New British sex offense law comes into effect

May 03, 2004

LONDON — New sex offense laws giving more protection to children and creating a new offense of "grooming" came into effect in Britain on Saturday.

In an overhaul of Britain's Victorian-era laws on sex offenses, the new regulations also decriminalize certain sex acts between men and toughen measures against rape.

"Until now our sex offenses laws were based on the Victorian era – their values and the world they lived in," Home Secretary David Blunkett said. "New laws offer increased protection, especially to children and vulnerable people."

Blunkett has said the last major sex offense act, passed 47 years ago, was mostly a consolidation of 19th-century law.

The new act ends legal recognition of any consent for sex by children under 13, meaning suspects would not be able to take advantage of a loophole that now lets them be charged with a crime less than rape by claiming a child gave consent.

It also creates a new offense of "grooming" or befriending children for sexual exploitation which would apply to adults who meet a child – in person or on the Internet – with the intention of taking sexual advantage. Anyone convicted of the offense faces up to 10 years in prison.

The package toughens laws against rape by requiring defendants to prove in some circumstances that they took reasonable steps to make sure their alleged victim consented to sex.

The measure, which is aimed at increasing the rape conviction rate of 7 percent, means juries will be able to assume there was no consent if an alleged rape victim was asleep or unconscious, or if there was violence or threats involved.

The act also continues efforts begun in 1967 to repeal old laws banning private, consensual sex between adult men, making gay and straight sex subject to the same laws and strengthening statues against public sex. – Sapa-AP

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