The laws against ‘abuse images’ are abusive

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Today’s guest blog is on child pornography, or “abuse images” as the current PC term has it, and is by Feinmann, whose debut as a blogger here was in April this year under the title “War on Kinds disguises one against kids”. Professionally retired, he remains highly active as a field researcher working on the conservation of endangered species. The splendid graphics (not intended for sexual gratification but feel free to enjoy them!) are the author’s own.

 

WAGING WAR ON CHILD PORN IS OPPRESSIVE AND DUMB

Some definitions

Pornography: derives from the Greek: πορνογραφία meaning “a written description or illustration of prostitutes or prostitution”.

Child pornography: the term appeared in North America during the 1960s, and is defined thus: “Pornographic material featuring sexually explicit images or descriptions of children”. Child pornography, when back-cast to the original Greek suggests: “a written description or illustration of child prostitutes or child prostitution”. The noun child pornography superseded the noun child erotica, but is now equated with child abuse images.

Inquisition: institutions within a system of government whose aim is to combat heresy, and is characterised by: a lack of regard for individual rights, prejudice on the part of the examiners, and recklessly cruel punishments.

COPINE scale: used by UK law enforcement (also known as officious paramilitary social workers) to determine sentencing for possession of child pornography. This ten-point scale was created in the Department of Applied Psychology in Cork in 1997 and adapted for use in UK courts. In 2002, the scale was amended to a five-point SAP (Sentencing Advisory Panel) scale. It then changed again in 2014 to a three-point SOD (Sentencing Offenders Definitive) guideline. The forging of this scalar weapon and its inclusion within the inquisition’s armoury, furnishes law-enforcement agencies with a most terrible servant to deploy … and deploy it they do with rigid absolutism.

Paedophile: a person who is sexually attracted to children, the word appearing in medical dictionaries in 1918, but, with a lack of distinction between paedophilia and homosexuality. From 1960 attempts were made to distinguish “homosexuals” from people then dubbed “paedophiliacs”. In popular usage, the word paedophilia conflates sexual attraction to prepubescent children with “child sexual abuse”.

Indecent Sentences

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

In his consultation paper of 2002, Sentencing In Child Pornography Cases, Tom wrote: “The danger lies in the vagueness of the word indecent. As Geoffrey Robertson QC says: ‘Indecency…is assumed to have an ascertainable meaning in law. Jurors and justices who use it as part of their everyday language are trusted to know it when they see it.’ Yet ‘scientific surveys, parliamentary debates and jury verdicts demonstrate no measure of consensus either about community standards or the sort of material which infringes them.’ It seems to me far from self-evident that indecent photographs necessarily involve exploitation in their making, especially as regards those at the lower end of the scale, in COPINE classes 1-6. Indeed, the Sentencing Advisory Panel concedes this point by saying: ‘Images that are relatively less harmful … may still involve … exploitation or degradation …’ They may. Or they may not. Unfortunately, the Sentencing Advisory Panel fails to pursue the logic of this ambivalence. Taking a shotgun approach, the Panel opts to assume the worst and blast away regardless.”

“Shotgun approach” indeed. Fifteen years on, governments still blast away with their indecent bullets to the point where free expression and free speech is critically riddled with holes. In relating the anger expressed over the murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, Peter Herman in Heretic TOC highlighted the following bitter irony: “It has come to a point where, in many parts of the English speaking world, any image of youthful sexuality and even written descriptions of it will at the very least ostracize the individual, land him in jail or possibly get him killed.”

Endlösung der Pädophilenfrage – Final Solution to the Paedophile Question

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But why is war on minor-attracted individuals waged? Why have those elected to protect the civil liberties of every citizen, failed to do so for members of this group? Why have law-makers labelled every member a sexual predator and treated them as a deformity on the body politic?

Being a paedophile has become a crime of such importance that merely to accuse someone brands them a child sexual abuser. The term crimen exceptum, a mechanism vital to the functioning of inquisitions executing social control via justice systems built on barbarism, describes this process well. The crimen exceptum updates the Magna Carta to read: we are all guilty in a court of law.

As with all inquisitions, the crimen exceptum enables a monstrously corrupt false allegations industry to flourish, enthusiastically stoked by child charities and accusers – the latter in the full knowledge that they will be believed, that their anonymity will be guaranteed even if they are found to lie, and that they can profit from selling their lies to a salaciousness-hungry media. These bounty-hunting allegators doubtless obtain an extra buzz from ruining the lives of the innocents they accuse.

To heighten the moral panic and hysteria, the inquisition classifies an image of a naked child as obscene. Ironically, perversely, and hypocritically, one cannot be arrested for possessing images of terrorist crimes or violent crimes, no matter how sadistic or sickening. Heretic TOC recently discussed additional un-prosecuted “child pornography” in the public domain. It also flagged circumcision and the curious failure to prosecute the genital mutilation of some 10,000 and 1,000,000 male babies in the UK and the US, respectively, annually.

Conclusion: it has nothing to do with the image, and everything to do with the discrimination of those that promote and enjoy child sexuality; that includes the kids themselves.

The estrangement of adults from the lives of children

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Frank Furedi in Spiked: “The promotion of paranoia in relation to every aspect of children’s lives accomplishes the very opposite of what it sets out to do.” With nearly one quarter of UK households with dependent children managed by a lone parent, 91% being women, one might envisage such homes to be fertile ground for feeding the paranoia Frank highlights: stranger-danger outside; evil internet inside. Any child daring to display natural sexuality will be instantly hermetically sealed within a bubble of suppression, any adult moving a hand to break the bubble, ostracised.

This from Moor Larkin: “Look after the children, the idea seems to go, and then by the time they see all this filth and perversion, they will be adults and thus impervious to any of its pernicious effects. However at the same time, a legal norm has built up that anyone looking at pictures of children in sexual poses will be likely to want to emulate that imagery in reality, and thus must be treated to remove these pernicious effects, and if they refuse to comply then they must be removed from society.”

Moor’s final comment applies increasingly to children. A primary source of child abuse images rather ironically, is the children themselves. Pediatrics in 2014 states: “That we did not find a link between sexting and risky sexual behavior over time may suggest that sexting is a new ‘normal’ part of adolescent sexual development and not strictly limited to at-risk adolescents.” With the ever-earlier onset of puberty – the term “adolescent” implies a person between 10 and 25 – time perhaps to review age of consent laws.

That youngsters experience fun (kid’s code for excitement) showing off to peers and strangers alike as cameras roll, has been self-evident to child erotica aficionados for decades. Kids, particularly boys, evidently have an interest in sexual imagery. Nothing really new there, but danger lurks on the internet. The inquisition’s Five Eyes will be quick to pounce and arrest young perverts. Oh yes, the inquisition wages a vicious war against youth sexuality too. Heretic TOC highlighted a sad fact that around one in three registered sex offenders in both the UK and the US are themselves minors. Society has totally acquiesced to the implementation of savage lunatic discriminatory laws that, far from protecting children, systematically abuse them, and go on punishing for the remainder of their hellish lives. It is time to STOP IT NOW!

Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud seep out

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This poisonous lie from those who claim to protect society exposes the dark heart of the inquisition: “The FBI on behalf of the US government, claim that children are re-victimized every time images of their sexual abuse are viewed or transferred. That argument is one of the main rationales for punishing mere possession of child pornography, which under federal law and the laws of some states can be treated more harshly than violent crimes, more harshly even than actual abuse of children. That penalty structure is obviously irrational unless you believe that serious harm is inflicted every time someone looks at the image of a child’s sexual abuse. In that case, a large enough collection of images could equal or even surpass the harm done by a single child rape, so that it could make sense to impose a life sentence on someone who has done nothing but look at pictures.”

Another poisonous US Government lie states: “The commercial enterprise of online child pornography is estimated in 2005 to be approximately $20 billion, and it is an industry on the rise.” The lie is not easy to refute because it is illegal to research the facts, allowing the inquisition to launder statistics with impunity. In 2006, the Wall Street Journal in an investigative article commented: “to track down the number’s source yielded lots of dead ends.” A further source in 2001 concluded that the market in child pornography was actually negligible. Hyped claims that child pornography is a massively profitable industry appear to have been largely abandoned in more recent years, as the continuing lack of supporting evidence makes such claims less and less plausible. Attention is now focused more on estimating viewing figures, with people looking at what are now being called “child abuse images” being presented as a ‘social emergency’ (see also the BBC Child Pornography Epidemic link referenced in the bullet points below). The 2015 annual report of the Internet Watch Foundation claims “21% of the webpages confirmed as containing child sexual abuse imagery were assessed as commercial.”

More poisonous lies are recounted here.

Anglosphere child charity ‘statistics’ can be equally poisonous: “… research has shown that one in four children (27%) will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18.” This is 1,258 times more than the figure given by the Parliamentary Education Committee for England. The treacherous NSPCC is no better.

These poisonous lies oil the vicious circle and empower the inquisition to:

A model for the future

When any item in demand is outlawed, mechanisms arise that circumvent prohibition. Child pornography was legally produced and sold across several European countries thirty years ago, but is now restricted to, but freely available within the dark web. As images can be viewed, downloaded, copied, and distributed to a thousand destinations instantly, the war on pornography (as for drugs) is unlikely to be won despite huge commitment, funding, and, inane declarations of war.

By waging an intelligent, pragmatic, anti-war on drugs, certain countries in Europe ensure the cure costs less than the problem. Portugal decriminalised possession of all drugs for personal use in 2001 by implementing wider health and social policy changes. Results have been remarkable. The fact that Portugal benefited overall from the intelligent reversal of its stance on drugs, should be a wake-up call for governments that pig-headedly persist in waging costly, ineffective wars on items that society clearly wants.

Anglosphere countries should institute an anti-war on child pornography to unstitch manifestly corrupt and repressive laws that discriminate against citizens on the basis of their sexuality, and deny everyone the basic human right to articulate opinions and ideas. Articles 7, 12 and 19 of the United Nations Human Rights Declaration are relevant here; these continue to be breached with impunity. The unstitching process should dismantle dangerously unaccountable law-enforcement agencies (plus their allies) that design and deploy McCarthyesque witch hunts to create immense damage across society. One candidate the author would recommend for retrospective prosecution on the basis of discrimination is this one. If any single institution is guilty of fomenting mass-hysteria, discrimination and misery across the world over many decades in the total absence of any scientific justification, this is it.

We do not want future generations to have insanely fucked-up attitudes towards human sexuality like those that lie within the heads of the fascist moral “protectors” that infest Anglosphere governments today. To this end, society must ensure that every child receives adequate education on: human sexuality and human relationships, and the illegality of discrimination on the basis of sexuality. It would be instructive to highlight the fact that the animal kingdom is saturated with sexual deviance (for example: casual intergenerational sex play), and that as deviance is widespread in nature, deviance in humans is natural too.

This inquisition has been successful in suppressing free thought and scientific thought on the issue of child sexuality and intergenerational sex. Peter Herman again: “Following surveys in a number of countries, including, Denmark, Germany, Japan and the Czech Republic, a strong association has been demonstrated between the ready availability of pornography and reduced levels of sexual offending, including against children. Research also shows that non-coercive sexual acts with minors, in themselves, do not result in psychological trauma.” ipce summarises similar research findings. It is high time we revisited these findings and conducted additional rigorous scientific research to clarify the full diversity of human sexual needs, regardless of age.

LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM – WTF?

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… localism instead of convergence, identitarianism instead of universalism, short-sighted egotism instead of collaboration, and the calamitous idea of focusing on those considered to be similar while shunning “the other”. I fear the way that so many people hope to defend themselves from the malaise of life, from existential confusion, by choosing a group identity and sticking to it.  – Carlo Rovelli, theoretical physicist, former radical student activist, historian of the philosophy of science

The politics of identity is narcissistic and needy…. It’s all inherently censorious. Because if your political activism is indistinguishable from your natural characteristics or cultural identity, then any criticism of your political activism will inevitably feel like an assault on *you*. This is why student politicos in particular are so insanely cagey about open debate, forever hiding themselves in “safe spaces” and trying to ward off campus anyone who criticises them in the same way monks might once have wielded crucifixes to chase away witches. – Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked! in The Spectator

Are identity politics intrinsically as disastrous as Rovelli and O’Neill claim? After all, there could be no politics at all without groups of like-minded people rallying together against others who think differently. These opposing groups have always thought in “Us and Them” terms, if not along lines of gender and sexuality then of social class and wealth. In Britain and elsewhere these differences have been the lifeblood of democracy. Marx urged the working class to unite. This could be considered identity politics because the workers first had to identify themselves as part of the “working class”, a separate entity set against the exploitative “bourgeoisie”. But at least Marx envisioned a society beyond class warfare, based on equality and justice for all. His thinking was grounded in a universal concept of justice, with fairness for everyone, not winner-takes-all. This ideal was betrayed in those countries that took the revolutionary road; but democratic socialism has been more honourably successful.

Like democratic socialism, our vision for the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) in the 1970s was grounded in a universalist ethic. We believed in sexual liberation for all, not just for paedophiles. That is why we supported women’s liberation and children’s rights – the right to sexual expression, of course, but much more as well. It is why we supported GLs not just the BLs who were always by far the largest part of our membership. Even sociologist Frank Furedi has conceded that “PIE and its sympathisers did not simply express a form of liberationist identity politics”. Yes, we initially rallied together around our shared sexuality, as the “working class” once rallied around their labouring status, and as women and gays rallied around their gender and sexual desire; but shared identity was just an organising tactic in the service of a vision – as we saw it – for everyone, not just our own narrow group.

There were those in the gay movement who thought in a similarly constructive, inclusive way. It is thanks to them, and to those who began to identify and organise as other sexual minorities, that the male homosexual identity (gay) made common cause with the female one (lesbian) and those of bisexuals and transgender people, giving us the combined LGBT movement. This is now sometimes expanded to include Q for Queer, the last of which is potentially a capacious vessel for those who don’t fit in anywhere else and don’t quite feel able to come out as anything definite. Wonder who that could let in? 🙂

It hasn’t stopped there, either. We now have a rich alphabet soup, even extending in one formulation to LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, flexural (WTF?), asexual, gender-fuck, polyamorous, bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism”. At first blush it all looks like a wonderfully comprehensive celebration of sexual diversity, a huge range of sexual identities assembled in a great conclave, bringing people together in an identity politics of the best sort, based on solidarity, not division.

But we know different, don’t we? For instance, one elephant most definitely not in the (bed)room is sexual attraction to animals, which could be designated by Z, for zoophilia. Not that I know anyone who fancies sex with elephants, but then I’ve never heard a mahout talking candidly. Anyway, you won’t find Z on the list and P is conspicuously absent from the party too. So are N. and H; and E. Indeed, none of the controversial chronophilias named by Michael Seto and discussed recently here in The seven ages of sexual attractiveness make it to the recognised lists of initials: paedophilia, nepiophilia, hebephilia and ephebophilia all go unmentioned, as does the umbrella term MAP and even the unthreatening Kind. Maybe that’s our fault. Maybe Kind activists should be pushing harder. But to blame ourselves is a bit like blaming Jews for failing to stop the Holocaust: swimming against a flood tide of hatred is sometimes just too hard.

Interestingly, though, a couple of lonely voices – openly gay ones, and not closet Kinds as far as I can tell – have been pressing for greater inclusivity. Putting to shame the “respectable” gays who have climbed the ladder of social acceptability and kicked it down to stop others following, are two brave guys: psychologist Jesse Bering and gay history expert Gert Hekma. Bering, author of Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us, pointed out in an article last month that “LGB people arguably share more in common with the Zs and Ps than they do the Ts, since being transgender isn’t about who (or what) you’re sexually attracted to, but the gender you identify with. Unlike those representing the other letters in this character soup, trans people say their sexuality plays no role at all. Why then are Ts included while other, more unspeakable, sexual minorities aren’t?”

Hekma, for his part, noted in a conference presentation this summer that the proliferation of initials moves our understanding of sexuality away from sexual behaviour towards a terminology of identity and orientation. As such, it echoes a change noted by Foucault from “doing” to “being”: a century or so ago, the sodomite became the homosexual, moving from a legally defined act to a medical concept of an identity. A main idea of sexologists at that time was that the identity of the homosexual should be accepted but the behaviour should be prevented. It was a variant on the Christian theme: accept the sinner but not the sin.

Homosexuality has long since moved on from that limitation, but a proliferation of marginalised variations are candidates for moving into the space thus vacated. Hekma mentions a whole range of fetishes. “The list is endless,” he says, “Have a look on grindr and tumblr for the dozens of sexual fetishisms.” He points out that in its most accepted variation the continuously expanding list of initials as yet excludes “the major classical perversions” (BDSM, fetishism, paedo-, necro-, copro-, zoophilia). He argues in favour of taking them into the fold, including paedophilia. Such an inclusion could hardly occur without legitimising paedophilic fantasy at least. As Hekma says:

The point many people miss on questions of sexual variation is that fantasies are central and most desires need not be enacted in immediate reality but they often happen in indirect and imaginary ways. Sexual preferences can be staged.

This politics, emphasising identity over behaviour, and especially over behaviour in the real, non-fantasy, world, arguably offers an advance worth having. It may be that the Virtuous Pedophiles could succeed in having “virtuous”, or not-acted-upon, paedophilia accepted as VP on the initials list if they chose to go down that road. It could be a staging post to greater acceptability, as it was for homosexuals. But, in order to succeed, this form of identity politics would seem to depend for its success on denouncing us Kinds – we who do not agree with “virtue” but have it thrust upon us anyway, through draconian laws and policing. As we know, the VPs appear all too keen on this divisive style, and it pays off for them. It is no accident that Jesse Bering has expressed his support for the VPs but not for the Kind views espoused by more radical activists.

Divisive identity politics has featured strongly here at Heretic TOC recently too, at least in the comments. One contributor, under a bewildering variety of names (Why? It just looks schizophrenic), has been not only virulently anti-feminist but also militantly pro-hebephilic and just as aggressively against every other kind of sexual minority and even those in the “normal” mainstream. For him, even heterosexual teleiophiles – adult men attracted to adult women and vice versa – are just perverts because adults’ “natural” preference (for males at least) is for the freshly nubile girl, at the very start of her reproductive potential.

I prefer not to dismiss ideas merely because they seem strange. That would be very much at odds with Heretic TOC’s heretical mission. So, I will concede there is a case to be made that throughout most of human pre-history it might well have made sense for girls to start having babies as soon as they physically could, and that a man’s preferred choice of sexual partner would reflect this. Infant mortality was likely to have been very high, and a whole range of perils including disease, attacks by predatory animals and occasional famine would have made it impossible to sustain or grow the population without full use of every year in the female reproductive cycle. Evolution must have favoured early reproduction or we would not be here to ponder the ways of our ancestors. So, it seems inevitable that for hundreds of thousands of years what we now call hebephilia would have been, along with ephebophilia, the most natural of sexual orientations for males. Having said that, our culture and social needs are very different today. Civilised society has moved on from pre-history in many ways that are a great improvement. None of us, of whatever orientation, can justify our sexuality solely by reference to a long gone past.

A bigger problem with this contributor’s ideas than the mere logical weakness of his argument, however, is the divisiveness of his hebephilic identity politics. According to this way of looking at things,  hebephilia is the only good and virtuous way of loving. Paedophiles and ephebophiles, even bog standard teleiophiles, are perverted in this account, driven solely by selfish lust.  It is a peculiarly nihilistic “politics” because it systematically trashes every possibility of political alliance, which is the way real politics gets done. It gratuitously makes enemies of everyone. In any case, there is no clear  taxonomic split between hebephilia and paedophilia, nor between hebephilia and ephebophilia: the overlap between these categories is considerable, as discussed here recently. Just as there is no “pure” race, such as the Aryans, on which the Nazis based their delusions of racial superiority, there are no pure unalloyed sexual orientations either. We may identify as solely hebephile, or whatever, but the majority in any orientation category are mongrels with a range of tastes.

Again, though, the weak logic behind the contributor’s truculence is less significant than the attitude itself. It is divisive, as already noted, and it is also self-centred, expressing not so much a group identity as an individual one: it is a politics of one person against the world, which is not a practical politics at all, but more a cry for help or a scream of rage against everything being so complicated and confusing these days. As such, it echoes O’Neill’s view, above, of those censorious modern students who are so “narcissistic and needy”.

As for why things have taken such a turn, and what might be done about it, those are perhaps stories for another day.

 

KING OF THE STING IS STUNG

Yo! Great news! The bastard has got his come-uppance at last! Mazher Mahmood, aka the Fake Sheikh, former star undercover reporter for Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspapers, especially the Sun and the now defunct News of the World, is facing jail for tampering with evidence in the collapsed drugs trial of pop star Tulisa Contostavlos two years ago. Following a two-week trial at the Old Bailey, a jury today found the 53-year-old “King of the Sting” and his driver guilty of plotting to pervert the course of justice.

It’s all over the news, including this Daily Telegraph report, and nobody could be more delighted than me, not least because I was a victim of his lies myself, a story told in When Heretic TOC met the Fake Sheikh, written in July 2014 soon after Judge Alistair McCreath publicly concluded that Mahmood had attempted to persuade a witness to change his evidence and then lied about it under oath.

In my case, Mahmood tracked me down to a naturist resort in France, where he pretended to be not a sheikh but a sheikh’s aide, tasked with the role of checking out the resort to see whether it would be possible for his boss to take a discreet naturist holiday there. His real mission, though, using a very “underage” looking female reporter as an accomplice, was to tempt me into some sort of indiscretion. Maybe they hoped I would proposition her. When that failed they simply made up lies and another accomplice took a photo with a long lens that made it look (falsely) as though I was standing naked with a young boy and chatting him up. Mahmood even had the gall to write up the story in his autobiography, claiming it as one of his successes. See also my follow-up story, The strange case of the brilliant ‘bimbo’.

 

HEWSON HAMMERS ‘ABUSE FUNDAMENTALISTS’

I guess most heretics here will be aware by now that yet another fiasco has struck the bloated, unmanageable “independent inquiry into historical child sexual abuse”. After losing no fewer than three chairpersons, the inquiry now has to deal with the departure of a key figure who had been holding the wreckage together – counsel to the inquiry Ben Emmerson QC, who resigned at the end of last month.

Fewer readers, though, may be aware that the excellent barrister and commentator Barbara Hewson penned a stinging piece on the subject for the Daily Mail under the headline “This fiasco of a sex abuse inquiry is totally out of control…and has to end NOW”.

The most stunning aspect of her analysis is that unlike the politicians, or most of the media, she has dared to criticise the so-called “survivors”. The inquiry, she says, “has always been dogged by rancorous in-fighting between different camps of ‘survivors’ of historic sexual abuse.” She says prime minister Theresa May did not anticipate when she decided to set up the inquiry two years ago in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, “just how extreme many of the campaigners demanding an inquiry were.” Not pulling any punches, she writes:

I call them ‘abuse fundamentalists’. Some of them are avid conspiracy theorists, recycling tall tales from the Eighties era, when panic about alleged Satanic ritual abuse was at its height….They have all been traumatised, they claim, and everything that is wrong with their lives today is somebody else’s fault. [There is] a vocal lobby who seem as impervious to reason as religious fundamentalists. Unless you submit to their world view — a fixation on the idea that society is riddled with shadowy VIP paedophile ‘rings’ shielded by an evil Establishment omerta — they will viciously condemn you as an apologist for paedophiles.

And there is more! Well worth reading in full.

An open letter to Frank Furedi

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Many heretics, including myself, have been impressed by the online magazine Spiked on account of its vociferous support for free speech, distaste for state oppression, and its robust backing of civil rights, including for paedophiles.

So when one of its leading contributors, sociologist Frank Furedi, recently joined the media chorus of those attacking paedophilia, the virulent hostility of his diatribe came as a shocking disappointment. The context was an article, “What PIE and the NSPCC have in common”, which was fine up to a point. Its central theme was actually a rather interesting argument in defence of parents against the concept of “children’s rights”. Bizarrely – but, as I say, to interesting effect, Furedi presented the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) back in the 1970s and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) as improbable ideological allies. Both organisations, he said, claimed to speak on behalf of children but neither was as benignly disposed or as well placed to secure their best interests as parents.

My reaction was to fire off a counterblast. I submitted an article to Spiked that focused on defending children’s rights – not the right to be protected from various ills, real or imaginary, which is the NSPCC’s stock in trade, but the right to exercise real autonomy and to experience real freedom. Editor Brendan O’Neill emailed me on 25 March to say he was travelling in Europe and Australia and “I will be in touch very soon, I promise”. That sounded, well, promising, but over two weeks have passed since then and despite me sending a reminder I haven’t heard from him again.

So I have decided to answer Furedi here instead, in what amounts to an open letter. The text is a slightly edited version of my original draft article for Spiked.

WHY CHILDREN REALLY DO NEED RIGHTS

As a champion of parents over the years against “experts”, and the insolent intrusions of a busybody state, Frank Furedi is to be admired. He is right to castigate the NSPCC, too, for going far beyond its legitimate brief.

But when he says children are not moral agents, and on that basis attacks the concept of children’s rights, he is just plain wrong. Children become moral agents during childhood, not at its end; and even before that stage they may have non-trivial wishes and interests that require independent representation through robust rights-based action. Proper rights, that is: rights to real liberty of personal choice, not just protection from harm.

To begin with moral agency, has Furedi never heard of Gillick competence? In 1986 the House of Lords rightly accepted that “the authority of parents to make decisions for their minor children is not absolute, but diminishes with the child’s evolving maturity”. The highest court in the land in the case of Gillick v. West Norfolk & Wisbech Area Health Authority ruled that those under 16 could consent to medical treatment as long as they had sufficient understanding and intelligence to appreciate what was proposed and to express their own wishes. The context was the child’s right to advice on contraception for sexually active youngsters, a right which, were it more widely known and supported through sex education, would do more to bring down Britain’s high rate of teenage pregnancy than ineffectual attempts to suppress youthful sexuality.

For present purposes, though, the salient feature of the Gillick ruling is not the sexual aspect but rather the judgement’s recognition of an important reality: adult competences do not suddenly begin at an arbitrary age of majority; they grow over time. Good parents know this and allow their children to “spread their wings” as they grow older, and even take off: they understand that the occasional crash landing is a possibility and can be a valuable learning experience. It is all part of an apprenticeship in life.

Like Furedi, I believe that in general no one is better placed than parents to make judgements as to what their own children are ready for; no one knows them so well, nor will anyone else be more strongly disposed to secure their best interests. I have never been hostile to parents, either when I was Chair of the much traduced Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) long ago, or since. At the risk of setting off a fresh spate of tabloid excitement, I can honestly say some of my best friends have been parents.

That does not mean, though, that I would defend particular family structures to the last ditch, especially the all-too-explosive nuclear family, forged in relatively recent historical times not out of high purpose and dignity – an Englishman’s home is his castle, and all that – but from the grim necessity for a mobile labour force, detached from wider family and community, as the Industrial Revolution took hold.

Indeed, the tensions inside the nuclear family, and its frequent breakdown, constitute a fair proportion of the need for children to have rights. Parents do not all have their children’s best interests at heart. Step-parents, especially, who now make up such a substantial proportion of the whole, have much to answer for. The “wicked” step-parent is no myth. Frequently they resent their newly acquired brood; their hatred may even be murderous. Stepchildren are 60 times more likely to be killed than genetically related offspring [Daly & Wilson, 1994]. Not that this lets biological parents off the hook: taking parents as a whole, the latest figures show they kill on average over one child per fortnight in the UK, often in the context of a relationship breaking up, when one of the adult partners (usually a father) murders his children to spite his former partner [Office for National Statistics, 2013].

It is an ugly reality, so grim we cannot bear to face it; which is probably why these horrible cases tend to be dismissed in a paragraph or two in the media and described as a domestic “tragedy”, rather than in the more floridly anathematising terms (“evil”, “vile”, etc.) reserved for even the most mild and non-coerced paedophilic encounters. I recall one case somewhere in the West Country a couple of decades ago in which the father impaled the decapitated heads of his three children on spikes, leaving them for his ex to see. Even that spectacularly ghastly case disappeared from the news after a day or two. The vanishingly rare murder of a child in a sexual context, by contrast, is kept alive for a decade or more, such is the public’s need to project its own darkest feelings onto a monstrous Other.

Of course, the criminal law applies in the case of murder. Children do not need any rights in this regard beyond the human right to life. But there are many circumstances in which distinct rights for children would help enormously, both as regards invoking Gillick competence and, for children who are not yet competent to assert their own just claims, rights which can nevertheless be enforced in law on their behalf. These rights should take account of their wishes, not just their (adult defined) “best interests”. This, too, already has some standing in law. The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child acknowledged the right of children to be heard. This principle was incorporated into the Children Act of the same year, which said that while the children’s welfare should be paramount, courts should take into account “the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned”.

This formulation was far too wishy washy: wishes can be heard, but may still be ignored. The move towards a more effective measure is inhibited by confusion. The law will be deficient as long as we remain in thrall to the classic, albeit weak, argument that rights imply responsibilities, and that young children, before they become Gillick competent, cannot have truly enforceable rights because they are incapable of discharging the responsibilities that go with them. But as philosophers, including, most famously, John Rawls, have acknowledged, this is misconceived. As human rights lawyer Paul Sieghart put it:

In all legal theory and practice, rights and duties are symmetrical. It is a popular fallacy to believe that this symmetry applies within the same individual: that if I have a right, I must also have a correlative duty. This is not so: if I have a right, someone else must have a correlative duty; if I have a duty, someone else must have a corresponding right [Sieghert, 1985].

Children “in care”, may have significant rights claims against a range of professionals who act in loco parentis as teachers, etc. Having said that, the family is the most obvious locus of children’s claims, just as Furedi asserts. This is because, famously, most abuse, whether in terms of outright neglect and cruelty, or unwanted sexual attention, takes place in the home. This is a robustly quantified reality, not a feminist myth: in the most authoritative study to date, regression analysis indicates that dysfunctional family background is nine times as predictive of adult psychological harm as “child sexual abuse” (CSA) [Rind et al., 1998]. Had it been possible to separate non-coercive so-called CSA in the figures from coercive molestation and rape, the ratio would probably have risen dramatically, to infinity, because CSA thus defined would emerge as, on average, not psychologically harmful at all.

As for what distinct children’s rights might be needed, probably the most compelling cases are those concerning the right of children (1) to make medical decisions on their own behalf, especially when the issue of life and death is engaged; (2) to decide on their own custody in the event of parental separation and divorce; (3) to “divorce parents in the event of incompatibility. In all three areas considerable progress has been made in this century: we are not talking about a dead 1970s concept.

In the United States, for instance, it is relatively routine now for older children to have access to the law and to divorce a parent in the event of serious incompatibility, as for instance in the case of a gay teenager subjected to constant disparagement by a disappointed and unsympathetic father. It happens. It’s serious. These kids die by their own hand way disproportionately to their peers when they cannot find a supportive environment. As for medical decisions, doctors are moving towards the view that even quite young children can make rational and (given professional advice) informed decisions in difficult cases, such as whether or not to accept dangerous kill-or-cure surgery, or whether they wish to accept therapy inevitably committing themselves to years of pain and distress. And who could doubt that parents who are Jehovah’s Witnesses act against their children’s best interests when they refuse to sanction blood transfusions for a child in an emergency? This cries out for a child’s right, if they wish, to override their parents’ views.

The case for children’s sexual rights is a more complex matter, so I’ll close with a brief response to Furedi’s flaying of PIE’s “self-interested” stance. I look forward to him now denouncing his own self-interested lack of credibility: he campaigns for the rights of parents rather than children. Well, he would, wouldn’t he: he’s a parent!

Seriously, Frank, this essentially ad hominem way of shutting us up is a cheap shot, and unworthy of you. It makes you look like the politicians and judges who have been in such a hurry lately to publicly renounce their previous support for the basic civil rights of paedophiles: with their careers under immediate threat they appear to have panicked. One reason this has happened in such a big way, incidentally, is the failure of Liberty to defend liberty. The former National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) did a better job. Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill is to be congratulated for his staunch and principled recent defence of the NCCL’s former affiliation with PIE.

Daly, M & Wilson, M; “Some differential attributes of lethal assaults on small children by stepfathers versus genetic fathers”, Ethology & Sociobiology, Vol 15(4), Jul 1994, 207-217.

Office for National Statistics (2013); Focus on: violent crime and sexual offences, 2011/12 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_298904.pdf

Rind, B, Tromovitch P Bauserman R (1998); “A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples”. Psychological Bulletin 124 (1): 22–53.

Sieghert, P; The Lawful Rights of Mankind, OUP, 1985, p.94

Hail, an improbable age of consent heroine!

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Heroes, or heroines, do not come much more improbable than lawyer Barbara Hewson. Who would have thought that this champion of women’s rights, with a reputation to protect as a successful, high-profile advocate in leading cases, would suddenly throw caution to the winds and call very publicly for the age of consent to be lowered to 13, as she has done this week?

It’s a British story, and it has been all over the media here, replete with predictable reactions, including “shock” at the large London law firm where she is one of many barristers, who are all self-employed members of the “chambers”, or law practice team. It all kicked off with an article by Hewson in the lively libertarian online journal Spiked, to which sociologist Frank Furedi is a regular contributor: see After Savile: Policing as entertainment, mentioned here recently.

Hewson’s article, like Furedi’s, arose from the Savile “scandal” last year and Operation Yewtree, the massive police attention to “historic” so-called child sexual abuse that has been going on ever since, with seemingly almost daily arrests, especially of aging celebrities such as the entertainer Rolf Harris, the former pop star Gary Glitter, the DJ Dave Lee Travis, the comedian Jim Davidson and the PR guru Max Clifford, all of whom deny any offence. TV legend Stuart Hall, by contrast, recently pleaded guilty to offences which Hewson, with an admirable sense of perspective, dismissed as “low-level misdemeanors” involving teenagers.

She began her article in a starkly combative fashion:

I do not support the persecution of old men. The manipulation of the rule of law by the Savile Inquisition – otherwise known as Operation Yewtree – and its attendant zealots poses a far graver threat to society than anything Jimmy Savile ever did.

She goes on to compare the present moral panic with the one in Victorian England which led to the age of consent being raised from 13 to 16 in 1885. Turning to the present scene, she says the so-called abuse relates to relatively trivial matters routinely exaggerated by pressure groups such as the NSPCC.  The NSPCC and the Metropolitan Police Force, as reported here at Heretic TOC, produced a joint report into Savile’s alleged offending in January, called Giving Victims a Voice. It was noted here that this report outrageously treated the allegations as proven facts. Now Hewson lends the considerable authority of her legal standing to this point:

Note how the police and NSPCC assume the roles of judge and jury. What neither acknowledges is that this national trawl for historical victims was an open invitation to all manner of folk to reinterpret their experience of the past as one of victimization.

Quite. She says that the acute problem of proof which stale allegations entail also generates a demand that criminal courts should afford accusers therapy, by giving them “a voice”’, an infantilizing function that undermines judicial impartiality and fair hearings.

Hewson concludes with a trio of proposed law reforms: remove complainant anonymity; introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions; and reduce the age of consent to 13.

Typifying the mainstream media response, the Daily Telegraph ran a column by another lawyer, Malcolm Underhill. Regarding the proposed age of consent reform, he wrote:

This suggestion must rate as one of the most foolish proposals on the issue of child welfare that has been laid before the public. If the proposal is adopted by Government, such a change would be a green light for paedophiles, sending the completely wrong message.

I love the “If the proposal is adopted by Government” bit, don’t you? Ha! We should be so lucky! Alas, one maverick lawyer’s speech does not a government policy make. But it’s a start. Meanwhile, the reality is that the craziness in the UK goes on, and is getting worse by the day. Remember, this from If cardinal sinners and lordly lotharios float your boat… , a Heretic TOC blog in March?

… can it really be…yes, it’s one of the nation’s favourite TV soap opera stars, charged with “child rape”. Plus one, two – no it’s three – God it’s gone up to four; bloody hell it’s FIVE musical maestros from one of the most famous music academies in the land: all of them facing the music for vilely fiddling with their violin students!

Guess what the figure is now for those music teachers? I was shocked by five of them being in trouble. Well now (or at the latest count), there are thirty nine, yes, THIRTY NINE, music teachers under investigation at that academy, Chetham’s school of music, plus one other, the Royal Northern College of Music, both in Manchester.

Enough already! Enough of this lunacy for one day!

Enough, too, in a way, for Heretic TOC, who now finds himself obliged to make an unwelcome but very necessary announcement. I love writing this blog and if I had the time I would gladly post a thousand words or more every day rather than roughly twice a week, which has been the usual rate since this “not the dominant narrative” started just over six months ago. Sadly, though, my time is coming under more and more pressure. I have a variety of other projects in hand which are too frequently being left on the back burner. This cannot go on. Accordingly, I have decided to post only once per week, or possibly only twice per month, from now on. This might even be a relief for readers struggling to keep abreast of all this heresy! With posts becoming somewhat less regular, though, it will become harder to know when a new post has arrived. Accordingly, for the benefit of those who have not already done so, I would suggest becoming a “follower” of the blog, so that you get an email each time a new piece is posted. All you need to do is press the “Follow” button in the brown bar across the very top of the page, just to the right of where it says Heretic TOC.

A positive sighting of 118 black swans

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The appearance of a new book that credibly documents 118 cases of child-adult sexual relationships remembered in adulthood by the child as having been a positive experience ought to be the occasion of great rejoicing. Personally, I will do my best to celebrate following the publication last month of Positive Memories, by T. Rivas, and I hope all heretics here will do likewise.

So, if you have a bottle of champagne handy, now is as good a time as any to crack it open and be of good cheer. Or it would be, but for the lamentably unavoidable fact that the overwhelmingly “dominant discourse” is so loud right now, especially here in the UK, that our celebration will be like two or three cultured friends trying to have a sensible conversation in a restaurant while a stag party full of noisy, rowdy drunks at the next table is drowning out everything you are trying to say. On a day when  yet another British TV celebrity bit the dust over child sex offences, any sort of celebration feels unreal – both insensitive to others’ pain and an exaggeration of what a single new book can be expected to achieve, no matter how good it is. Incidentally, the current atmosphere in Britain is nailed superbly by sociologist Frank Furedi in a recent article, “After Savile: policing as entertainment”.

But, hell, let’s give that book some space. Let’s shout over the background noise. The author’s name will be familiar to a good many here, thanks to his association with Ipce, under whose auspices the paperback now appears, and which made his collection available online a while ago as a free PDF download. Those who possess portable document readers will thus already have been able to read the book’s contents from the comfort of their armchairs, but old troopers like me will prefer to have the print edition in their hands.

Rivas has trawled the published academic literature for relevant case descriptions, plus other material from relatively reliable sources such as published biographies. In addition there are accounts represented as factual on websites and internet discussion forums. All information is fully sourced except for some websites that are no longer accessible. Accounts from all four gender combinations are represented: Boy-Man, Boy-Woman, Girl-Man, Girl-Woman. I know of no other work that brings together such a range of cases into a single handy reference book such as this. In addition to the 118 “relationships”, there are also additional cases: these include positively experienced “loose” contacts, which were sexual but without the commitment of a love relationship, plus some examples of platonic relationships, which were loving but without any sex.

The author, who is available to answer questions by email (ipcetrivas@gmail.com) discusses ethics, the role of parents/carers, and more.

Now, for the scholarly types here (a goodly proportion, I would guess), there is a bonus. In addition to announcing Positive Memories here, I can tell you about what may have been the first debate about it on a research-oriented online forum, i.e. Sexnet, after I had introduced it there. A representative from Virtuous Pedophiles (boo, hiss!) responded with a couple of highly sceptical questions clearly designed to expose the book’s supposed shortcomings. That’s fine, all research should be put to the test of close scrutiny. In order to answer these questions I consulted the author, who came up with excellent answers: his book passed the test. Needless to say, this ruffled the feathers of our sanctimonious (sorry, virtuous) colleague, who lashed out against me personally as a convenient alternative target.

I won’t dwell on that. Such squabbles are boring. I hope heretics will be interested, though, in a question the VP asked just before his desperate final resort to mud-slinging. This was after Rivas has answered the initial questions. The VP (Nick Devin) then wrote: “The anecdotal evidence that you have produced of long-term benefit to children is presumably intended to serve as a response to the anecdotal evidence of harm.”

Devin’s presumption was wrong. Unlike the academic researchers who make up a high proportion of Sexnet’s membership, he has no understanding of science and is only a member by virtue (if you’ll forgive the pun) of being a specimen paedophile – same as me, really, but at least I’ve done my homework. What follows is the answer I gave him. I have given it a title just to set it apart. Enjoy!

Anecdotal evidence: its use and abuse

No, this is a complete misunderstanding; but it is a very useful one because the differences between the two ends of the spectrum of anecdotal evidence on harm/benefit, or rather the different uses to which they are being put, is of fundamental importance, and you have given me an opportunity to clarify the position. If I get anything wrong I am sure there are scientists here who will be pleased to correct me.

It is important to understand that evidence in scientific issues will vary in its significance according to the present state of knowledge or belief, as illustrated by the classic example of the black swan. White swans are common and at one time it was believed there were no black swans. In these circumstances it requires the discovery of only one black swan in the world to disprove the theory that there are no black swans. In other words, you do not require a huge set of observations of many swans. One example will suffice, provided it is well described and credibly attested, otherwise there will rightly be scepticism over its status as a real black swan. Even in the absence of a reliable observation, though, the dubious traveller’s tale, or mere anecdote, will have some scientific interest, because it could very usefully prompt more formal scientific investigation.

This is roughly the position we are in with regard to adult-child sexual contacts sometimes being beneficial. Theo Sandfort, back in the 1980s, set out to examine formally whether there were any black swans in this field, in terms of positively experienced man-boy sexual contacts. He only needed a very small data set (even a single rock solid example would have sufficed) to prove the existence of his black swan. In fact, his data comprised 25 positively experienced man-boy relationships, which were very credibly attested, in a high-quality study. So, voilà, we had some black swans!

Or did we? Could it be that the swans were actually white but had just got caught in an oil slick? That’s what some suggested, on the basis that there had been no follow-up. The boys had been asked what benefits they felt from the relationships at the time, but would they feel differently 10 or 20 years later? It was a reasonable question, especially in light of the tremendous propaganda against such relationships to which teenagers and young adults are subjected these days.

This brings us to Rivas’s new book. It is less scientific than Sandfort’s work in some ways e.g. Rivas is not a trained scientist so far as I am aware. But it is more so in others e.g. his data set is much bigger (n=118, compared to Sandfort’s n=25) and, crucially, his data have been gleaned from retrospective accounts which are not open to the objection levelled against Sandfort’s work: Rivas takes account of the younger participant’s long-term assessment, whereas Sandfort does not. Note also the answer Rivas gave to Nick’s sceptical question as to how many of his sample later became paedophiles: answer, none, because Rivas had anticipated the objection and excluded such cases.

Bearing these points in mind it would be grossly unscientific, I suggest, to brush aside Rivas’s work as mere anecdote. This is a systematic and careful study which amounts to far more than just a “traveller’s tale”. Neither mere anecdote nor the Rivas study (which is much better than that but not fully scientific) can prove the existence of the black swan. However, taking Sandfort and Rivas together, they provide powerful evidence as to its likely existence, and therefore they provide a very sound – unanswerable, I would say – rationale for conducting research of a more compelling kind.

Now, let’s turn to the other end of the spectrum: anecdotal evidence of harm, rather than benefit. Why do we need it? Here we are talking about white swans. Nobody doubts their existence. Numerous formal scientific studies, including meta-analyses, have been undertaken which copiously demonstrate long-term harm in some cases, especially coerced encounters.

In these circumstances anecdotal evidence is not used legitimately, as it is in black swan cases, to direct the attention of science towards interesting possibilities. Quite the opposite: it is used by lobby groups to whip up emotion that actually obscures and denies existing scientific findings. Notoriously, horror story anecdotes are routinely preferred in public discourse to the solid evidence presented by Rind et al. showing that “CSA” (even when coerced cases are included) does not typically lead to severe harm. Indeed, Nick, you have been criticised on this very forum yourself for privileging anecdotes that accord with your beliefs over science that does not. Judging by the following, you do not appear to have paid any attention:

In terms of my view of whether sexual relations between children and adults are harmful, I understand from my time on sexnet that the data is thin.  There is, however, a great deal of anecdotal evidence of harm, even where no force is involved.  Some of these cases are detailed in The Trauma Myth by Susan Clancy, as well as in other places. 

Your one saving grace here is that you have referenced Clancy, whose work is not properly characterised as merely anecdotal. She carried out interviews with more than 200 adults over 10 years in a methodical and careful study. However, like Rivas’s accounts, her selection cannot be taken as representative. In Clancy’s case recruitment was from among people who pre-defined themselves as having been “abused”, many of whom were already in therapy. That does not mean her work is useless (it is very persuasive on iatrogenic sources of harm), but it does mean it cannot be used to refute Rind et al.

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