Stephen Fry about the age of consent

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[Question from a man in the audience to Stephen Fry (English comedian, actor, writer, presenter, and activist):] Considering the levels of child prostitution, and during the Victorian times in London, and considering that Oscar Wilde frequently had relationships with rent boys, do you think there is any justification for his imprisonment?

[Stephen Fry:] I don't actually. It's a very good question. Because we tend to apply our own moral standards to those that come before us. But a rent boy does not mean under sixteen or under eighteen by the way. It's a word that is still used today, and if you cared to troll through, if you put it on Google Search, you will find commercial sites, for professional young gentlemen engaging upon escorts and message-services, which are exactly the same as those that Oscar used. There's no particular evidence that he consorted with children. And I would say, the extraordinary thing is, yes there is a lot of evidence for child prostitution in Britain in Victorian times; the thing that shocks me in a way, there is so much evidence there is of it in our time. Recently in Rotherham and in Manchester. The thing that's shocking about it, that is in a sense not ever really been addressed is: a) why the 'red top' newspapers and even the broadsheets consider it such a salacious headline grabber; they know people will see: 'child sex,' and they will reach for the newspaper. Christopher Hitchens used to say , he is one of the the brave enough people to say it, is there something inside it [?, difficult to hear last words], is it purely protecting of their own children [here some words follow: difficult to hear]. And if there are that many children, thousands that are mentioned by the Counsel of the Greater Manchester. Why does nobody follow up: well that does mean that there must be thousands of users of children. And that's the point. Seems to me, that's so frightened.

I don't think for a minute that Oscar in any way was guilt ever of non-consensual sex, which I think is almost the definition of child sex. We don't believe that anybody under sixteen... and of course it's a big philosophical question: how do you draw a line? I remember reading a terrible case, that happened in Cleveland about twenty years ago, where a ring of offenders was rounded up, aged between 16 and 78, and a group of children, aged between 10 and 15, were rushed straight into counseling. And I was thinking: well the 16-year-old? Maybe the 16-year-old had maybe just turned 16 the day before. If they had done the raid the day before, he would have been one of the group that was taken away: show us on the toy where the nasty man touched you, we'll give you counseling. But because his birthday fell the day before the raid, he became a 16-year-old: 'you scum, you will get beaten after death in prison.'

Now of course we all know there is something wrong about that. It can't be right to draw a line quite so completely. That's why you hope lawyers are able to explain... It's the same I suppose, with the termination of a pregnancy. You can't really draw a line and you have to. [...] It's ethically such an extraordinarily difficult question to answer. And I don't know how we do. We just have to rely on the very weak institution of a jury, and hope that twelve people put together in the room will take their task seriously enough, to say: that 16-year-old seems to me a very young 16-year-old, were as one of the 15-year-olds, who was a victim, you know, had big more stubbles my father has and struck me as very much in charge of himself. So you know what I mean, we all know... consent whoa, we just have to draw the line.

But I do think Oscar, as far as I can tell, he was never guilty of non-consensual sex. Which is what I would imprison someone for, or at least have in some way treated him, whatever it is, I don't know; liberal squeaks coming from me and I don't know what the answer is. But I think we have to try and be grown up about it, and think about it.

That was a heavy one, sorry.

source: Transcript of 'Stephen Fry - Child Sex and Age of Consent';; Published on Youtube: 1 April 2015