01710-14 Burrows v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      20th February 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

·        Decision of the Complaints Committee 01710-14 Burrows v Mail Online

Summary of complaint 

1. Nick Burrows complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “How does losing your virginity at just 13 REALLY affect you? As children in schools are taught that this is normal, one woman explains her deep regret over doing so”, published on 7 November 2014. 

2. The article was an interview with an adult woman who had lost her virginity at the age of 13, and was presented against the background of new training packs which had been issued to teachers, detailing a “traffic light tool” to assess sexual activity among children. 

3. The complainant said that the headline was inaccurate, as children in schools were not taught that losing their virginity at 13 was “normal”. Rather, the training packs referred to in the article were part of guidance which had been issued to teachers to look out for potentially worrying behaviour. 

4. The newspaper did not accept that the headline was significantly inaccurate. It said that the guidance issued to teachers included a “traffic light tool” which referred to “consenting oral and/or penetrative sex with others of the same or opposite gender who are of a similar age and developmental ability” as “green” behaviour for those aged 13-17. Green behaviours are said to reflect “safe and healthy sexual development” and it was not unreasonable to refer to them as “normal” in the context of such an article. Nonetheless, it accepted that the headline could have made the full facts clearer and, on receipt of the complaint, it had amended the headline to “How does losing your virginity at just 13 REALLY affect you? One woman expresses her deep regrets, as teachers are issued with guidance suggesting this is ‘normal’”. 

Relevant Code Provisions

5. Clause 1 (Accuracy) 

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures. 

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. 

Findings of the Committee

6. The complainant had not disputed that guidance had been issued to schools which stated that “consenting oral and/or penetrative sex with others of the same or opposite gender who are of a similar age and developmental ability” was behaviour which was said to represent safe and healthy sexual development for those aged 13-17. The Committee acknowledged that the guidance did not form part of the curriculum and was not actively taught. However, the guidance was issued to inform teachers as to the approach they should adopt with pupils when such issues arose. The Committee further noted that the article was not an in-depth analysis of the guidance which had been issued to teachers; rather it was a piece in which one woman discussed her sexual experiences. In the context of such a piece, the newspaper was not obliged to provide full details of the precise status of the guidance and, given the nature of the guidelines, the article was not significantly inaccurate such that a correction would be required. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s decision to amend the headline following contact from the complainant. 


7. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required


Date complaint received: 07/11/2014

Date decision issued: 20/02/2015