Michael: no saint, but no Tiberius either

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Michael Jackson has long since joined the immortals, albeit some would spell that without the “t” following the revelations last month in the epic four-hour, two-part documentary Leaving Neverland, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. The film revives claims that the superstar had sexual friendships with young boys, scandal that first burst into the public arena way back in 1993-4 and surfaced again in 2003-5, culminating in Jackson’s acquittal at the end of a four-month trial.

The film has interviews with two of those boys, now long into their adult lives. One of them, Wade Robson, testified in Jackson’s defence at his trial, but now tells a very different story. In the course of researching my book Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons (2010), I came to the view that Robson almost certainly had sexual contact with Jackson but decided to shield the star from a criminal conviction. I thought he had been willingly involved in the sexual contact at the time. What we are told we are going to see in this new film, though – when it goes to TV, which is scheduled for early March through Channel 4 and HBO – is harrowing testimony of manipulation and emotional exploitation that has left both men traumatised.

Jimmy Safechuck, with Michael

The parents of the other boy, James Safechuck, were said to have received “hush money” to keep the family sweet and head off their cooperation with any prosecution. James, known as Jimmy back in the day, was called to give evidence to a grand jury investigation into complaints against Jackson in 1994 but he gave nothing away at that time nor in 2005.

At the time of filming, Robson was 36 and Safechuck 40.  Robson is a dancer and choreographer, Safechuck a computer programmer. Both men are married with children.

These new stories of lasting hurt and trauma leave me deeply sceptical. The current climate all but guarantees that encounters which were welcome at the time, and even part of a loving relationship, are later re-imagined in memory to fit in with the prevailing abuse narrative of our times.

And what a narrative in this case! The horror hype was at work as soon as bums were on seats for the first showing. A Huffington Post report tells us the festival director gave a trigger warning, telling viewers that mental health counsellors were on hand to cope with all the anticipated fainting and freaking out, the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Nor did the audience fail to deliver. They were reportedly left “shellshocked” by the “harrowing” accounts of the two accusers, such that this “searing” documentary “cast a sombre shadow” at the festival.

This is the sort of coverage you will have seen all over the news. What you have probably missed, though, is “the small print” deliberately obscured or left out entirely by most the mainstream media, including important papers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian, as well as the big broadcasting networks. By far the most significant snippet of this down-page material that I have managed to uncover was to be found in a paper whose circulation area includes Hollywood: the Los Angeles Times. Understandably, they talked to Dan Reed, the British director of Leaving Neverland, who also made the Bafta-winning The Paedophile Hunter (2014), about vigilante Stinson Hunter. My guess is that interviewer Amy Kaufman got more than she bargained for when she asked a rather bland question: Why make this a four-hour docuseries?

Reed replied along the lines that it was an extremely complex story. It took time to unravel the psychology behind the kids saying they had not been abused and then changing their minds much later. Then he dropped a bombshell:

The central thing you have to understand is that these children fell in love with Michael Jackson. Jackson wasn’t a kind of grab-and-grope pedophile — he was a romance, relationship pedophile. Wade started telling me how he had fallen in love with Jackson and how that love lasted for years — decades — and how that love motivated his loyalty to Jackson. And how that loyalty ended up requiring him to lie about what happened.

[[[   ADDED FRIDAY 8 FEBRUARY: There is something else Dan Reed said that is arguably even more stunning, and which I meant to include but somehow omitted to do so. He made it plain he thought these very young boys had not just loved Jackson emotionally. They had been enthusiastic over every aspect of the relationship including the sexual side. Reed said:

“When Wade told me that he loved Michael, then everything suddenly crystallized and made sense. This is difficult to say, but he had a fulfilling sexual and emotional relationship at the age of 7 with a 30-year-old man who happened to be the King of Pop. And because he enjoyed it, he loved Michael, and the sex was pleasant. I’m sorry, that’s just the reality.”   ]]]

By Reed’s admission, it took a very long film to persuasively turn a love story into the standard abuse narrative. As a powerful antidote to this exercise in laboured revisionism, I recommend a 30-minute video, Michael Jackson And Wade Robson: The Real Story, which I understand is supported by the extended Jackson family. The family’s denial of Jackson’s emotional and sexual interest in young boys has never been credible to me, but many strong factual points are made against the accusers.

The information given about Wade Robson is particularly important because he had been a key defence witness at Jackson’s trial in 2005.

The picture that emerges very clearly in this YouTube video is that in 2011-12 Robson’s career in entertainment was not going as well as he had hoped. He was talented and successful, but also had extremely high and perhaps unrealistic expectations. He took on ambitious projects that were too much for him.

After failing in one such project in 2011 he went into therapy. Same thing in 2012: different project, different therapist. Significantly, neither this new therapist nor the first were consulted in relation to sexual abuse. His new therapist, a Dr Larry Shaw, is a specialist in dealing with high pressure jobs.

High-level success and perfectionism had been demanded of Robson ever since his early childhood by his mother. The pressure and expectations had become all too much for him after a couple of career stumbles.

It was in 2012, three weeks into therapy, that Robson first came up with his allegations of abuse. He was not claiming recovered memory. He said he knew all along known what had happened with Jackson but did not realise it was abusive.

I maintain, as does The Real Story, that this must be nonsense. As a sophisticated adult Robson cannot have failed to be aware that the conduct in question was illegal and would be widely regarded as abuse. The unavoidable conclusion, in my view, is that regardless of the law and public opinion, he did not feel Jackson had abused him. Yes, there was sexual activity; but, no, he was not abused.

However, now that Jackson was no longer alive, and Robson was struggling in his career, he decided he had been abused after all. Either the experience was genuinely re-imagined as abusive or it was a conscious ploy to re-invent and re-finance himself. The facts suggest the latter possibilities, as will be seen below.

Robson sued the Jackson Estate.

The Jackson estate managed to get hold of a note Robson had written to himself about a book proposal he was working on. The book was to be a memoir in which would talk about his “abuse”. This note was presented as part of the 2016 depositions for the civil case. He had written:

“My story of abuse and its effects will make me relatable/relevant” he wrote.

He would suddenly be transformed from a failure to a victim.

He began to claim he could not work because dancing and other entertainment were too strongly associated with sexual abuse. This was what he claimed in court documents. In fact, though, he continued dancing, etc.

But in Sept 2017, with his lawsuit heading for failure, he proclaimed himself “healed” from the bad association regarding entertainment activities and announced his return to show business.

So, he was traumatised when it looked as though there was money in it that would bail him out when his career nosedived. Then, straight after that prospect vanished with the failure of his lawsuit, hey presto, he was no longer traumatised.

Go figure!

We may suppose that as a relatively humble computer programmer, Safechuck, too, would not have been averse to the lure of potentially huge financial gain from a successful lawsuit. As noted above, the family had accepted what were apparently outright bribes in the past: a Rolls Royce was just one of the lavish presents Jackson gave them; and Jimmy’s father, a dustman, mysteriously became a millionaire following his association with Jackson.

So we need not be surprised that, like Robson, Safechuck also filed suit. Neither man’s case has been successful.

But sorting out the motives Michael’s old flames had for suing Jackson’s Estate, and companies, and making Leaving Neverland, does not explain the film’s emotional impact. A big part of it was what we might call the yuk factor. Plenty of gay guys experience revulsion to the point of nausea at the thought of having sex with a women; and of course it is not so long ago that straight people’s utter disgust at the idea of men having sex with each other was used as an argument against normalising such behaviour.

That’s how it is now with child-adult sex. One reason for Leaving Neverland’s great length is that it dwells long and loathingly on the graphic intimate details of the love life disclosed by these two guys.

Robson met Jackson through a dance competition at age five, and said the sexual abuse began when he was seven. Safechuck was cast in a Pepsi commercial starring Jackson at age ten, and the alleged abuse began after months of close friendship.

Safechuck’s description of his experiences at Jackson’s fabled Neverland mansion is particularly atmospheric. Little Jimmy began to stay the night in Michael’s bed. The star told him he’d performed oral sex on him while he was asleep. Michael introduced him to masturbation. Things quickly escalated. They had sex all over the Neverland Ranch – including inside the castle, pool, attic and train station. “Neverland was a giant bed”, as one report put it. Virtually every structure on the grounds had hideaways with beds or privacy nooks for sex. Oral sex games were played in the pool and jacuzzi.

We learn from one report that as the photos of each location ticked by, “disgusted groans in the Sundance theatre grew louder”.

But what did little Jimmy, now big James, have to say about this? He said:

“It happened every day. It sounds sick, but when you’re first dating somebody, you do a lot of it,” he said.

Quite so. Lovers get carried away in a passionate relationship. There is no shying away here from Jimmy’s own active participation: there was mutual engagement. No amount of disgusted groaning in the cinema can negate that.

There is no evidence that Jackson ever coerced or forced boys into sex. He clearly wanted their willing participation. Does this mean he was entirely an ethical boy lover? No, it does not. As I was at pains to emphasise in Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons, he was never the saintly figure his adoring fans believe him to be. His carefully wrought image as a figure of child-like innocence was always a mask, a persona. There is no doubt in my mind that some of his behaviour was quite manipulative, especially as regards his Machiavellian manoeuvrings to keep parents onside or neutralise their suspicions and hostility.

Wade Robson, with Michael

Perhaps the strongest charge against him, though, is that of giving some kids the impression they alone were the special one. For any boy destined to grow up gay, especially, any bad-faith declaration of undying love would always run the risk of ending in heartbreak and lasting trauma. Not that he is necessarily guilty of this charge: Robson and Safechuck have both had heterosexual adult lives, after all.

But there is also the question of personal loyalty at the friendship level. In my book I said there was little evidence that any of Jackson’s boys were cynically dumped once they grew beyond Jackson’s age-of-attraction, as has been alleged. However, it now looks as though I may have been too keen to give him the benefit of the doubt. While we do not yet know what Robson and Safechuck say about this in the film, their stories have been in the public domain from documentation filed in their lawsuits, and a number of writers have pored over the entrails.

One of them is long-time Jackson watcher Desiree Hill. In 2010 she blogged with high praise of my book, saying “it’s fantastic…a tome of astute analysis”. I can now return the praise. Her detailed chronicle The Jimmy Safechuck Story is a must-read for anyone who wants a well documented “case for the prosecution” regarding the alleged “dumping” of the particular boy in question. I am not saying her view is necessarily correct but it needs to be taken into account.

A boy lover well versed in the classics wrote to me recently comparing Jackson with the Roman emperor Tiberius, and it is undeniable that Neverland’s numerous custom-designed love-making locations clearly echo the emperor’s arrangements for his retirement fastness on the isle of Capri. As the historian Suetonius wrote in The Twelve Caesars:

On retiring to Capri he devised a pleasance for his secret orgies: teams of wantons of both sexes, selected as experts in deviant intercourse and dubbed analists, copulated before him in triple unions to excite his flagging passions. Its bedrooms were furnished with the most salacious paintings and sculptures, as well as with an erotic library, in case a performer should need an illustration of what was required. Then in Capri’s woods and groves he arranged a number of nooks of venery where boys and girls got up as Pans and nymphs solicited outside bowers and grottoes: people openly called this “the old goat’s garden,” punning on the island’s name.

He acquired a reputation for still grosser depravities that one can hardly bear to tell or be told, let alone believe. For example, he trained little boys (whom he termed tiddlers) to crawl between his thighs when he went swimming and tease him with their licks and nibbles; and unweaned babies he would put to his organ as though to the breast, being by both nature and age rather fond of this form of satisfaction.

It is already beginning to look not too good for Tiberius at this point, wouldn’t you say? But there is more. And it is much worse. Suetonius continues:

The story is also told that once at a sacrifice, attracted by the acolyte’s beauty, he lost control of himself and, hardly waiting for the ceremony to end, rushed him off and debauched him and his brother, the flute-player, too; and subsequently, when they complained of the assault, he had their legs broken.

Now that was an unethical boy-lover. But it was not Michael Jackson!

 

 

 

 

 

God save us from SIN, because…

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Adam Powell, today’s guest blogger, was a co-founder of the Forum for Understanding Minor Attraction (FUMA), which engaged with mental health support services in the UK with a view to improving what was on offer to those of us with “an emotional and erotic attraction to children or adolescents below the age of consent”. FUMA pursued this objective from its founding in 2012 to the abandonment of this aim in 2017, largely over frustrations that former maths teacher Adam writes about here. He has since emigrated to the Netherlands. 

 

… POLITICALLY, WE ARE FAILING TO SAVE OURSELVES

I was acquainted with the UK branch of Stop it Now! (SIN) on and off from 2007 to 2015.

SIN began in the US and was founded by Frances Henry, who has said her father sexually assaulted her for four years, from age 12-16. She took it upon herself to visit men in prisons serving sentences for actual or perceived child sexual abuse. She went in to ask them one question: would they respond to therapy if it were offered? The overwhelming majority said they would. This is what she wanted to hear. It is also what I would expect them to say, having serious personal problems and wanting to get something off their chest; but I do not think that is what Henry had in mind.

SIN has spread its influence across the world to other countries including the UK and the Netherlands. The UK branch denies that minor attracted people exist. According to them, nobody is a paedophile. It is a “media stereotype”. They find the very idea that any adult person could be sexually attracted to a child preposterous in spite of many people telling them that this is the case. They believe a child has nothing to offer an adult. They have said on their website that they agree with Freud’s assertion that a child is a sexual being like anyone else, which would appear to contradict their salient message. It causes them consternation that an adult would have a social interest in children; when this is the case they tend to be judgmental and imagine there is something seriously wrong with that individual even if involves nothing sexual. They tend to see their own beliefs as axiomatic; somehow their own thinking is just “common sense”. It needs no explanation; anyone taking a contrary view must be either stupid or rebellious.

I think we need to look carefully at the context within which the UK branch operates, or did until at least 2015. There are significant differences between the UK and NL branches. SIN UK is a charity that works closely with the Lucy Faithfull Foundation (LFF) which has similar goals. They are being run by much the same people but for accounting purposes have to be treated separately. SIN struggles to raise money from members of the general public because MAPs do not attract much sympathy. Their staff have experienced a lot of flak too. They survive on government grants. Although strictly speaking a charity, SIN UK is a quasi non-governmental organisation. The government is outsourcing its duty of care for minor attracted persons to a charity, when I think the National Health Service should show greater responsibility. Neither SIN or LFF can say anything other than what the government wants to hear, so it is inevitably an abusive organisation reflecting the abusive attitudes of the government and of the wider public. If the staff at SIN were to move to the Netherlands and experience a different ethos they might learn a more compassionate response.

Baroness Lucy Faithfull was a Conservative member of the House of Lords, in which capacity she campaigned for MAPs to receive treatment aimed at a “cure”. This was absurd. Baroness Faithfull should have known that various attempts to “cure” gays had little success and caused enormous psychological damage to those involved. By repeating a broadly similar behaviourist approach but without electric shocks (which were outlawed in the UK in the 1980s) Baroness Faithfull should have been able to foresee that any attempts to “help” people who said that they were minor attracted was likely to have similarly disastrous results.

I think that the Baroness was just as naive as Frances Henry in believing that whatever your problem is, the answer somehow lies in counselling. This is the context within which SIN and child protection “professionals” work. They seem to believe that their moral judgement is enough for them to provide therapeutic services for others. I appreciate that moral judgement is necessary for us to make sense of our lives and to prevent us from harming ourselves and others but moral judgement is always made on the basis of inadequate knowledge.

Here lies the problem with SIN and their fellow travellers. They seldom allow themselves the luxury of accepting that they are frequently wrong, misled and shallow. Things that they see as axiomatic such as “adults are more powerful than children” are not always true. Sometimes a child is more powerful than an adult, within their own orbit. SIN UK is part of a wider movement that wants to see the complex questions about nature and the universe reduced to a few simple axioms, because they imagine this will make the world a happier place. They cannot have what they want so they tend to direct their anger at their clients.

They also have to work closely with the police, probation, child protection agencies, survivors’ groups, the media and mental health professionals, so they have to sing the tune these people want to hear even when it is contradictory. I think people have a better understanding now of the limitations of psychology (which were shown by John De Cecco in an interview with  Joseph Geraci in Paidika (Vol. 1 No.3, Winter 1988), in which he explained that psychology has sold its soul to money. The psychological opinions one gets depend on how much you are willing to pay for them, making the psychological community look very corrupt. One also hears stories about intimidation in British universities of academics who do not say what the government or wider public want to hear. I wonder if an honest psychologist is employable in this country?

I wonder how well SIN understand this? Very controversially they recruited Ray Wyre, who promoted himself as “the national expert on paedophilia”. At the time, Wyre had a background as a probation officer but with no directly relevant qualifications and no peer-reviewed publications to his name. He became the adviser to LFF and SIN. He was not without controversy. As a probation officer he had booked his meetings with sex offenders in groups. He did not ask either higher authority or the offenders themselves for permission to do this. He used this as a stepping stone to introduce sex offenders’ programmes imported from North America devised by Bill Marshall. These programmes are highly abusive mainly because they attempt to re-programme the mind to suit the state, as in the novel A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess (later film version directed by Stanley Kubrick). Inspired by Marshall, Wyre wrote a residential programme lasting nine months which was delivered by LFF/SIN. More seriously, Wyre was pre-occupied by MAPs who committed murder and was seeking to develop an hypothesis linking minor attraction and murder.

Initially, in 1992, they tried to open the Gracewell Clinic in Birmingham. Locally, this caused outrage because as a “progressive step” Wyre wanted to open the clinic next door to a children’s hospital. Even Lucy Faithfull had her doubts. Thankfully, the ghastly idea was shelved but in 1996 the Wolvercote Clinic opened in Epsom, Surrey. This clinic survived for six years and was confronted by local people waving placards saying what they would like to do to the clients and others like them. SIN/LFF were very dismissive of local concerns. They are also similarly dismissive whenever MAPs complain about the hatred and stigma they experience on a daily basis even though they have often witnessed this and know that people have been murdered because it was perceived that they were minor attracted. Their excuse is that whenever a “newspaper” screams extreme hatred about an “evil monster” it is not aimed at say, Adam Powell, but the reality of the media is that they promote hatred against all MAPs. There is an absurdity within British culture. On the one hand British people hold the media in very low regard indeed but then quote media prejudices as being absolute truth.

SIN believe that sex offending is a “learned behaviour” that can be “unlearned”. Such a statement is absurd because all behaviour is learned and no behaviour can be unlearned. For example, to be able to play the piano one first needs to learn how to play the piano and once learned the skill is not forgotten but may benefit from occasional practice. SIN make a practice of making sweeping statements that on examination make no sense such as “minor attraction cannot possibly exist because reciprocity in a relationship is important to me and a child can give nothing back”

When asked to explain their thinking, they attribute sex offending to exposure to violence. So a rapist, for example, probably will have greater exposure to violence than the general public. They then, very dishonestly categorise all sex offenders with the rapist and create an impression that all sex offenders are motivated by violence, which is clearly not the truth, whereas if they looked at sub-categories individually they would get different results.

It is like making the general observation that poverty is the most frequent cause of financial dishonesty and then claiming that a banker who commits fraud is motivated by poverty.  They like asserting that sex offending is not a mental illness and indeed it is not, but minor attraction is listed in DSM-5 as being a mental disorder (albeit not automatically so). This undermines SIN in two ways. First it shows that mental health professionals accept that minor attraction exists (even if the UK government refuses to accept this) and secondly SIN is seriously under-qualified to deal with these matters. When shown this, they become dismissive, seeing the work of psychiatrists more talented than themselves as a work of “American indulgence”.

Their tactic is to manipulate their clients into the belief that the client’s parents and others of significance are to blame for the client’s sex offending. Their reason for this is to preserve their own belief that if a person feels motivated towards adult-child sexual behaviour (even if it is only holding hands) there must be something very badly wrong with that person. Clearly “counselling” does not cause minor attraction to go away and the “therapist” systematically torments the client for admitting that they have these feelings. Their goal is to instil guilt so that the client develops a social phobia to the extent that they cannot travel on buses or trains or go to shops where children are present. According to SIN, this phobia is “empowerment”. According to them, anyone who experiences sexual feelings towards children does so by choice, because the client is not obliged to be wherever the child is. They also become personally abusive at this point, asserting that people choose to be minor attracted because they are low status among their “peer group” (although they cannot define what a peer group is) and then choose to be friendly with children (which then becomes sexualised) because this is “safer for them than seeking to develop relationships with adults”. SIN think that they have an educative role in “teaching” people to have “rewarding relationships” with adults. They seem to imagine that relationships are about “social skills” rather than falling in love, and they seem to think they can teach “social skills” even though they themselves are frequently rude.

SIN UK also view singles as people who are not fully fledged adults. They think that single MAPs should have adult partners; they fail to think through issues such as how the adult partner feels about minor attraction or whether the relationship gives access to children within the partner’s family.  For them, the most important thing in life is about “fitting in” suggesting they would persecute gays if this was necessary to “fit in”.

As they do not believe minor attraction exists, they cannot accept either that people can have paedophilic feelings but not act on them. They completely misunderstand homosexuality too. I remember a member of staff complaining to me that she could not understand what I was talking about when mentioning the combination of gay and celibate. In their imagination, anyone who is gay is homosexually active; so a child cannot be gay because they are “too young for that”. Due to their lack of separation between sexual attraction and sexual activity, they cannot accept that it is possible for a minor attracted person to live a responsible life as an MAP. They think MAPs must erase these emotions. SIN UK admitted that they have had complaints from clients alleging aggravation of existing mental health disorders (but still think there is a higher point of principle at stake). They also have difficulty understanding why a man sexually attracted to boys would describe himself as gay and minor attracted. For them being gay is adult-to-adult only. They don’t bother reading DSM, for example, which explains that homosexuality is sexual attraction between persons of the same sex and that age does not come into it.

Their rejection of minor attraction is partly because of perceived power difference; but power difference exists in all relationships, so objecting to power difference in relationships is opposition to all relationships. SIN become dismissive when this is explained to them and their response is to defend their own marriages as having equality of power. Even if this were true, it might not remain so. What if one partner happened to be in a car crash, was unable to work again and was left  dependant on their spouse for care? Such questions to SIN are dismissed as “unhelpful”. They do not seem to understand that power differences are not a problem when people sincerely love each other.

I have spoken a lot about SIN UK but I think that SIN NL is a good deal better than this. They do for example, accept that some people through no choice or fault of their own or anybody else’s are minor attracted and need to live responsible lives as MAPs and navigate a lot of stigma and ignorance. I remember a staff member of SIN UK becoming angry when I pointed this out and they become personally insulting.

Much of what they say is prefixed with “society says”. They get quite agitated when one points out that until a few years ago society hated gays for being gay and that one should not jump onto a bandwagon just because it has majority support. Their answer is that they don’t equate the two things, but then neither do I. They simply refuse to accept that if they repeat discredited behaviourist techniques that have failed with gays they will fail again, causing untold misery.

For all the controversy, SIN NL appears to be a much more humane organisation than its British equivalent. They work closely with Dr Frans Gieles and with JORis, a Dutch MAP group; JON is its counterpart in a different part of the country. They have shared ideas and materials. I do believe, however, that the only reason MAPs are treated with even a modicum of respect in the Netherlands is thanks to the pioneering work of Edward Brongersma and Frits Bernard. Until recently, MAPs had more political power in the NL than in the UK. Here lies the issue, in my opinion. Minor attraction is a political problem in need of a political solution and unfortunately, I do not think that things will get any better for MAPs without organising politically.

Lording it from the wild margins

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It is with great sadness and bitterness of heart that I find I have yet again been overlooked for a peerage in the New Year’s Honours.

There is some modest consolation to be found, though, in the fact that I was invited to a reception at the House of Lords earlier this month by one of their lordships. It turned out to be a most agreeable occasion, but hobnobbing with a lord or two over champagne and canapés is hardly the same as being a member of the club, is it? As for how I improbably came to be an honoured guest at such an event, discretion, alas, forbids me from saying. There are people I would not wish to embarrass. All I will say is that it was perfectly legit: I was security checked like everyone else; the invitation was made for an entirely respectable reason and there is nothing for  IICSA’s Westminster strand to worry about.

An even better consolation prize was to be dubbed an “edgelord” in the media, which is apparently a term of derision applied to anyone who tries too hard to attract attention by being controversially “edgy”, especially undergraduate rebels. Judging by these examples I found online, I am totally relaxed to find myself awarded membership of this club. Very rejuvenating! I love example number 12: “If there is a god he will have to beg for my forgiveness”. Cool, man! Wish I’d thought of that!

The word itself is fabulous: Edgelord. Lord of the wild margins. Has a romantic ring, don’t you think? Like the Lord of the Isles who ruled the remote coastal islands that edge north western Scotland, or a Time Lord, whose vast domain is an entire dimension.

Anyway, dragging myself prosaically back to a spate of otherwise very unromantically rude articles about my work this month, I am going to stick resolutely to the old Hollywood maxim that there is no such thing as bad publicity. This is not strictly true, of course, as fallen film producer Harvey Weinstein and many other celebs are now all too painfully aware. Nevertheless, we must take our positives where we can, so I will start by noting that in the immediate wake of these articles appearing online, PDF downloads of my recent CHIN piece for Sexuality & Culture shot up by a couple of thousand. Against this background, I feel, there will come a time – maybe in the new year and almost certainly before the end of 2020 – when CHIN begins to attract serious comment and critique in the academic and wider world.

As for the hate-splattered bile that erupted this month, it began with a 2,000-word essay in an otherwise rather sophisticated (albeit with a pro-religious bias, judging by the editorial board membership) American online current affairs and cultural journal called Arc Digital. In an article titled “The Pedophile Apologist”, writer Justin Lee attempted to discredit my philosophical arguments through a number of misleading, inaccurate claims as to the basis of my case. Apparently lacking confidence that this critique would be convincing, he tried to buttress it with heavy reliance on vicious and indeed libellous personal attack – which will certainly have damned his approach in the eyes of any academic philosopher.

Another writer, Rod Dreher, in a piece for The American Conservative, tried to invest Lee with some much needed authority by referring to him as a professor. But he is certainly no professor of philosophy. Rather, Lee has announced himself as “the founder of the world’s largest LGBT Christian advocacy organization”. He is a regular columnist with non-fiction books and novels to his credit and teaches writing skills to undergraduates, through something called the Composition Department at the University of California, Irvine. Nothing wrong with any of that except that his style is neither objectively philosophical nor, indeed, very Christian. Ironically, one of his books is Talking Across the Divide, described by the publisher as “A guide to learning how to communicate with people who have diametrically opposed opinions from you, how to empathize with them, and how to (possibly) change their minds”. Physician, heal thyself!!

I was kindly alerted to the existence of Lee’s article and Dreher’s by blogger Christian, host of Agapeta and long-time Heretic TOC commentator. The news also reached us thanks to Explorer, who mentioned in a comment here that the blog Pro-Pedo Front (PPF) had come to my defence. PPF, which has now been added to Heretic TOC’s blog roll, also turned up as a commentator at HTOC. Replying to PPF, I was able to take up his astute recognition that Lee’s critique did nothing to refute my position. Instead, Lee had merely berated me for failing to consider some supposedly vital aspects of the virtue ethics tradition. The point I made to PPF bears repeating in this more prominent position:

This aspect of Lee’s criticism reminds me of the response made by theologians to the case made for atheism by Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion. They claimed that Dawkins had ignored huge swathes of theology, entirely missing the point that Dawkins’ arguments had rendered such theology redundant. It would be equally ridiculous for astrologers to “refute” the findings of modern astronomy by saying they contradict the elaborate theories in their dusty old pre-scientific books and charts.

But Dreher is probably a far more influential figure than Lee: The American Conservative has clout and Dreher is one of its star writers. His article about my work, though, titled “Making Pedophilia Respectable”, is largely just a lazy crib of Lee’s essay, citing from it extensively. His more distinctive contribution comes only at the end, when he hits a purple patch of scaremongering:

The normalization of pedophilia is coming. The destructuring of human relations under the guise of liberating desire is the goal of these people, whether they realize it or not. Without God, or some other binding source of sacred order, there is only nihilism. If you will not have God, prepare to make room for Tom O’Carroll and his celebration of diversity.

Can he really be so worried? Does he really believe the normalisation of paedophilia is already on its way? Seems hard to believe from where we stand, doesn’t it? We see only oppression, with no obvious road towards acceptance. But two of Dreher’s readers take the argument much further, in observations that draw on the debate over trans kids. These are presented by the author as “updates”; thus they are accorded an official status and are distinct from the hundreds of “below the line” comments that follow:

UPDATE: Reader kgasmart comments:

The normalization of pedophilia is coming.

I agree, but when it does it will come under the ruse of “marginalized communities” because really, who’s more marginalized than a pedophile?

The concept of “consent” will be the biggest hurdle to get over. The left has fetishized consent; so long as consent is involved, any and all sexual practices are permitted – indeed, to be celebrated! But who can give consent?

How is it the LGBT left holds that pre-teens can consent to, say, taking hormones or binding their breasts, or whatever measures precede transition surgery – but those pre-teens can’t consent to sex? How can they consent to one but not the other; how can they have full agency regarding the first – but not the second?

That’s the slippery slope we’ll slide down here.

UPDATE.2: Reader Xenie:

Lee lays out perfectly why “consent” ethics will be inadequate to stop this: children are already given medical treatments, personal hygiene care, etc, that they cannot consent to. Either the powers that be will reverse engineer things to claim they can give consent after all (as is happening with the transing of very young children) or they will shrug consent off as not always mattering so much, or for certain important things. If consent is all you’ve got, then, it’s game over either way, and evil wins the day.

I cannot overstate just how much the rhetoric of the transgender movement is working to soften society up for this horrific pedo revolution to come. If you can believe, as many well-meaning liberals now do, that a 4 year old boy can meaningfully declare himself a girl and “consent” to a name change, social status change, and then, at age 12 or so, the first medical interventions to transform him into a “real girl,” then how will they defend themselves against the idea that he could also “consent” to a “mentoring” relationship of a sexual nature with some “caring” adult?

Never mind that these readers are hostile to us, there are profound insights here, it seems to me. What do you think? I would be interested to hear what other heretics make of these thoughts.

Lee’s and Dreher’s articles were quickly followed by another in the Christian Post, which was then reprinted in the British-circulated Christian Today. Any heretics who bother to check all these out will see that they include some ghastly allegations against me. Some of you, indeed, will be disappointed that I have not shown more anger over this in today’s blog. But that is not my way. All too often, I have found, those activists who burst into flames of outrage under attack tend to burn themselves out quite quickly: they don’t last long.

That does not mean we should always ignore libellous attacks. We should do what we can to defend ourselves when it is practical to do so. For instance, one serious allegation against me in these latest articles has been sourced to a news story from years ago in the Irish Times. The story is false but it was only many years after its publication that I first heard about it, when it was put on Wikipedia (WP) as one of several sources used to justify repeating the allegation in the biographical page about me. A number of newspapers, including the Irish Times, had published stories put out by the Press Association in the UK that appeared to rely on incorrect information that had found its way into a police press release. The BBC carried a similar report.

I decided this was intolerable. Whereas old news reports are quickly forgotten, what is said on WP is permanently on high-profile display. It is the first source everyone turns to when they “look up” people who are in the news. So I complained to WP. After several months of detailed, documented explanation on my part as to the unsoundness of the allegations my complaint was upheld. The offending allegations were duly withdrawn from the WP page in question – not something WP ever does lightly, as those who have put themselves through the mill of their labyrinthine, intensely bureaucratic complaints procedures will know.

However, I was advised by one of the senior figures at WP that the only way to resolve the problem permanently would be for me to get the BBC and others to remove their old web pages in which the offending story was mentioned. I always knew this would be a gargantuan task. The Press Association story would have been published all over Great Britain and Ireland and perhaps even beyond. But my first target had to be the BBC. As a prestigious national broadcaster, this organisation’s reports tend to be believed. So if I could get them to remove their story other editors and web archivists would be inclined to accept that my case must have merit.

Accordingly, I launched a complaint against the BBC some months ago. This complaint was rejected at the first and second times of asking. But I persisted, and it finally landed on the desk of Andrew Bell, the Complaints Director. When he too professed himself unwilling to remove the report from the BBC’s website I sent a letter shortly before Christmas threatening to take legal action.

That is where the matter stands. There has been no reply so far from the BBC’s Legal Department. In the event that I do not receive a satisfactory response within the first week of January I will be consulting one of the country’s leading firms of libel lawyers with a view to bringing a court action.

So, rest assured, I am not taking all this lying down. It is impossible to tilt at every windmill. The libel laws are so lax in the US that it might not make sense to pursue Lee and the rest into the courts just yet, but a successful case against the BBC might change that. We’ll see. Watch this space. But don’t hold your breath as these things can take years, so don’t expect to hear any more for a long time. Just wish me luck!

 

Pantomime villain for a Whitehall farce

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Not since the glory days of Whitehall farce has there been such a long-running theatrical success in London for unsophisticated comedy as we have been getting lately from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

The  plays famously staged by actor-manager Brian Rix half a century ago had them rolling in the aisles with comedy based on the embarrassment of silly characters being caught with their pants down in compromising situations. Much like that, IICSA was been caught playing a very silly game of musical chairpersons, in which a chair was snatched from under the bottoms of three successive lady judges, leaving them humiliatingly dumped on their judicial posteriors and out of the proceedings. Oh, how we laughed! See Heretic TOC’s “review” of the “show”: “The chair is dead, long live the chair!”

And then there was the barrister who dropped his briefs. Allegedly. The QC appointed as counsel to the inquiry suddenly found himself suspended from his job after being accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a lift – not very elevating! He was later cleared in a separate inquiry of any wrongdoing but then – what a rib-tickler this was – yet another inquiry decided the earlier inquiry had failed to inquire sufficiently, or in the right way.

The big difference between those original Whitehall farces and IICSA’s comedy of errors, of course, is that the latter laughs are an entirely unintended aspect of what are supposed to be deeply serious proceedings.

But the worlds of London theatre in the 1950s and the public inquiry theatricals now in progress have another major feature in common apart from the laughs. Those Brian Rix plays were performed at the Whitehall Theatre, close to the old Palace of Whitehall and hence right at the heart of the UK’s government and political complex, as summed up in the words “Whitehall” and “Westminster” – parliament being housed, of course, in the nearby Palace of Westminster.

Which is where the pantomime villain of my headline makes his timely entry, just as the panto season is coming up. And who should that villain be but – wait for it – ME!

Boo! Hiss!

Let me explain. Among the dozen or so separate strands of investigation on IICSA’s packed agenda is the Westminster one, which is probing “child sexual abuse” (CSA) and exploitation “involving people of public prominence associated with Westminster”. This strand will look into “evidence of conspiracy, cover-up, interference or tolerance” of CSA  committed by Westminster V.I.P.s, and whether “governmental, political and law enforcement institutions were aware of and took appropriate  steps; and whether there are adequate safeguarding and child protection policies in place within political parties, government departments and agencies”.

About a month ago I received an official communication from IICSA’s chief solicitor requesting me to submit evidence to the inquiry specifically in relation to this Westminster strand. Why? To respond to utterly farcical, laughably ridiculous conspiracy theory allegations to the effect that back in the day, in the 1970s and 80s, the government was being run by a secret paedophile elite with links to the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), an organisation I led for a number of years.

Boo! Hiss!

Blimey, I thought, in my old-fashioned way, you’re  ’avin’ a laugh, gov, ain’t ya? What’s a small-time villain like me, an ’umble felon just like Fagin, hanging about with his little gang of boy pick-pockets,  gonna be doin’ a-mingling with proper gentlemen like that? We might nick their fancy silk handkerchiefs, if we’re lucky, but that’s as close as it gets.

But public inquiries do not Have A Laugh. Distinctly challenged in the sense of humour department, they tend to be In Deadly Earnest. So when IICSA solicitor Martin Smith posted me a list of 10 specific questions about PIE’s alleged Westminster connections, I knew it was not to be taken lightly.

I could have ignored the letter. It was only a request for a response, after all, not a command. There was no suggestion – not at this stage at least – that I might be subpoenaed to appear in person and interrogated under oath. Nor was I in any sort of trouble, having been jailed long ago for my supposed misdeeds: this time they had bigger fish to fry, or so the conspiracy theorists wildly imagined.

Anyway, I decided there would be no harm in addressing these questions soberly and seriously, just as IISCA must have hoped. At the same time, though, I decided, this was a fantastic opportunity to give the inquiry a piece of my mind. So, after a lot of hard work in recent weeks, some of it spent digging out old PIE documents and going through them, a few days ago I submitted 10,000 words of evidence. Roughly the first third was taken up with answering Mr Smith’s questions. The rest ranged more widely, attacking the absurdity of the conspiracy theorists’ wider allegations, especially as regards PIE, the insanity of the “believe the victims” dogma, the deranged narcissism of extremists within the victim lobby, the rising tide of toxic victim feminism over several decades and the appalling waste of time and money going into IICSA’s utterly bogus, vulgar, populist activities.

Have I missed anything? Probably, but you get the drift.

The key questions on PIE were on whether we had members who were MPs, lords, or other “persons of public prominence” associated with Westminster, and on whether the organisation ever received government funding.

My answers are very full and forthcoming. Names are named! Secrets are revealed! But if you think I am going to blurt it all out here and now you can think again. I shan’t do that because I feel it is more important here to focus not on the questions the inquiry were asking but on the ones they are desperate to avoid. Not to worry, though, because I have posted my entire evidence here. Enjoy!

So, what is IICSA trying to avoid? Essentially, yet more embarrassment. Or, rather, embarrassment of a selective kind. The inquiry is perfectly happy to expose past institutional shortcomings. That is at the heart of its declared purpose, and fulfilling that purpose is bound to embarrass those who were in charge at the time.

That’s the good embarrassment, if you will, but there is also a bad sort: IICSA doesn’t want to see itself become nothing more than a laughing stock; nor does it want to dwell on police chiefs, politicians and others who have become an embarrassment to its own aims lately – people who have made fools of themselves or worse either by taking the “believe the victims” credo too far, or by generating baseless conspiracy theories that have come unstuck.

For instance, IICSA has decided not to talk about the collapse of Operation Midland, set up by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in 2014 to investigate lurid and very far-fetched allegations of sexual assault, brutality and murder by paedophiles in high places. The operation was closed in 2016 when it was eventually concluded that the star witness, a supposed victim named publicly only as “Nick”, was just a fantasist who had led the police up the garden path.

One good reason for IICSA to avoid this issue at the moment is that it is presently before the courts: “Nick” has been charged with perverting the course of justice and is due to stand trial in March. But the inquiry could easily wait until after the trial. In its preliminary hearing on the Westminster strand IICSA gave other reasons, too, the decisive one being “that possible failings in these police investigations are remote from the central purpose of this inquiry”.

To me this sounds like an excuse. It enables IICSA to dodge the key issue – very much central to its inquiries – of the basis on which you decide that “victims” really are victims. At once time, and quite properly, accused persons were deemed innocent until proven guilty in court, and those making allegations of a crime against themselves were called “complainants” not “victims”, right up until the court verdict. This presumption of innocence was grievously undermined when the MPS proclaimed in a joint report with the NSPCC that those who had made complaints against the late TV star Jimmy Savile should be called victims rather than complainants even though no case had ever been brought to trial and Savile was no longer around to defend himself.

This “believe the victim” tendency reached it apogee when Supt Kenny McDonald, the head of Operation Midland, said the police believed the accuser “Nick” and declared that his claims were “credible and true”. They were neither. Anyone with an ounce of common sense could have seen that the claims were ridiculous. While it would have been wrong simply to laugh “Nick” out of the police station when he first made his complaint – some investigation was in order – the unforgiveable folly was to put dogma above evidence by declaring the claims to be true when that could only properly have been a matter for a court to decide.

It may also be significant – in terms of IICSA avoiding embarrassment – that missing from the 10 questions put to me by the inquiry was anything about the fanciful allegations trumpeted by tabloid journalist Don Hale, although these claims had been mentioned in the preliminary hearings.

Sunday Times journalist James Gillespie asked me about Hale’s claims in an interview I gave him by email in 2015. He wrote:

The journalist Don Hale, who claims [1970s politician] Barbara Castle gave him a “dossier” alleging a number of politicians were active supporters of PIE, says [former prime minister] Ted Heath regularly attended meetings. He also says that the late Tory MP Rhodes Boyson would distribute [PIE’s] Magpie magazine and organise speakers in support of PIE. Further, he claims that PIE had an office in Westminster staffed by two people. Is any of this true?

Most of it was so ridiculous that, as I replied to Gillespie, it hardly seemed to require any rebuttal from me. I added that “I will do my best to spell out why these claims are such nonsense, although the conspiracy addicts cannot be expected to listen.”

The only half-true bit is that my successor as chair of PIE, Steve Smith (now Freeman) did indeed have an office in Westminster, in the basement of the Home Office no less, where he worked with another PIE member! But it was most definitely the government’s office, not PIE’s, and the PIE members were not PIE staff: they were paid to do work there for the government. Yes, it sounds odd and so it was. Some heretics may recall that I blogged about it.

As regards the preposterous claim that Edward Heath, Conservative prime minister in the early 1970s, had attended PIE meetings, it ignored the fact that our leanings and contacts were clearly on the Left of British politics, far away from Ted’s Tories on the Right. The same flaw in Hale’s claims applies to an even greater extent in the case of Rhodes Boyson, who was a hard-liner on the Right of his party, a former headmaster who had been very keen on stern discipline and favoured caning as a punishment. In PIE we were utterly against that, as shown by a magazine we had that was devoted to children’s rights, where we took an explicit stance against such corporal punishment.

The fact that so many of the allegations made by the likes of Don Hale, “Nick” and others have remained unsubstantiated and have rightly been judged fake news, ought to be a massive embarrassment to IICSA. One would think so, given that the inquiry appears to be taking such “news” mighty seriously, rather than exercising healthy scepticism.

By the time the IICSA has digested my extensive witness statement, they may well conclude it would be unwise to call me to give evidence in person at the public hearing scheduled for March (fixture clash here with the trial of “Nick”!) on the Westminster strand precisely because I might give voice to unwelcome scepticism. In comments made here at Heretic TOC a few days ago (27 Nov @ 14:02), I mentioned the possibility of finding myself in “hand-to-hand combat” with Prof. Alexis Jay, who handled the famous inquiry into street grooming in Rotherham. She is now in charge of IICSA as the inquiry’s fourth chair, so we could certainly come face-to-face in the proceedings.

Once the barrister dealing with the Westminster strand, who appears to be Andrew O’Connor QC, has read my evidence, he will be aware that my scepticism extends to the work of Prof. Jay herself. In my submission I noted she had “conducted what became a very high-profile report on Rotherham, concluding that at least 1,400 children were subjected to sexual exploitation there between 1997 and 2013”. She won’t like what I said, including several paragraphs casting doubt on the claim that all of those 1,400 “victims” were really victims. Among them, I said, were those who, far from wanting to be rescued from their “abusers”, saw Prof. Jay’s work as an unwelcome interference with their private lives. Come to think of it, I can’t see anyone at IICSA’s theatre of fantastical abuse nightmares wanting me to turn up and get them “woke”.

Boo! Hiss!

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the Barbican: bums and barbarism

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We don’t expect anything much to happen at 9.30 on a Sunday morning.

It’s a time when usually I would be mooching about with a cup of coffee and looking forward to another coma-inducingly complex Brexit analysis on the Andrew Marr Show, where we are no longer, it seems, stuck on the “backstop” (that’s the ordinary backstop), or even the “backstop to the backstop”. We have made great progress. We have moved on, so that instead of failing to come to any agreement on backstops we are now hopelessly mired on the “transition”, and even the “transition from the transition” – and no, for those of you who haven’t been following closely, I am not talking about trans persons or any aspect of sex or sexuality.

But I soon will be, as you will be relieved to hear.

So. Sunday. No comforting coffee or mystifying Marr. Just an empty platform in a quiet London Tube station as I make my way to the start of a conference. With only the sound of my own footsteps for company I make my lonely way to the exit. As I turn a corner onto a staircase I see my first humans. A couple. Or so I think, as the stocky man and slim woman appear to be walking together side by side some distance up ahead of me.

So when he gives her a firm spank on the backside I guess it must be a relationship thing. You know, playful. Pert enough posterior, I must admit, barely covered by hot-pants of a provocative shortness I haven’t seen for decades in my own sartorially challenged thigh of the woods. The young lady was about 30. Had she been only 20 years younger I would certainly have envied her “boyfriend” or “partner”.

Expecting some lively banter between the two, I was quickly disillusioned. Without a word, and without looking back or in any way acknowledging the man, she quickened her pace up the steps. As the distance between spanker and spankee grew it became apparent he was drunk, lurching from side to side. I gave him a wide berth as I overtook. Not that I thought he would spank my elderly male backside (no hot pants there, I assure you!) but I didn’t want any sort of confrontation.

That same morning, though, I found myself voluntarily confronting about a hundred people over this incident when I raised it as a question in a conference session at the Barbican Centre titled “Consent classes: from school to parliament and beyond”. By the time I spoke, several of the feminist platform speakers had come on strong in various ways (no surprise), suggesting that teaching strict rules for consent to schoolchildren or students is vital but not enough; basically, the consensus was little short of “All men should be castrated”.

In this atmosphere, I confess, I didn’t have the balls to suggest that even young children can consent – I might not have kept them for long had I tried! In any case, I was curious to sound out opinion on the Tube station spanker.

“A funny thing happened on my way to the conference,” I began. Well, not really: to me it had been “funny peculiar” but no way did I want anyone to think I meant “funny ha-ha”. I was also acutely aware that many women complain of sexual harassment such as uninvited spanking on an almost daily basis. So I took pains to emphasise that in all my many years I had never before actually witnessed such an incident in front of my very eyes.

“What should I have done?” I asked. “Should I have intervened in any way?”

It was pleasant, I have to say, to find myself in a good-guy role for once, the role of the Concerned Bystander. OK, so I hadn’t actually done anything good. A proper “English gentleman” might have taken the scoundrel by the scruff of the neck and given him a damn good thrashing, but that would have been far too aggressively masculine to win the approval of this conference session.

No, just thinking vaguely the right thoughts in an ineffectual way was apparently good enough for this surprisingly easy-to-please audience. One of the sterner panel speakers, law professor Susan Edwards, author of Sex and Gender in the Legal Process, seemed to think it was important that my consciousness had been raised. Alisha Lobo, a university students’ “community officer”, said she would have intervened herself, but only to go and ask the woman if she was alright. As a man, though, could I have done this without raising worries about my ulterior motives?

A guy in the audience pointed out that everyone, including the perpetrator, knows that spanking a complete stranger in a Tube station is bad behaviour. Consent classes would make no difference.

The best answer came from panellist Joanna Williams, author of Women vs Feminism and associate editor of Spiked. Instead of getting all worked up over “someone touching someone’s bum on a Sunday morning at Barbican Tube station”, she said, women should be celebrating their freedom, gained not so long ago, to go out in the world as independent people. The present emphasis on victimhood through “harassment”, “micro-aggressions” and the like, risked sacrificing spontaneity, freedom and intimacy. The Tube spanker’s behaviour was definitely unpleasant but the cost of trying to eliminate such incidents through ever greater vigilance and sex-negativity was far too high.

I am happy to say she got a very vigorous round of applause.

The conference was the excellent annual Battle of Ideas chat-fest on topical controversies, from #MeToo to Brexit to climate change, organised by the Institute of Ideas, whose director, Claire Fox, will be known to many heretics as a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze. Those with an elephantine memory will recall that I wrote about this gathering a couple of years ago in “Are we (or they) driving kids crazy?

With Steve Freeman, my successor as chair of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), barbarically incarcerated on an indeterminate sentence of “imprisonment for public protection” (IPP) for the last seven years for child porn offences , I thought I should also attend the session on the policy of offender rehabilitation in prison, and whether it works.

Much of the session was focused, reasonably enough, on the lack of funding for getting offenders back on their feet when they leave the prison gate. Instead of getting the help they need they are left to wallow in unresolved problems, especially as regards drugs and alcohol, and a lack of skills that would enable them to gain and hold down a job. As a result, they soon find themselves back inside after re-offending: it is known as the revolving door syndrome.

I would have preferred a session given over entirely to the horror-story that the IPP system has become. The idea was supposed to be that “dangerous” prisoners, including sex offenders,  should only be released when they are no longer considered dangerous. In theory this need take only as long as necessary to successfully complete a treatment programme aimed at rehabilitation – which might mean a matter of months rather than years. In practice, staffing and other difficulties have meant that the required courses have often been long delayed, and the Parole Board has been reluctant to release anyone labelled “dangerous” for fear of the media shit-storm that would ensue in the event of any further offending.

Also, there has been a huge problem for heretics. In order to “pass” the Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP) the offender has needed to convince the assessors running the courses that he (it’s usually a male) has changed his beliefs and no longer has an “offence supporting attitude” or a so-called “cognitive distortion” that makes him think consensual sex with minors is OK. A lot of us would struggle with this test, wouldn’t we?

Then, last year, came the shock news (no surprise to me but it was to the authorities) that the SOTP doesn’t actually work, and that those who have successfully completed the courses re-offend at a higher rate than those who do not! Logically, then, if you cannot “cure” offenders who are too “dangerous” to release, they must remain locked up.

So it’s a nightmare scenario for the remaining IPP prisoners, who find themselves stuck in a legal limbo that neither the parole authorities nor the politicians dare tackle. It has become a gulag system, much like the endless “civil commitment” faced by many sex offenders in the U.S. i.e. continuing detention behind bars long after their sentence has ended, waiting for a “cure” that does not exist. Note that the IPP is officially a life sentence, although the offence leading to it can be relatively minor, with a minimum term (sometimes called the “tariff”) that might be under a year. In Steve’s case it was two and a half years and he has so far served seven.

Nobody at the Barbican even mentioned sex offenders until I raised the subject.

Wouldn’t it be a far better use of resources, I asked, now that the SOTP is known to be useless, to spend the money instead on practical post-release help, making sure ex-offenders have somewhere to live and so forth? Whether the remaining IPP prisoners should in justice be released immediately, after completing their tariff, was a follow-up question I had in mind, albeit the session was too short to take it.

The panel included Jerry Petherick, previously a prison governor responsible for HMP Dartmoor and now the director in charge of all the G4S prisons in the UK, including HMP Rye Hill, where all the inmates are sex offenders. To my surprise, this guy from the hard-nosed capitalist business of making money out of locking people up came across as surprisingly pleasant and well-meaning, notwithstanding the terrible mess his company has made of riot-stricken HMP Birmingham, now taken back into state control.

And judging by the answer he gave me he is pleasant and well-meaning but with little to offer but waffle and bureaucratic bullshit. He spoke of the “demise” of the SOTP, saying it had caused “real uncertainty as to how and how effectively it will be replaced”. How indeed. He didn’t get much further.

In the chair was Pamela Dow, a former director of strategy with the Ministry of Justice. She claimed the SOTP had worked well in its early phase when it was in the hands of experienced clinical psychologists, but when it was rolled out over the whole prison estate it was not given enough funding and was delivered by poorly trained staff.

I totally believe her. But again unanswered was the question of what comes next?

Nobody mentioned the new Kaizen programme, perhaps because there is some embarrassment over this fancy-sounding rebranding of the SOTP, re-launched with a few untested tweaks. This is designed to be a more “holistic” (great buzzword!) course for supposedly high risk offenders such as Steve,  incorporating “biological, social and psychological factors”, whatever that means. There is also the Horizon programme for lower risk offenders. As a blog associated with the journal Sexual Abuse pointed out, these courses may be evidence-informed but they are not evidence-based. Citing forensic psychologist Ruth Mann, the bloggers suspect that we can see “the evil twin of evidence-based policy-making” at work in this case, namely “policy-based evidence-making”.

But there may be some faint hope for better policy. The holistic approach (soothingly served up to me by Mr Pecksniff, sorry Petherick, when I button-holed him at the end of the session) could actually have something going for it. In the damning academic evaluation of the SOTP, one of the possible reasons given for the programme’s failure was its one-size-fits-all nature, with violent young rapists considered just the same as gentle and often elderly kind inmates.

I could have told them this. In fact I did, in an article published in the house journal of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) a few years ago. Maybe someone has noticed at last. My main point was that heretics like us do not take kindly (pun intended!) to having it dinned into us that we must have “cognitive distortions” and lack empathy. Either of these failings could be a factor (as one would expect when children are manipulated or coercively molested) but it ain’t necessarily so. And if it ain’t so we won’t buy it. We will instead either be in open revolt against the objectives of the course or seethe in quiet resentment. Either way, the programme will fail.

Far better, I said, would be to have programmes that respect the individuality of the inmates concerned, giving participants the opportunity to discuss their beliefs freely, and any evidence they know of that supports them. Resistance to the prescribed ideology should not on its own be taken to indicate that an inmate is still dangerous when a fair and intelligent evaluation of their expressed views would suggest the opposite.

Steve could pass that course, and rightly so.

As the U.S. fights over judging a judge…

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With the United States tearing itself apart over sexual allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s pick for a vacant place as one of the Supreme Court justices, today’s guest blogger, veteran NAMBLA activist Peter Herman, gives us his take on dramatic Senate Judiciary Committee public hearings in which the stakes are huge. The outcome will potentially tilt the balance on the court in a way that could have massive implications for the future of gender relations and sexual mores in America – and even the wider western world – for a generation or more. Peter watched at length the testimony given by Kavanaugh’s main accuser, psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, and the embattled judge’s self-defence.

 

WHEN THE CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST

“What goes around comes around.” Those are words that Brett Kavanaugh used in anger as he lashed out at some of his questioners during Senate confirmation hearings. Though he meant these words in a different context, they have further significance, which I will come to.

As of this writing, no one knows whether the candidate for one of the highest judicial posts in the United States will get a pass. In either case, it will be bad for him. As with Justice Clarence Thomas, who was also accused of sexual misbehaviour, the taint will always remain.

I have strong feelings against Kavanaugh; but as for whether his appointment to the US Supreme Court will be a good thing for the country, I cannot predict. Again, I will come to that.

I watched almost all of Ms Ford’s and Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony, and it would seem that almost any reasonable person witnessing both accounts cannot but see that the judge is either lying outright or lying to himself. Most telling was his refusal on several occasions to agree to an FBI investigation where at one point there were several seconds of silence as he could no longer rely on the canned responses he had been giving to these requests.

Of course, the FBI has done a lot of underhanded things in the past, especially under the tutelage of Edgar Hoover, but with the glare of responsible news media it is unlikely the agency would prevaricate. It is almost impossible to believe that Kavanaugh did not fear the uncovering of very uncomfortable events in his life.

He could not hide his past heavy drinking, but what he could try to hide was the strong likelihood of his belligerent demeanour while drunk and his inability to remember his behaviour while drunk. People who drink know that there are “mean” drunks and “mellow” drunks. Under the influence of brain-altering chemicals, there is no way of choosing the type of behaviour you will succumb to. Such people most often have no or little memory of their actions while drunk. It is a real life Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde situation.

What is most likely is that Kavanaugh did have some memory of what he did but was so horrified of behaviour he would not otherwise do while sober that he could not face the reality. As an adolescent, he had to deal with a strict Catholic environment and parents who had high ideals for him. This may be why as a jurist he has employed a large number of women all of whom report exceptional kindness on his part. It may be that he is like those Calvinists who, faced with a predetermined choice by the God they believe in, lead virtuous lives to prove to themselves that they are indeed the ones whom God has determined to save.

This is why I earlier said I could not predict whether, in my own view, Kavanaugh would be good for the country. Like the composer of Amazing Grace, a sinner can, when facing his own terrible sins, make amends. Kavanaugh, in his testimony, said very partisan things that would show him not to be the impartial and measured jurist needed for the highest court in the land; but that could have been a desperate move to save himself from the precipice of shame. Though no one can predict what kind of Justice he would be, I personally would not take a chance with him.

There is great irony in the predicament that Kavanaugh finds himself in. For decades now, lawmakers at all levels have whipped the flames of hysteria regarding sexual behaviour, and judges have obliged by imposing outrageous sentences. As awful as Kavanaugh’s alleged act against Ms Ford was when both were teenagers, a more understanding culture would have provided a way for the perpetrator to apologise, somehow make amends and not be labelled for life. This did not happen then, and it is surely not happening now. How long will it be until sufficient chickens come home to roost?

There is a further irony, at least for those who love boys and are persecuted for it, in that we may side in this case with the “Me Too” movement. Too many women who have been truly abused have erroneously projected their hurt onto those truly loving and consensual relations between men and boys. The answer to those who are therefore hostile to undifferentiated feminism is that we, male and female, boys and girls, men and women are one species and often subject to irrational conclusions.

Anger, confusion, shattered lives… and love

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Footage of a disgraced teacher’s banishment to a bleak, cramped, lonely existence in an isolated caravan in the middle of nowhere after an offence of downloading “child sexual abuse images” provided a 90-minute Channel 4 TV documentary this week with the perfect visual symbol.

Alex, a teacher for 15 years and father of two young adult daughters, found himself exiled from a six-bedroom, well-appointed family home in the face of his wife Kate’s anger, bloodcurdling online abuse and frosty hostility from the neighbours in their respectable suburban location.

It is with these neighbours that Married to a Paedophile begins. Or rather their houses. We see Kate braving an outing to her front garden to give the film makers a quick briefing on what had become mainly enemy territory. Pointing to the house opposite, she said the lady there had been “lovely” to her since the news of Alex’s downfall. The other houses were a different story: This one: nasty. That one: horrible. Over on the right: enemy. Across to the left: enemy.

Then there were the social media messages: “Gotta wonder about the wife. She’s gotta be a whore.” That was just one of the milder ones.

None of this will be at all surprising to my fellow heretics here at Heretic TOC. It is an agonisingly familiar scenario, even if most of us haven’t had a female spouse’s point of view as our starting point. Reading this, the first thought coming to many here may be that Channel 4 did a comparable doc not so long ago called The Paedophile Next Door, from Testimony Films. With the honourable exception of a fine contribution from our own Ed Chambers, it turned out to be a dreadful compendium of shock-horror clichés.

But really there is no comparison. The latest offering is from a different outfit, Brinkworth Films, and is of vastly higher quality in every way: the time and care taken over its production, the presentational style, the absence of clichés, the refusal to be judgemental. It is a work of integrity that enables its participants to express themselves at length and in depth, giving breathing space to the issues, doing justice to their complexity.

Director Colette Camden’s achievement owes much to the fact that she focused on just two families in which the husbands were convicted of downloading and followed what happened to them for 18 months, from the wives’ immediate reactions to the arrests to longer-term repercussions over this lengthy period, as the shock-wave spread to children and grandchildren.

As for the husbands, their views and feelings were also explored. My reaction was in large part to see them as co-victims of brutally oppressive and unnecessary police and legal processes, but realistically we must suppose that most of the audience will take a different view. That’s fine. I am just happy the programme doesn’t thrust any particular interpretation down our throats.

It shunned that easy resort, the holy wrath of an outraged presenter; it even spared us the tears that our emotionally incontinent times seem to demand at every turn, not just from the recently bereaved but from those who have simply won a tennis championship, or a singing contest, or even merely earned some praise for baking a cake. The participants in this particular programme really do have plenty to cry about, God knows, and we may be sure there has been no shortage of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

But what we see is calm reflection. We know, as any sensitive audience would, that these have been traumatic times for all concerned. It needs no emphasis. What we see instead is the longer term reality: the unavoidable stoicism of just having to get on with things; the mental struggle of coming to terms with the bald fact that nothing will ever be the same again; and the gradual rebuilding of shattered lives.

A key innovation that enabled people to speak and be shown freely was that the participants did not appear in person. Instead, their names have been changed and their actual spoken words were lip-synched by actors, who did a superb job: I would not have known they were not the actual families if I hadn’t been told. It also meant that everyone could be represented visually, including the little grandchildren of the second family, without them being hideously defiled by censorious pixilation.

As for that “perfect visual symbol” I mentioned at the start, I suspect a lot of artifice went into its depiction. Just as actors have been used as stand-ins for the people, stand-in locations have also been deployed, so that the families cannot be identified by their houses or neighbourhoods. So what we get is supposed to be similar to the original but not identical.

In the case of the caravan, my hunch is that artistic licence was taken. But any “cheating” was in a good cause: rather than taking us away from the truth it compels our interest in it. The beat up little old van is just a tad too humble; and its picturesque isolation, not on a caravan site but set in a scene of otherwise unblemished rural loveliness, at once blesses the eye and burdens the heart. How, we cannot help but ask, can it have come to this?

What, then, do we learn? What do these dramas tell us?

It would be unwise to generalise too much based on a sample of only two families but some clear points of interest emerge that our own prior knowledge will surely tell us are widely applicable.

Broadly, the story on the wives’ side is of mixed emotions: lingering loyalty to the partner they loved, but also anger and a deep sense of betrayal. As for why this had happened to them, there was very little to be seen but puzzlement, confusion and incomprehension. Lucy and Jes, Alex and Kate’s daughters, were far more sympathetic towards Alex than Kate was. Lucy, especially, made a valiant attempt to explain away her father’s transgressions in terms of mental illness and depression.

Kate took umbrage in a far more personal way: her partner had committed a criminal offence, she insisted. Worse, he had insulted her.

“I’m really angry that he would want to look at that stuff when he had me,” she protested. “What was wrong with me? Why not stick to what was right, what he should have been looking at, which was me?”

It would have taken a paedophile to explain that she need not have felt bad on that account. A paedophile could have pointed out that sexual attraction to children is an ever-present and powerful orientation, not a trivial seeking after novelty; nor does it imply lack of loyalty towards a sincerely loved adult partner.

Sadly, no such paedophile was available to say this. There was Alex, of course, but he turned out to be in deep denial. Kate tells us the first thing he said when he was arrested, and kept repeating, was “I’m not a paedophile. I’m not a paedophile.” Same with the husband in the other featured family, Robert. According to his wife, Helen, he too insisted he had no sexual interest in children. He told her he didn’t watch the videos, he just liked collecting them!

The fact is that both of these guys had been caught bang to rights with multiple images showing children, some of them very young, sexually engaged in “pretty much everything”, as Kate put it, while some of Robert’s images were clearly very extreme. Mere curiosity? A magpie-like collecting compulsion? I don’t think so. Alex got off relatively lightly with a 12-month community service order, whereas Robert served a prison sentence and was behind bars for 16 months. Both men, I think it is sensible to conclude, were definitely paedophiles.

It is more than understandable, of course, that they felt unable to admit it to their wives and families. As Alex dryly admitted, “You can see why people can go off you.” Clearly a man of easy charm, he reminded me of former politician Neil Hamilton, disgraced in the parliamentary cash-for-questions scandal back in the 1990s. One senses that, like Hamilton, Alex will bounce back. Even by the end of the programme he was able to talk of finding a certain happiness, despite all the heartache his family had been through: life is simpler now, he said philosophically.

Robert, by contrast, is in prison when the programme starts and we hear about him through his immensely loyal wife, who visits him inside frequently and is ready to meet him at the gates on his release date. “I’ve loved him for 44 years,” she says, “you can’t just switch that off.”

Ultimately, though, as time moves on, so do Helen’s sentiments. She has her little pre-school grandchildren to think about, and her daughter-in-law has strong feelings on the matter. Also, a nice new man, Richard, comes into her life. She’s still friendly towards Robert but is haunted by the knowledge that one of the images in his collection was particularly extreme, showing a man masturbating over a baby’s face…

It is a triumph of the programme, I suggest, that it is content to present Robert as a much loved and plausibly lovable man despite this damning revelation. His little granddaughter, we hear, was angry because no one would explain to her why her beloved granddad had gone to prison and why she couldn’t see him again. The kids, of course, are usually the last people to have their views taken into account…

 

AMERICAN CIRCUMCISION

Has anyone seen this documentary, just out, called American Circumcision? It is available through a range of outlets on a paying basis but there is a free trailer. It is getting good customer reviews at Amazon, such as this one, from Dave JP, on 31 August:

A highly informative documentary exposing the myths (or lies) about the alleged “benefits” of the elective surgical mutilation of male babies that goes back only to the late 19th century in the USA, done for a variety of changing rationales but until recently (whatever the irrational pretexts) solidly embedded in the cultural milieu to the point that it had become sheer routine custom. The film explores the revulsion and anger of men who were damaged physically and emotionally, as well as the regrets of parents and health care professionals for their complicity in perpetuating this tragedy, which is still dismissed by some with offensive comments such as “Get a life”. Fortunately, as the film shows, people are waking up, questioning, protesting, and even suing the practitioners who engaged in this barbaric non-therapeutic ritual.

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