Criminalizing Sex: A Unified Liberal Theory

Stuart P Green


OUP, £22.99



Criminal law on sexual offences is perhaps one of the most controversial and heavily debated legal topics. This book is incredibly important in ensuring that the law on sexual offences evolves rationally rather than in a reactionary manner.

It is a weighty book, with 365 pages, but also a surprisingly compelling read, touching on subjects ranging from the #MeToo movement to sadomasochism and prostitution. It also looks at the current law on sexual offences in different jurisdictions, and comments on whether the law is compatible with liberal views of protecting one’s sexual autonomy while also ensuring that it is not violated by others. The author explores how these two seemingly compatible ideals are in fact difficult to reconcile. While the book does not offer solutions on a plate, it starts a meaningful debate on where and how the law should be reformed.

Recent high-profile cases have raised questions about adequacy of law in protecting victims of sexual crimes and whether we need reform. This book is a measured, reasoned and  considered guide to how potential law reformers should proceed. The author eloquently makes the case for considering carefully what offences we need to criminalise and those we do not.

Green also offers an interesting insight into other jurisdictions. For example, in Sweden, if adults consent to sadomasochism, even when injury is caused this is not a criminal offence. In the UK, on the other hand, consenting adults could be prosecuted for actual bodily harm depending on the injury inflicted with consent. It is easy to look inwardly at our own legal system, but valuable lessons can be learned from looking at other systems. Arguments can be made for reforming our system to better reflect our more liberal values.

This is a valuable book not only for criminal practitioners but for everyone. We are all affected by how the criminal law on sexual offences evolves, as it determines what we can and cannot do in our most private places.

This is a topic we all need to engage with and one which shapes our country’s values.


Caitriona Mclaughlin is a criminal solicitor at Stokoe Partnership Solicitors, Manchester