Given Eddie Shah’s anti-union history, I’m quite pleased to see him drag his own name through the mud. But his comments that basically amount to “sometimes, underage girls are gagging for it” still, unfortunately, has wide currency.
Let’s get some things out the way. Since Freud, if not before, childhood sexuality has been acknowledged in medicine and psychology as a fact. Ask anyone and most people will have had a good idea about what their sexuality was from a young age. Ask again and a good proportion will have had some form of sexual experience prior to the age of consent – usually with someone of roughly the same age. It exists and it’s something all of us have to navigate. But what the existence of adolescent sexuality does not excuse is the opportunist and abusive sexual behaviour of adults who take advantage of that.
What I find objectionable about Shah’s comments is the underlying assumption that (heterosexual) men cannot control themselves and how, with this in mind, young girls who might appear sexually available are so much fair game. There’s a yawning empathy deficit at work, an inability to recognise that having sex with a young girl – even if she consents – is abuse, regardless of circumstance. Well, that’s not strictly true. He does empathise, albeit with the man who has taken advantage of the situation he finds himself in.
Of course, human sexuality is a malleable thing. Some countries get by with lower ages of consent. Some with higher. And, apparently in the case of that bastion of libertarian permissiveness – the ex-East Germany – there was no age of consent at all. If people want to debate lowering or raising the age they are free to do so. Even though it’s all very arbitrary I’m not entirely sure what changing it would achieve, except to take a set of sexually predatory men (and women) out of legal contention.
But because of the Jimmy Savile scandal and other high profile cases, attitudes toward sexual abuse and exploitation of women and girls generally are hardening up. It may be widespread, but Shah’s views, those “sincerely-held” apologias for abuse are, I hope, on their way out.