WE should hardly be surprised by reports of a rape culture in schools. While recognising the need to protect children from predatory adults, we have made the convenient but unwarranted assumption that sex between children follows the model of Romeo and Juliet.

Age of consent legislation was enacted to address the scandal of better-off men paying to access the children of poor families. It was perhaps assumed that, without a cash incentive for allowing child sex, families would act to prevent it.

Today, parents seeking to uphold such a taboo might find themselves in trouble with the authorities as we defer to experts who have their own agenda and values. Parents asking for legal intervention may effectively be told not to waste police time and to update their reactionary attitudes. Even when pregnancy offers evidence of law breaking and identification of the perpetrator, prosecution is unlikely to be deemed in the public interest.

Consistent enforcement of the age of consent could prompt a civil liberties backlash. That is why I would suggest a legal avenue for individuals to apply for earlier majority status. There would then be a way to handle those cases liable to be held up as discrediting the law; one that involves scrutiny and counselling.

Given such a mechanism, it would be more feasible to raise the age of consent to 18. We might usefully go further and date it, like the school year cohort, from the following 1st of September. That would reduce the problem of a mixed status peer group in which the more permissive standard is likely to prevail for all.

Some may feel I am overlooking the distinction between consensual and non-consensual sex. What they are neglecting is the great difficulty of providing evidence about that difference.

John Riseley, Harrogate.