Pedophilia, Preemptive Imprisonment, and the Ethics of Predisposition

The first two weeks of 2013 were marked by a flurry of news articles considering “the new science” of pedophilia. Alan Zarembo’s article for the Los Angeles Times focused on the increasing consensus among researchers that pedophilia is a biological predisposition similar to heterosexuality or homosexuality. Rachel Aviv’s piece for The New Yorker shed light upon the practice of ‘civil commitment’ in the US, a process by which inmates may be kept in jail past their release date if a panel decides that they are at risk of molesting a child (even if there is no evidence that they have in the past). The Guardian’s Jon Henley quoted sources suggesting that perhaps some pedophilic relationships aren’t all that harmful after all. And Rush Limbaugh chimed in comparing the ‘normalization’ of pedophilia to the historical increase in the acceptance of homosexuality, suggesting that recognizing pedophilia as a sexual orientation would be tantamount to condoning child molestation.

So what does it all mean? While most people I talked to in the wake of these stories (I include myself) were fascinated by the novel scientific evidence and the compelling profiles of self-described pedophiles presented in these articles, we all seemed to have a difficult time wrapping our minds around the ethical considerations at play. Why does it matter for our moral appraisal of pedophiles whether pedophilia is innate or acquired? Is it wrong to imprison someone for a terrible crime that they have not yet committed but are at a “high risk” of committing in the future? And if we say that we can’t “blame” pedophiles for their attraction to children because it is not their “fault” – they were “born this way” – is it problematic to condemn individuals for acting upon these (and other harmful) desires if it can be shown that poor impulse control is similarly genetically predisposed? While I don’t get around to fully answering most of these questions in the following post, my aim is to tease out the highly interrelated issues underlying these questions with the goal of working towards a framework by which the moral landscape of pedophilia can be understood. 

Sexual Orientation?

A good place to start seems to be to try to understand the controversy over whether or not pedophilia should be defined as a sexual orientation akin to heterosexuality and homosexuality. In other words, why does it matter how we label it?

In his LA Times article, Zarembo notes:

Like many forms of sexual deviance, pedophilia once was thought to stem from psychological influences early in life. Now, many experts view it as a sexual orientation as immutable as heterosexuality or homosexuality. It is a deep-rooted predisposition — limited almost entirely to men — that becomes clear during puberty and does not change.[1]

Like many, Zarembo implicitly links sexual orientation and immutability; pedophilia, this argument goes, ought to be seen as a sexual orientation precisely because it is unchangeable. It’s far from clear, however, how this would alter our understanding of the morality of being sexually attracted to children. Presumably, if pedophilia were based on childhood experiences, we might attempt more early childhood interventions but it wouldn’t make sense to blame pedophiles for their early environment and upbringing any more than for their biological predisposition: either way it is out of their control. I’ll talk more about these interconnected notions of control, fault, and blame at the end of this post.

Rush Limbaugh and some members of the religious right have argued that recognizing pedophilia as a sexual orientation will have the same result as the relatively recent recognition of homosexuality as a sexual orientation: it will become more acceptable to act upon those sexual desires. This logic seems obviously confused. The reason we think that homosexual intercourse is morally acceptable (and was before society “recognized” it as so) seems primarily to do with the understanding that it is a consensual act, not because it follows from an innate orientation rather than an acquired desire. Similarly, it would be strange to say that we think having sex with a child is wrong because pedophilia is an acquired rather than an innate attraction; we think it is wrong because children are not capable of consenting to sex due largely to their underdeveloped reasoning and decision-making capacities. (This at least partially seems to explain why you might have more trouble judging the actions of an adult who has sex with a 17-year-old than an adult who has sex with an 8-year-old; a 17-year-old hovers around the point at which we think he can make this decision for himself.) Having sex with a child, then, will be wrong regardless of whether the underlying attraction is deeply-rooted in the offender’s biology.

Thus recognizing as a society that certain individuals are intrinsically attracted to children need not and does not imply that we condone acting upon these desires. What it does imply is that attempting to alter such individuals’ desires is like telling a heterosexual man to stop being attracted to women; it won’t be very productive. It implies that a better method for preventing child molestation is focusing on behavior – both by getting pedophiles to empathize with the physical and psychological harm a child would experience if molested and by helping them to identify and exercise control over those types of situations in which their desires are most pronounced.[2]

Risk and Guilt

Even among those who agree that pedophilia is best characterized as a sexual orientation, there is still much disagreement over what society ought to do about identified pedophiles who have not molested a child in any way. This was the motivating question behind Rachel Aviv’s article for The New Yorker. In it, she profiles “John,” a middle-aged American who was sentenced to four and a half years in federal prison for possession of child pornography and attempting to persuade a minor he met in an online chatroom to have sex (the minor was actually an undercover FBI agent). Although he admitted to being a pedophile, he had never molested a child.

Yet a 2006 federal statute, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, allows a Certification Review Panel to detain inmates indefinitely past their release dates if it determines that an inmate is “sexually dangerous” and seriously at risk of molesting a child if released.[3] In John’s case, as has apparently become common, this decision was made based on the testimony of a psychologist who used an actuarial assessment instrument called the Static-99. She determined that John was in the “high risk” category based on the 10-question instrument, which includes risk factors like whether he had “ever lived with [a] lover for at least two years,” whether he had any non-sexual violent convictions, the number of both charges and convictions of prior sex offences, and certain characteristics of victims.

Deeming him a significant threat if released, the Panel decided to hold John past his release date. It wasn’t until four years later that he was able to challenge this decision in trial. At this trial, the judge confirmed the Panel’s decision and sentenced John to “therapeutic confinement” until a time at which he is no longer considered “sexually dangerous.” Again, this judgment relied heavily upon the testimony of the prosecution’s forensic psychologist that John had “roughly a 24.7-per-cent chance of reoffending within five years” using her scaling of the Static-99.[4]

There appear to be two separate questions or concerns one might have after reading this account. First, how accurate are actuarial instruments like the Static-99? In other words, how likely is it on average that individuals given a 40 percent chance of reoffending will reoffend, for example, 38-42 percent of the time? Second, even if we are convinced that the Static-99 is reliable enough to justify the serious consideration of its estimates, is being at a “higher risk” of molesting a child than the average citizen ever sufficient evidence to preemptively imprison someone for a crime he has not yet committed? We have a strong belief that individuals ought to be considered innocent until proven guilty – proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases – which is perhaps why John’s case is so shocking to many of Aviv’s readers.

But maybe we just think that a 1 in 4 chance of reoffending sets the bar too low for preemptive imprisonment.  What if we could predict – yes or no – whether an individual would molest a child and be accurate 99 percent of the time? Would we be justified in imprisoning these individuals to prevent them from committing this crime? Or would that tenth of a percent constitute reasonable doubt that any given individual will commit the crime? Can the standard of reasonable doubt even apply when the crime in question has not yet been committed?

These questions might feel familiar if you’ve ever seen Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, a sci-fi film in which Tom Cruise plays an agent of the ‘PreCrime Department,’ which prevents crime using the premonitions of psychic ‘precogs.’ In the Minority Report scenario, the justification for arresting a child molester-to-be seems to lie on the understanding that the precogs’ premonitions are completely infallible. And this seems right; if we could say with 100 percent accuracy that someone would commit a terrible crime, we would be justified in imprisoning him. But the gap, however small, between 99 percent and 100 percent seems to be precisely the problem. Determinists might think that in the future or at least hypothetically we could identify criminals with perfect accuracy; we just don’t have enough information to do it now. But those who believe in free will would reject the possibility of 100 percent accuracy altogether on the belief that the sum total of an individual’s genes, upbringing, and environment and prior states of affairs cannot infallibly predict what he will do in any given situation. And that seems to be the crux of the problem: if there is a chance, however small, that an inmate will choose to “do the right thing” if we release him after he has served his time for all prior and actual offences, it seems a terrible injustice to imprison him for years more.[5]

Predisposition and Impulse Control

In this final section, I’d like to return as promised to the earlier point concerning the moral implications of recognizing pedophilia as an immutable sexual orientation. In an attempt to convince self-identified pedophiles to seek help controlling their behavior, 2005 advertisements in Germany read, “You are not guilty because of your sexual desire, but you are responsible for your sexual behavior.”[6] Similarly, James Cantor, the oft-cited researcher in recent news stories whose work suggests the biological component of pedophilia, has said, “Not being able to choose your sexual interests doesn’t mean you can’t choose what you do.”[7] And perhaps the strongest take-away from this host of articles is that we cannot equate “pedophile” with “child molester.” All these claims suggest that just because individuals like John are attracted to children or have a history of possessing child pornography does not mean that they will actually act upon these desires.

Contained within the first half of this type of argument is the occasionally explicit but almost always implicit suggestion that because pedophiles don’t “choose” to be attracted to children, because they are “born that way,” or because “it’s in their genes,” we ought not blame or fault them for what most people consider to be an appalling desire. This strikes many people as right – we can’t blame people for what they can’t control. The second half of the argument seems to be the other side of that equation – we can blame people for what they can control. Although pedophiles can’t choose their desires, they can choose not to act upon them and it is this behavior for which we can hold them “responsible.”

But what if future studies show that impulse control has a more significant genetic component than we currently think it does? What if some individuals have a significantly greater difficulty suppressing behavior based upon harmful desires? Such individuals did not “choose” to have below average impulse control. Some might even express overwhelming grief at not being better able to control their behavior; they might spend years attempting to master it to no avail. Do we still “blame” them, is it still their “fault,” are they still “guilty,” if they fail to suppress their desires and instead act upon them? (Note that this impulse control problem applies to all desires that would have harmful consequence if acted upon; it has no special relationship to pedophilia.)

We would, it seems, be justified in imprisoning or institutionalizing them for such an act to prevent them from harming others. But the other justifications for punishment – retribution, rehabilitation, and deterrence – seem not to apply very well. By definition, a prison sentence couldn’t deter an individual from doing something he can’t stop himself from doing and rehabilitation could not change an immutable characteristic. Retribution would be even more problematically incoherent. We believe that a man must be able to do what he ought to do; we could not condemn a man for doing something that we believe he cannot choose not to do.

This of course returns us to the free will/determinism debate. Perhaps our entire understanding of crime and justice rests upon a belief that when we do bad things we could always have chosen to do otherwise. Thus this hypothetical might be the point at which arguments about fairness cease to make sense in our current moral framework: some people will do bad things because they were unluckily born less able to control their impulses than others, but this is simply what we mean when we talk about “fault” and “responsibility.”

That took us quite far from our original topic of pedophilia. But hopefully it suggests the implications of this post beyond the issue of pedophilia. Research will continue to identify new genetic components of human qualities and traits and our actuarial instruments will become better at predicting human behavior. Now is a good time to begin thinking about how such advancements will fit within our everyday systems of criminal justice and common morality – and whether and which discoveries would require serious adjustments to the framework of either of these two systems.


[1] Alan Zarembo, “Many researchers taking a different view of pedophilia,” Los Angeles Times, 14 January 2013, http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jan/14/local/la-me-pedophiles-20130115.

[2] See psychotherapist Dawn Horowitz-Person’s description of her “12-step-like” therapy in Cord Jefferson, “Born This Way: Sympathy and Science for Those Who Want to Have Sex with Children,” Gawker, 7 September 2012, http://gawker.com/5941037.

[3] Rachel Aviv, “The Science of Sex Abuse,” Annals of Crime, The New Yorker, 14 January 2013, http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/01/14/130114fa_fact_aviv.

[4] Ibid.

[5] I can feel my college stats professor cringing on the other side of the Atlantic – please chime in and correct me where I’ve misconstrued statistics in this section!

[6] Zarembo.

[7] BBC News, “Brain wiring link to paedophilia,” 28 November 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7116506.stm.

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43 Responses to Pedophilia, Preemptive Imprisonment, and the Ethics of Predisposition

  • Maxwell Harris says:

    “Determinists might think that in the future or at least hypothetically we could identify criminals with perfect accuracy; we just don’t have enough information to do it now. But those who believe in free will would reject the possibility of 100 percent accuracy altogether on the belief that the sum total of an individual’s genes, upbringing, and environment and prior states of affairs cannot infallibly predict what he will do in any given situation.”

    This misses a (scientifically plausible) third view that the future is uncertain, but free will is an illusion.

  • Austin Bell says:

    Any argument that relies on determinism invalidates itself, as humans, in a deterministic world cannot determine if their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, etc. accurately reflect the world around them. It’s a snake eating it’s own tail.

    As regards “John,” planning and attempting to molest a child does not hold a significant moral high ground over actual child molestation.

  • Excellent post. I think the reason for punishment regardless of issues of a predisposition to low self-control is fairly simple: the prospect of such punishment empirically deters criminal behavior. Those who we judge are not responsible for their behavior but a serious danger to others are detained psychiatrically (I think), for instance severely retarded rapists.

    There is only one other area I can think of right off where we think preventive detention is justified: those who are classed as likely future terrorists. At least there the future harm is the possibility of many deaths. I was incensed by John’s preventive detention because it seemed the putative older sister entrapped him — telling him he was avoiding her for a couple weeks, discouraging online fantasy but insisting on meeting in real life. And he was going to meet a 14-year-old girl in the company of her legal-age big sister for maybe having sex. That would have been a crime, but sex with willing 14-year-olds with no trace of coercion just doesn’t seem like the sort of crime that needs preventive detention. The recidivism rate for car thieves, burglars, and armed robbers is much, much higher, and we don’t detain them preventively.

    The reason society tolerates preventive detention of pedophiles is because of the widespread belief that all pedophiles are abusers and incorrigible, our natural and fierce protectiveness of our children, and the feeling that the attraction is alien and in a moral sense sets a man outside of humanity.

    Why do we care that pedophilia is largely unchangeable? Consider other set of thoughts one might have, for instance fantasies of torture based on race or gender. Of course actions based on those are illegal, but we also find the thoughts (or written fantasies) repugnant. To the extent we think such thoughts are not immutable, we have little sympathy for them. Now, if a sexual attraction to children cannot be changed, then understanding and compassion may require us to consider accepting the thoughts and not hating those who hold them — while at the same time we take reasonable measures to make sure pedophiles do not act on them.

    Another reason has to do with the teen boy who is horrified when he can no longer escape the reality that he is sexually attracted to children. If his parents have given him the implicit message over the years that such thoughts make a person worth less than slime, he will suffer more and may kill himself — or go ahead and abuse kids anyway, believing society’s message that he is incorrigibly evil.

    While I agree that gay sex is permitted because of consent, making the point that the attraction is immutable wins sympathy as part of a political process of acceptance.

    (I myself am a celibate pedophile who believes that adult-child sexual activity is wrong and always will be.)

    • Nickolas Schaffer says:

      “Now, if a sexual attraction to children cannot be changed, then understanding and compassion may require us to consider accepting the thoughts and not hating those who hold them”

      Sexuality is largely about loathing. Most people loathe their own sexual feelings, whatever they may be, but either retain enough sense of humour to laugh at the loathing along with the desires, or cast the whole primitive reptilian theme in a ludicrously dualistic religious context, placing “holy” sexuality on an absurdly high pedestal, while regarding the rest as the lowest of the base.

      Sexuality is indeed primitive – a trait we’ve inherited from billions of years of cognitively crude ancestors – and in the modern world, it’s also essentially useless. We don’t need sexuality for reproduction, which can be managed in the clinic, and we don’t need it for affection, which is much simpler and happier without it.

      Sexuality and sexual behaviour are responsible for an enormous amount of misery in the world, but we’re stuck with them. Nobody knows how to disentangle sexuality from human cognition and discard it. Even castration just lowers the volume, leaving the CNS wiring intact.

      In a sense, paedophiles represent an important sexual frontier, a place where we can all agree that human sexuality is essentially problematic, a burden to be endured rather than celebrated. It’s an important point on the cusp between humanism and transhumanism. The humanist pretends that sex is joyful, the transhumanist knows it’s an aspect of our organic heritage that we need to lose. And it’s quite possible that science will eventually show us how this can be achieved.

      • ColinGavaghan says:

        There are plenty who would identify as (to a greater or lesser extent) transhumanist, but who have no desire to eradicate sexuality. It can, after all, be a pretty substantial source of pleasure. Gaining greater control over that drive, however, could be a very worthwhile endeavour – perhaps by turning it on and off at will, or choosing to whom we will be sexually attracted. Imagine if we could perfectly align sexual attraction with social/emotional compatibility. Best friends could decide to become sexual intimates, and we could stop wasting time with the distractions of completely pointless longings for completely unobtainable/inappropriate people.

      • George says:

        I don’t know why transhumanists would necessarily object to sex, or why they would believe it so problematic. The transhumanists I know personally tend to be sex-positive.

      • George says:

        First of all, I am not the other “George” on this board (I’m the George who has so far commented in the articles about privacy and about hospitals and abortion); rare to find two Georges in one place, but so be it.

        Second, re. Nick: “Sexuality is largely about loathing. Most people loathe their own sexual feelings…” That’s blatantly false, and frankly indicative that Nick is in serious need of psychological counseling.

        Third, re. the subject of pre-emptive imprisonment and “orientation:”

        Assume that pedophilia is an orientation: inherent in the person and basically immutable. This does not mean we should tolerate its expression toward children, any more than we should tolerate someone acting upon an orientation toward sexual dominance by raping other adults.

        The question for social policy is how to treat such individuals under the law: after all, it is not their “fault” that they were born with a condition that makes them a potential danger to others.

        A useful example is found with regard to epilepsy and the license to drive automobiles. Epilepsy may be caused by genetic conditions, or by injury to the brain (such as from a concussion). In any case it is not under the control of the individual. As well, under normal circumstances a person with epilepsy is no threat to others. However the law (at least in California, USA) does not allow persons with epilepsy to obtain drivers’ licenses, because the risk of a seizure while driving, translates to a substantial risk of causing harm to others. This is true even when the individual is taking appropriate medication and only rarely has a seizure.

        There is no longer (as there once was, under the pernicious influence of religious authority) a moral stigma attached to having epilepsy: it is recognized as a (probably genetic) disability, and we do not recoil in horror when someone says “I have epilepsy so I can’t drive.”

        This suggests a course of policy with regard to pedophiles.

        First, sexual health education in high school should address the topic in a manner analogous to epilepsy and driving: a disability that creates a risk to others under certain circumstances, thereby necessitating deliberate behavioral limits to protect others. This will create the cultural preconditions for dealing with it realistically in a manner that protects innocent others.

        Second, psychological and psychiatric interventions should be developed toward the goal of enabling pedophiles to recognize the risks inherent in their condition and decide that they will not act upon whatever impulses they may have. Medications that switch off sexual desire would be an ideal solution, since an individual who has no desire will not feel deprived by having to refrain from acting on a desire they no longer have.

        Third, pre-emptive detention for any reason (including risk of terrorism, per another comment below) is unacceptable in any free society: it opens a door to a very slippery slope indeed. However, voluntary self-commitment to humane medical detention might be encouraged to help individuals get over periods when they believe themselves to be at risk of harming others.

        Fourth, the full weight of the law should come down like the proverbial ton of bricks upon those who protect active pedophiles, notably such as the hierarchy in the Catholic church and certain other institutions. For while the pedophile may be sick, the person who covers up to protect an institution from “embarrassment” is not sick, and thus is clearly evil. Minus the cover-uppers and enablers, the pedophiles are much less likely to harm children.

        • Leo Adamson says:

          I said I would retire from this discussion unless something unexpected came up. This is unexpected. It is also interesting and constructive. There are just a couple of parts I take issue with.

          “Assume that pedophilia is an orientation: inherent in the person and basically immutable. This does not mean we should tolerate its expression toward children, any more than we should tolerate someone acting upon an orientation toward sexual dominance by raping other adults.”

          There is a second assumption there, not formulated as such: that paedophilia is an “orientation toward sexual dominance”. I recognise this as a radical feminist dogma, originally intended to apply to all male sexuality, but widely and uncritically accepted in the case of paedophiles. But why should one think of an attraction to particular forms of human beauty as an urge to dominance? Is there any evidence for it? Surely it could only be the case if paedophile (or whatever) sexuality were in some way a reasoned choice, which seems to contradict the first assumption, that it is an orientation.

          Leaving that aside for the moment, let us assume instead, more conservatively, that sexual activity between adults and children is necessarily harmful. I regard that as false; however, it might be worth assuming it if the activity were often, even if unintentionally, harmful, and it was hard to tell in real time which cases would be the exceptions. I have touched elsewhere on whether that is true, but for the moment let us assume so.

          That still does not justify a failure to tolerate expressions of it other than sexual activity. Forms of expression might be friendships with no sexual activity, or could be music, poetry, art that celebrates the kind of beauty in question (and might be fine or might be banal and crude: I suggest the law has no business as art critic), or it could be discussion, like that in BL web forums, or social activism like that attempted by NAMBLA.

          These are all expressions, and many of them subject to legal persecution. Visual art, especially, is often classified as porn, even where no sexual activity could have been involved in its production. Among devotees of a particular kind of beauty, one is likely to find representations of it, and so the search for porn thus over-broadly defined becomes, as, I suggest, was always the intention, an excuse for persecuting the discussion and activism (paranoically characterised as ‘rings’). Moreover, at least some of those facing pre-emptive imprisonment are there for looking at pictures, the fear being that they will look at more, and others are adjudged dangerous on the basis of their fictional writing.

          I am not one of those who thinks sexual activity with people up to 18 is and will always be necessarily harmful and wrong. However, I am prepared to go along with them to this extent: even when the current panic eases, it will still be necessary for most with such sexualities to be celibate most of the time, which is not really that great a sacrifice. But persecuting all other expressions is not only needlessly intolerant (and hence harmful to the liberty of everyone), it is counterproductive even if one thinks that the sexual activity is necessarily harmful, because persecuting people alienates them from society, making enemies of them, and so less likely to take society’s view into account.

          Moving on to the last paragraph, advocating legal activism (“ton of bricks”) against the Catholic Church etc. The francosphere has a term for its ideal of how the law should view the world: serenity. I suggest that has much recommend it. Either these institutions broke the law or they did not, and that question should be decided in a calm, rational manner, with a presumption of innocence.

          Not reporting crimes is not quite the same as hiding them, and avoidance of embarrassment is just one possible motive. Another is that the Church believes in forgiveness and free will, very unfashionable beliefs these days, the latter implying that someone who has offended can always choose not to do so again. I expect there was a mix of motives. At any rate, there does seem to be the sort of febrile atmosphere in which wrongful convictions can happen — from this side of the pond, Paul Shanley’s, based on ‘recovered memories’, looks particularly rotten [see e.g. Wikipedia] — and talk of “tons of bricks” doesn’t help. It is, I suggest, the same febrile atmosphere as that which leads to pre-emptive imprisonment.

          Just to be clear, I am an atheist, but that’s no reason to support state over church. They are both dangerous in their own way, and the state is more powerful.

          • George says:

            Re. Nick:

            This part is simply incorrect: “There is a second assumption there, not formulated as such: that paedophilia is an “orientation toward sexual dominance”. ”

            I did _not_ claim that pedophilia _is_ an orientation toward sexual dominance. I claimed that we should not tolerate sexual expressions that harm others: such as adult/child sex, and such as dominance that is expressed in the form of rape. These are two different items entirely, in the following form:

            “Assume that the desire to drink unpasteurized milk is an orientation: inherent in the person and basically immutable. This does not mean that food regulators should tolerate the sale of unpasteurized milk without appropriate labeling that discloses it as such, any more than we should tolerate someone acting upon an orientation toward eating their hamburgers rare by serving rare hamburgers at a restaurant without first informing patrons of the risk of eating undercooked meat.” Adult/child sex is one thing. Dominance is another thing. Unpasteurized milk is one thing. Undercooked hamburgers are another thing. The commonality of all of these is that they entail risks to others, but they are not identical.

            I do NOT agree with the radical feminist dogma that all forms of male sexuality entail a desire for sexual dominance over females. From a policy viewpoint, anything between consenting adults is their own business per the right to privacy. Whether a given heterosexual pair enjoy playing dominance games by mutual consent, and whether the man or the woman prefers to play the dominant or submissive role, is up to them, and not an issue for public policy or the law. If someone commits rape, they should be prosecuted regardless of whether they did it with or without an orientation to dominate or some other combination of motives and drives.

            The reason that we prohibit expression of sexuality by adults toward children is to protect children from being exploited and harmed by adults. (There may be “mild exceptions” such as a 20-year-old marrying a 17-year-old before the latter departs for a military deployment overseas: in this case, the 17-year-old has chosen to take on the adult risks of military service, so we accept that they can also make the adult choice of marriage.)

            I do not believe that anyone should be subject to prosecution or curtailment of liberty as a function of their thoughts alone, regardless of the content of their thoughts, so long as they do not act on those thoughts in a manner harmful to others. “Thoughtcrime” is anathema to any free society.

            I’ll go further and say that if a group of consenting adults wants to communicate with each other about thoughts they have, that if otherwise acted upon would be harmful to others, that should also be free of punishment: for example pedophile priests gathering to talk about the “good old days” before they were caught, or racists gathering to talk about the “good old days” of segregation.

            The point of my comparison with epilepsy and automobile driving is that, with appropriate safeguards in place, risks are minimized. Persons with epilepsy can take public transport or have friends/family drive them around; there is no stigma or moral condemnation of their situation.

            At some point in the future, virtual reality systems may make it possible for every person to have virtual sex in accord with their deepest or most way-out desires as the case may be. (This is beyond current technology but not beyond current science.) This would also free up interpersonal relationships from the pressures and objectivity-compromises of sexual drives. How often do we see couples who are wholly incompatible except for their sex lives? As long as sexuality is the primary means of establishing long-term pair bonds, dysfunctional relationships held together only by sex will remain endemic.

            With virtual sex, wholly simulated by computer, people could marry on the basis of deep friendship and lifestyle compatibility, and retire to their individual bedrooms a few times a week for whatever fantasy happened to suit them at the moment. More to the point of the present issue, virtual adult/child sex would not involve real children in any way, so no actual harm would occur, and pedophiles would have an alternative to celibacy.

            We already have something like this with regard to a behavior that is far more harmful than adult/child sex, namely killing other humans. Many popular video games are centered upon killing: whether in war simulations where the killing is lawful, or in simulations of overt criminal murder. We do not generally recoil in horror when someone says, for example, “I had a great time playing (whatever-it-is) last night,” even though we know that the game in question involves going on virtual killing sprees that make the recent school shootings look mild by comparison. (We might think it weird or twisted or distasteful that someone considers such things “entertaining,” but we don’t generally shun them.) (Whether we believe that such games should be restricted in some manner, to prevent them inciting real-world violence in individuals who are susceptible to such incitement, is a different issue.) The point of this is, at some time in the future a similar scenario may develop with regard to adult/child sexual desires and their enactment in computer simulations.

            As for the state being more powerful than the church, in the United States we seem to be thankfully recovering from a period of decades in which churches gained disproportionate control over the apparatus of the state. But from having lived though this, it was an unutterable nightmare to routinely see blatant falsehoods enacted into law. Even today, the position that “life” begins at conception (the religious doctrine of ensoulment at conception, which flies in the face of the facts of neuroscience) is tolerated as a basis for anti-abortion laws when it should be roundly mocked and ridiculed until it is no longer heard in the halls of legislatures. After being trounced in the 2012 elections, the Republican party may come to its senses and renounce its involvement with theocrats, in order to avoid being consigned to irrelevance in the elections of 2014 and 2016. But that’s another issue for another day.

            • Colin Gavaghan says:

              George, your virtual sex thought experiment/proposal is finely crafted to demonstrate the conflation of objectives in this area of law and morality. A perfectly valid concern to minimise ham to vulnerable individuals* is wrapped up with a much more problematic desire to penalise that which is merely repellent to the majority. Often, this distinction is blurred by folk psychology accounts of the nature of: the sort of person who would enjoy thinking about X is clearly a disturbed person indeed, and we should not be surprised were he to go and do not only X, but Y and Z as well. (This has also been said, incidentally, about horror movies/novels, but even that doesn’t seem to elicit the same level of visceral hatred as deviant sexuality.)

              In your earlier post, though, you posit an analogy between paedophilia and epilepsy. I understand, I think, your point there. We should not blame the individual for having the condition, but we should expect him to take anticipatory steps to reduce the risk to others. This would certainly be true of the individual whose urges are literally or close to being irresistible – assuming he does not find a virtual outlet for those urges adequate. But I wonder what you would say of someone who is fairly confident – but not wholly certain – that he will never abuse a child.

              To return to your analogy, in many jurisdictions epileptics who have gone a certain period of time without a seizure are allowed to resume driving. In allowing them to do so, the examining doctor must be fairly confident that their condition is under control. Morally, one would hope that the epileptic person would share that confidence. But it will often be confidence short of certainty. Likewise, there must – I assume – be paedophiles who have a high degree of confidence that they won’t abuse children – but a degree less than complete certainty. At what point is it morally incumbent upon that paedophile to take anticipatory steps – avoiding children, perhaps, or even libido-suppressing drugs – to eliminate or further reduce what is already (perceived as) a fairly low risk? And perhaps more seriously, at what point is it justifiable for the state to impose those anticipatory steps?

              • I think this concern with harm can be described as valid even if Leo were correct about adult-child sexual contact not always been harmful; in this instance, the concern would merely be misplaced.

            • Leo Adamson says:

              “Assume that pedophilia is an orientation: inherent in the person and basically immutable. This does not mean we should tolerate its expression toward children, any more than we should tolerate someone acting upon an orientation toward sexual dominance by raping other adults.”

              There is a second assumption there, not formulated as such: that paedophilia is an “orientation toward sexual dominance”. I recognise this as a radical feminist dogma, originally intended to apply to all male sexuality, but widely and uncritically accepted in the case of paedophiles. But why should one think of an attraction to particular forms of human beauty as an urge to dominance? Is there any evidence for it? Surely it could only be the case if paedophile (or whatever) sexuality were in some way a reasoned choice, which seems to contradict the first assumption, that it is an orientation.

              “This part is simply incorrect: There is a second assumption there, not formulated as such: that paedophilia is an ‘orientation toward sexual dominance’.”

              Hmmm. Reading your formulation again, I think it is ambiguous, but capable of bearing the meaning I saw in it. If reading aloud, the meaning would be clearer from the intonation of the phrase “an orientation toward sexual dominance”. Raise the pitch slightly on the words “orientation” and “sexual” (or, with the same effect, put a disambiguating comma after “dominance”), and it has your meaning. Keep the pitch the same through the phrase and plough straight on (no comma) after “dominance”, it has mine. I still find mine the more strongly suggested, especially since you call an inclination to rape an “orientation” (just like paedophilia), which it most certainly is not.

              However, I am sorry if my point came across as an attack, which it was not meant to be.

              In turn, I can say that I nowhere suggested that you agree with the radical feminist dogma that male sexuality is inherently violent. Radical feminism in its pure form is, as far as I know, long extinct — well, there may be a last pocket or two somewhere in deepest academia. However, on “sex offenders” and “paedophiles” (two categories often conflated), its ideas entered and took root in the mainstream, on both left and right (the latter in part thanks to the Meese Commission), and for the past 25 years one often hears them uncritically mouthed as if they were Universal and Unchallengeable Truths, rather than pseudo-marxist froth. Radical feminist assumptions about paedophiles are the universal background to people’s thinking today, and it seemed to me that you were just by default going along with that.

              I accept that is not what you were doing. However, I hope you can see why I should be led to think so by your characterisation of rape as an “orientation” apparently in the same sense as paedophilia.

              “(There may be “mild exceptions” such as a 20-year-old marrying a 17-year-old before the latter departs for a military deployment overseas: in this case, the 17-year-old has chosen to take on the adult risks of military service, so we accept that they can also make the adult choice of marriage.)”

              There are rather more exceptions than that in Britain, where the age of consent, and the minimum age for marriage, is 16. Yet the Children Act is clear that childhood lasts till 18, and, while 16- and 17-year-olds may indeed have sex with or marry anyone however much older, any saucy pictures they might take of themselves would, under the Protection of Children Act, be child porn. There is a specific exception for married couples to keep child porn of themselves, provided they don’t show it to anyone else.

              This tension between different laws cannot continue forever, I feel. On present policy, I would expect the age of consent/marriage to be raised to 18, but that would meet significant opposition, so maybe not soon. If eventually the harmonisation is to reduce the limit for child porn back to 16, that would indicate the beginning of the end of the panic.

              I liked your flight of fancy about virtual sex. Yet it would take a diametric reversal of policy before any such virtual representations of children (up to 18) were permitted. In the US, you are to some extent protected by your First Amendment, although you make up for it with pre-emptive imprisonment, excessive sentencing and tyrannical restrictions on released “sex offenders”; but more typical of the way the world is going are the recent banning of cartoon porn in the UK and South Africa, or the banning of written materials, including political tracts and novels, in Canada and Australia, where the NAMBLA Bulletin heads a new Index Librorum Prohibitorum that has nothing to do with the Catholic Church.

              Perhaps it would be going too far to say that a cult of the holy, sexless child is taking over as the state-sponsored focus for the kind of sensitivities that would once have focussed on religion, including the aggressive-defensiveness. But there certainly is a new secular puritanism, still on the rise.

  • Nickolas Schaffer says:

    I think if we are going to be detaining people on the grounds of public safety due to psychological/genetic profiling, when no crime has been committed (and may not ever be committed) we have to recognise that this should be non-punitive detention, requiring more comfortable, liberal and humane conditions than are found in prisons. One could envisage a secure, walled community in which the detainees live in normal houses and apartments, with normal services and amenities, and are even entitled to employment if they can find it within this secure community or by “working from home”. Such a solution would protect the outside world from the risks posed by the detainees, and vice versa, while providing the same quality of life that the rest of us are free to enjoy.

  • Filip Kosjenac says:

    Considering ‘John’, I believe that possessing of (non-cartoon) child porn is also a kind of child molestation and should be prosecuted because photographed child is being actively molested by pornographer in order to satisfy this pedo-pornophile passive desires. So he is a part of a chain, like a buyer of stolen goods. His sentence should be smaller than that of pornographer, but punished he should be.

    • ColinGavaghan says:

      That makes sense, Nickolas. But what if the consumer does not pay for the material, but acquires it freely? (I’m assuming that there are parts of the Internet where such material can be acquired free of charge.) In the absence of a financial transaction, it isn’t obvious that the ‘demand begets supply’ argument works. Is there any other reason why possession of such material should be criminalised?

      • Nickolas Schaffer says:

        “In the absence of a financial transaction, it isn’t obvious that the ‘demand begets supply’ argument works.”

        A financial transaction isn’t necessary for it to be a matter of providing demand. The individual may simply have requested such material from someone in a position to provide it, thereby encouraging further abuse and production of new pornography.

        “Is there any other reason why possession of such material should be criminalised?”

        One reason that comes to mind is that it’s often probably beyond the powers of the police and the courts to determine whether a child porn consumer has only been downloading stuff that he just happened to come across, or has been requesting or buying material from others.

        • Colin Gavaghan says:

          ‘The individual may simply have requested such material from someone in a position to provide it’

          I wasn’t thinking of the situation where someone commissions the material – I would assume that’s quite rare – just where they acquire it by browsing, or sharing material with other ‘collectors’. Never having sought it out, I don’t know how easy it would be to acquire child porn in that manner, but I can’t think of any reason why it should be impossible.

          ‘One reason that comes to mind is that it’s often probably beyond the powers of the police and the courts to determine whether a child porn consumer has only been downloading stuff that he just happened to come across, or has been requesting or buying material from others.’

          Indeed, that may sometimes be true. But isn’t it a bit suspect to criminalise harmless acts just because they can be difficult to distinguish from harmful ones?

          I should say, I find this question interesting, because it seems to push the boundaries of ‘harmless wrong-doing’. I’ve always opposed the use of the criminal law to punish that which merely transgresses against our collective ‘yuck factor’, and I am inclined to think that should be true even when it is my own ‘yuck factor’ that is transgressed against.

  • Ender's Shadow says:

    Having shared this post on another board, I’ve got shot at because it doesn’t include any actual academic references and neither does the newspaper article. If the author is in a position to post some that justify the claim, that would be very helpful

  • Tom O'Carroll says:

    Kyle Edwards has done a good job of clarifying the ethical status of “born this way” rhetoric and actuarial risk prediction. So far so good: this is practical ethics in action. However, as the writer readily admitted, this task “took us quite far from our original topic of pedophilia”, the ethical status of which was not examined. Instead, it was implicitly taken for granted that adult-child sexual contacts are wrong. But why? The usual answer is that such contacts, even if the child is a willing participant, are harmful to the child. Argument as to why this is necessarily so usually invokes the legalistic concept of “informed consent” and the child’s presumed inability to consent – an presumption so widely accepted that its mention usually terminates the debate.

    However, whether the child can in fact give informed consent is an empirical question, not a philosophical one: the negative presumption become successively less and less persuasive the older and more educated the child becomes. Also seldom discussed is whether informed consent is always necessary, as opposed to simple willingness. What about when an adult’s intentions are benign? If the adult is a caring, loving person who would not hurt the child or go against its best interests, what harm could befall? Harm resulting from social condemnation of the act is of course something that would be taken into account by a person who had the child’s best interests at heart. However, for society at large the relevant ethical issue is quite different: it is not “I must not do this thing because it would harm the child”, but “Why are we condemning this thing, thereby making its harmfulness inevitable?”

    The fact that adults do often behave towards children with their best interests at heart, without abusing their power, is readily apparent from most parent-child relationships. Can this also be the case in a sexual context? One person who thinks so is philosopher Claudia Card, who was the younger party in such a liaison. As for whether adult-child sexual contacts are intrinsically harmless, and perhaps beneficial, in the absence of iatrogenic societal condemnation, this too is an empirical rather than philosophical question, as has been acknowledged by philosopher Igor Primoratz in an encyclopaedia article which includes a substantial appraisal of my book Paedophilia: The Radical Case. See below.

    Card, C., What’s wrong with Adult-Child Sex?, Journal of Social Philosophy, Volume 33, Issue 2, pages 170-177, Summer 2002.
    Primoratz, I., Pedophilia, in Soble, A. (ed.), Sex from Plato to Paglia, A Philosophical Encyclopedia, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 2005
    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/44284820/Paedophilia%20entry%20in%20Plato%20to%20Paglia.pdf

    • George says:

      I agree with Tom O’Carroll. This is a fascinating article about whether and how to treat people who may be at increased risk of causing harm due to low impulse control, but it neglects an important question: are intergenerational sexual relationships necessarily harmful?

      I have my doubts. Starting at age nine I had a non-sexual relationship with a man who was pretty clearly attracted to boys, and I remember that relationship very fondly. He was a very positive influence on me. (He was also one of the most popular faculty members of a major, world-renowned university, had served as an officer during World War II, and had personally met the Queen of England and several American presidents.) I am pretty sure he would not have objected to a sexual relationship, but it was not something I was interested in – and he completely respected that. I suspect that if he did engage in any such relationships with other boys that he did not harm them, even if sociogenic factors did.

      So what is our responsibility in all of this? At the very least, we should work to reduce such sociogenic factors that might cause harm – which is to say that we should stop telling children that they were abused and start asking them how they feel about such relationships they might be in and listening to what they tell us. We must be careful to avoid triggering the nocebo effect and causing the harm which we attribute to pedophiles.

      When we start looking for monsters we might do well to begin with a mirror.

    • Nickolas Schaffer says:

      The trouble is Tom, whether people are going to be open to a more positive view of paedophilia is itself an empirical question. If it can be shown that most people strongly condemn adult/child sexual relationships regardless of the arguments placed before them, then you’re going to have to accept that such condemnation is socially inevitable.

      One can’t use changing attitudes towards adult homosexuality as a model in this instance, because the impulses behind homophobia are largely irrational, whereas the loathing reserved for paedophilia is strongly aligned with our protective attitudes to children, who necessarily have less power over their own lives than adults, and are easily manipulated (especially by those who’ve convinced themselves that they have the child’s best interests at heart). Paedophilia is seen at best as an irrelevant and self-centred intrusion of adult sexuality into the lives of children, and it’s hard to see how any other model could be made as rationally compelling.

      And why would anyone even want to try? Probably because we’re still not free of the influence of the so-called “sexual revolution”, when “ordinary” sexuality was presented in insistently and naively positive terms, and rather vacuously associated with wholesomeness and health, ignoring all its associated problems and its essential uselessness outside the context of unaided reproduction. It may be understandable that those lumbered with a socially dysfunctional sexuality like paedophilia would want to climb aboard such a bandwagon and claim their own right to a “joy of sex”, but that can only be an unrealistic campaign fuelled by a very distorted view of the nature of sexuality and sexual behaviour.

  • Leo Adamson says:

    James Cantor’s work certainly seems to have led to a flurry of discussion as to whether paedophilia is a sexual orientation (or sexuality, a slightly broader term, and in terms of issues raised interchangeable). Apparently if it is inborn it is a sexuality, if not it is… well, something else. But why should this be so? Would homosexuality, or heterosexuality, be any the less sexual orientations if they were shown to be learned or chosen? It is surely a matter of trivial definition that paedophilia belongs in the category of sexuality. Those who claim otherwise are not engaging in honest debate on the question at hand, but rather, as Rush Limbaugh makes clear, making a tactical defence of social policies which they support on the basis of strong feelings, and which they fear might be undermined by rational debate.

    I say ‘belongs in the category of sexuality’ because the question of whether paedophilia is a single sexuality is separate from the question of whether it belongs in that category — a question not of philosophy or of empirics but of identity politics. For instance, members of NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association, or of the many internet boy-love discussion forums, would call their sexuality boy-love, which on a Venn diagram might overlap with paedophilia, as it does with homosexuality. It is worth remembering that sexualities in general don’t have hard and fast boundaries, and paedophilia has a vaguer and more disputed definition than most. There may be some concept there worth naming, but reifying a concept around the name, to a far greater extent than empirics or philosophy will support, does not help keep debate rational.

    Ethan Edwards puts it well when he speaks of “the feeling that the attraction is alien and in a moral sense sets a man outside of humanity.” Paedophilia as a concept takes a wide variety of individuals’ sexualities, and a wide variety of relationships or acts, and reifies them into a single concept in a way that makes them seem as alien as possible, in order to rationalise the hatred that underlies ever growing measures of persecution — with the US’s civil commitment and the UK’s broadly equivalent IPPs as apex examples so far.

    • Nickolas Schaffer says:

      “the many internet boy-love discussion forums, would call their sexuality boy-love”

      Well that certainly sounds better than “grown men who’d like to fuck little kids up the arse”, but that’s essentially what we’re dealing with here, and I think most people recognise that on a gut level, and respond accordingly. Are there really any paedophiles who genuinely don’t understand why they are so unpopular?

      “in order to rationalise the hatred”

      But why is the hatred there in the first place? If, as seems likely, it’s mostly a negative response to people who may well present a danger to children, then it’s not a hatred that needs “rationalising” – it’s already a pefectly rational perception and judgment. (There’s also likely some element of “projection” involved – as I mentioned above, most people have a love-hate relationship with their own sexualities, and are happy to invest their general loathing of sexuality in those forms that are least socially acceptable. But that doesn’t alter the fact that there are very sound reasons why paedophilia is one of those forms.)

      • Stephen James says:

        Regarding the term ‘boy-love you say:
        “Well that certainly sounds better than “grown men who’d like to fuck little kids up the arse”, but that’s essentially what we’re dealing with here…”
        Here you reveal the very kind of ignorance about paedophilia that engenders much or most of the hatred.

      • ““the many internet boy-love discussion forums, would call their sexuality boy-love”

        Well that certainly sounds better than “grown men who’d like to fuck little kids up the arse”, but that’s essentially what we’re dealing with here, and I think most people recognise that on a gut level, and respond accordingly.”

        While offenders have been studied, no one knows much about non-offending pedophiles. In the absence of other information, I think it’s fair to assume that the fundamental attitudes of pedophiles towards children cover the same range as the attitudes of men towards women. Some men just want to get laid and will say anything to achieve that end, while more are fundamentally decent and respectful. Given a particular attitude, I expect some differences due to the different way that children respond. For instance, where women would say ‘no’ to attempts at seduction, children are less likely to have the understanding or strength to do that. I also imagine that whatever their lack of kindness, a great many pedophiles abstain because they don’t want to face ruinous ostracism and legal penalties if discovered.

      • Leo Adamson says:

        Have you just outed yourself as an intemperate bigot with whom it is not worth discussing anything? Perhaps its best to take your response as a kind of full-on devil’s advocacy, and bear in mind there are others reading too.

        You spectacularly miss the point about the distinction between boy-love and paedophilia. They are of course direct translations of each other, but in today’s usage one of them groups those together those attracted to both sexes, the other distinguishes them. The original 60s-70s concept of boy-love also extended beyond paedophilia in that it encompassed attraction to boys too old to be called children. However, as the legally and socially recognised exit point of childhood has been advanced in the last 50 years from 14 to 18[1], in the process also broadening what might be considered paedophilia, that has become less relevant.

        There are also bisexuals, and other combinations, e.g. those attracted to boys and women, or boys and men. Indeed the widespread pederasty of ancient Crete and Greece suggests that many, perhaps most otherwise heterosexual men also have the potential to appreciate the sensual beauty of boys, so perhaps the peculiar intensity of the hatred is explained in part by rejection in others of a quality people fear in themselves.

        There are also cultural and historical distinctions between boy-love and paedophilia, and yes, those are important in the making of a sexuality. There is a core component of sexuality that seems to be inborn, but how it expresses itself, what one makes of it, is culturally negotiated. But however one divides the conceptual space of sexuality, and ‘paedophilia’ and ‘boy-love’ suggest two different ways of doing that, there are still going to be great numbers of edge cases and people whom the model simply does not fit. In the end, we are all human, and more unites those with different sexualities than divides them.

        Your formulation “grown men who’d like to fuck little kids up the arse”, is misplaced in several ways. Firstly, why “little”? Now that childhood extends to 18 there are an increasing number of “kids” who are not “little” at all. The original article particularly mentions 17-year-olds. Secondly, the presupposition about sexual desire is absurdly reductive, as if “heterosexual” meant nothing more than… well, I won’t match your crudery, but you get the idea. Had you bothered to inform yourself before sounding off, you might have been aware there are actually plenty of empirics available on this, e.g. Wilson & Cox 1983, Sandfort 1983, 1987 and many others, and they show quite clearly that “fucking kids up the arse” is a minority fantasy and almost unknown as a practice.

        NAMBLA in fact, while criticising the social context and the law, has always advised boy-lovers not to have illegal sex, not least for the reason that has been advanced in this discussion, that even if the sex in itself is innocuous, there is too great a risk that the social context will make it harmful. As for the internet boards, a large proportion of the people on them are of Ethan’s persuasion, regarding celibacy as a permanent moral necessity.

        There is more to it than this, but I hope this is enough to show that a “gut-reaction” such as yours (and I accept your assertion that it is currently very common) which vaunts a type of person called a paedophile and ascribes to him characteristics drawn in crude terms from your own imagination and with no empirical base… well, really, what can one call such people except bigots? And their status as a majority, with majority influence over law-making, makes the bigotry worse not better.

        [1] 14 was not the entry point into adulthood, rather there was a stage in between, called ‘young personhood’, which has been extinguished. The definitions come from the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, tellingly since replaced by the Children Act 1989 etc., and match that in the Indecency with Children Act 1960, which made 14 the age of consent for many sex acts. The extension of childhood to 18 and extinction of intermediate stages is mandated by international agreements, and especially by the UN’s so-called Convention on the Rights of the Child.

        • Nickolas Schaffer says:

          “Your formulation “grown men who’d like to fuck little kids up the arse”, is misplaced in several ways.”

          OK, I’m sure there’s plenty of diversity: grown men who’d like to enjoy all kinds of other sex with kids of varying ages etc, but it still boils down to grown men having sexual intercourse with children. There’s no point getting indignant with me just because some of these men want to have sex with 6-year-olds and some want sex with 14-year-olds – the fact is all such men are welcome in the “man-boy love” category, which merely shows that this particular category, like the paedophile category in general, is never likely to become at all socially acceptable.

          If you’re talking about paedophiles who are determined to remain celibate, what’s the problem? They are legally entitled to do so. And if they’re remaining celibate, keeping away from temptation and keeping away from illegal porn, there’s no reason why their paedophile orientation need ever be publicly revealed, and therefore no reason for them to feel persecuted.

          • Sean says:

            No need to feel persecuted so long as their paedophile orientation is never publicly revealed? That’s very big of you Nickolas.

            Perhaps you’re missing some of your own repressed desires, self-erased in the interests of public decency.

  • Stephen James says:

    Nicholas Schaffer says:
    “If it can be shown that most people strongly condemn adult/child sexual relationships regardless of the arguments placed before them, then you’re going to have to accept that such condemnation is socially inevitable.”

    But times change; people’s attitudes change. You might have been saying the same thing about masturbation 150 years ago. Of course, we have little idea of how long it will take in the case of paedophilia–it may well be a long time. But that doesn’t justify the claim that it will never happen.

    “Paedophilia is seen at best as an irrelevant and self-centred intrusion of adult sexuality into the lives of children, and it’s hard to see how any other model could be made as rationally compelling.”
    We are told that no model other than the currently accepted one can be ‘made as rationally compelling’. Here the argument seems to have shifted since the first quote, where it was suggested that people may never accept pedophilia ‘regardless of the arguments’. It goes much further to say that these arguments can’t even be made rationally compelling. And that they can be made at least rationally persuasive is shown by Tom’s book and numerous other works.

    • Nickolas Schaffer says:

      “Here you reveal the very kind of ignorance about paedophilia that engenders much or most of the hatred.”

      Well no, it’s not ignorance, it’s brass tacks. Paedophile relationships entail grown men having sexual intercourse with children. I’m sure there are paedophiles who don’t wish to have sexual relationships with children and who habitually avoid such things, and that’s very laudable, but these are not generally the paedophiles who go in for “identity politics” and “man-boy love” lobby groups etc.

      “But times change; people’s attitudes change.”

      I find it very hard to envisage any time when most people are going to feel relaxed and comfortable about grown men having sexual intercourse with children.

      “And that they can be made at least rationally persuasive is shown by Tom’s book and numerous other works.”

      These are books by paedophiles, for paedophiles. It’s not surprising that some paedophiles find it easy to be persuaded that grown men having sexual intercourse with children is all fine & dandy. But I’m confident that there are many other paedophiles (like Ethan Edwards, above) who are not so easily led into the realms of fantasy, and who recognise that their sexuality can have no legitimate social expression.

      As I’ve suggested earlier, facing such facts is not the end of the world. A celibate lifestyle is one of the more dignified options open to any of us, regardless of our “orientation”. All sexuality tends to be grossly over-valued in today’s world. It really is, essentially, about sticking dicks into holes, sweating and grunting, rooting in much the same manner as all the other animals in heat. Leaving this aspect of our nature behind would be no great loss to humanity at all.

      • “Paedophile relationships entail grown men having sexual intercourse with children. I’m sure there are paedophiles who don’t wish to have sexual relationships with children and who habitually avoid such things, and that’s very laudable, but these are not generally the paedophiles who go in for “identity politics” and “man-boy love” lobby groups etc.”

        I suspect a correlation between how sensitive a man is to the feelings and needs of children and how sensitive he is to criticism and hatred from society around him. A man who doesn’t care about everyone hating him might also not understand the complexities of children and how harm still lurks even if the child doesn’t object.

        We at Virtuous Pedophiles are trying to fill this gap. We speak out even though others hate us for it (and it *hurts*). We get hatred from both the ‘pro-contact’ pedophiles and from society at large. It is very tempting for those in our position to just remain very, very quiet — and we suspect there are far more pedophiles like us than those who are pro-contact agitators or those who abuse children.

  • Nickolas Schaffer says there is no point getting indignant with him “just because some of these men want to have sex with 6-year-olds and some want sex with 14-year-olds”. I doubt if facts will work better with you than indignation, Nickolas, but I’ll give it a try. Gebhard’s survey, cited in chapter 3 of my book Paedophilia: The Radical Case (full text access these days, just google the title), found that non-coital sexual activity, mostly genital touching, accounted for no less than 94% of offences against girls under 12. In offences against boys under 12, an even larger proportion, 97% did not involve anal intercourse, most of the activity being manual-genital (45%) and oral-genital (38%). Paedophiles are for the most part attracted to older children. A survey of PIE members showed that male paedophiles tend to be most attracted to boys aged 11-15, and to girls aged 8-11.

    Contrary to your sweeping assertion, BL and GL activists do not want the right to have sex with children. That would be up to the children themselves. The emphasis, rather, is on everyone’s right to sexual self-determination, which includes every child’s right not to have sexual relations with anyone, as well as the right from birth onwards to sexual engagement with their own body and (from an age when they can express their preferences) those of any other children or older people who are up for it. As Donald West, Cambridge University emeritus professor of clinical criminology said of paedophiles: “… their approaches to children are almost always affectionate and gentle, and the sex acts which occur, mostly mutual display and fondling, resemble the sexual behaviour that goes on between children.” In Paedophilia: The Radical Case I proposed 12 as a minimum age for coitus, but as you think books like mine are just “for paedophiles” you wouldn’t know this: it suits your shoot-from-the-hip style to do without the relevant facts. This book is currently cited 89 times on Scholar Google. If you are claiming, Nickolas, that all these academics are paedophiles, you could have a few libel suits on your hands!

    • Nickolas Schaffer says:

      Tom, it may well be that most grown men who seek (or fantasise about) sexual intercourse with children “tend to be most attracted to older children”, but this still leaves at least two important reasons why their sexuality will never be socially acceptable:

      1) “Older children” are still children, and parents and the general community are not going to sacrifice them to the paedophiles just because they’ve turned 11 (boys) or 8 (girls).

      2) Paedophiles who are sexually turned on by toddlers (and yes, they do exist) are no more or less paedophile than those who “tend not to be” turned on by toddlers, and they’re all welcome in the same “BL” or “GL” categories in which the majority claim to prefer the taller primary school children.

      As for “everyone’s right to sexual self-determination”, I’m sure most liberal-minded people would support such a notion, up to the point at which the sexual self-determination of some individuals starts imposing itself upon the sexual self-determination rights of others, particularly children, who are the most powerless members of the community and the most vulnerable to having their rights disregarded by selfish and manipulative adults. The right of children to explore their sexuality in their imaginations and (to some extent) with sexual play with other kids is obviously a right that needs to be protected from the self-serving sexual impositions of child-fixated adults, which are irrelevant to the child’s needs and very often rob the youngster of any sense of sexual autonomy at just the age at which they need to be developing it – read the many collected statements of child abuse victims which make this point very clearly.

      As for paedophiles: I mentioned earlier about people maintaining enough sense of humour to be able to laugh at the general absurdity of their own sexuality, which can certainly help us put these urges in perspective in our lives and in our condition as a cognitively advanced species. The paedophiles who seek social approval for their orientation seem to me to lack this capacity – they seriously think that responsible, civilized people are one day going to say “Sure, grown men having sexual intercourse with children, that’s OK with me. Go for it, you Big Boy you!”

      I’m happy to concur that all sexuality is pretty absurd in the context of human cognition, but paedophilia is clearly more so than most – it’s not just socially useless but socially dysfunctional, and can create scores of stunned victims all centred around the walking disaster area that each paedophile often represents. To avoid such a life, young paedophiles may need a lot more support and wise counsel than they’re currently getting, but they won’t be getting this if they turn to the likes of Tom.

  • Leo Adamson says:

    Replying to several of Nickolas’s comments:

    “There’s no point getting indignant with me”

    I was a bit narked at first, but on reflection, thank you for the challenge. I am indignant with the hating majority: with power comes responsibility, including the responsibility to inform oneself.

    “non-punitive detention,”

    This is self-contradictory, since detention is in itself punitive. And even if the closed ghetto you propose didn’t start out as a concentration camp, it would surely soon become one.

    “One can’t use changing attitudes towards adult homosexuality as a model in this instance, because the impulses behind homophobia are largely irrational…”

    [in response to "attitudes change"] — “there are … paedophiles … who are not so easily led into the realms of fantasy, and who recognise that their sexuality can have no legitimate social expression [ever]“

    Both of these raise an interesting point of philosophy of history. There is an illusion that all of history leads towards the present day, and now it has arrived at its terminus and perfection, and thus that today’s standards are the right ones with which to judge all of history. Of course, in reality, far from being the terminus, the present day isn’t even a stop and history whistles straight by. But the illusion is hard to shake off, because with our backward-only vision, that’s what history looks like.

    Once one realises that today’s standards have no special historical privilege, one can easily see that today’s panics and obsessions will seem as silly and alien in 100 years as those of 100 years ago seem to us today. Then hatred of homosexuality then seemed just as rational as hatred of paedophilia does now, given the universal beliefs about it then extant and the preoccupations of the time. Therefore the analogy between them makes perfect sense.

    I have I suspect the advantage on you, young whippersnapper that I guess you are, of being old enough to remember a time before the anti-paedophile hysteria, and therefore I find it easy to be confident that there will also be a time after it, though sadly, as with homosexuality before, the fear is deep-rooted enough that the end of it will probably take several stages spread over decades, so I won’t live to see it. It’s a matter of regret, but as you rightly say elsewhere, there’s plenty else to do and I will get over the disappointment!

    Yes, it may be hard to believe for someone born during it, but the hysteria had a beginning. Before, a majority certainly weren’t in favour of paedophilia, but there was room for reasonable discussion, and some took place. Many of the participants are still alive and some, like Harriet Harman, get periodically pilloried for their contributions, such being the witch-hunting character of our times.

    That was the environment in which NAMBLA was founded, and PIE in Britain. The political weather changed sharply not long after, leaving them looking naive, but when they started it really did seem as though substantial progress was possible, and in the Netherlands there was real progress, which has not been completely undone.

    Make no mistake: change is the only certainty; this too will pass.

    “And if they’re remaining celibate, keeping away from temptation and keeping away from illegal porn, there’s no reason why their paedophile orientation need ever be publicly revealed, and therefore no reason for them to feel persecuted.”

    “And why would anyone even want to try?”

    Because it’s a just cause, there being no reason for harmless things to be punishable? Because there’s always a new generation of boy-lovers etc. coming on who need some cultural reference points? Because liberty as a principle is worth some risks?

    You mention “keeping away from illegal porn” but that again shows you have no idea what you are talking about. You seem to think there is some clear boundary of legality and there simply is not.

    This also links up with the point about harmlessness. There is an assumption among the ignorant (meaning almost everyone) that child porn means pictures of child abuse, requiring abuse for its production, but actually it includes
    – cartoons and drawings, including one’s own artwork, drawn from one’s own imagination
    – pseudo-photographs, meaning things that in someone’s opinion look like photos but aren’t
    – level 1 porn. The levels are those of seriousness used for sentencing purposes. Level 1, which includes the vast majority of images seized, prosecuted or condemned as porn, by definition does not show any sexual activity, because any sexual activity, however slight, would place it at one of the higher levels. As for the difference between level 1 and legal, that is nothing more than a matter of the policeman’s or prosecutor’s or juror’s opinion, absolutely arbitrary and impossible to predict.

    Not only are these three types of porn harmless by any standard; if one believes illegal sex to be harmful, then they have a positive benefit, since it is empirically well established that more porn means less contact sex and vice versa. (Kutchinsky 1973, Diamond & Uchiyama 1999, etc.)

    This point has begun to seep into mainstream media in the last few months, thanks to the work of Dutch sexologists Lunsen & van Beek, so maybe, along with the discussion of which this blog forms part, we will begin to see some movement towards a first of the several stages I mentioned above. A good start would be to repeal the frankly moronic law banning cartoon porn, utterly typical of the vacuous tabloid-posing government that passed it (Blair’s).

    • Nickolas Schaffer says:

      Leo says: “There is an illusion that all of history leads towards the present day, and now it has arrived at its terminus and perfection, and thus that today’s standards are the right ones with which to judge all of history.”

      I can assure you I’m not a victim of such illusions (and I’m well into middle age, not a “whipper-snapper”). You talk about the “sexual revolution” of the 60s & 70s, and how there seemed to be a more positive debate surrounding paedophilia etc. That in itself was an illusion caused by the fact that most people had no idea that such matters were being discussed. The general public knew there were all kinds of “counter-cultural” things going on, but only a minority paid much attention to it. Indeed, much of the subsequent “hysteria” was due to the public wising up to the full extent of the contemporary paedophile subculture. Even fairly recently, I’ve had people tell me they thought that NAMBLA was just a joke on South Park, and were shocked to find that such an organisation actually existed.

      I don’t believe that history leads to the present day; I believe it continually leads to the future. It’s clear that over the course of the last century or so, society has become more civilised in a number of ways, especially in regard to matters of child welfare, and we can expect social progress to continue in that direction. Logically, this will entail ever-less probability of any social acceptance of paedophilia; ever less toleration of those who would put the sexual indulgence of child-fixated adults ahead of the rights and interests of children themselves.

      “You mention “keeping away from illegal porn” but that again shows you have no idea what you are talking about. You seem to think there is some clear boundary of legality and there simply is not.”

      You’re referring to the UK situation – I don’t live there. I agree with you that the British law can be somewhat draconian in that all images of child nudity, no matter how artistic, can potentially be classified as pornography.

      “Because it’s a just cause, there being no reason for harmless things to be punishable?”

      You’ll never get most civilised, responsible, reasonable people to agree with you that grown men imposing their sexual fantasies on children is “harmless”.

      “Because there’s always a new generation of boy-lovers etc. coming on who need some cultural reference points?”

      The most important thing these men (and some women) need to learn – preferably as soon as they’re aware of their child-focused sexuality – is that this is, and should remain, THEIR PROBLEM, not a problem that they’re free to inflict on innocent bystanders, especially as the innocent bystanders in this case will be vulnerable children.

      “Because liberty as a principle is worth some risks?”

      Your freedom to indulge yourself is limited by your responsibility to observe the rights of other people. Paedophiles tend to interpret such principles through a mythos in which their personal sexual fancies are somehow of great worth to the hapless kids they impose them upon. I’m confident that society will continue respecting the right of children to enjoy their childhoods free of the sexual intrusions of sad, self-centred men.

      • Stephen James says:

        There you go again.

        ‘You’ll never get most civilised, responsible, reasonable people to agree with you that grown men imposing their sexual fantasies on children is “harmless”.’

        ‘Your freedom to indulge yourself is limited by your responsibility to observe the rights of other people. Paedophiles tend to interpret such principles through a mythos in which their personal sexual fancies are somehow of great worth to the hapless kids they impose them upon. I’m confident that society will continue respecting the right of children to enjoy their childhoods free of the sexual intrusions of sad, self-centred men.’

        Until you do a bit of reading and studying, so that you can at least see a prima facie case for thinking that your descriptions fly in the face of the facts, there’s no further point debating with you.

  • Nickolas, do you want to suppress children’s own sexuality? The Victorians fought a vicious war against childhood masturbation, even using instruments of torture to prevent it, such as locking a boy’s penis in a metal cage overnight with spikes directed inwards that would cause pain and puncturing in the event of an erection. Similarly anti-sexual zealots are likewise heavily invested these days in fighting against modern culture that allegedly “sexualises” children, as though they are naturally asexual – a nonsense first exposed in a major way by Freud and then by Kinsey, who showed that children masturbate from infancy onwards. Ultrasound has even shown a foetus may masturbate (e.g. I Meizner, Sonographic observation of in utero fetal “masturbation”. Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine February 1987 6:111). You speak of “The right of children to explore their sexuality in their imagination” (whatever that means) and “(to some extent) with sexual play with other kids…” (whatever “to some extent” means). This is at best highly equivocal. It suggests your attack on paedophilia is rooted not in wishing to protect children but in wanting to suppress their sexual expression. By your own admission you loathe sex in general. At least you are candid about THAT. This is more than can be said for many whose opposition to paedophilia is covertly grounded in a horror of children’s sexuality. As for the supposed impossibility of “responsible, civilized people” one day supporting non-coerced adult-child sexual intimacy, what about Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and former French health and education ministers Bernard Kouchner and Jack Lang? They were among the signatories of petitions in the 1970s calling for paedophilia to be decriminalised. Other signatories included Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida; a leading child psychologist, Françoise Dolto; and writers Philippe Sollers, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Louis Aragon. Or don’t French intellectuals count? In that case you could go for Edward Brongersma, who was re-elected to the Dutch Senate AFTER imprisonment for a sexual relationship with a teenaged boy. And he would be honoured by the Queen (Companion in the Order of the Dutch Lion) AFTER campaigning vigorously in favour of laws that would permit non-coerced adult-child sexual relations.

    • Nikolas Schaffer says:

      “Nickolas, do you want to suppress children’s own sexuality?”

      Not at all. As I’ve been making quite clear, I simply want paedophiles to acknowledge that their own, child-focused but adult sexual urges are actually entirely irrelevant to childrens’ sexuality, and a selfish intrusion therein.

      “You speak of “The right of children to explore their sexuality in their imagination” (whatever that means) “(to some extent) with sexual play with other kids…” (whatever “to some extent” means).”

      I would have thought these statements fairly straightforward. For most children, most of their erotic experiences take place in the privacy of their own minds, thinking about sexy things and imagining themselves in sexy situations. As with so much imaginative childhood play, this is a very important part of their exploration of the world and their own feelings and judgments towards it. In regard to sexual play with other children, by “to some extent” I meant to the extent that they and their friends feel comfortable. Which for most children, falls well short of the sort of things that adult paedophiles will usually want to “introduce” them to.

      “By your own admission you loathe sex in general.”

      More accurately, I regard sex and sexuality as entailing more unhappiness in the world than they’re actually worth, as aspects of human cognition. Which is not surprising given the very old evolutionary heritage of these traits and their inevitably problematic fit with the rest of human social experience. What I find a little odd is that you – a lifelong paedophile who has served years in prison for paedophilia-related offences – apparently don’t regard your own sexuality as a negative factor in your life. Presumably this is because you’ve also made a successful career out of it.

      “As for the supposed impossibility of “responsible, civilized people” one day supporting non-coerced adult-child sexual intimacy, what about Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and former French health and education ministers Bernard Kouchner and Jack Lang?”

      I note that you have to continually go back to “those days” to find this support, as well as the “studies” of (anonymous) paedophile relationships that supposedly show kids really don’t mind being the sexual playthings of grownups. Why are you unable to produce more recent “data” and more recent high-profile “allies”? In this thread alone you’ve referred continually to your supposedly “radical” book which was written over 30 years ago. In that time, nothing’s changed in regard to most people’s views of paedophilia. All that’s really changed is that amongst a very narrow section of the intellectual elite, a moment of gross irresponsibility has long ago passed.

    • I think it’s likely that most of those intellectuals of the 1970s and before would have changed their minds because we’ve learned more about psychology since then — the “blank slate” view is in serious decline, and we seem to be the sort of critters where childhood sex can have bad effects even though pure ideals of self-determination might say it shouldn’t. Heaven knows consensual adult sexual activity can leave adults feeling terribly hurt, but we put up with that since of course the positives can also be very important to adults.

      I look at the pros and cons for the child. So a kid with budding sexual interests is restricted to exploring them with peers instead of adults — big deal. Lots of grown-ups care deeply for kids and few think that the ability to explore sex with adults is a high priority. The people who care passionately about it are men who want the ability to engage in sexual activity with kids because that is their only possible complete sexual outlet. This is understandable but also a cause for grave concern when we’re dealing with individual men and children. Sexual drives are strong and often lead people into cognitive distortions in the quest for their fulfillment. Children’s susceptibility to subtle adult pressure and their inexperience in what sexual activity can do psychologically pose special risks, weighed against the tiny potential benefit.

      • Nickolas Schaffer says:

        Thanks for that relatively sane post, Ethan – I’m sure there are others like you out there who’ve managed to achieve rational insights into their own child-orientated sexuality and its relationship with the rest of human society.

        Nonetheless I’m now bowing out of this debate since it seems futile trying to impress a more realistic ethical perspective on the likes of Tom, Leo and their ilk, who’ve convinced themselves there’s nothing wrong with grown men sexually imposing themselves on the lives of children. Certainly this “BL & GL rights” subculture with its habitual “blame the victim & blame society” mentality – its insistent denial of harm and its portrayal of the most sordid and selfish child abuse as “intergenerational love” – has done much to help create the current climate where the public, the psychologists, criminologists and lawmakers are increasingly looking at the indefinite sentencing option. In the interests of the safety of the most vulnerable members of the community, there may be little other choice.

  • Leo Adamson says:

    This is getting long-winded and straying from the original topic. We found agreement on some small things (and more coming below) and we’re obviously not going to agree on the big one, and have probably shed most of our readers by now, if we had any, so I don’t intend to continue much longer, but there are a few points I need to pick up.

    “Which for most children, falls well short of the sort of things that adult paedophiles will usually want to ‘introduce’ them to.”
    — and, more than once, things like –
    “but it still boils down to grown men having sexual intercourse with children.”
    — and, on the same subject –
    “it’s not ignorance, it’s brass tacks”

    It’s not brass tacks, it’s a red herring, because it’s simply not true. It was debunked the first time you said it, 2 or 3 days ago. Repeating it won’t make it any truer, even if it is not answered every time. Sex is a broader category of behaviour than your narrow mind is prepared to compass, and, despite your assertions, is capable of being an innocent, harmless pleasure. Humans can be more bonobo than common chimp if we wish.

    “I agree with you that the British law can be somewhat draconian in that all images of child nudity, no matter how artistic, can potentially be classified as pornography.”

    Agreement appreciated; is it really that different in other countries? Nudity is not the determinant — that at least would be clear. Full clothing can be pornographic, without the least hint of sexual activity. As mentioned, it’s all decided on subjective impression — and after the event, which as a basic principle of law (nullum crimen sine lege) is not supposed to happen, but the ECHR, giving further evidence of hysteria, makes an exception for paedophiles. (Despite the circularity that it may be only the conviction in question that classifies the person as a paedophile.)

    “As for ‘everyone’s right to sexual self-determination’, I’m sure most liberal-minded people would support such a notion, up to the point at which the sexual self-determination of some individuals starts imposing itself upon the sexual self-determination rights of others, particularly children, who are the most powerless members of the community and the most vulnerable to having their rights disregarded by selfish and manipulative adults. The right of children to explore their sexuality in their imaginations and (to some extent) with sexual play with other kids is obviously a right that needs to be protected from the self-serving sexual impositions of child-fixated adults, which are irrelevant to the child’s needs and very often rob the youngster of any sense of sexual autonomy at just the age at which they need to be developing it – read the many collected statements of child abuse victims which make this point very clearly.”
    — and –
    “‘Older children’ are still children”

    I’m reluctant to go into the much broader question of children’s rights, as it is a further step away from the original topic, but I think this obliges me to, as briefly as I can. I mentioned it in my first response. The old intermediate category of young personhood at 14+, perhaps based around apprenticeship for boys and domestic service for girls, has gone, and we are getting ever closer to compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, according to which the status of childhood extends right up to the cusp of 18, with no intermediate stages. In that sense, indeed, older children are still children, but it is a legalistic point and otherwise vacuous.

    The rhetoric is that all these “children” are supposed are supposed to benefit from “children’s rights”, which sounds very nice, and even fools a lot of children for now, but the reality is that the rights to be found in the UN Convention are not rights to any kind of self-determination at all, and certainly not the kind of rights against the state that are the only ones worth calling human rights; rather these are “rights” to be coerced, ultimately by the state, nominally for one’s own good, but with no right to decide for oneself what one’s own good is. Then one springs with one mighty bound into the proper human rights in the Charter. Perhaps the extreme dichotomy here reflects the increasing legalism of society: law needs clarity, even at the expense of hard edge-cases.

    I don’t think it’s sustainable long term. We are already seeing some signs of rebellion against so-called children’s rights from unionised, working children in Bolivia, who don’t want the “right” to be forbidden to work imposed on them, and I think, or at least hope, that gradually this kind of consciousness is going to increase, and is going to achieve reform. Eventually, there will be a restoration of intermediate stages between childhood and adulthood, with gradually increasing proper rights, to match children’s gradually increasing capacities.

    So (here it comes) I do actually agree with you that society will never grant paedophiles rights to have sex with children. But that is irrelevant because I think, or at least have a reasonable hope, that it will gradually happen anyway, as an incidental side-effect of the emancipation of older children’s sexuality, because that will not exclude consensual relations with adults, if they want, which occasionally they do. Exactly how, what and when will be highly contingent on circumstances, but it would be nice if some of the first stages happen soon enough for me to live to see.

    The other thing I need to deal with is the victim statements. These certainly add colour to the propaganda of hate, but do they really support your position at all? There are several problems with them:

    – they generally concern coercive cases, with little or no relevance for consensual ones (and don’t answer that children can’t consent: that again is a vacuous legalism);

    – although the subjects may believe that the ‘harms’ detailed were caused by the sex they mention, they tend to be highly generalised conditions that might have any number of causes, and often there is no apparent link from the sex to the ‘harm’. Sometimes there is, but those tend to be the most coercive, and therefore the least relevant.

    But the main problem is that a victim statement is of course just a kind of anecdote, and anecdotal evidence has very little probative value. When the same sort of questions were approached statistically (Rind, Bausermann & Tromovitch 1998), the results were so off-message that the hysteria machine went into overdrive. Almost unbelievably, but look it up, it’s true, the US Congress put itself in the ridiculous position of arrogating to itself the role of arbiter of science, unanimously “condemning” the paper (what does it even mean, to “condemn” a scientific observation?), in the process making Rind and co. the closest modern counterparts to Galileo. And you wonder why one often has to go back a few years to find research!

    Inter alia, the condemned paper investigated whether the ‘harms’ (kinds of maladjustment) attributed to sex actually correlate with it. They found a relatively strong correlation with coercion, but only a weak correlation with sex; moreover both the sex and the harm less weakly correlated with certain kinds of family background; in crude summary, children in certain kinds of dysfunctional families are a little more likely to experience sex in childhood and a little more likely to grow up with certain kinds of maladjustment: hardly surprising, and hardly conclusive that sex causes maladjustment, and the researchers said so.

    “I note that you have to continually go back to “those days” to find this support, as well as the ‘studies’ of (anonymous) paedophile relationships that supposedly show kids really don’t mind being the sexual playthings of grownups. Why are you unable to produce more recent “data” and more recent high-profile ‘allies’?”

    Don’t you know there’s a hysteria on? Something like the Baurmann Report 1983 would simply not be commissioned today. It’s not a question that the Bundeskriminalamt or any other state institution would be interested in asking, as thinking like yours has become so prevalent. And of course Sandfort’s research was only remotely possible for the briefest space of time and in one country. Thank goodness he was there to seize the moment.

    There’s no reason to think they have gone stale. And even if that were not the case, they are the most recent, least stale research the world has, so they will just have to do until more becomes possible. The great pity is that the western mind closed before Sandfort’s work could be augmented by follow-up studies to see how the boys’ felt about their relationships as they grew up.

    And why is it relevant that those studied remain anonymous? Isn’t that always the case? The researchers were and remain reputable, and the research has never been debunked, just ignored as it doesn’t fit today’s politically correct narrative of victimhood.

    It is often claimed (not very convincingly, the volume and frequency of the claim undermining its content) that victims are silenced or disbelieved, but that is also true of non-victims, people who are or were happy with their sexual relationships or encounters when underage. Mostly they know very well they will be disbelieved and ridiculed if they speak out, so they remain silent. Among my personal friends I know of one exception, someone who agreed to speak out about his experiences in a TV program about 15 years ago. The program was made, he, the interviewer and the director were happy with his segment, and then, shortly before broadcast, the channel bosses insisted that segment be removed, no explanation given. And that was that, removed it was. That’s the sort of reason you don’t hear from non-victims.

    “paedophilia is clearly more [absurd] than most – it’s not just socially useless but socially dysfunctional, and can create scores of stunned victims all centred around the walking disaster area that each paedophile often represents.”

    This is just spouting propaganda and you are a dupe to do it. No research ever supported, and no serious writer still entertains this idea that each paedophile has 900 victims, put in whatever number you like, since in every instance it was shown to be one that somebody made up and somebody else quoted, sometimes multiplying by ten, received by a supposedly professional readership prepared to swallow any claim if it damned paedophiles. Still, as a meme, it entered the culture and you often hear it spouted as received truth, not least by the grunt-level professionals, usually anti-sex ideologues themselves, who run the preventive detention programs this discussion was originally about. It’s part of what I mean when I talk of hysteria or panic.

    I’m aware there’s a ‘no true scotsman’ aspect to that last paragraph, which is unsatisfactory, but it’s the best I can do in the time, and certainly no more unsatisfactory than the wild, un-evidenced claim it answers.

    And that, unless something very unexpected comes up, is my lot.

    • Leo Adamson says:

      The discussion seems over but that penultimate paragraph is too unsatisfactory to leave. Nickolas’s is spouting propaganda, but the reason I gave is in careless error, for which I apologise.

      There were some instances of the kind of concoction I mentioned, back in the late 1980s or so, and it was these that entered mainstream discourse as a meme. However, there have been other studies, both then and since. These however suffer from at least two other disqualifications: a lack of clarity amounting to equivocation about what population the research covers, and a tainting of the figures by “confessions” made under kinds of duress and blackmail that render them inherently unreliable. This is discussed in more detail in the New Yorker article mentioned in Kyle’s original blog.

  • Well, as the Australian Open tennis approaches the final showdown, we seem to have ended up here in an exhausting men’s doubles – so attritional, indeed, that the players are dropping like flies and the entire crowd appears to have passed away in the heat.

    Time, perhaps, for a drinks break and a refreshing glass of cordial – or cordiality, for such has been sorely lacking. Leo has dealt substantively with a range of objections, so I propose to focus less on the substance than on the venomously abusive way in which those objections have been raised, which is not what one hopes for in a philosophical forum. This change of direction is necessary, I believe, in pursuit of the “practical” part of Practical Ethics: we need to address the roots of anger before we can proceed further, whether in this forum or elsewhere. Otherwise, all that substantive answers can achieve, whether from Leo or myself, is to generate even more objections, sprouting like heads of the Hydra: cut one off and another two appear – which turn out on examination merely to be excitable, ill-considered, reformulations or elaborations of long-held prejudice. So, let’s back up a bit, to something Ethan said:

    “I suspect a correlation between how sensitive a man is to the feelings and needs of children and how sensitive he is to criticism and hatred from society around him. A man who doesn’t care about everyone hating him might also not understand the complexities of children and how harm still lurks even if the child doesn’t object. We at Virtuous Pedophiles are trying to fill this gap. We speak out even though others hate us for it (and it *hurts*). We get hatred from both the ‘pro-contact’ pedophiles and from society at large. It is very tempting for those in our position to just remain very, very quiet — and we suspect there are far more pedophiles like us than those who are pro-contact agitators or those who abuse children.”

    Let’s note, first of all, that Ethan “suspects” a correlation and “suspects” there are more of A than B. Ethan and Nickolas, suspect, suppose and assert a great deal. Like taxi drivers everywhere, and bar-room pundits with their unassailable ignorance and confident “You know what I reckon…”,they sort out the issues of the day far more conclusively than any mere scientist or statesman could.

    However, I said I would be cordial, and I do mean to be fair. So let me add that although I may see a need to take Ethan and Nickolas down a peg or two, I would not go further, down three or four pegs. You are intelligent guys, but let’s see if you can use your raw brain power more intellectually. I’ll stick with Ethan, because it so happens he and I corresponded privately a while ago. Ethan is very good at thought experiments. It is a real philosophical talent of his: it cannot be done without a lively, story-teller’s, imagination. Unfortunately, he appears to think this is the only talent one needs for ethical deliberation. The thought that he might benefit from reading some philosophy doesn’t appear to have occurred to him. As for taking notice of the real world, either directly or through studying empirical research, it all seems too much effort.

    Or perhaps – and I can only “suspect” this myself, but the theme needs discussion – he is so heavily invested in his determination to be “virtuous” that he cannot bear to contemplate alternative perceptions of what a good life and a good world might look like. Hence, also, his strong emotional need, if he is to see himself as virtuous, to cast me and other radicals as vicious. Nickolas and others may also be caught up in what Freudians would recognise as classic projection of evil onto the demonised Other. Ethan says it *hurts* that he is hated, which on his reckoning means he is properly sensitive to the feelings of others, but he imputes to radicals such as myself a culpable indifference to such feelings, including those of children.

    I would prefer not to get into competitive victimhood over this, but for the record I should point out that speaking up for my beliefs has cost me career advancement and income in a very big way. I have been “run out of town”, after my house has been repeatedly vandalised and I have been assaulted in the street and in jail (when I was essentially a political prisoner, for “conspiracy to corrupt public morals”). And the agony of upsetting my late parents is extremely painful to recall, believe me. Tempered over decades in the heat of battle, the steel of my determination to speak the truth as I see it has, I admit, hardened my carapace. It has armoured me against the more ignorant sort of criticism: while abuse is always unpleasant, the fool’s words are easily shrugged off, and rightly so. Be it noted, also, that if sensitivity to others’ feelings infallibly brought popularity, would Socrates and Jesus ever have found themselves so hated? Not that I make such exalted comparisons with myself. I emphatically do not.

    I do accept a different comparison, though, made not by me but by psychologist Prof. J. Michael Bailey. A family man of unimpeachably conventional sexuality himself, Bailey reviewed my recent book Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons (which by the way includes up-to-date research on paedophilia, which I have been criticized here for not giving) very favourably, although he concluded that my reforming zeal was “quixotic”. I’ll happily settle for that. Don Quixote was an honourable knight, brave and steadfast in defence of his values. It would be immodest of me to claim such qualities, but I do aspire to them: you don’t battle on for decades, with no personal gain and much loss, in the absence of strong motivation. The Don was also comically wrong-headed and unrealistic in his struggle, faults I can deny but not refute – although few, perhaps, find me as comical as I occasionally find myself.

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