Mary, Mary, wonderfully contrary

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The admirably unshockable Mary Beard, Cambridge classics professor, must have raised a few eyebrows in her TV series earlier this year when she was talking about the scandalously early (by modern standards) age of marriage in Ancient Rome. As she also put it in the Guardian:

Some girls were 12 or 13 when they married. We call it paedophilia; they called it marriage. That’s one of the exciting things about Roman culture. It’s different from ours.

Only a woman these days, and one who is also an eminent historian, could express such a view without reputational damage. What male scholar, after all, could admit to excitement in this delicate context without inviting dark suspicion?

This week she was at it again, bless her, this time on BBC Radio 4’s A Point of View, talking about the accidental, historically contingent, nature of the age of consent: 16 in Britain, 18 in many US states, but only 13 in Spain. The age of consent in Britain, she pointed out, had been 12 in early Victorian times and was raised to 16 as a result of an “inaccurate and exaggerated” campaign against child prostitution by the crusading journalist W.T. Stead. Pondering what the age of consent ought actually to be if it were to balance young people’s right to a sexual life against the need to protect children, she said there had been a government inquiry into this in the 1970s. She even recalled that the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) submitted its own reform proposals to the government. Imagine that now, she said: an openly paedophile organisation being part of the democratic process! How times have changed!

At that time I was Secretary of PIE but I had no hand in devising our law reform proposals, which were the work of my predecessors. So without any personal bragging I am happy to add that the great reforming Home Secretary of the day, Roy Jenkins, let slip to our mole in the Civil Service that he thought PIE’s proposals were excellent. This was the man whose earlier work included presiding over the abolition of capital punishment, the reform of divorce and abortion law to advance women’s rights, and the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between adult males. As a realist, though, he added that in political terms PIE’s ideas “haven’t got a hope in hell”.

So perhaps times were not quite as different in the 1970s as Mary would have us believe. On the other hand, they were perhaps even more different in the centuries before the age of consent was raised to 16 than she suggests. I hesitate to argue with an historian of her stature, but I am not sure her statement that the age of consent had been 12 “since the 13th century” is correct. I wonder if she is getting a bit muddled with her own special period of historical expertise? Twelve was supposed to be the Roman minimum age of marriage for girls, and that doubled as an implicit age of consent although there were many marriages at much lower ages. Also Roman law formed the basis for a lot of mediaeval law in Europe.

Googling around, I found that, in her favour, the Wikipedia entry on the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, which raised the age of consent to 16, has this, about an earlier Act:

Under the Offences against the Person Act 1861, the age of consent was 12 (reflecting the common law), it was a felony to have unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of 10, and it was a misdemeanour to have unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl between the ages of 10 and 12.

But was the common law age really 12 before this Act? Might it have been 10?

This view is arguably supported by the 17th century professional opinion of the English jurist Sir Matthew Hale. At a time when mere “sexual touching” was no great issue, he confined his comments to rape. He wrote:  “Rape is the carnal knowledge of any woman above the age of ten years against her will, and of a woman child under the age of ten years with or against her will”. (History of the Pleas of the Crown. Hale wrote his famous treatise during the latter part of the seventeenth century, sometime before his death in 1676.)

Note that Hale talks about a “woman” over 10 years of age, but a “woman child” under 10. What he is saying here, it seems, is that there is only an offence above age 10 if there is no consent. In other words, consent is possible from 10 onwards. He also appears to be saying that a girl might be willing to have sex at less than 10 years old, but that it should count as rape anyway. This is an early version of what we now call statutory rape, isn’t it?

If we go back even further, to the 13th century, as mentioned by Mary Beard, we encounter an actual statute, not just a legal opinion. The first Statute of Westminster of 1275, included this passage:

And the King prohibiteth that none do ravish, nor take away for Force, any Maiden within Age (neither by her own Consent, nor without) nor any Wife or Maiden of full Age, nor any other Woman against her Will…

A “Maiden within Age” here appears to mean underage, as opposed to a “Wife or Maiden of full Age”. The underage maiden could not be “ravished”, even with her consent. Again, this looks “statutory rape”. Frustratingly, there is no reference to the actual age that counted in common law as being old enough to give consent. So all we have to go on is Hale’s later opinion.

Help! Legal historian needed!

A thousand hits in ten days

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In its first 10 days Heretic TOC has passed 1000 hits. Whether this is a cause for celebration or commiseration is a mute point.

According to today’s Guardian, Google people say half of all blogs have only one reader: the blogger. By that dismal standard, celebration is definitely in order. Online, I discovered that five million bloggers average only three hits per day compared to over 100 for Heretic TOC. So, much better than those losers then! It appears there are currently 80,000 “up-and-coming bloggers” at Heretic TOC’s level. Your A List bloggers, though, are way ahead, with 150,000 hits per day: a daunting target if success is judged as just a numbers game. But there are only a mere one hundred bloggers at this stellar level.

Which raises the question: what is Heretic TOC all about? No small blog can hope to be very influential, so what’s the point of 100 hits per day? There is probably a fair bit of potential for improvement as Heretic TOC becomes better known. But 150,000 per day? I don’t think so!

In Heretic TOC’s About page, I say the aim is “to present a discourse of resistance”. In reality, what sort of resistance is possible with small numbers? To be sure, isolated pockets of dissent can aggregate to bigger things: even moaning about the government with a few friends down at the pub can be important if thousands are grumbling over the same issues in thousands of pubs.

Here, though, resistance is a bit of a one-off. As far as I know, there are NOT thousands of websites like this one. There are “pin up” photo sites, there are chat sites, and a growing number of angst-ridden sites where self-styled “virtuous paedophiles” self-flagellate in an undignified bid to appease the tormentors. But heretical thinking is in short supply.

Earlier models of resistance, active in pursuit of law reform, have everywhere proved fragile, and have either been smashed utterly or battered into moribund silence. Perhaps the most useful survivor has been Ipce, after reinventing itself as a scholarly resource.

My ambition is for a lively discussion here on Heretic TOC, which I hope will prompt visitors to do their own further in-depth research and writing. This is what I am already doing myself: there are corners of academia, if nowhere else, that seem modestly receptive. This can easily be dismissed as an elitist vision for Heretic TOC, but if anyone can tell me a better means of gaining traction for “a discourse of resistance”, please do.

Meanwhile, I’d like to see bigger numbers here if possible. It will help a lot if visitors use the “Share” buttons at the bottom of each post: Digg, Twitter, Reddit, etc.  It will also help me decide where to focus if you “Like” what you like.

Adultophilia or teleiophilia?

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What’s in a name?

The word “adultophilia” has its champion here on Heretic TOC (see willistina556’s response to The real silenced voices) to describe children’s sexual attraction to adults. Another commentator, Gil Hardwick, favours “teleiophilia”, this being “in uniformity with the original Greek”.

The latter term is a bit of a bugger for those whose spelling isn’t great but is favoured (also part of the downside, some would say) by the psychological research wallahs. Actually, it was Ray Blanchard who coined the term, as recently as 2000, although Gil is right that the word is wholly Greek in origin. One of the good things coming out of work by Blanchard et al. in recent years has been to strengthen the evidence that paedophilia is a sexual orientation, thus giving the lie to feminist claims that its primary motivation is power abuse, and the more traditional sin-sniffing view that it is a wicked lifestyle choice serving to revive the jaded appetites of those who have grown bored of every other kind of depravity.

More about the research another time. Meanwhile jedson303 amusingly affects mock horror at the idea that anyone could find adults attractive. Seen through the prism of our own tastes, the horror of some of us (me included) is real enough. The majority, though, however bizarre we may feel such a desire to be, are indeed turned on by adults.

But children? Surely not? They’re all little asexual innocents these days, as every ignorant bigot knows. Not so a century ago, when Sigmund Freud gave the world his theory of infantile and child sexuality, including boys’ Oedipus Complex and its female equivalent. These described sexual desires very much directed at adults: in the first instance, the children’s own parents.

Not so half a century ago, either, when Alfred Kinsey was documenting childhood orgasm from infancy onwards. Even Alfred the Great, though, would have been hard pressed to drum up funds for researching children’s sexual desire specifically for adults. Fortunately,  memoirists have occasionally given some revealing glimpses into their own childhoods.

Tom Driberg (1905-1976) is a case in point. Driberg, a high-profile journalist and long-serving Member of Parliament was openly gay at a time when few dared to be. And in his book Ruling Passions he came out as an adult-oriented gay youth, gay child, and even gay toddler!

As it happens, I started reading Ruling Passions just this week. I haven’t got far into it yet, but already there is this, on pages 8-9:

There was…much half-informed speculation on the processes of sex and parturition at the prep school to which I went at the age of eight. But some sexual impulses had made themselves felt at a much earlier age. I was crawling about on the carpet in my father’s study (called the smoking-room), and cannot therefore have been more than two or three, when I found myself between the flannel-trousered legs of my eldest brother [aged 19 or 20], who was standing in the middle of the room talking. Looking up towards the crotch, I perceived a small hole – some stitches loose in the seam. Gently, I inserted a finger – so gently that I don’t think my brother noticed – and, though I did not quite touch flesh, I experienced what I clearly recall as the first authentic sexual thrill of my life.

The next incident that comes to mind brought no satisfaction: it was merely a remark, made by me, and I have never understood why I made it in the circumstances in which it was made. At the age of five I was sent to a kindergarten, conducted by two elderly sisters, the Misses Hooker, in a house named Hookstead. Each day I was walked there by our gardener, a middle-aged man with a drooping greyish-ginger moustache, named Hemsley. One morning, on our way to Hookstead in the main Beacon Road, I stopped, looked up at him and said: “Hemsley, will you please take down your trousers?” I cannot remember his reply: I suppose that it was dismissive.

A few pages further on Driberg reveals that by the ripe old age of 12 he was regularly picking up middle aged men in public lavatories: he couldn’t get enough of them!

What defines child pornography?

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What defines illegal child pornography? In many jurisdictions this is utterly unclear, because mere nakedness may in theory be permissible, but too close a focus on the genitals may constitute an illegal “lascivious display” or an “indecent” image. An allegedly suggestive pose can tip the balance from legal to illegal, even if the child is fully clothed.

The recent high profile arrest of pediatrician, Dr. Richard Keller, who practised at Boston Children’s Hospital and taught at the Harvard Medical School, has foregrounded the conundrum. He and a string of others have been arrested in the past few months on suspicion of child porn possession, reportedly based in each case on naturist material from an eastern European source, Azov Films.

The background to these cases, including detailed descriptions of the police operation, the material at issue and the American law involved (notably the much used “Dost test”, developed in California), have been very well presented here. Those who check out this documentation can form their own judgment as to whether the Azov material was merely “naturist” or something more.

One thing is sure though: law enforcers have a dangerous habit of pushing their remit to the limit and beyond if they can get away with it. And they nearly always can. Lawyers tend to advise clients that juries will be inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the prosecution in such cases. Fighting a case, they are told, will just get them a bigger sentence. Most defendants, lacking the money to pay for a top-flight lawyer, just plead guilty. Often, it will be a wise choice.

One notable exception to the common fate is the case of Michael Jackson. He was never charged with possessing child porn as the prosecution had bigger fish to fry. In the end, famously, those fish were never even netted. Jackson was found not guilty on the child molestation counts he faced. So prosecutor Tom Sneddon may have ended up regretting that porn possession was never laid as a criminal charge; Jackson’s two books featuring extensive child nudity were presented merely as embarrassing background to the main case. They were intended as circumstantial evidence that the superstar was a paedophile.

As it happens, I personally saw every photo in both of Jackson’s books back in the days (before 1988) when possession became illegal in the UK. On that basis, I can offer from distant memory my view that one of the books, titled The Boy, might well be accepted by juries as legal naturist photography. The second, though, called Boys Will Be Boys, featured a higher percentage of nudity than the first, with more emphasis on the genitals and some questionable poses. A Californian jury today might well decide that many of the images amounted to “sexual conduct” under Section 311.3.(b) of the state’s penal code. This states that sexual conduct includes “exhibition of the genitals or the pubic or rectal area of any person for the purpose of sexual stimulation of the viewer”.

The photos in Jackson’s books were not necessarily posed by the boys, nor taken, nor published, “for the purpose of sexual stimulation of the viewer”, but they arguably could have been. So it should not be beyond the wit of an imaginative prosecutor to detect such transgressions in any photo where there was a “prominent display” of a child’s naked genitals.

All in all, we might ask ourselves whether the District Attorney in the Jackson trial would have been deterred from bringing a possession case if the possessor had been an ordinary Joe – someone lacking the means to mount a vigorous defence.

While I am at it, I might as well put in a plug for my book, Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons, in which I discuss the contents of The Boy, and Boys Will Be Boys somewhat further. Here also you will find the ONLY full trial report on Michael’s case in the entire world – and probably beyond it!

‘Victim’ is a serial fantasist

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The star victim whose false allegations were too readily swallowed by the BBC was a known fantasist. If you read nothing else today (except this blog, of course!), check out the astonishing detailed account in the Daily Mail. I despise that paper’s anti-BBC vendetta, and their motive of further embarrassing the beeb should not be overlooked. But the story speaks for itself.

Briefly, Steve Messham – or “mess ’em about” as we should now think of him – had been given every opportunity at an earlier enquiry to air all his wild yarns of alleged abuse. He was never muzzled as he claims. He was very clearly interested in milking his victim status for money, and showed no inhibitions about making up additional absurd stories as he went along. The enquiry in question declared him unreliable.

The BBC has rightly been castigated for failing to check out Mess’em’s credentials and nobody who heard the director general’s car crash interview with John Humphries yesterday morning could possibly have doubted he would soon be on his way out.

Humphries, legendary hardman of the BBC’s Today programme, was merciless. His forensic brilliance was ironically a powerful demonstration of what is best about the beeb’s news coverage. The fact that he could smash his own boss’s face through the windscreen so brutally could hardly be a more convincing demonstration of beeb journalism’s’ editorial independence!

Poor George Entwistle (“Incurious George”), knew nothing and checked nothing before the fateful Newsnight went out. He didn’t even know about a vital pre-show tweet that reached even my eyes many hours ahead of the broadcast, alerting the world to promised damning revelations about a former Tory minister.

But George’s abject failings are nothing compared to Newsnight’s. The fact that Mess’em was seriously flakey was not a state secret. It should have been obvious following the simplest checks relating to the Waterhouse enquiry into the Welsh children’s home abuse allegations.

What is less well known – though it ought to be – is that the Waterhouse inquiry was itself seriously flakey not because it gave too little credence to abuse allegations but because it gave far too much: which is why the likes of Mess’em were able to get away with so much drama-queen grandstanding.

The whole sorry fiasco of Waterhouse was painstakingly exposed in Richard Webster’s 700-page book The Secret of Bryn Estyn. The secret was that there were NO dark secrets! Webster laid bare exactly what had gone wrong. The problem can be laid squarely at the door of dubious police trawling methods and unscupulous solicitors tempting care home residents with the prospect of big money compensation for assaults that may never have happened.

As the Daily Mail put it today:

But the police method of ‘trawling’ former residents, many of whom had long criminal records, and inviting them to make allegations – has long been recognised as risky. In 2002, the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee warned  such a process was liable to create miscarriages of justice, and that some people had made false allegations in the hope of being paid large sums in compensation.

I note that the Mail, taking all the credit for its own reporting, makes no mention whatever of Webster’s work. Unfortunately the admirable Webster died a while back so, as the BBC would say, he has not been available for interview. His excellent website lives on, though.

Abused by a diamond-shaped window

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From the Guardian this morning:

Children who have nothing to do with Bryn Estyn have also contacted [children’s commissioner for Wales, Keith] Towler wanting to speak about what had gone on there. One teenage boy told him that he had been struck by the diamond shaped windows above the front door of the home and said it appeared to him that the house was looking at him. “He said it should be knocked down. I hadn’t thought about that,” said Towler.

He hadn’t thought about it? How remiss!

But hang on a minute. What is being suggested here? That this teenager had been abused not by the staff of the Bryn Estyn children’s care home, but by the home itself – by the bricks and mortar, as it were? Has the children’s commissioner nothing better to do than indulge the morbid fantasies of some unfortunate, attention-seeking, individual?

What are things coming to? Must every sad loser like this dictate national policy? As a big-time loser myself I sympathise, but there is a limit…

The media must be desperate

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The media must be desperate. Since the Jimmy Savile story broke they have been phoning me, of all unlikely people, in the hope of getting further revelations.

The Daily Mirror‘s chief crime correspondent, Tom Pettifor, said “name your terms”; the Daily Mail‘s reporter Lucy Osborne offered “a fee”. Both were interested in whether Savile or any other celebrities were once in PIE. The Mail, true to its chronic anti-BBC agenda, wanted to know about anyone in the beeb who might be linked to child pornography.

The Mirror made a second call, this time asking if I knew Peter Righton, named recently in the House of Commons by MP Tom Watson as a former member of the Paedophile Information Exchange, which I chaired in the late 1970s. We campaigned for liberalising the age of consent laws.

Righton was convicted of an age of consent offence many years ago.

Watson told parliament: “The evidence file used to convict Righton, if it still exists, contains clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring. One of its members boasts of his links to a senior aide of a former Prime Minister, who says he could smuggle indecent images of children from abroad.

I knew nothing of any such links to Downing Street, or any talk of smuggling.

I knew Peter Righton, though. He used to be Director of Education at the National Institute of Social Work. The man I knew was a cultured, easy-going, affable type, large and jolly. He very kindly read a proof copy of my then forthcoming book Paedophilia: The Radical Case and gave an endorsement comment for the dust-jacket, under his own name, and with his job-title included. It’s still there for anyone to see, although there can’t be many dust-jackets that have survived so long: the book was published in 1980.

As for celebrities in PIE, there were none I know of, but there was certainly a very big fish who joined under an assumed name. This was Sir Peter Hayman, former High Commissioner to Canada. I had no idea about his membership until it was revealed by Private Eye in a story alleging an Establishment cover-up of his membership. Hayman was later “outed” in parliament by Geoffrey Dickens MP.

Hayman had also been deputy commandant of the British military government in West Berlin 1964-66, during the Cold War. Any member of a sexual minority in those days, gay or paedophile, would certainly have been regarded as a prime target for Soviet blackmail and hence a major security risk. Little wonder, then, that the government was less than keen for his name to come out.

Another paper to contact me was the Guardian. But I’ll leave that for another post.

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