Three reasons to be cheerful

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A trio of weighty articles on paedophilia and related “sex offending” have made their appearance in leading journals in the last couple of weeks. What makes them stand out from the perpetual blizzard of bollocks thundering down on us with increasing intensity for the last decade or three is their positivity.

OK, it’s all relative. I’m not saying the revolution is around the corner or even that the worst is past. But at least we have seen a bit of resistance in influential places against prejudice, virulent hatred and inhumane treatment. Leading the way was The Guardian, in the UK: Jon Henley’s Paedophilia: bringing dark desires to light was the first I have ever seen in a mainstream media outlet giving significant coverage to research suggesting that paedophilia is not intrinsically harmful. That was superb, confirming my long-held view that Alan Rusbridger is the best ever editor of what may well be the world’s greatest English-language newspaper – greatness to which I feel its many feminist writers have contributed, actually, although I seldom agree with them. Incidentally, there were complaints about Henley’s article but the paper has run a “Reader’s Editor” piece defending it.

Considering where the U.S. is culturally at right now, it was hardly to be expected that America would follow suit quite so strongly. Nevertheless, The New Yorker and The LA Times have done their bit. Be warned, “The Science of Sex Abuse”, by Rachel Aviv in The New Yorker, is a whopper of nearly 8000 words. The length is well justified, though, as it enables the writer to present a detailed case of civil commitment in all its manifold injustice and inhumanity. Civil commitment, as those outside the U.S. may not know, has developed extensively since Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act in 2006, enabling supposedly “sexually dangerous” offenders to be detained indefinitely after serving a regular jail term. As the article shows, rather than being applied only to violent rapists, civil commitment has been used against mere possessors of child pornography. Once detained, “treatment” is offered, and release can in theory be granted if it is deemed successful, but this very rarely happens. Instead, detainees under treatment are put under pressure to confess hands-on offences they have never in fact committed, with the effect that harmless people are “confirmed” as dangerous. Aviv does an excellent job of showing of showing up the corrupt and inhumane nature of this system, especially the regime at Butner Federal Correctional Institute, in North Carolina: while this is a safe haven compared to a lot of brutal hellholes, it is also the safety of the tomb, from which there is no escape; all in all, real life Butner makes the fictional prison of Shawshank Redemption fame look benign.

Dr Michael Seto, known to me through the Sexnet specialist forum, contributed to the New Yorker piece, and another Sexnetter, Dr James Cantor, is featured extensively in the LA Times one. Yes, it’s him again, Jimmy “the screamer” Cantori, notorious hit person of the Toronto mob. The screamer’s dodgy science is central to Alan Zarembo’s piece “Many researchers taking a different view of pedophilia”, which, like the New Yorker one, focuses on a guy whose only offence has been use of child porn. But never mind the screamer’s dubious claim that paedophiles’ brains are deficient in white matter, and other less than flattering findings of that sort: the real significance of this article is that it foregrounds the growing consensus in the scientific community that paedophilia is a true sexual orientation, not a depraved lifestyle choice. Being “born this way”, as it were, does not excuse bad behaviour, otherwise it would be possible for a sadistic murderer to say “Well, I was born a vicious bastard, it’s not my fault”. Nevertheless, “born this way” rhetoric played well politically in the early days of gay liberation in America and could do the same for paedophilia.

The tone of Zarembo’s article is very much along these lines, pointing to a more humane approach than the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” vindictiveness that currently prevails in America. So, I am not disappointed, even though Zarembo interviewed me for 90 minutes as part of his research for this article but not a single thing I said about radical research findings (no intrinsic harm, and possible benefits, in consensual child-adult sex) was used.

I spoke to him again on the phone yesterday, when it emerged that he is thinking of another piece, too, possibly on scientific support for the idea that minor-attracted people might be less inclined to get into trouble if they were allowed child porn animation as a safety valve: in other words cartoon porn of the sort pioneered in Japan, with their lolicon (Lolita complex) art and its boy-oriented equivalent, shotacon. That should be an interesting article in a country where the First Amendment (freedom of expression) status of animated porn depictions of children is still not necessarily finally settled.

Taking the hex off a media word in edgeways

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As a blog that aspires to rationalism, Heretic TOC abhors superstition: your enlightened host wouldn’t dream of crossing the road to avoid walking under a ladder or fret over what might happen on a Friday the 13th.

It is different, though, when the stakes are raised a bit beyond the ordinary, as they were a couple of months ago on the day of Heretic TOC’s launch. Those with good memories may recall that I mentioned (The media must be desperate, 8 Nov.) being contacted by several newspapers in the wake of the Savile affair, one of which was the Guardian. The others, I said, had offered money for information about celebrity members of PIE. But what about the Guardian? The reason for their interest was something I left hanging.

Looking back, I now realise there was perhaps a shameful touch of superstition at work. I didn’t want to “put a hex” on the project in question, which promised the prospect of getting a word in edgeways in the mainstream media. Well, it’s been “hexed” for a long time anyway, despite my caution, so perhaps this is the time to reveal all.

Back in October, the man from the Guardian was Jon Henley. He said his editor, Alan Rusbridger, was interested in doing a more wide-ranging article on the P subject. Rather than seeking to embarrass the famous, the idea was to explore with me why paedophilia had become the focus of such intense concern in recent years. Did I have any thoughts on why PIE’s campaign to liberalise the age of consent (AOC) laws had faltered, even back in the 1970s, and why our perspective had become steadily even more unpopular ever since?

As might be expected, I had plenty of thoughts on this that I was happy to share. A phone interview over an hour long duly ensued within a day or two. It went well. Henley’s questions were intelligent and reasonably well informed. Googling him, I had discovered a really interesting piece of his from about ten years ago on French intellectuals such as Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, who had all signed a radical petition back in 1977 calling for the abolition of the AOC. That was when he had been the Guardian‘s Paris correspondent.

A few days later, now into early November, I contacted Henley, who told me he had finished his 1500-word article and it had been accepted for publication. Ever since then, I have been given assurances by him personally and by the features desk that they intend to use it.

But when? I’m getting old. I’d quite like to see this article before I die!

My strong suspicion, I have to say, was that publication had been overruled by the Guardian’s numerous feminist writers: while the final decision must be the editor’s, he would be aware of the need to maintain some degree of consensus with his top columnists, to say nothing of not wanting to alienate the paper’s legions of women readers.

The latest installment of this long-running saga was yesterday. The Guardian were doing a charity phone-in: make a donation to their nominated charities and you would get the chance to speak personally to various Guardian writers, including Henley, and even with the big chief himself, Rusbridger. Right, Tom, I told myself: Go for it! Speak to the editor directly! Charm him into scheduling Henley’s piece without further ado! How could he refuse, especially as I would be supporting his charities at massive personal cost? – Well, quite a chunk out of my modest budget, anyway, but hardly big enough to smack of your actual bribery.

So, how did Mission Improbable but definitely not Impossible go? Not badly, actually. After calling at the scheduled start time in the morning, I was disappointingly told Rusbridger would not be around until the afternoon. So I was put through to Henley instead. Jon was a pleasure to talk to, full of seasonal cheer. And he assured me the article has not fallen victim to censorious opponents. On the contrary, he said, there is every chance it will be used at some time over the holiday period: it had only been left because it is the sort of article that will not date and can be used any time. After all, paedophilia may be out of fashion as a sexual activity, but it is always in vogue as a subject for journalism. So what better time to slot it in than when all the writers are too festively occupied to do much writing?

With this fresh, and very credible, assurance safely banked, I decided I did not need to bend Rusbridger’s ear after all. Or not this time. Back in March, though, I went along to the Guardian’s Open Weekend in London, where I attended a public session on the paper’s future and did manage to get a few minutes’ worth of private conversation with him, at the end. I can’t be sure, but that contact may have been a factor behind the decision to contact me in October. More about that, perhaps, another time.

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