Age of consent should be 13, says barrister
A prominent barrister specialising in reproductive rights has called for the age of consent to be lowered to 13.
Barbara Hewson told online magazine Spiked that the move was necessary in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal to end the "persecution of old men".
She also said that complainants should no longer receive anonymity.
The NSPCC called her views "outdated and simply ill-informed" and said to hear them "from a highly experienced barrister simply beggars belief".
Her remarks come after a number of high-profile arrests over allegations of historical sexual offences in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Among those to have been convicted is former BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall, who admitted 14 charges of indecently assaulting girls, including one aged nine, between 1967 and 1985.
Ms Hewson described Hall's crimes as "low-level misdemeanours" which "ordinarily... would not be prosecuted".
"What we have here is the manipulation of the British criminal justice system to produce scapegoats on demand. It is a grotesque spectacle," she said.
"It's time to end this prurient charade, which has nothing to do with justice or the public interest."
She argues for an end to complainant anonymity, a strict statute of limitations to prevent prosecutions after a substantial amount of time has passed and a reduction in the age of consent to 13.
She said that "touching a 17-year-old's breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting one's hand up a 16-year-old's skirt" are not crimes comparable to gang rapes and murders and "anyone suggesting otherwise has lost touch with reality".
The NSPCC described crimes such as Hall's as "incredibly serious" and said that "to minimise and trivialise the impact of these offences for victims in this way is all but denying that they have in fact suffered abuse at all.
"Any suggestion of lowering the age of consent could put more young people at risk from those who prey on vulnerable young people."
It also argued that complainant anonymity should be maintained and that historical prosecutions should be allowed as "many who are abused are bullied, blackmailed and shamed into staying silent, often well into adulthood".
The Hardwicke chambers, where Ms Hewson works in London, said it dissociated itself from her comments.
In a statement, Hardwicke said: "We are shocked by the views expressed in Barbara Hewson's article in Spiked.
"We did not see or approve the article pre-publication and we completely dissociate ourselves from its content and any related views she may have expressed via social media or any other media outlets."