Pervert Etiquette

The Duke of York’s unfortunate social agenda has hit the headlines recently, from the offspring of dictators, to Arab sheikhs and other unsavoury characters… One ‘friend’ in particular has excited much attention from the media: Jeffrey Epstein, american billionaire (or is it millionaire?) playboy.

The press has used many titles when referring to this gentleman, yet one must be meticulous when discussing royal relations. And so I’ve found myself wondering: what is the adequate etiquette and should Mr Epstein be referred to as a convicted sex offender, a paedophile or just a plain pervert?

What’s in a name?

The term preferred by the tabloids seems to be ‘paedophile’, although it should be pointed out that this is not a legal term, more of an honorific title I guess.

As a medical diagnosis, paedophilia is typically defined as a psychiatric disorder in adults or late adolescents (persons age 16 and older) characterized by a primary or exclusive sexual interest in prepubescent children, which generally means 13 years or younger. So a paedophile would be someone who has been diagnosed with having these particular urges, although he or she might not have acted on it.

As a journalistic diagnosis (generally of the tabloidistic speciality), the definition of the term seems to be slightly different and a paedophile tends to be male, middle aged and sexually attracted to children or teenagers.

As a legal diagnosis, there is no such thing as a paedophile, although one can be convicted and sentenced for ‘child sex offences’ for certain sexual interactions with children. As it turns out, our distinguished subject has not been so far convicted of sexual abuse against a child, though he is a convicted sex offender.

The only crime he was found guilty of is to solicit a prostitute, who was 17 years old. For that offence he was sentenced to 18 months in prison which does make him a convicted sex offender. However, and although her age does make her a ‘minor’, it doesn’t follow that his offence is a ‘child sexual offence’…

What’s in the law?

Child Sex Offences generally come in two categories, at least in the UK and the US. (UK law here and US federal law here)

  • If a child is under 13 in the UK or 12 in the US, any sexual activity with that child is criminal, whether the child consents or not and even if there was some mistake about the age.
  • If a child is above 12 or 13 and below 16, then any sexual activity with that child is criminal even if he or she consents, unless the adult reasonably believed that the child was older than 16. In the US it’s not a crime if the adult is less than 4 years older…

The rationale is that sexual activity with a child under 12 or 13 is never justified, and a mistake about the age will never be reasonable. It might be an acceptable mistake when the child is closer to 16, but it will be up to the person defending themselves to prove that they made a reasonable mistake, and that anyone else could have made it in the circumstances…

So Mr Epstein, is indeed a convicted sex offender, but not a child sex offender, whether in the US or the UK. Although there has been accusations against him involving girls as young as 14, no formal criminal charges were brought and so he has not been tried for them. He has however, been targeted by civil accusations about those facts, which he settled with quite a few of his millions…

(Civil trials are different from criminal trials because of the level of proof required and the potential outcome which doesn’t include prison or criminal fines and so even if there is no criminal accusations, people who feel they have been wronged can still open a civil case to get compensation. If the person accused doesn’t want to face the court, they can settle and pay the other person without admitting guilt, which is what Mr Epstein did in this case. See here for a quick explanation on the difference between civil and criminal law and trials)


And so back to our etiquette debate, and the appropriate title for the American royal friend (who, I suspect, might have been downgraded to acquaintance by now…). Who is Mr Epstein? Apparently not a billionaire, definitely a convicted sex offender, potentially a paedophile and, if stories are to be believed, a pretty unpleasant man…

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