Whither the punitive state? Whither go we?

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The final chapter of Roger Lancaster’s Sex Panic and the Punitive State, a book lauded by many heretics, is titled “Whither the Punitive State?”

Frustratingly, it doesn’t really address its own question. While it would be unrealistic to expect firm predictions, or a rousing action plan (“Sex offenders of the world unite: you have nothing to lose but your tags!”) all we get is a lame – because also unrealistic – list of “pointers for a sounder public discourse”. What it lacks is any sense of agency: good things would happen if his suggestions were adopted, but there no indication of who is ever going to do so. It is as though Lancaster had been sitting at his desk thinking “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone thought like me?”

But they don’t! Many of his readers, to be sure, may think like him and will benefit from his penetrating analysis of our woeful times, but we are left with little sense of engagement in making better things happen. Perhaps the closest we get is this:

“Concerted efforts by scholars, public intellectuals, journalists, and others could begin to make tabloid culture less respectable.”

But who is to do the concerting?

The political landscape might change if, say, the increasingly huge expense of incarcerating ever more sex offenders becomes unsustainable; in that eventuality, economic facts will have been the driving force towards a new discourse, not the conscious efforts of Lancaster or his readers. But concluding that history is just the working out of blind forces beyond our control might have seemed too bleak a note on which to conclude his book.

Nevertheless, it is one of several difficult considerations we must face unflinchingly if we are to “keep it real” as heretics. Another is whether the existence of a powerful state is necessarily a bad thing.

Marx, Engels and Lenin all asked not so much “Whither the state?” as “Wither the state?”

Friedrich Engels was the first to articulate the idea (which he attributed to Marx) that the state in a socialist society would wither away: the propertied classes needed coercively enforced laws to protect their unfair advantage; once the war against such injustice was won, the state would atrophy from lack of any purpose. But famously this vague “withering” thing, magicking the state away with a wishy-washy wave of Marxism’s rhetorical wand, never happened, either in the Soviet Union or in any other avowedly Marxist society: on the contrary, the state under Stalin, Mao and other Communist leaders grew ever more totalitarian and oppressive without even being efficient.

Likewise, we heretics have our own radicals who quite rightly oppose both “sex panics” and “the punitive state” but fail to propose plausible alternatives.

Recently, for instance, I unexpectedly found myself in a debate with the generally excellent Ben Capel at Inquisition 21st Century. At one time I was somewhat contemptuously dismissive of “unscientific” psychoanalysis grounded in the Freudian tradition. Ben put me right, alerting me to the radically humane potential of such therapy as compared with the supposedly more scientific CBT, which is used in coercive and degrading ways in penal settings.

So I value Ben’s thoughts highly and was pleased when Brian Rothery, editor of Inquisition 21, invited me to respond earlier this month to an article by Ben titled “Cruel and unusual punishment”. He had written that parents, as well as MAPs, sometimes find themselves subjected to unjust treatment at the hands of the state, suffering “harassment from social workers to the point where they are driven to mental breakdown or flight”, then seeing their children taken from them into state custody.

The article was part of an initiative called “The Rallying Point”, designed “to bring together isolated and fragmented groups” to fight back against the exercise of power by a state perceived as heartless and arrogant, blundering and bureaucratic.

I like the idea of rallying together with others who suffer injustice, but nevertheless found myself uneasy over the uncompromising anti-statism. Yes, I thought, social workers can sometimes be excessively interventionist. But should it be ignored that children are murdered at the rate of around one every 10 days in the UK at the hands of their parents, sometimes following unspeakable neglect and cruelty? I think not. What we do not hear so much about, and perhaps we should, are the cases where social workers intervene successfully and children are found better homes with loving adoptive parents.

Ben was unmoved when I made this point, insisting that the state should “withdraw and leave its citizens unmolested” until a whole bunch of tough conditions had been met, such as “until cops and social workers are required to have deep and enduring insight into their own irrational drives and sadistic tendencies”.

But, I asked, would the citizenry be left happily “unmolested”? Or would life be nasty, brutish and short? The Hobbesian nightmare of violent anarchy in the absence of a strong state is no mere imagining, I said, but well grounded in man’s truly savage history. The challenge is how to keep the baby (the rule of law) while throwing out the bathwater (unjust laws and unjust law enforcement). Note that my “savage” assessment relates to our history: prehistoric times are another matter, and I will be coming to those below.

I suggested that human rights law, a recent development, is a beginning.

Children’s rights, too, as I have argued here before, are only sustainable in a context of enforceable law backed by state power. And, believe it or not, those rights are being successfully used in Britain right now as a bulwark against intrusive police inquiries into the sex lives of young people.

How? Through Gillick Competence.

And here’s the context: the big, bad state in full panic mode has resulted in police forces around the country being tasked to hunt down teenagers exploited through so-called “grooming”. Publicity following a report last year that had claimed 1,400 victims in just one town, Rotherham, put pressure on the police and other official agencies to reveal the “true” scale of abuse elsewhere – which in practice meant intruding into the intimate behaviour of many youngsters who do not regard themselves as victims at all.

Gillick Competence, as I discovered obliquely from a BBC radio report, is protecting these youngsters. The Gillick principle, enshrined in a House of Lords ruling, acknowledges the competence of many young people under 16 to make important decisions in their life, including, implicitly, the decision to have an active sex life. This ruling, made in 1986, enables them to get advice on contraception and other sexual matters independently of their parents. That is an important reason why, as the BBC reported, police forces asking their intrusive questions found they encountered difficulty in getting answers from other public bodies, notably the National Health Service (NHS). The NHS is important in this regard because children are likely to be seen by healthcare staff, such as their local doctor, or school nurse, if they are sexually active and need contraception advice or have related medical needs. Thanks to the Gillick ruling, these staffs have been able to rebuff police enquiries in the name of patient confidentiality.

Thus a legal ruling, backed by the force of the state’s laws, is here seen in support of children and against the police. What this tells us is that reliance on a narrative of the oppressive state crushing the individual is hopelessly simplistic.

As for the ignorance and malevolence of police, social workers, etc., it is easy to reject the state that employs them. But then what? Ben talked about the “spontaneous cultivation of informal networks of trust and solidarity between people” as an alternative to state power.

Umm, really? Like a modern love relationship, say, which is a spontaneous coming together of two people who love each other and set up house together? But what happens if they fall out? Who gets the kids? What if one partner is murderously jealous after a betrayal? In the absence of law, it’s every man (and woman and child) for themselves and devil take the weakest.

And so the debate went on. Readers can decide for themselves who “won”. I like to think my logic was strong but persuasion comes mainly through the heart not the head and Ben definitely had a better story to tell in that regard.

In another debate, though, this time with Nick Devin of the Virtuous Pedophiles on the Sexnet forum, the roles were reversed. Nick was characteristically dour, dull and “realistic”, while I was the “romantic” rebel. In an earlier exchange, I had blasted him as being part of the problem, not the solution. He snapped back at my “fatuous” efforts, saying I spend far too much time blogging to “like-minded people” who collectively wring our hands over the unreasonableness of the world at large and accomplish nothing. “Occasionally,” he said “you speak to the press and invite blowback which leads to more derision and hate.”

You can read the full exchange here. Part of my response addressed fundamental aims:

At heart I am a “make love not war” type. I was never a drop-out or a hippie. I am too driven for that, rather than “laid back”. But my vision sort of harks back to the 1970s and invites us to think how we could take the most promising elements of those times forward while ditching the bad, especially the gender inequality and male chauvinism. Having just finished reading Douglas P. Fry’s wonderful recent book, War, Peace & Human Nature: The Convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views (O.U.P., 2013), I am persuaded that the deep prehistory of humankind was not Hobbesian as Steven Pinker and other popular writers would have us believe, and that our future as a species will more and more depend on cooperative strategies rather than the intense competition that has prevailed from the agricultural era onwards. This shift away from extraordinary and often deadly intra-species competition, which arose initially in response to relatively recent Malthusian resource-pressure crises not evidenced in the EEA [environment of evolutionary adaptedness], will be far more compatible with gentler and less rule-bound erotic styles: more bonobo than chimp, if you will. I would argue this as a feminist vision bearing in mind that the erotic governance of bonobo society depends fundamentally on strong female alliances capable of holding males in check.

I admitted, though, that I have little idea of how to plan politically for the achievement of any such exotic utopia – or zootopia! So did I have more rationally defensible grounds for swimming against the tide of public opinion? Something more rooted in the here and now? I continued:

Looking first at the social ills we face in society, there is an urgency to many problems which appears not to concern Nick, or he regards them as a matter for “experts”, people above his pay grade. He wants to help paedophiles deal with the strain of their sexual repression – the hopelessness, the depression, the suicidality – but seems wholly blinkered as regards the social context of their lives. As a result, his remedies are like trying to cure a cancer with a band aid. He ignores, for instance, that the sexually so-called “moral” cultures are the most disastrously violent on earth, as we see from Islamist extremism and kick-ass, gun-toting, America, where sexually repressive, moralistic beliefs are instilled from childhood.

My approach at least engages with discussion of this social context rather than focusing narrowly on “adjusting” the “abnormal” individual to the procrustean bed of a sick society – an enterprise doomed to contribute to the sickness not alleviate it.

Can it be any accident, I ask myself, that all the desperate, at-their-wits-end people turn up at Nick’s door, looking for help he cannot give, whereas the bright, cheerful, upbeat, full-of-ideas folk come to my parties and have a ball…

My blogging for a constituency of “the like-minded” as Nick claimed, is certainly no big deal in terms of what the wider world thinks. Within that constituency, though, something significant does take place… Heretic TOC has a therapeutic function. Sure works for me: despite all the hammering I’ve had in terms of wrecked career, prison terms, missing out on family life, …vilification and sometimes physical attack, you won’t find me depressed or suicidal these days, or drinking too much…

… we are not afraid to critique society vigorously and engage with the media on unapologetic terms. Usually they ignore us; but to dismiss the exercise on that basis as a waste of time and energy is to miss its massive value to us. I fight, therefore I am. To resist is to be alive and to be me… not just the meek, compliant, person our oppressors want us to be.

Back to Roger Lancaster. I started by slagging him off for his lack of answers, or rather his failure to project his own big questions into the future with any conviction. I find Fry’s vision more interesting, even though, bizarre as it will seem to anti-statists, he holds up the European Union as an example of the way forward. He accurately notes that the EU, much derided these days as a corrupt bureaucratic monster, was founded soon after the Second World War in order to secure lasting peace through trade and prosperity.

But for the most part it has worked. It has delivered a peaceful life, backed by relatively efficient governance and the rule of law, for hundreds of millions. Has it resulted in the acceptance of child sexuality and freedom for adult-child sexual relations? No. Is it heading, like national governments, towards risk-averse child “protection” and entrenching a victim culture? Yes. Does the expansion of supra-national institutions like the EU threaten a world monoculture, potentially culminating in the tyranny of the “moral” majority across the globe? Yes.

Does this dystopian vision terrify me? Sure it does. What I share with Fry, though, is the perception that focusing on strategies of human cooperation – strategies developed in our prehistory, as he demonstrates, and now extended into modern statecraft – offer the best long-term hope for a rational, peaceful, future in which loving intimacy for all may be allowed to thrive.

Love and peace, brothers and sisters, love and peace!

It’s all been happening out there

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I promised a number of brief news items the other day after a week or two with a whole bunch of stuff happening. After a bit more time for further thought and updating, some of what follows is not that brief but I do believe it is all worthy of our attention. So, enjoy! – or endure: either way, it’s rather compelling stuff.

ABUSE ENQUIRY: THIRD TIME LUCKY?

The British government’s ill-fated attempt to set up an over-arching enquiry into all sorts of sex abuse going right back (well almost) to the biblical Lot* drunkenly shagging his daughter, saw the appointment of its third chair, the first two having fallen victim to victimisation by historic “victims”.

At least the appointee, New Zealand High Court judge Lowell Goddard cannot reasonably be accused of being too close and cosy with the British legal and political Establishment. Anyone acceptable to the victim lobby must of course be viscerally anti-paedophile, so this quote from her in a Guardian profile comes as no surprise: “There have been very few people throughout my career that I have not been able to relate to in any way. These were the paedophiles and the psychopaths. Usually I could relate in a professional way to anyone, no matter what they’d done.” On the other hand, the Guardian tells us, she kept the name of a convicted paedophile secret in a case where presumably “the victims” (and the media) wanted it otherwise.

Ben Emmerson QC welcomed Goddard’s appointment, saying she is “one of the most respected and experienced judges in the Commonwealth” and much more, in fact pretty much the greatest thing since sliced abusers. Or was he thinking of sliced victims? As legal counsel to the enquiry, Emmerson firmly put Sharon Evans, one of the victims’ lobby representatives on the enquiry panel, in her place, saying she could not tell the difference between truth and error and had “done no service to the survivor community”.

That took balls. Emmerson is clearly a man not afraid to speak his mind. He nearly started World War III the other day, calling Vladimir Putin a “common criminal dressed up as a head of state” who ordered the murder of Alexander Litvinenko to stop him exposing Putin’s corrupt “mafia” regime. Emmerson had been representing the former spy’s family at the enquiry into his death by polonium poisoning. Very soon after this, in an incident some see as linked to Emmerson’s insults, Russian bombers were intercepted by the RAF flying provocatively close to British airspace over the English Channel.

I am digressing a bit here, but it gets even more interesting, I promise, so never mind. In another plot turn, Litvinenko had accused Putin of being a paedophile, after mad, bad Vlad publicly lifted up a five-year-old boy’s tee-shirt and kissed him on the stomach. The Daily Mail carried the story, complete with the boys’ name, Nikita Konkin, back in 2006. There is also a photo of the deed on Google images so we can judge for ourselves. Verdict, anyone?

Anyway, back to Judge Lowell Goddard. I asked my friend in New Zealand who blogs as “peterhoo” if he had any lowdown on her. After a bit of digging he came up with some fascinating information totally at odds with Emmerson’s high opinion. As you will see from links on his interesting latest blog, “Still breaking rules, but that’s okay”, a survey of New Zealand judges has given her the lowest rating of the lot: 63rd out of 63. The comment says:

“Low marks across the board. Much criticism of Goddard J’s obsession with self-image, which this judge understands can only be maintained by kowtowing to powerful special interests. Said to be as committed to law as she is at marriage (several times), Goddard is regarded by some as a human rights hypocrite, her judgement disconnected with her diligent efforts to be portrayed as a human rights advocate. “Puppet” came up more than once to describe this judge who is as white as any Irishman yet routinely describes herself as a disadvantaged Maori.”

Ouch! Not sure about that last jab. Yes, she definitely looks quite pale in her photos. Does this firmly establish that she has very little Maori “blood”? I know skin colour depends on lots of genes so a simple recessive gene explanation is presumably not available, but… But I digress again!

* First off, I mistakenly said Abraham. Sorry about that and thanks to Kit Marlowe for correction. See comments below.

COUNCIL ‘IN DENIAL’ OVER GROOMING

The Daily Telegraph, among other mainstream sources, told us:

“Rotherham Council is an organisation still ‘in denial’ about its total failure to protect 1,400 girls from child sexual exploitation, a devastating government report said. Louise Casey, who was asked to carry out an inspection of the council by the Department for Communities and Local Government, found that staff did not accept the findings of an independent inquiry carried out by Professor Alexis Jay last year.”

Casey’s report may have been right, but what I found most shocking was a report of one of the BBC’s main current affairs programmes, Radio 4’s The World At One. At a time when Rotherham Council was telling the BBC they would need time to digest the report, and that they would issue a statement later, presenter Edward Stourton interviewed Casey. BBC correspondent Michael Buchanan had reported that 70% of council members disputed the findings, especially about the figure of 1,400 victims. “We keep hearing about all these victims, but where are they?” was reportedly a widespread response by council members.

That sounds like a pretty good question to me. Why have very few of these alleged “victims” come forward and said they are victims?

But it didn’t stop Stourton from simply assuming the truth of the Casey report and interpreting the councillors’ response merely as proof of them being “in denial”. Likewise Casey herself, who was given an easy ride by Stourton, said some councillors had “questioned the methodology” of the report, as though that too was proof of their guilt rather than legitimate scepticism.

If even a town’s elected representatives can be gang-raped like this by the national government and the premier national broadcaster, what chance do we have as individual heretics?

COVERING UP THE COVERER UP?

The “very private” funeral of British former home secretary Leon Brittan was reported this week following his death last month. His burial comes amidst persistent rumours that he had done some burying of his own in his time, covering up a dossier of evidence that supposedly incriminated senior politicians in “the sexual abuse of boys in the 1980s”.

I have no idea whether there was any truth in this, but I think we can discount the wildest allegations made against him, the most recent of which have been far more shocking than any cover-up. According to the Daily Mail, Labour MP Tom Watson said Brittan stood accused of “multiple child rape”. The “evidence”, such as it is, comes from an anonymous witness dubbed “Nick”, who claims he was raped “more than a dozen times”. He is quoted as saying Lord Brittan “would treat me like I was not even human”, adding that the peer was “nasty, cruel, sadistic and hateful”.

Other witnesses, who appear to be former rent boys – who would go back time and again to be “raped” by politicians and other VIPs – have even attested to the murder of several boys as part of this scandal, but we are not told about any bodies being found, nor any names of missing persons who might have been the victims.

Another factor that makes me doubt the credibility of these rent-boy witnesses is that one of them, “Darren”, made similarly lurid allegations against my old friends Charles Napier and Peter Righton, accusing them of callous and sadistic abuse. I am absolutely certain these were outright lies.

GARY GLITTER: GUILTY AGAIN

Garry Glitter, 1970s rock star, faces possible life imprisonment after being convicted of “historic” sex offences involving three young girls. His chances of avoiding a long sentence look slim given his earlier convictions for similar offences in Vietnam, and also child porn possession.

In a vintage week for show trials, Glitter was far from alone. Also in the dock was TV weatherman Fred Talbot, facing historic offences involving boys, dating from his earlier career in teaching. This trial almost out-glittered Glitter, as one of the accusers, former Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown, used to be a star himself. A one-time pupil of Talbot’s at Altrincham grammar school, near Manchester, Brown interestingly let slip that Talbot was different from most of the other teachers because he “wasn’t violent”. Will this help Talbot? Nah! Not being properly hard is a sure sign of a nonce!

Any star case would usually be big, but here’s one that might slip under your radar in such an incredible time for such cases: folk-rock singer/songwriter Roy Harper could face a re-trial on five charges of historical sexual abuse involving young girls after a jury failed to reach verdicts. Harper’s influence has been acknowledged by many musicians including Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, who named the song “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” after him.

PROSECUTOR MUTILATES A GOOD CAUSE

Even those of us who feel that male genital mutilation in infancy or childhood is a serious form of abuse would probably agree that female genital mutilation (FGM) is often far worse, especially in its more radical forms. So many of us welcomed the news last year that prosecutions directed against this practice were reportedly in the pipeline in Britain, after decades of official foot-dragging on the issue.

What we did not know is that the first case to reach a conclusion would be an utterly idiotic one to bring, resulting in a rapid and obviously correct jury decision to acquit. There now has to be some suspicion that this crazy case was brought simply in order to undermine public pressure for further prosecutions against FGM, the fear in official circles being that they will serve only to stoke the flames of religious and cultural tension.

The problem is, there is something in it: in France, where there have been many FGM prosecutions, and also attempts to ensure acceptance of French culture by such means as the banning of head-scarves, such tensions are far more strongly pronounced. It is a real dilemma, which Heretic TOC has been meaning for some time to address.

WALTER LEE WILLIAMS

News has reached Heretic TOC of a nightmarish situation in which distinguished anthropologist Walter Lee Williams finds himself in an American prison, having been forced through complicated circumstances to submit to a plea bargain on child sex charges. This is a story I hope to take up in more detail in due course. It is far too complex to be dealt with briefly but readers can catch up with Williams’ extensive work in anthropology and queer activism (“gay rights” doesn’t really hack it) at the links here and here.

“5 WAYS WE MISUNDERSTAND PEDOPHILIA”

A sensational start, with around a million views in the first 24 hours, for a public education article. That ought to be excellent news, but as this is one of those VP efforts, in league with their favoured abuse industry professionals, the word “education” here really needs to come with scare quotes. My view? It’s slick, with eye-catching graphics and user-friendly language. There’s a lot of good information too. In the end it’s just the moralising that sticks in the craw.

BOY KIDNAPPED BY OWN FAMILY

More than any other story I have seen recently, this one captures the craziness of our times. A family staged the kidnapping of their own six-year-old boy, abusing him horribly in the process, to teach him it’s dangerous to be nice to strangers – and thereby neatly demonstrating that paranoid parenting is what should really scare us.

Damn fine judges in Amsterdam

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The downfall (again) of 1970s rock star Gary Glitter was just one news item in a crazy week or so with any number of important paedo stories. With any luck, I’ll find time for a hasty round up, below, of the most significant developments; but Heretic TOC likes to set its own agenda, tracking deeper currents rather than current headlines.

The mainstream media flatter themselves that they too dig deeper, with their “in-depth” features and “probing” documentaries. These can work very well within set parameters, generating narratives of a kind the public wants to hear, but heretical interpretations tend to be smothered very quickly, as we know. So I was very sceptical when, in the wake of the Channel 4/Testimony Films debacle last yearI was approached by another TV documentary maker with a comparable project. As part of the preliminary talks, I was asked about PIE’s legal proposals in the 1970s. What did they amount to? Did I still agree with them?

The talks are still in progress. I suspect they will stall, as they usually do, but in the course of these negotiations I found myself reviewing the fate of PIE’s proposals in the wider context of the radicalism of those times, following one strand in particular: the Dutch experience from then until now. I explained to the TV people that my own personal proposal, as expressed in my book Paedophilia: the Radical Case in 1980, was a reduction of the age of consent (AOC) to 12 for penetrative acts. No such lower limit had been set out in PIE’s earlier proposals, but PIE never intended to legalise acts that would have been physically dangerous to younger children or imposed against their will. I added my age of 12 not because PIE’s reforms were bad in terms of their likely effect on children if implemented but because they had not been designed with the media in mind. They were somewhat complex, in order properly to deal with “grey area” cases where the child’s willing involvement was in doubt. Unfortunately, this complexity made it all too easy for the media, as we discovered, to misinterpret (wilfully or otherwise) the provisions and their likely effect.

PIE’s proposals were sound, in my opinion, but of course the times are even less propitious for them now than they were then. These reforms would have retained the criminal law to deal with sexual assault against children. Where sexual acts had taken place with the clearly willing participation of a child, it was deemed inappropriate to use criminal sanctions against the adult. In “grey area” cases, a civil law investigation would take place. A civil court could then sanction the adult, if necessary, in a variety of ways e.g. by ordering the termination of contact with the child. In effect, PIE had invented the ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) about 20 years before the Labour government.

PIE’s proposals, plus my own personal AOC caveat, would have resulted in something quite similar to what actually prevailed in the Netherlands in the 1980s: in that country, over the age of 12, it was widely the practice to use the criminal law only in cases where the child had not consented. This later became formalised in Dutch law, in 1990, but only until 2002, when the changing climate of the times saw the law revert back to an AOC of 16.

Sometimes the Netherlands of a few decades ago is seen as in an utterly ultra-liberal class of its own, but this is to overlook the intellectual ferment that saw AOC laws challenged by leading thinkers elsewhere, especially France, Germany and Scandinavia. There were even stirrings in the UK that went far beyond PIE. Last year saw present-day left-of-centre British politicians coming under fire for appearing to flirt with drastic AOC reduction in those days, thanks to their association with the then very radical National Council for Civil Liberties (the NCCL, now Liberty). The almost entirely right-wing media were really interested only in smearing the left, so they turned a blind eye to politically neutral organisations that had supported change. Notably, there was the National Council for One Parent Families, which, in its report Pregnant at School, recommended totally abolishing the age of consent. They felt decriminalization would make it easier to avoid early teenage pregnancies by ensuring that sexually active youngsters would be able to access contraception and good advice without fear of getting themselves or their partner into trouble with the law.

I went back over some of my old newspaper cuttings, and found amazing reminders of the radicalism of the 1970s. Take the following story, for instance, from the Evening Standard, London, in 1976 (22 June). Reading it now, we might mistake it for a spoof in The Onion. Headlined “Under-age sex law baffling, says judge”, it begins:

The controversial law which makes it illegal for a man to have sex with a girl under 16 was attacked by an Old Bailey judge today. When you have young women of this age and this maturity participating in a perfectly natural activity, it is difficult to brand the other partner as a criminal,” said Judge Neil McKinnon. QC. “The trouble is that this law stands as an attempt to protect fully mature young women against their own natural inclinations. That is what it comes to,” he said. “How on earth any society could delude itself into thinking that that sort of law can have any measure of success baffles me. “The question is, how do you vindicate a law of this character which is so controversial?” In the dock was 22-year-old Jonathan Groves of Bell Crescent Hooley, Surrey, who admitted having unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl aged 15 on February 24. The court heard that Groves met the girl in December. They had sex in a car while the girl was staying with the family of a friend. She was then 15 years four months. “I suppose she has no complaints at all,” said the judge. “A thoroughly satisfying experience from her point of view.

Honestly, I kid you not, this was a real judge talking about a 22-year-old man’s sex with a 15-year-old girl. In other words, while the girl was nearly of age, the man was significantly older than her, a fact that would hardly be overlooked today.

A more modern source, the Spotlight on Abuse website, obligingly reminds us:

The paedophile lobby was a lobby of ideas. It sought to change minds. The law, it believed, would then follow. The minds it sought above all were those within the Home Office. A Home Office paper from 1979 (Sexual Offences, Consent and Sentencing) suggested a lowering of the age of consent to 14 and that punishments be reduced for ‘consensual’ sex with girls of even younger ages.

Even the supposedly conservative Church of England had its sexual radicals. As Spotlight on Abuse reminded me, Dr John Robinson, a bishop, no less, is quoted as saying: “On the age of consent it’s quite clear the law is largely an ass. There is a vast amount of illegal sexual activity going on where ultimately no one is being exploited or damaged or abused… Theoretically it would be much better not to have any age of consent at all…”

From PIE’s own magazine, Magpie, I disinterred “The Dutch experience”, a 1981 article by the Dutch lawyer and senator, Dr Edward Brongersma. Jailed in the 1950s for a relationship with a teenage boy, Brongersma went on to fight, and in 1971 overturn, the law under which he was jailed; in 1975 he was knighted. While his work was always Netherlands based, he would become the world’s most distinguished pro-paedophile advocate.

Chapter 13 of my 1980 book Paedophilia: The Radical Case covers much the same ground as Brongersma’s Magpie article, both sources emphasising that churches, trade unions, political parties and the media in the Netherlands all signed up for radical sexual reform. But there is an astonishing further revelation in Magpie. Brongersma wrote:

Regarding the judges themselves, in Amsterdam at least, the children’s court is quite willing to make use of the special talents of a well-intentioned boy-lover when dealing with boys in trouble. When one of my clients, a 15-year old boy, who had committed a serious aggressive crime, told the magistrate that he saw himself as a homophile and that he lived with an adult male friend, the judge invited the man (who had served two sentences of imprisonment for “indecency” with boys) to come to his office, talked with him for half an hour and then instructed the observation centre, where the boy was detained, that this man was to be allowed to visit him. In several cases, young thieves of 14 and older were officially given into the custody of men, former[ly] sentenced for “indecency” with boys under sixteen, or otherwise known as paedophiles. This, as far as I know, with excellent results. In one case, which I was able to follow more closely, the boy broke his habit of shop-lifting, and his relationship with his family at home, as well as his school work, improved considerably.

That’s the way to do it!

The radical legacy persisted in the Netherlands into the 1990s when it was already evaporating elsewhere. Thus the penal code was amended in December 1991. Henceforth there could be no prosecution for sex with consenting children aged 12-16 unless a formal complaint was made by the child, their legal representative, or an official child protection agency. Anyone could approach such an agency with a view to a formal complaint being made. This provision appeared to allay the fears of conservatively minded Dutch parents with respect to their own children. The fabled Dutch spirit of toleration entered the picture insofar as such parents seldom felt the need to lay down the law for other parents and what their children do, or what adults might do with them.

Brongersma was my first major informant on all this, both from his writings and several occasions when I was privileged to meet him. The most significant later sources have been three other Dutch writers, Jan Schuijer (especially on Dutch toleration), Gert Hekma and latterly Juul Gooren.

On the short life-span of the 1991 law, Hekma tells us in his paper “The decline of sexual radicalism in the Netherlands”, that such radicalism across a range of issues ran out of steam for a variety of reasons. Interestingly, though, the retreat from permitting twelve-year-olds to have sex did not appear to have come about as a result of any specific problems with this permissive law. We are not told of evidence that children were being harmed by it. Hekma, a Dutch sociologist and historian, says, rather, that the move appears to have been brought about by more diffuse concerns about the innocence of the young in the face of the increasingly visible sexualisation of society in general – as evidenced by an ever-growing amount of sex on television and elsewhere.

While I have no doubt this was true, Hekma does not take us far in understanding those “diffuse concerns”, which, as elsewhere, must have included increasing feminist influence. One imagines there was also outside pressure for the Netherlands to fall into line, from NGOs working through the UN to diplomatic pressure from the US and UK.

My final source, Gooren, brings us right up to date with a paper published only last year. His research involved interviewing professionals, mainly police and lawyers, about age-discrepant consensual sexual encounters with a minor from age 12 upwards. He wanted to find out how such relationships are handled by the criminal justice system nowadays, including why some cases are prosecuted and others, even today’s stricter atmosphere, are not.

Sex with a minor below the age of consent in America is known as statutory rape, but Gooren points out that Dutch law relies on a different concept, namely “lewd conduct”, which has a moral basis. The difference between statutory rape and lewd conduct, says Gooren, is that the latter “does not necessarily presume that there was no consent on the part of the victim. The sexual contact is believed to be morally wrong due to its nature in combination with age.”

Interestingly, whereas sex with a child under 12 is automatically considered lewd, that is not the case even now in the Netherlands for minors of 12 and over. Thus sex between a boy and girl, both aged, say, 14, might not be considered lewd if they were in a steady relationship. In practice, peer relationships of that sort are seldom prosecuted in the UK either, but since 2003 they have very explicitly been illegal.

Gooren cites one fascinating case in which a youth of unspecified age had threesome sex with his 15-year-old steady girlfriend along with his 17-year-old pal. The pal was found guilty of lewd conduct but the girl’s boyfriend was acquitted. The offender had reasonable grounds for believing the girl had consented to sex with him. She initiated the action, doing a striptease for the pair of them. Then she had sex “doggy style” with her boyfriend, who climaxed very quickly. According to the pal (whose word seems undisputed) the girl then asked him what position he preferred. He, too, took her from behind.

Asked by Gooren to comment on the case, the Attorney General of the Netherlands, no less, said he did not think such a threesome should necessarily be considered lewd. He made the very good point that if the boyfriend’s pal, like the boyfriend, had previously had sex with the girl, then consistency would require that he too would be acquitted. “A threesome is thus only allowed,” he said, “if there is past promiscuity. Is that the message?”

Gooren concludes that the Netherlands criminal justice system in general tends to take a dim view where there is a significant age gap between the partners and also when the sex is of a casual or promiscuous nature. On the other hand, an age difference of five years might be considered acceptable between a man aged 20 and a girl of 15, but unacceptable between a boy of 15 and a relatively immature girl of 12. Gooren criticises the system for its reliance on untested assumptions, namely that “unequal” relationships, and sex outside of a “loving relationship” must be harmful.

What strikes me, though, as an outsider to the Netherlands, is that even now the atmosphere there towards underage sex, including with a somewhat older partner, seems more flexible and liberal than in the Anglophone countries.

REFERENCES

Brongersma, E. “The Dutch experience”, Magpie 15, Spring, 1981

Gooren, J. “ ‘Pre-adults’ Having ‘Casual’ Sex with No Strings Attached? Teenage Sexual Activity and Dutch Criminal Law”, Sexuality & Culture 18:257–278, 2014

Hekma, G, “The Decline of Sexual Radicalism in the Netherlands”. In: Hekma, G, (ed), Past and Present of Radical Sexual Politics, Mosse Foundation, Amsterdam, 2004

Schuijer, J. “The Netherlands changes its age of consent law”, Paidika: The Journal of Paedophilia, 3(1):13-20, 1993

STOP PRESS As I said at the start, the news has gone crazy out there. I could just say go look at Clover News (see Blog Roll) where there is a constant stream of amazing stuff; but I do feel there are items that need a particular mention here, quite a few of which would each be worthy of a separate blog. Having written eight of these news briefs, I find that collectively they come to around 1,500 words. So, not so brief. I think it may be best if I hold them over for a couple of days, while y’all digest today’s blog. They’ll keep a while, I think, before they fossilise from news into history.

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