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Social Affairs: A Clumsy Pass

He’s been in the news recently but it’s a fair bet that many people have never heard of Jamie Griffiths. For those who may not know, Jamie Griffiths is nineteen years old and has just been convicted of a sexual assault.

His accuser is a similarly-aged young woman who complained that he assaulted her by ‘touching her arm and waist’ while attempting to talk to her. Griffiths has maintained that he is socially awkward and lacks confidence in his ability to talk to people and make friends.

For all I know he may well be a predatory individual, even though still a teenager, but his explanation is more likely to be truthful. Many people, no matter what impression they may otherwise present, have always lacked confidence in many areas of life. Not everybody can be an ebullient ‘get-up-and-go type. Those that are have also found their ability to be so battered in recent times by an opposing mindset that demands they be less ‘up front’ and more circumspect in the example they set others, a demand to be less confident, not more.

As his accuser disappears back in to her continued anonymity, Jamie Griffiths has been named and sentenced as a convicted sex offender. He must pay his accuser £250 and complete a 12-month community order with 200 hours of unpaid work.

Not the most draconian punishment it might seem but on top of that he must also sign the sex offender’s register for five years. The Judge by the way has no control over this. For any sex offence, it is mandatory for a five year term on the register for any offence that results in a sentence of less than a year in prison. If one gets that 12 months inside it becomes ten years. It goes up from there to life on the register.

The sex offender’s register that is signed is not actually a register at all and the only signing is the offender’s signature on an annual form that must be completed. What the register actually means is that an offender is ‘subject to notification requirements’.

For the time required – five years in Jamie Griffiths’ case – the offender has to notify the police of his home address and contact details. If he travels anywhere in the UK and is away from his home address for three days or more, he must again notify the police of where he is going, where he is staying and for how long. If he travels outside the UK and even for just one day, once again he must tell the police, including the date of departure and return. This includes the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, neither of which are actually part of the UK.

The offender is also subject to home visits by the police, who appoint a supervising officer to oversee him and will be visited without notice. These visits – again in Griffiths’ instance – will probably be once a year as he will not be considered to pose a particularly great risk. Other offenders, convicted of a more serious crime, could be visited every six months. The most serious offences carry an even greater level of supervision.

One other aspect to supervision that is largely unremarked upon is that while subject to notification requirements, offenders can have their internet use monitored by the installation of monitoring software on any internet-capable device if a ‘Risk of Sexual Harm’ order is imposed by the court. These orders replaced ‘Sex Offence Prevention Orders’, a rather hastily drawn-up piece of legislation created by the last Labour government that proved to be seriously flawed. These orders are civil orders, not criminal ones, which means they are not automatically part of a sentence – put another way, if they are to be used, the police have to apply for one.

Significantly, no actual conviction is needed. People have either been found not guilty or even not charged at all but still had such an order imposed. The clue is in the name; ‘Risk’…of sexual harm. If such a risk is perceived to exist, a police application is usually granted.

One problem however, is that currently, although very effective software can be installed on desktop and laptop computers, none exist for mobile phones. So any offender carrying such an order is unlikely to be able to have a smartphone. Despite the everyday use of them.

Turning once again to Jamie Griffiths, he will leave this regime after five years. Except of course, he won’t – his conviction as a sex offender will stay with him for life. He will not be able to travel to certain countries with a criminal record. He will be barred from an ever-increasing number of jobs, employment that requires a clear check from the Disclosure and Barring Service (the DBS, with whom his name will now be registered). Should he find true love and marry, he will be subject to further checks to ensure the safety of both his wife and children should he become a father. That is of course, if he ever goes near a woman again.

Will he? Let’s assume he was being truthful. If so, his is an unjust conviction. It is so because he never had any sexual intent in touching the young woman’s arm and waist. Given that he will now be adversely affected for as long as he remains alive, he could be forgiven for never going near another person again. And the key here is intent.

For a crime to be committed Jamie Griffiths must have intended to commit one. Without that intent, even though an act may have taken place (as it did – he conceded that he touched the woman’s arm and waist) no crime has happened. Yet the Judge said, ‘We can think of no motivation for you to touch the victim other than sexual’.

In other words, no matter what Griffiths said, the courts will always conclude that any touching, of any kind, no matter how innocuous, will always be sexually motivated. By all accounts, Griffiths’ laying of his hand upon the woman’s arm and waist was indeed innocuous but according to her testimony, she says that had she not moved away, he would have touched her breast.

How can she know? How can the Court know? Only Griffith himself knows what his intent was and ultimately it comes down to one person’s word against that of another. Is the current interpretation of any action now always to be that the intent is sexual and thus criminal? And if so why? Is it an attempt by the criminal justice system and those who work within it – the police, CPS and Courts – to appear in touch with a post #MeToo world; an attempt to make up for those real cases that were missed?

No woman (or for that matter, anybody else) should have to put up with somebody laying unwanted hands on them without consent but a sense of perspective would not be a bad idea. While on the one hand, recent developments have made it easier for women, men and children to speak out against sexual harassment, have we gone too far?

Have we, are we, lost and are losing the ability to think for ourselves? Can we not show the self-reliance to say to somebody like Jamie Griffiths, ‘Get off me you idiot’ and move on? Cases such as this one have and are making, men think before extending a hand towards women (which may be no bad thing) but it has also made some women react to a genuinely innocent physical contact as though it is on a par with rape.

Rape is a terrible thing but what has become a real problem is that fear and mistrust now flourish. Like a cancer spreading throughout society, this fear is poisoning our ability to form relationships and to engage with one another. The biggest flaw with the increasing level of automation in our daily lives, like the check-out in a supermarket, is that we are rushing headlong into de-humanising ourselves - as we are also doing with an automated assumption of sexual intent.

Jamie Griffiths’ accuser has said that she has been badly affected by this incident and is emotionally fragile. Griffiths was undoubtedly clumsy. He was socially inept and he has received counselling for anxiety and depression. His accuser is not the only one whose life has been adversely affected. She however, can (if she has the strength of character) to move on. He however, cannot and will never be able to.

In real life, there are vitally important differences between flirting and assaulting, between being affectionate and attacking. That must be reflected in the courts and in the decisions made before reaching the courts. For our own sake (both individually and that of society generally) it must now be time to pause in how we are thinking and approaching such situations. And it must now be time for a complete overhaul of sex offence prosecutions.

If we do not change, we will cease to be a functioning people.

© Kevan James 2019

You can read more about life in the UK today in Kevan James’ book, ‘Comments of a Common Man’, including law and order, intending to commit a crime and how the police can search your home and workplace without a search warrant, the risks of everyday life, the NHS, the housing crisis and many other aspects of how we behave. Available from Amazon at £9.99

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