My Legal Advice To My Fresher Son
We also had The Conversation about sex, consent and respect, which for me is not simply born out of parental concern (I have a son and a daughter) but is also heavily influenced by my professional life, since I am a criminal defence lawyer specialising in cases of sexual misconduct, harassment, rape, revenge porn and stealthing, often involving young people.
My children are not freshers, so we've had The Conversation before. But this year it struck me as all the more important. Today Chanel Miller publishes Know My Name, telling her side of the Stanford University rape that made international headlines. And recently media reports pointed to an 82 per cent increase in complaints of sexual violence at British universities.
Let’s not debate whether the #MeToo effect has simply generated greater confidence to report, rather than a “real” increase in incidents. The fact is that 1,900 students complained about some form of sexual violence last year and that means there are potentially another 1,900 students who are suspects.
There is an atmosphere of zero tolerance towards unwanted sexual behaviour among students these days and almost of militancy over the right to report, the imperative to report and, dare I say it, an expectation of guilt predicated on the allegation alone. To be on the wrong side of that is a scarier prospect than ever.
Universities have displayed a range of responses in the face of allegations. Some have interactive programmes designed to embed and articulate messages of respect for others and the law. Some require students to undergo a more superficial, self-serving, tick-box exercise designed largely to absolve the university of responsibility in the
event of a problem.
Regardless of the approach being followed by my children’s institutions, having worked so hard to keep them safe until now, I am not about to outsource this important conversation to an entity more concerned with potential headlines and its own reputation than that of my darling child.
Particularly having seen allegations of sexual misconduct (including rape) dealt with under university regulations rather than in a criminal court of law – thereby absent the protections one might normally expect for both complainant and suspect.
Who knows whether The Conversation would have stopped Brock Turner from committing an assault, or whether it might have helped others involved in notorious sexual assault allegations on campus. But I consider it the most protective advice I have ever provided as a parent. In the current climate, all young men can be accused of rape and any young woman, man (or they) is a potential victim. I want to do my best to ensure my children are neither.
My advice is simple and clear:
The landscape has undoubtedly changed for us parents too. It's no longer about whether our young adult kids are having sex but equipping them to navigate modern relationships where sex can be but a party game and sexting is the norm. An essential part of their education must be respect for themselves and others, how the law works and the current vagaries of how sexual complaints are dealt with in the criminal justice system - and by our universities.
Genning up on the law around sexual conduct may feel like a sad indictment of today’s attitudes to social interactions – but better that than to live in regret.
This blog was first published as an article in The Telegraph on 24 September 2019. Please click here to read the article on The Telegraph website.
For further information on the issues raised in this blog post, please contact a member of our criminal litigation team in confidence.
Sandra Paul is a partner in our criminal litigation team. She has a wealth of experience in criminal and related litigation. The majority of her work concerns defending allegations of sexual offences. She works with clients in the UK and abroad, including allegations following the #MeToo campaign.
She has a particular passion and aptitude for working with children and young adults, navigating them safely through the youth justice system. Youth crime is a specialist area in which Sandra is a leader in her field.
Drawing on her advocacy experience, Sandra is particularly accomplished in preparing witnesses to give an account or evidence in settings ranging from court proceedings through to internal and external investigations or inquiries. Sandra’s career has included discreet representation of high profile individuals including politicians, bankers, music, sports and media personalities.
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