'Turning 16 felt like a target', Russell Brand scandal sparks age of consent debate… do YOU think it should be raised? | The Sun11/14/2023
AFTER claims that Russell Brand had sex with a 16 year old when he was 31, debate has raged over whether or not the age of consent in the UK should be raised.
Two days after her 16th birthday, Britt Jones lost her virginity in a dark alleyway.
It lasted less than five minutes and afterwards, she never heard from the boy again.
“I was just a child,” says Britt, now 27. “I thought I was grown-up, but realise now I was too young to make such a decision.”
There was nothing illegal about Britt’s first experience.
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Both she and her sexual partner, Mike*, were 16 – the age people of any sex or sexual orientation can legally consent to sexual activity in the UK.
Even if Mike had been decades older, no crime would have been committed, as there is no upper limit on the age of a person having sex with someone over 16, although it is an offence for a person older than 18 in a “position of trust”, such as a teacher or social worker.
However, since the scandal surrounding comedian Russell Brand exploded in September, campaigners have called for the age of consent to be raised, saying 16 year olds are not mature enough to consent to sex.
Brand has denied allegations of rape, sexual assault and abuse, and maintains all sex was consensual.
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However, a woman identified only as “Alice” during a joint investigation by The Sunday Times, The Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches, alleges she began a relationship with Brand while she was 16 and still at school and he was in his early 30s, which left her feeling “cheap and dirtied”.
Britt, a writer, who lives in Stafford with her husband Connor, 30, and their two children, can identify with those feelings.
“I was the only girl in my circle of friends who hadn’t had sex,” she says.
“Initially, I had a huge crush on Mike, who went to a nearby school, but after a while the tables turned and he was pursuing me.
“He’d already lost his virginity and all he was interested in was girls who’d give him what he wanted.
“He probably knew I had a sweet spot for him, so he kept asking.”
In the end, Britt agreed two days after her 16th birthday.
“I wanted to get it over with. There had been so much pressure and I thought, if I just did it, it would make all that go away.
“We did it up against a building just around the corner from where my friends were hanging out.
“Boys of that age were watching a lot of porn and I felt he expected me to be like that.
“He used a condom, and afterwards he asked: ‘How was that for you?’. I said it was OK, even though I felt disgusted.”
Mike then ghosted Britt. “I expected him to keep talking to me like before, but he made no effort.
“I felt so used. I thought we’d get into a proper relationship, but instead he bragged about it to pals, embellishing everything, even saying I’d done the splits,” she says.
“It was the talk of the school. Lots of guys started trying it on with me afterwards.
“I felt incredibly ashamed. It sent me into a spiral of shame, which was hard to come to terms with as a young girl.”
“It also had a lasting impact on how she felt about sex.
“I was 18 when I started having sexual relationships again, but even then, I had to be drunk.
“I didn’t like doing it, but I thought it was part of being in a relationship and what men expected, so I’d get drunk beforehand.”
After meeting Connor in 2017, through a part-time job, Britt waited eight months before they slept together.
“He was the first person I’d thought about being able to have a future with and he didn’t once beg or pester me for sex,” she says.
“I felt safe with him. For the first time, I had sex and afterwards I didn’t feel ashamed.
“Looking back, I regret every sexual experience that happened before then.
“I wish I’d waited until I was older and for the right man.
“If the age of consent was higher and I didn’t feel pressured to have sex, I’d have waited until it felt right.”
‘I wanted it over with. There was so much pressure to do it’
Pei-I Yang is the parenting specialist and expert in challenging teen behaviour behind Rainbowparentingpractice.com.
She has worked with many parents and young people who regret losing their virginity at 16 or younger, and believes the age of consent should be raised to 18, as research suggests the brain does not reach maturity until around age 25.
“Many are still in the process of developing into their own person psychologically, emotionally, mentally, physically and socially,” she says.
“There are a lot of overwhelming changes, and one of the last areas of brain development is the limbic and prefrontal cortex, required for good judgement and controlling impulses.
“As a result, teens are more likely to make impulsive decisions. They tend to focus on the now and pleasure, not about consequences.
“As well as protecting teenagers from being sexually exploited, raising the age of consent would reduce teenage pregnancy, strengthen public health and give teens more time to mature and be supported appropriately before they step into adulthood.”
Cathy Jackson lost her virginity at 16 to a 32 year old she met at work.
“When I was 15, I got a work placement as an office admin assistant,” recalls Cathy, now 38 and a buyer, from Birmingham.
“There were lots of men there who’d chat to me and I thought it was fun. One guy in particular gave me a lot of attention.
“Looking back now, John*, who was 32, was one of those guys who’d give you the creeps, but I was naive.
“I had no idea what his intentions were. People warned me off him, but like many teenage girls, I thought I knew best.”
When Cathy turned 16, John upped his flirting and invited her out for lunch.
“I remember after my 16th birthday, there being comments from the guys that I was now ‘legal’,” she recalls.
“I think as I’d been so close to turning 16, he hadn’t wanted to break the law, but after my birthday he pursued me.
“He asked me out and kissed me.”
‘Turning 16 felt more like a target than the age of consent’
The pair began dating. Cathy was impressed as he had a car and rented a room in a shared house, rather than living with his parents like boys her own age did.
“Looking back, it was grooming,” she says.
“He bought me a pair of Timberland boots and he’d often take me out for lunch or buy me dinner.
“I thought he was really cool. He invited me back to his house and we ended up having sex.
“I didn’t think it was a bad thing at the time, but I didn’t enjoy it. It was all for him – he wasn’t gentle.
“It was a ‘cool’ thing to do – what adults do – but I 100% wasn’t ready.
“At the time, I lied about his age, telling my friends he was 25,” she says.
“Even then, they used to say: ‘What are you doing with him? He’s so old!’ But I didn’t care.”
Cathy ended the relationship after a month, when she quit her part-time job and started sixth form.
“We probably had sex around three times, but I didn’t enjoy it,” she says.
“He did reach out to me after we broke up and said he wanted to continue seeing me, but I ignored him. I felt incredibly embarrassed.”
Cathy says the age of 16 was more like a “target” than an age of consent.
“Most girls my age just want to get it over with, because if you hadn’t done it by then, you weren’t cool.
“You think you are so grown-up at 16, but most girls are immature.
“Raising the age of consent to 18 would really help take the pressure off.
“I do think the age of consent is something we should be talking about openly. I felt it was a taboo and kept it to myself.
“No one, male or female, should feel pressured into it – everyone should be able to make their own decision in their own time.”
Sex and relationships therapist Dr Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, from TV show Celebs Go Dating, says it’s common for people to regret their first sexual encounter – but she doesn’t believe the solution is raising the age of consent.
“The evidence doesn’t really show that raising it would have any impact,” she says.
“If it doesn’t happen in school, parents need to have open and honest conversations with teens about sex.
“Families that talk about sex in a non-taboo way are able to make their own decisions about sex much better than those who don’t.
“If someone has self-worth, they are better able to make their own decisions and better able to cope with things like disappointment, regret and even shame.
“They are also less likely to succumb to peer pressure,” she says.
‘I’ll definitely talk to my own daughter about the reality of having sex young’
Luana D’Elias waited until she was 19 for her first time.
Now 36, she says many of her friends were having sexual experiences from 15 or 16, but she knew the time wasn’t right for her.
“I did feel like there was a lot of pressure, but at the same time, I knew that losing your virginity was a big deal.
“I wanted to feel loved and respected.
“No one really mocked me for it, as it wasn’t something I talked about.
“I kept it quiet. I was concentrating on my studies and trying to get into university.”
Luana lost her virginity in 2006 after meeting a man two years older than her online.
They got talking about music and, after several months, he asked her on a date.
“We really hit it off after meeting in real life, and about a month later, we had sex.
“It was me who said I wanted to do it and he didn’t make me feel ashamed of the fact I was a virgin.
It felt like the right time – I didn’t feel used or taken advantage of. I was in love. And even now, I have no regrets.”
The pair dated for around six months, but even after the relationship fizzled out, they remained on good terms.
“I’m glad I waited,” Luana says. “At 16 years old, I felt too young.
“I wasn’t emotionally mature enough and most people were only doing it because everyone else was.”
Britt, too, is adamant that at 16 she was too young to make a decision.
“I didn’t understand why I was called a tease for not ‘putting out’ and a ‘s***’ once I did it,” she says.
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“I’ll definitely have a conversation with my own daughter about the reality of sex when you’re young, and I’ll encourage her to make sure it’s with the right person who makes her feel respected and safe.”
- Names have been changed
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