A man in his 40s, cleared of raping a woman in 2015, has been the subject to an interim sexual risk order. The order requires him to disclose the details of any sexual partner to the police at least 24 hours before planned sexual activity. Acquitted of the rape charge on the basis of his claim that the victim consented, this man is not, theoretically, a criminal. And yet, he is being treated like one: he faces restrictions concerning sexual harm which he has not even committed.
Initially imposed in December, the order was extended by four months and is due to be reviewed later this year. The minimum span of the order is two years, which may extend indefinitely. His use of the internet and mobile phone is further restricted. The subject of the order, whose name cannot be disclosed, could be imprisoned for up to five years if he fails to adhere to the mandate.
Sexual risk orders are civil orders imposed by magistrates at the request of the police. Originally they were intended to cover cases where there was a risk of ‘serious’ harm, however, this qualifier has recently been removed, therefore, any perceived risk can lead to an interim order. This has been criticised as highly intrusive and fundamentally immoral by many. Liberty, an advocacy groups who support the protection of civil rights, asserted their concern with regards to the “dangerous breadth and intrusiveness of these powers”.
“The order paints sexual contact in a distorted light, emphasising the vulnerability of females and labelling males as high risk”
These orders are intended to be prohibitive, however, they clearly impose a positive obligation on the subject to disclose planned sexual activity. It can be questioned how effective such an order can be in preventing sexual crimes.
Mark Fenhalls, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association has labelled the order “very odd” and “pretty silly”. Not only is the order strange, it arguably violates the rights of the subject. The man in question has not yet committed a crime and has not even been convicted for previous sexual harm and yet he is required to disclose details of his private life on an ongoing basis. Arguably this is a violation of his right to a private life under Act 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998. It does not appear fair or just.
The order paints sexual contact in a distorted light, emphasising the vulnerability of females and labelling males as high risk. Furthermore, the strange nature of such a directive seems to imagine intercourse as an organised, regimented operation, ignoring the reality that sex is normally wholly spontaneous. Many view the restrictions with confusion: no one, other than perhaps Monica Geller, schedules sex 24 hours in advance.
“The monitoring of an innocent man’s sex life appears unnecessary, an invasion of privacy and ultimately a waste of police resources and time”
It seems relevant to mention that the order specifically identifies females; the restrictions require the subject to disclose the address, name and date of birth of any woman he plans to engage in sexual activity with. This poses the question of whether the court views only females as at risk from such harm. The order may highlight, therefore, that within the legal system, cases of rape and sexual assault are viewed through a lens where heterosexuality is assumed to be the norm and women are assumed to be the victim.
Irrespective of the reference to gender of the subject, the order is highly controversial. The monitoring of an innocent man’s sex life appears unnecessary, an invasion of privacy and ultimately a waste of police resources and time. The question remains whether current media criticism of the orders will lead to change, or whether this paternalistic approach to the risk of sexual harm will prevail.
Image by Rodrigo Paredes via Flickr