The Fanfic Symposium
Home | Columns | Columns by Year | Columns by Topic | Discussion LJ | Submission Guidelines | Contact

Age of Consent? Ptui. What About the Real Problems?
by Lexin

The age of consent for hetero- and homosexuals in Great Britain is 16. Really.  The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000, came into force 8 January 2001.  In Northern Ireland, the age of consent is 17.

This information seems to have been latched onto by various fans, but they seem to be without any knowledge of the complexities involved.  And there are some.  For example, when I looked into this, I discovered that it's 16 (17 in NI) unless the older person concerned is in a 'position of trust' with regard to the younger.  A position of trust is defined various ways, but includes people such as teacher and guardian.

It doesn't (as far as I can tell) include godfather, unless the godfather is also a guardian, because godfather has no legal status in GB that I can determine.  For example, in Telanu's excellent story "Please Understand" Sirius is quite safe unless he started his relationship with Harry when Harry was under 16. And by the time Harry 'graduates' (cough! we don't graduate from high school in the UK, we just leave) he'll have been legal for over a year.

So, sour old bat, what are you doing reading Harry Potter slash?
I like Harry/Snape.  I do, really.  I can "see" Harry/Snape, though most of my friends think I am completely batsoid with a side order of magic mushrooms.  It was the series that starts with "A Most Disquieting Tea", also by Telanu which dragged me kicking and screaming into this pairing. "Too Wise to Woo Peaceably" by JayKay is also very good. It is set when Harry's a bit older.  Both (with minor quibbles about UK vs. US terminology) are excellent, and I think that both have the emotions perfectly.


Interestingly, people in Potter slash fandom seem to veer round from 'overage' to 'just overage' to 'underage' and back without the chest beating and brow clutching which is so common in some others.  I've really not been in the fandom long enough and I'm not on any of the HP general discussion lists, so I can't judge whether the issue has been debated and everyone's come to an agreement or whether the issue has never come up. Or even whether some people are fuming quietly but not prepared to speak, which also occurs to me as a possibility.

I notice, though, that many (all?) of the fic archives where Harry appears in stories as a participant, are very quick to note in their intro the age of consent in the UK, though usually they just say it's 16 which as noted above is slightly inaccurate. This is interesting, or maybe only I find it so.  It looks to me as if they don't want to be considered to be peddling paedophilia, which would be an accusation the newspapers (for instance) might make.

How justified would such an accusation be?  Well, I don't know.  Harry Potter is an invented creation, and as such he cannot be hurt.  A relationship with a teacher could damage a real boy, but Harry Potter isn't a real boy.  He's a character from a book.  Any damage done to him is temporary, over when you've stopped reading.

Is anyone likely to become a pederast through reading HP slash fic?  It seems unlikely, since nearly all slashers, readers and writers, are women. There may be women who prey on children but it seems uncommon to say the least.

Are young people likely to get "ideas" by reading Harry Potter slash fic? Do young people need HP slash to give them these ideas?  Won't they find sex anyway?  I did.  Most people do.

Agreed, in the books Harry's not obsessed with sex.  But this is probably because they are intended for the children's book market, and therefore the publishers have to be careful not of the children but of the parents.  But Harry's certainly noticed girls.  By book 4, he's really noticed*girls. He'd be a very odd teenager indeed if sex didn't cross his mind. Once or twice. An hour.

But...Snape? Ewww...
Teenage crushes on teachers aren't uncommon - to the teachers' endless embarrassment - and nor does it matter whether the teacher is that good looking.  My late father (an English teacher for 40 years) used to get the soppiest Christmas and Valentine's Day cards from both boys and girls right up to the day he retired.

Muggle/wizard relations
It's not clear that age of consent/Muggle ideas of coercion would have any relevance between Snape and Harry.  It is quite likely, even possible, that wizard social structures are quite different, though that would require something of a perverse reading of canon.  As far as we can tell from the books, wizard and Muggle societies are very similar in many ways but one lot can do magic and the other lot rely on technology.  Equally, in the film, wizard fashions seem to have stuck at about 1875 and it may be that their social mores are the same.  You pays your money (or picks up your pen) takes a view and starts writing.

Where does that leave slash, then?
There's a slash plot all right... several of them.  For one, how does Harry cope, what does he do about it, how does Snape cope and what does he do. Do they 'do it' and what happens afterwards...oh, and there's Voldemort of course.  Mustn't forget the all-pervading evil while we're delving into the characters' sex lives.

Then there's the issue of the abuse of a position of authority.  I mean the issue of who exactly is being abused here - need it always be the student? And what happens next?

I'm unwilling, for a lot of reasons only some of which have to do with freedom of speech, to say that a story like that can't be told because one of the participants hasn't yet reached what is in essence an arbitrary age. How do we know this is an arbitrary age? The age of consent has been changed in the UK very recently, it isn't the same in Northern Ireland (are boys in NI less grown up than English, Scottish or Welsh boys? I somehow doubt that they would think so) and in some countries (Italy?) is as low as 14 and without the 'position of authority' problems.

The age of consent is the least of Snape and Harry's problems, really, when you think about it.  Far worse are the difficulties of a person having a real relationship with someone in authority, a teacher having a real relationship with a student.  Whichever way you take it, there's a story or two (or ten, or a hundred) worth telling, whether it all ends in Wildean destruction or with roses (runes?) round the cottage door.

I don't think all these problems go away entirely even in a story set when Harry is grown up.  In very many stories Harry returns to Hogwarts as the DADA teacher, and presumably, Dumbledore has an opinion about his staff getting it on together - particularly where it adversely affects their professionalism.

I read a story - don't know what it was called or where I read it or I would name and shame the writer - where Snape and Lupin left classes they were taking, in mid-teach, went off and shagged like bunnies with Sirius. Can one say, 'Out of character for both participants?'  I think one can.  Can one also say, 'Sacked the moment Dumbledore finds out?'  Equally, I think one can.  I mean, Snape leave a class?  He teaches Potions!  He'd be lucky, when he came to his senses, to find the castle not collapsed round his ears.

Age of consent, ptui.  What about the real problems?

Home | Columns | Columns by Year | Columns by Topic | Discussion LJ | Submission Guidelines | Contact