Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Statutory Rape Law Overturned

The Supreme Court decision striking down that part of the Statutory Rape Law which relates to girls aged under 15 years raises some interesting challenges for the lawmakers. While the court’s decision leaves unchanged those elements of the law relating to girls aged 15 & 16 years, it is inevitable that this whole legal area will need to be reviewed and reformed in its entirety.

In today’s Irish Times, legal affairs correspondent Carol Coulter reports that there have been 54 prosecutions for statutory rape “in the past few years”. In that same period (2-3 years?), there have been doubtless been several hundred babies (perhaps thousands) delivered in state-funded hospitals to young women who would have been under the age of 17 at the time of conception.

According to the current law, in each such case the girl has been the victim of statutory rape and a prosecution of the child’s father should have automatically followed. Quite apart from the fact that, according to all relevant surveys in recent years, thousands of teenage girls under the age of 17 are having sex, most without becoming pregnant, the disparity between the number of teenage births and prosecutions for statutory rape suggests that interpretation and enforcement of this law has, in the past, been flexible in the extreme.

While the current laws have primarily been aimed at protecting young girls from predatory, older males, the changes in society over the years, particularly with regard to sexual activity among teenagers, will make the framing of suitable legislation a very interesting and challenging exercise.

Watch this space.

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