Consent, Sexual Offences and the Law in SVG
Recently a video surfaced of an (obvious) teenager locking lips with an individual whom we would colloquially describe as a big hard back man. They were apparently celebrating their one year anniversary. As per usual persons began to muse upon the legal implications arising from the situation as well as expressing their views about the nature of the relationship.
Under the law in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, more specifically the Criminal Code, intercourse with a girl of or above the age of thirteen but below the age of fifteen is an offence punishable by up to five years imprisonment. It is however interesting to note that there is no similar provision in operation for boys under the age of fifteen. However it is generally understood that fifteen is the age of sexual consent and as such persons ought not to engage in sexual intercourse with persons below the age of fifteen.
The Criminal Code further provides that a man is not guilty of an offence under that section if he is under the age of nineteen years and has not previously been charged with a similar offence and at the time of the intercourse he reasonably believed the girl to be of or over the age of fifteen.
The individual in the video clearly did not fall within this category, and it also appeared unlikely that the girl was over 15 and therefore if they were indeed in a sexual relationship the male would be subject to criminal penalties.
Some persons would have expressed the opinion that age of consent laws are unfair, as “she knows what she wants”. We however need to be mindful that the law is often a reflection of societal standards. As a former English colony many of our laws are reflective of the standards that would have prevailed in English society at the time. This is one such law.
The first known appearance of an “age of consent law” was in 1275 in England as part of the law governing rape. The statute, Westminster 1, made it a misdemeanor to "ravish" a "maiden within age," whether with or without her consent. The phrase "within age" was interpreted by jurist Sir Edward Coke as meaning the age of marriage, which at the time was 12 years of age. In England and Wales, the age of sexual consent was set at 16 in 1885 at a time when the focus was on preventing child prostitution after a concerted effort was made to draw attention to the issue. Of particular note was W. T. Stead's series of articles entitled, "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon," published in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1885, was the most sensational and influential of these exposés.
Our provisions currently appear in the section of our criminal code governing sexual offences. As regards sexual consent it must be noted that sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of thirteen is an offence punishable by life imprisonment.
In addition to the law reflecting societal standards, it may also be important to reflect on the psychology surrounding the issue. The law takes account of what we can refer to as the life experience factor. So whereas she may “know what she wants”, we must recognize that her brain is still in development as a teenager and as such her rationale may not be as grounded as someone who has attained the age of majority and whose brain is almost, if not fully developed.
We must also recognize that teenagers are less equipped to deal with the potential negative outcomes of such decisions. Parental consent must be obtained for medical treatment, teenagers also have limited earning capacity, among other things. This is not to say that we ought to aim to raise the age of consent in an attempt to shut the barn door after the proverbial horse has escaped, but rather that we should focus our attempts on ensuring that we provide greater guidance to both potential offenders as well as our teenagers.