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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

16 - Regulating Sexuality

from Section V - Regulating Sexuality and Bodily autonomy


The orthodox separation of sexual offences into consensual and non-consensual offences significantly shapes legal images of sexuality. Yet, as we have seen, the question of consent in adult sexual relationships is a contested one. Duncan notes that:

…the power of the criminal law in respect of physical and sexual violence is not merely or even mainly juridical, but, more importantly, disciplinary. As a disciplinary power, these aspects of the law's text demarcate the boundary between the normal and the abnormal and, in doing so, they define the normal around the notion of the heterosexual male subject in two principal ways: first, by a concept of consent which is very differently constructed as between offences and, secondly, by a subtext of visibility which privileges visible physical violence over (often) invisible sexual violence. The law disciplines bodies differentially as between different genders and different sexual orientations

[Duncan 1995, p. 326].

The extraordinary number of different offences, albeit most now gathered in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, testifies to the confusions besetting what are regarded as appropriate legal and social responses in this area. What is the connection between sexual activity between two 15-year-olds and the persistent sexual abuse of a small child by a relative? Is child sexual abuse an abuse of sexual autonomy, or of trust, or of physical security, or all three?

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Further reading
Brown, BeverleyLegal Spectacles (Athlone Press 1998).
Butler, JudithExcitable Speech (Routledge 1997).
Beatrix Campbell Unofficial Secrets, Child Sexual Abuse: The Cleveland Case (Virago 1988).
Cobley, Cathy ‘Sex Offenders in the Community: managing and reducing the risks’ in Matravers, Amanda (ed.) Managing Sex Offenders in the Community: Managing and Reducing the Risks (Willan Publishing 2003), pp. 51–71.
Dworkin, AndreaPornography: Men Possessing Women (Women's Press 1981).
Easton, SusanThe Problem of Pornography: Regulation and the Right of Free Speech (Routledge 1994).
Grace, SharonTesting Obscenity: An International Comparison of Laws and Controls in Relation to Obscene Material (Home Office Research Study 157, 1996).
Hoyano, Laura and Keenan, CarolineChild Abuse: Law and Policy Across Boundaries (Oxford University Press 2007).
Hester, Marianne and Westmarland, Nicole, Tackling Street Prostitution: Towards a Holistic Approach Home Office Research Study 279 (Home Office 2004).
Home Office A Co-ordinated Prostitution Strategy and a Summary of Responses to Paying the Price (2006b).
Itzin, Catherine (ed.) Pornography: Women, Violence and Civil Liberties (Oxford University Press 1992).
Lacey, NicolaTheory into Practice? Pornography and the Public/Private Dichotomy’ (1993) 20 Journal of Law and Society93.
Lacey, NicolaBeset by Boundaries: The Home Office Review of Sex Offences’ (2001) Criminal Law Review 3.
Law Commission Consent in the Criminal Law (Consultation Paper 139, HMSO 1995).
Letherby, Gayleet al., Sex as Crime? (Willan 2008).
MacKinnon, CatharineToward a Feminist Theory of the State (Harvard University Press 1989), ch. 11.
MacKinnon, CatharineOnly Words (Harvard University Press 1993).
Mathews, Roger and O'Neill, Maggie (eds.) Prostitution (Ashgate 2003).
Matsuda, Mari J., Lawrence, Charles R., Delgado, Richard, Williams, Kimberlé CrenshawWords that Wound: Critical Race Theory, Assaultive Words and the First Amendment (Westview Press 1993).
Moran, Leslie J.Violence and the Law: The Case of Sado-Masochism’ (1995) 2 Social and Legal Studies225.
Moran, Leslie J.The Homosexual(ity) of Law (Routledge 1996).
Andrew, MurrayThe Reclassification of Extreme Pornographic Images’ (2009) 72 Modern Law Review73
Robertson, GeoffreyMedia Law (Penguin Books 2002).
Sanders, Teela, O'Neill, Maggie and Pitcher, JaneProstitution: Sex Work, Policy and Politics (Sage 2009).
Spencer, JohnThe Sexual Offences Act 2003: Child and Family Offences’ (2004) Criminal Law Review328.