It seems that a big story is about to break concerning a prominent Irish sports journalist and an under-age girl. Reports have been circulating in the papers without identifying the individual, but I think most people know by now who he is.
I don’t want to say too much about the case, but it does raise the difficult issue of the age of consent. It seems to me that there’s a big difference between a middle-aged man having sex with a girl of 16, and a boy of 17 doing the same thing, yet the law treats the two equally.
If memory serves me correctly, a boy of 16 was convicted not too long ago for having sex with his girlfriend who was the same age. He was also placed on the sex offenders register, which seems ludicrous to me. At the same time, there’s no provision under Irish law for the girl to be charged with any offence.
I think this is unfair. It’s a long time since I was 16, but I can remember that the girls were far more mature than we mumbling clods. It’s widely recognised that teenage girls are emotionally more advanced than boys the same age and therefore, I think the law should be more finely tuned when dealing with people still in their teens. I can’t see what is achieved by prosecuting a 16-year-old boy for having consensual sex with a girl of a similar age.
A man in his thirties, forties or fifties, however, is a different matter.
We have to legislate for a minimum age of consent. That’s obvious, but when the law defines a sharp cut-off point, such as a birthday, we invite all sorts of anomalies unless some provision is made for context. Otherwise, there will be absurdities. A kid having sex with his girlfriend the night before her 17th birthday is a sex offender. If he waits one day more, he’s just another teenager getting laid.
To my mind, a middle-aged man having sex with a 16-year-old is either a predator or a damn fool and I know that if I were the father of a girl in that situation, it would take a lot to restrain me. However, I also know that society can’t be drawing up laws based on my atavistic emotional reaction to things I don’t like.
At this point, there are no charges against the journalist and nothing has been proven regarding illegal activity. However, there are reports that evidence of inappropriate contact was found on his phone, and that he has tried to take his own life.
It appears that members of his own family passed the phone to the Gardai after his daughter found text messages on it, which strikes me as very strange. Going to the police would not be the first thing on most people’s minds if they came across text messages suggesting some sort of infidelity.
We must wait and see.
Newspapers are now reporting that the phone didn’t contain text messages but inappropriate photographs of a 16-year-old girl who is known to the journalist’s daughter and who is a member of the same club.
This would explain why the mother immediately went to the police, but to focus on the outcome would be to ignore the underlying reality, which is the sudden, violent and traumatic disintegration of a family. I can’t imagine a more horrifying way for the relationship of trust between a father and a daughter to collapse. As if that isn’t bad enough, a family has suddenly lost its financial support.
At the same time, another family has been turned inside out for related reasons. Who can say what sort of upheaval has taken place there, or what sort of despair has been created?
If this all turns out to be correct, more than one child has been abused.
Note: all comments speculating on the journalist’s identity will be deleted until his name has been released by a major news organisation.
UPDATE 17th April
The Sunday World has named the journalist .
Also on Bock: