Adam Johnson: underage sex, a gun and the tabloids’ invitation to bury a footballer
Adam Johnson has been arrested for “SUSPICION OF HAVING SEX WITH A GIRL OF 15′. It’s the Sun’s big news story. It’s also the front-page story in the Daily Star, Daily Express, and Daily Mirror.
It the lead sports story on the back page of the Express and Mail:
Adam Johnson is 27. The girl he allegedly had a sexual relationship with is below the age of consent. But the key part of the story, the bit that makes it travel, is that Adam Johnson plays football for Sunderland in the Premier League. He has played for England, too, and Manchester City. So. He’s front-page news. And five – yeah, FIVE – plolice cars SWOOPED” (Sun) on his “six-bedroom mansion”.
Who do they think he is, Cliff Richard?
Sunderland have moved quickly to suspend their employee. Is that fair? Or is it just what Sunderland think will play out well with the elite and the public?
It’s worthwhile to look at the law on sex. In England and Wales, the age of sexual consent for women has been set at 16 since 1885, when campaigners fought to raise it from 13 to prevent child prostitution. Key to promoting that law change was the journalist William Thomas Stead. He wrote lurid stories about “The Violation of the Virgins” and “The Confessions of a Brothel Keeper”. Readers lapped them up. Sales of his London newspaper skyrocketed. He helped create the style that would become the tabloid way.
Make it big. Make it loud. Give them a story no-one can ignore.
In 2010, the Chartered Institute of Journalists honoured the man billed as Britain’s first investigative journalist:
William Thomas Stead was acknowledged as Britain’s leading campaigning and investigative journalist in the late 1800s, particularly for his work in exposing the white-slave trade and child sex abuse in London’s brothels by the nation’s upper classes. This resulted in the passing of the Criminal Amendment Act which raised the age of consent from 13 to 16.
As part of his campaign, Stead “bought” a chimney sweep’s 13-year-old daughter (Eliza Armstrong) for £5 which earned him a three-month prison sentence. He continued to edit the Pall Mall Gazette (which later merged into the Evening Standard) from his prison cell.
Journalism matters. Words can shape your views and get things changed. Popular journalism can be dirty, messy and gutteral. And it is powerful. And we love it. Because without the ability to stir things up, make mistakes and dig deep into everyday stories, criminals, banks and matters the elite would rather you ignored there is no freedom of speech.
But sometimes, the innocent get the tabloid treatment.
Back to sex now. But what is sex?
In England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales we have to be 16 or older to have homosexual (gay) or heterosexual (straight) sex. ‘Sex’ means penetrative sex, oral sex or masturbating together.
What happens if you have underage sex?
The law sees it as sexual assault – it’s a criminal offence. This is because in the eyes of the law we are unable to give informed consent to sex when still a child.
A boy/man who has sex with a girl under 16 is breaking the law. Even if she agrees.
If she is 13-15, the boy/man could go to prison for two years.
If she is under 13 he could be sentenced to life imprisonment.
A girl age 16 or over who has sex with a boy under 16 can be prosecuted for indecent assault.
The BBC adds:
Everyone is ready for sex at different ages but the law has to generalise. This is to protect those who are most vulnerable, from exploitation.
The law states that a boy or girl under the age of 16 cannot consent in law.
So. Adam Johnson, whose home was “raided”. Three unmarked police cars and, depending on what you read, one or two police vans were on the scene at 9am. We learn that his home is worth £1.85m. It has a games room and a gym. It is “lavish”. The Times counts four police cars and values the home at £1.6m. It also spots a “triple garage”, two acres of land and a loaded gun, legally owned by the footballer.
Adam Johnson is looking like the kind of man the tabloids and police love to get at: rich, talented and obvious.
But then we get a new fact. A “source” is quoted in the Sun:
“There is no suggestions he had full sex with her but ther was other sexual activity. The allegation included the claim that he knew she was 15.”
That this source is unnamed should make us circumspect. It is buried deep in the story, 10 paragraphs down. Its appearance could mean that we check our own prejudices. We may even decide to wait for all the facts to be known before judging Johnson.
But just as your passions cool and reason begin to take hold, the Sun adds that the maximum sentenced for “the offence” is 14 years. That seems a long times espcially when you read of other sentences, like the eight years prison handed to Peter Daly, subject of the Liverpool Echo’s headline “Merseyside paedophile jailed for paying to have children abused by their mothers”.
The Sun is cranking things up.
Worried that the Adam Johnson sex sensation is losing pace and is just a single-thread story, the Sun pads it out with dash of celebrity, telling readers that Johnson grew up in Country Durham close to where Billy Elliot was filmed. He “reportedly had a champange-fueled night out in London with actress Kym Marsh last year”.
Over in the Mirror, we hear from the mother of his girlfriend Stacey Flounders:
“He is a great lad and he has done nothing wrong… He is 100% innocent. He hasn’t been found guilty of anything..”
But is is guilty of being a well-paid footballer. So. Feel free to hate him and rush to judgement.
Some readers might worry Adam Johnson’s well-being. In its report, the Daily Express notes:
Four years ago Johsnon was left devastated when his best friend, former goalkeeper Dale Roebrts, killed himself after plunging into depair when was told his fiancee was having an affair with the brother of Chelsea defender John Terry… Said Johnson: “I’m not sure he could deal with the embarrassmment the story caused him.”
Don’t rush to condemn Adam Johnson. Back of and let the law deal with it. He’s out on police bail. And you can trust the police to be fair and thorough in an investigation into underage sex, can’t you.