way.
This lack of awareness reduces the impetus for change.
How many teenage boys in the future will have their lives destroyed by this rotten law? How many families will be torn apart before the decent thing is done and the Romeo and Juliet law is buried as deeply as the government that gave it to us?
Padraig O’Morain (firstname.lastname@example.org) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book Light Mind, Mindfulness in Daily Living is published by Veritas. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email