In dystopian Britain, the police now hunt down ‘pre-rapists’
Sexual Risk Orders are ripping apart liberty and due process.
To see what tyranny looks like, look no further than the case of the Yorkshire man who must give the cops 24 hours’ notice before he has sex with anyone. The man, who can’t be named for legal reasons, was found not guilty of rape in a trial last year. And yet a magistrate’s court decided he was nonetheless dodgy, and served him with a Sexual Risk Order decreeing that he must provide the police with the name, address and date of birth of anyone he plans to bed, ‘at least 24 hours prior to any sexual activity taking place’. So despite not being found guilty of a crime, he will still be treated as a criminal. This should alarm anyone who cares about due process, liberty and not allowing the state to stick its snout into the sexual relations of consenting adults.
Most of the coverage of this ‘sex risk’ ruling, which was revealed at the end of last week, has treated it as weird or funny. The idea of some poor bloke having to dampen his passions when he’s on the cusp of copping off in a bar, and basically seek the permission of the police before he gets his leg over, has got people chortling and tweeting. But there’s little funny about this case. In fact it speaks to the creeping warping of the values of both justice and liberty. It smashes together the sex-policing instinct of Big Brother in 1984 with the idea of ‘precrime’ from Philip K Dick’s Minority Report, making real the dystopian dread of a society that believes it can interfere in people’s most intimate relationships and treat individuals as criminals-in-the-making.
The Sexual Risk Order against the man is an interim one. In May, there will be another hearing to decide whether it should become a full Sexual Risk Order, which can last for anything between two years and forever. If an individual breaks an order, he or she can be imprisoned for up to five years. So if this guy – who is not a criminal, remember – has sex with someone without first informing the police, he could be jailed. That is, he could be jailed for having sex. It should concern anyone who believes in even basic autonomy, in the sovereignty of the individual over his mind and body, that the threat of jail-for-sex hangs over the head of an ostensibly innocent man.
Sexual Risk Orders, which were introduced in 2013, bring to life the dystopian idea of precrime. They are served in cases where there isn’t enough evidence to convict someone of an actual sex crime. As one leading lawyer says, they’re given to people whom the authorities think ‘might commit an offence’; they’re about ‘predicting crimes’. So Britain in 2016 is policing ‘precrime’; it views certain individuals as precriminals whose rights can be restricted, not on the basis of what they’ve done, but on the basis of what they might do; on the basis of the fantasies of the self-styled seers of officialdom who now police the future as well as the present.
The government says Sexual Risk Orders are given in cases where a person has ‘done an act of a sexual nature’ which has given officials ‘reasonable cause to believe that it is necessary for an order to be made’, even if the person ‘has never been convicted’. So these individuals aren’t criminals; they’ve just had sex in a way the authorities don’t like. The authorities have gone from punishing sex crimes to punishing sex, slapping orders on people for behaving in a way that was presumably a little strange, possibly perverted, but not criminal. Through these orders, our rulers have invited themselves into the realm of sex, into what happens between non-criminal, consenting adults. Even the most intimate act that two (or more) grown-ups can engage in is now not free from the prying eyes of officialdom.
The Yorkshire case, and Sexual Risk Orders more broadly, demolishes the ideal of due process. If someone can be treated as a criminal, or precriminal, despite not having been convicted of a crime, then the entire, Magna Carta-derived basis of civilised law is called into question. Last year, Britain celebrated the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, a document which insists that ‘no free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions’, unless he’s found guilty of a crime through ‘lawful judgement’. This is the foundation stone of democratic societies: that citizens are free until such a time as they have been convincingly, openly convicted of an offence. This is now reversed. A man has been deprived of rights the rest of us enjoy even though he has not been convicted of a crime. He’s effectively been categorised as a pre-rapist.
This is not a one-off. Increasingly, the British criminal justice system is used not just to punish crime but to police behaviour, and to pre-empt crime. Sexual Risk Orders bring sex under the purview of the law. Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, and their various replacements, control the irritating habits of people who have not been found guilty of an offence. Extremism Disruption Orders are designed to police and punish ‘pre-terrorism’, through controlling the ability of non-violent radicals to express their opinions. The idea of leaving people be unless they’re convicted of an offence – leaving them to have sex with whomever they want, and say whatever they want – has been ripped apart. We pay lip service to Magna Carta while destroying its spirit. A society in which a non-guilty man must provide the police with information about his every sexual conquest is not a free society. It’s the opposite; it’s a society in which no zone of life exists independently of officialdom, and in which more and more of us are viewed as precriminals, and sex is viewed as pre-rape.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked.