Men more likely to think sex between 16-year-old and older partner is okay: poll

Men are more likely than women to think sexual relationships between 16-year-olds and a partner decades older are acceptable, new polling has suggested in the wake of concerns raised following allegations against Russell Brand.

Women were slightly more likely to support raising the age of consent than men and to feel that older men in relationships with at least a 10-year age gap hold more power, according to the exclusive Ipsos polling for the PA news agency.

The statistics show the “grave need” for more conversations with young people around issues such as consent, power imbalances within relationships and gender equality, campaigners said.

The survey findings of 1,077 adults across Great Britain this week come after a woman claimed she was in a relationship with Brand when she was a 16-year-old schoolgirl and he was a 30-year-old BBC radio presenter.

Russell Brand has denied the allegations against him, saying that while he was “promiscuous”, all of his relationships have been “consensual” (Ian West/PA)
Russell Brand has denied the allegations against him, saying that while he was ‘promiscuous’, all of his relationships have been “consensual” (Ian West/PA)

The woman, who is being referred to as Alice, has suggested consideration needs to be given to “staggered consent” in law “so that we don’t have adults exploiting a 16 (or) 17-year-old’s capacity for sexual determination”.

The polling for PA showed that almost a third (31%) of men said they feel it is somewhat or completely acceptable for a 16-year-old girl to have a sexual relationship with a man up to 30 years old, compared to 15% of women thinking this was acceptable.

While more than two thirds (68%) of women said this situation would be unacceptable, just over half (54%) of men felt this way.

More than a quarter (27%) of men said it was either somewhat or completely acceptable for a 16-year-old boy to have a sexual relationship with a woman aged up to 30.

This compares with just 9% of women thinking this is acceptable.

Some 52% of men said it was somewhat or completely unacceptable for a 16-year-old boy to have sex with a woman aged up to 30, compared with 73% of women feeling this way.

The trend continued with bigger age gaps – as almost a fifth (17%) of men said it was somewhat or completely acceptable for a 16-year-old girl to have sex with a man up to 40 years old, compared to just 4% of women feeling this way.

When it comes to a 16-year-old girl being in a sexual relationship with a man aged 50 or older, more than one in 10 men (13%) thought this was acceptable compared to 3% of women.

Overall, 48% of people said they either tended to or strongly supported the idea of raising the age of consent from 16 to 18, while 40% said they supported the idea of staggered consent, in findings similar to those from a YouGov poll earlier this week.

Women were slightly more likely to support the idea of staggered consent – where it is only legal for a 16 or 17-year-old to have sex with someone up to the age of 20 or 21 – than men, with a 41% and 38% split, according to the Ipsos polling.

Some 59% of all those surveyed said they believed that in relationships where the woman is 10 or more years younger than the man, he has more power.

Almost two thirds (64%) of female survey respondents were of this view, compared with just over half (54%) of men.

Speaking to BBC Radio Women’s Hour earlier this week, Alice said her mother had breakdowns because “there was nothing that she could do to protect me from being in that relationship” due to the fact the teenager was the legal age to consent to sex at the time.

Alice said: “People say ‘well, just call the police’. And then what? I was legally allowed to be there.”

Alice added: “He was 30. Now that I’m in my 30s looking at 16-year-olds, I can’t imagine finding them sexually attractive. I can’t imagine thinking of them as a potential mate in any way.”

She said there is a “reasonable argument individuals between the ages of 16 and 18 can have relations with people within that same age bracket” but that the law could do more to protect teenagers from much older adults.

Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “What is clear from these survey results is the grave need for more conversations and exploration through relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) for young people that deals with issues like consent, power imbalances within relationships and gender equality.

“This is absolutely critical for preventing violence against women and girls and tackling the cultural norms which underpin the epidemic of sexual abuse we see today.”

Anna Edmundson, head of policy and public affairs at the NSPCC, said: “While 16 and 17-year-olds are above the legal age of consent, we know from young people that reach out to Childline that they can still be vulnerable to grooming, exploitation and other forms of abuse, particularly from adults.”

Brand is facing allegations – reported in a joint investigation by The Sunday Times and Channel 4 – of sexual assault, dating back to the height of his fame between 2006 and 2013, from four women including Alice.

The 48-year-old comedian vehemently denies the allegations, saying that while he was “promiscuous”, all of his relationships have been “consensual”.

A further separate allegation of sexual assault in Soho, central London, in 2003, was received by the Metropolitan Police after the Channel 4 Dispatches programme aired  last weekend.

The BBC is also investigating a separate claim that Brand flashed a woman before laughing about it on his radio show.