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HAS THE WORLD GONE SEX MAD?

Sex makes headlines and not a week seems to go by without some new ‘sex scandal’ breaking. One day it’s Hollywood moguls demanding sexual favors for parts in films. The next its Exhibition Organisers in Birmingham banning scantily clad glamour girls from selling car parts. Now it’s Oxfam executives allegedly paying for sex in Haiti.

It’s important in these cases for the law to distinguish between what is illegal and what is immoral – they are not the same thing. In the UK there are not many laws concerning the sex act itself. Sex between two consenting adults is perfectly legal and, providing it all happens in private, there is no legal problem acting out Shades of Grey from start to finish.

However, if one party doesn’t consent, or is not adult, it is against the law and therefore an offence that could well attract the interest of the police and Crown Prosecution Service as a criminal offence.

HOW DOES THE LAW DEFINE AN ADULT AND CONSENT?

This is an interesting question. In the UK you have to be 18 to be considered an adult for most purposes – like voting or having a credit card. In the case of sex, however, the law defines an ‘age of consent’, which in the UK is 16.

This is something of a conundrum as across Europe, and indeed the world, the age of consent varies. In France it is 15, in Ireland, it is 17, in Germany and Italy 14. Given the legal structure of the EU, this is quite bizarre although nobody has yet claimed infringement of civil liberty. In Haiti the age of consent is 18 – hence the Oxfam fuss. In some countries, you have to be married. In America, it varies state-by-state.

Consent is much more straightforward. Simply put it means saying ‘yes’ – or, to put it another way, at least not saying ‘no’ to a proposal of a sex act. But as we have seen in the recent spate of cases that have had to be re-evaluated, due to evidence being withheld that exonerated men accused of rape, it can still be open to misinterpretation or false claims.

IS IT ILLEGAL TO ‘USE’ PROSTITUTES?

They say that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world – that’s why their union has made representations for the more dignified term of ‘sex-workers’. Certainly in the UK, and most countries, there are no laws against an adult, male or female, accepting money in return for sex. It is, however, illegal for a sex-worker to ‘solicit’ (i.e. stop somebody and ask them if they would like to have sex and pay for it), or another person to run a brothel or live off ‘immoral earnings’.

WHAT MAKES SOMETHING IMMORAL?

In the case of ‘immoral earnings,’ it is somebody employing sex-workers and takin the money off of them. However, all things considered, it may be hard to see what is wrong with businessmen using adult sex-workers, in an agreed commercial transaction, in their own private time. Depending on who you are it may be morally suspect, it may be bad judgment, or it may be perfectly acceptable. Really it depends upon the circumstances and the moral judgment of others. The Court of Public Opinion, or perhaps more exactly media opinion, seems to be ever more powerful.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE IS SOMETHING DIFFERENT

Sexual harassment in the workplace is not criminal but falls under the remit of employment law. A sexual harassment claim is not heard in a court of law but by a tribunal. Generally, it is part of unfair dismissal or constructive dismissal claim (where somebody felt obliged to leave because of a sexually hostile environment). The issues here revolve around what constituted ‘harassment’, and what damage resulted. In some cases compensation has run to hundreds of thousands.

However, like everything else, ‘harassment’ is open to interpretation. In an environment where both men and women are thrown together in close company, there will be sexual tension and ‘banter’. Indeed as many as one in five people happily meet their partner through work – telling somebody in the office that you fancy them isn’t all bad news! Whilst cases like Harvey Weinstein appear to be reprehensibly clear cut, the question of at what stage interaction, banter, or unwanted touching between people at work becomes uncomfortable, or wrong, can be quite delicate.

Mancini Legal has a dedicated employment law team with extensive experience of unfair dismissal, constructive dismissal and sexual harassment in the workplace. If you, or somebody you know, has problems at work we’d be very happy to speak to you.

Give us a call in complete confidence on 01403 337337

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