Jimmy the screamer caught in VICE racket

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Jimmy “the screamer” Cantori, notorious hit-person of the Toronto mob, has gone to ground after a dramatic shoot-out last week when he was sensationally injured in a verbal battle with “heretic” Tommaso Caroli and “sex queen” Judith Levine, goodtime girl and slayer of child-protection racketeering. Cantori is thought to be nursing a badly-wounded ego.

The rumble broke out in a seedy speak-easy called Sexnet, where clients claim to “exchange information and ideas” about so-called “sex research”. Hostilities began after Cantori had bragged of an ambitious scheme to beef up the mob’s muscle by recruiting thugs on the street to press-gang men into “therapy”.

Seriously! James Cantor, a research psychologist whose hissy fits, dubious science, egotistic self-promotion and evangelical moral entrepreneurship in “support” of paedophiles have featured previously on Heretic TOC (see “Scientific egos as fragile as eggs” plus here, here and here for my engagement with him on his research), has now come up with a wheeze to use a vigilante outfit called Creep Catchers to “persuade” their victims – guys looking for sex who are tricked into a meeting they think will be with a minor – that they should seek treatment.

This came to light when James – which I will call him from now on because I’m a hopeless hater and he may well actually be sincere in his misguided aims – alerted Sexnet to a TV documentary about Creep Catchers by the appropriately named VICE News. James, who was interviewed on the programme, said he thought VICE did a great job, and I readily agree it was very slick and totally compelling.

J. Michael Bailey, moderator of Sexnet and himself a leading academic psychologist, also agreed, but then added that he thought James’s contribution had been “very, very good”. Usually, I find myself in agreement with Mike (it helps to agree with a moderator! 🙂 ), but not this time. So I said as much, although Judith Levine got in first with a fine one-liner, saying she thought the vigilante was the one who needed therapy – meaning a bully calling himself “Justin Payne”, a name possibly intended to evoke the idea of meting out pain in the name of justice. He was the guy actually confronting his entrapped victims, taunting and shaming them while his partner in a two-man team captured the confrontations on video.

My response was to say that:

…yes, James is very, very good at fulfilling a culturally assigned role, which is why the media lap him up.  Where paedophilia is concerned, he is the velvet glove masking the iron fist. He makes it possible for educated, civilised liberals to believe that essentially coercive therapies are necessary.

That alone would have been a red rag to a bull on Sexnet, where a substantial chunk of the membership are paid to develop and implement such therapies: most of them are well-meaning but their careers are built on oppression, including “therapy” within “civil confinement” prisons in the US from which there is virtually no prospect of release, despite treatment courses designed to make offenders safe for life outside.

What would have enraged James even more, though, was my response, and Judith Levine’s, to news he gave about a further development. He posted to say he was scheduled to be on a panel discussion with Justin Payne in February and was “hoping to use the opportunity to call on Creep Catchers to funnel victims into therapy instead of harassment”.

I replied saying “Not sure how encouraging thugs to bully and press-gang people into treatment would play with a medical ethics board. If something else is intended, what would it be? Is complicity with the leopards expected to change their spots?”

Judith posted swiftly in support:

…does Cantor really want to wave a magic wand & combine entrapment with enticements to therapy? How about just getting rid of mandatory reporting?

James is actually on record as being against mandatory reporting laws, which require doctors and other professionals to report to the authorities anyone coming to them for advice or therapy if they disclose any offence. His objection is that such laws deter paedophiles from seeking help – a very strong point because some people are genuinely desperate or even out of control and really do need it. Nevertheless, Judith was right to propose focusing on the reporting issue rather than going down the maverick route of colluding with thugs. As I said in a follow-up, the police wouldn’t touch Creep Catchers with a bargepole and neither should he – though the forces of law and order would do well to challenge the vigilantes over their harassment and intimidating behaviour.

Back to the VICE documentary itself. In one of James’s televised interview points he claimed, as he has done elsewhere, that paedophilia is characterised by crossed wiring in the brain. He said that  instead of having parental or avuncular feelings towards children, paedophiles identify them as sex objects.

Where, I asked, was this  “instead of” coming from? Why would it be one or the other rather than both? I pointed out that at least 20-25% of “normal” men show significant sexual arousal to children in lab-based psychological tests. Most of these guys would presumably be family men, with nothing to suggest they are anything other than loving parents in the socially approved sense of loving. If they can be kind, caring, and affectionate, with an element of erotic attraction in the mix, why would this double response not also apply to preferential paedophiles?

Unfortunately, Mike Bailey seemed blinded by the hostile tone of my post, saying he had been “taken aback” by my attack on James Cantor, whom he described as a humane person who just wanted to stop paedophiles’ lives being ruined.

Right! Sure! As someone whose experience of James’s humane concern has been experienced through nothing but his icy refusal to acknowledge anything I have ever said on Sexnet, through to his cold, dismissive references to “O’Carroll’s” lack of professional standing and expertise, to screaming fits of outright abuse and demands that I be kicked off the forum, I begged to differ. After seven years of this from him since my forum membership started in 2010, I had concluded that nothing would make him happier than to see this particular paedophile’s life ruined; or, better still, terminated! I suspect I must have been murdered in his dreams a number of times and I’d rather not dwell on the methods he might have come up with.

And not just me: any other Kind person on the forum who dared to utter so much as a squeak of modest dissent against his self-enforced towering authority would face a blast of withering scorn. He must have verbally murdered half a dozen of us over the years, leaving me as the last man standing. All the others have either wisely kept a low profile (two or three continue to do useful work through private contacts with key forum members) or else retaliated by giving  James a defiant blast of their own, followed by their swift demotion to non-posting status for failing to know their station.

I have huge respect for Mike and I could see no mileage in antagonising him by pursuing a vendetta on the forum against a colleague he has known for decades without, it seems, being troubled by his obvious volatility. Far better to row back a bit, then try a careful re-casting of my argument, this time without ruffling feathers. So, I apologised for my hostile tone but continued to maintain my original scientific point about “normal” men’s sexual response to children in lab tests. The information I had given was not only correct, which Mike admitted, but also relevant, which he had denied. This time, after my further explanation, he conceded I had a point, albeit he felt James did not really believe paedophiles never feel parental-type love for children. My reaction: no, maybe not, but that is effectively what he said in public and it is pure poison because it suggests that Kind people are wired up to be unkind – selfishly interested only in their sexual expression and callously indifferent to children’s feelings and best interests.

I carefully spelled out that the “crossed wires” analogy presents paedophilic mental experience as a polar opposite of the norm, rather than part of a continuum in which most paedophiles have a great deal in common with others. Thus “the paedophile” is presented in a dehumanising way as a freakishly different being. This, I said, seems to me to be on a par with the equally false and damaging claim (now largely corrected in the literature) that paedophilic “offenders” lack empathy.

It was hard to gauge what other sexnetters were thinking at this point. Posts by established academics on less controversial topics, such as a thread today on “copulatory vocalisation”, tend to be followed up quickly with colleagues chipping in further information, often with friendly banter and jokes thrown in. My posts used to be met with brusque dismissal or patronising little lectures on where I was going wrong – until both types of response were met with clear evidence that I know my way around the literature and can back up my arguments with facts. After that they tended to shut up, except for James as the ranting voice of determined hostility on one side and a few brave souls on the other who have broken ranks occasionally to offer respectful dialogue on friendly first-name terms, or even support.

Mike has always been one of these. And now he came to the rescue again. Pleased by my change of tone, he turned his mind to my argument, and this time readily agreed I had a point. Most of the others maintained what I take to be a grudging, resentful silence. Someone started a purely theoretical discussion with Mike as to whether paedophilia is or is not taxonomically distinct; two or three others called for a halt to the personal spat. James got a bit of support for his efforts to “help” paedophiles, notably from Dan Watter, president of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research; but these were very brief contributions that neither attacked me nor addressed my arguments. And that was about it. Except for Judith Levine.

She had said vigilantes such as Creep Catchers tried “to scare the living bejesus” out of people and their activities could not be condoned. James disagreed, saying “Whether we here like it or not, their actions have great public support and attention.” Opposing them directly would not work: “This method, history has shown time and again, will only fuel the fire and add to the anti-intellectual fervor of the day.” Judith came back strongly. She wrote:

…as a political tactic, every movement needs radicals to stand not only for what we might get now but what we really want & really believe in. Current “sex offender” policies and practices are not only ineffective and counterproductive…. They are wrong. Legal hyper-punishment is unjust, and vigilante violence is immoral. No one should condone them, even obliquely.

This prompted Richard Green to enter the fray in support of Judith’s record, citing not only her well-known book Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex, discussed in comments here last time, but also her service as a Director of the National Center for Truth and Justice, which campaigns against what he called “problematic sex laws” and supports those falsely accused of child sex abuse.

Now into his eighties, Richard has a long and distinguished record of radicalism of his own as a leading academic psychiatrist who successfully campaigned against homosexuality being treated as a mental illness, and who made a bold bid to do likewise for paedophilia in a far less sympathetic political climate. As president of the International Academy of Sex Research he even stuck his neck out by inviting me as his guest speaker at the academy’s annual conference in 2000 – which is where I first met Mike Bailey.

Amazingly, by the time of Richard’s intervention on the Creep Catchers thread, it looked as though peace was breaking out. James posted in a remarkably emollient tone, even calling me Tom, which he has never done before. Wonders never cease! Alas, it didn’t last long. Like so many tactical ceasefires in so many conflicts, it would only take a single disaffected sniper to wreck the prospects of peace.

This time it was Nick Devin, Virtuous Pedophiles founder, who weighed in with a highly personal attack on me, saying I had always been mean to him despite his best efforts to hold out the hand of friendship. He had a point. I do not possess an effigy of Nick, but if I did it would be stuck so full of pins it would look like a hedgehog. Have I been unreasonable towards him? Maybe. But it’s hard to see clearly through a miasma of visceral loathing and contempt. Did I say I am not a good hater? Perhaps I should think again. Or maybe not. My view of Nick is not set in concrete, whereas a good hater’s would be.

Be that as it may, Nick’s “contribution” seemed to set James off again. Certainly, I cannot otherwise explain why he unexpectedly came back into the fray, like one of those horror-film monsters you think has just been despatched but suddenly stirs…

I won’t dignify what he said by repeating any of it. It was all utter crap, which I rebutted immediately, calmly and in detail, in a 2000-word volley that included reference to the opinions of sexnetters who have commended my contribution to the forum, including this, from transsexuality expert Anne Lawrence: “If Sexnet gave an award for clear, eloquent, well reasoned analysis, Tom O’Carroll would get my vote.”

The last word went to Mike Bailey:

There is no thought to excluding Tom O’Carroll from SEXNET. He knows a lot about some important topics, and SEXNET would be poorer intellectually without his presence.

That said, both Tom and his critics sometimes–too often–can’t keep themselves from digging/insulting each other. This is to their own detriment. The only people that appeals to is themselves (for retributive purposes) and the people who already agree with them. It is mostly annoying to others, and keeps others from reading their reasoning carefully. Which is a shame, because all are very thoughtful and taking important, mostly reasonable, positions.

I would be a fool to argue against any part of this, which is why, despite one or two ceasefire-breaking little salvos of my own, here, I do not rule out reconciliation with both Nick and James. But it has to be on a basis of intellectual and personal respect. Mutual, of course. They have both been invited to comment and will be treated courteously by me if they do so and, I hope, by other heretics.

Stretching the shrinks’ sexual sympathies

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When New York psychoanalyst Dr Sue Kolod asked my advice over a patient who might be paedophilic, I was pleased but not entirely surprised – pleased because usually the very last person to be consulted on matters of minor-attraction is a minor-attracted person; unsurprised because Sue and I are both members of Prof. Mike Bailey’s forum, Sexnet, so she already knew quite a lot about me from reading my posts over a couple of years.

An email exchange followed, in which I did my best to give an honest, straightforward, opinion; after that I thought no more of it. Then, quite a long time later, out of the blue, comes news from Sue that she had drafted a book chapter featuring the patient in question and also our emails. She was going to be on a conference panel looking at the “scandalous” patient. Would I be prepared to answer some questions for her, as background preparation? After seeing her interesting chapter, I was happy to do so. We have talked quite a bit here at Heretic TOC about whether MAPs should have any dealings with the mental health world, and if so how. So this seemed a valuable opportunity to explore a model of engagement that might turn out to be more useful than the typically coercive kind encountered in forensic and penal settings.

Sue’s conference contribution, as I hoped, was very positive. The event as a whole, aimed at mental health professionals, was wide-ranging, with “the unspeakable” as a major theme. The full title of her panel’s joint session was “The ‘scandalous’ patient: outrage, titillation and compassion”. The quote marks around “scandalous” conveyed the idea, even before Sue spoke, that not every alleged scandal should necessarily be considered scandalous. So that was a good start.

Before coming to the specifics of Sue’s speech, I think it is important to put ourselves in the shrinks’ shoes. Strangely, in view of the great emphasis Freud put on sex, the training of the modern analyst – and the same is even truer of the cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) types – does not typically extend to a sophisticated understanding of sexuality and its diversity. Apparently psychoanalysis is mostly about object relations theory these days. so there is plenty of scope, especially among analysts whose own sexuality is “normal”, to be all too easily susceptible to accepting supposedly “scandalous” behaviour at face value. Accordingly, the real struggle for understanding in which even the most humane and well intentioned therapist must engage is worth bearing in mind in what follows. The official programme notes introducing the panel capture quite well this tussle of the imagination:

Patients involved in a sex scandal or other “scandalous” activities can evoke reactions of disgust, fascination and sexual arousal in the analyst. They are often transformed from suffering patients into special exotic beings. This panel will discuss the disorientation that can ensue when scandal takes center stage and how the clinician can regain equilibrium.

I heard Sue’s talk from an audio recording she kindly sent me. She told her audience she had wanted someone alongside her on the speaker’s panel who had actually been involved in a scandal. She tried American politicians Eliot Spitzer and John Edwards but neither was keen once they knew the subject. So that was where I came in, as an “unapologetic paedophile” who had been “the head of a pro-paedophile organisation”. She said the conference committee rejected the idea of giving me a platform, as this might be seen as endorsing undesirable behaviour. She may not have realised this, but I would probably not have been allowed into the US anyway!

Sue said she had learned, in preparing for the conference, that even just by showing yourself ready to hear a person out, if they have been in a scandal, you get implicated in the scandal yourself. But scandal can be based on gossip. What people make of it can be very different from the original event. Thus anyone can be caught up in scandal. Also, it is relative: what would once have been scandalous no longer is, and vice versa. Not that long ago famous psychoanalyst Harry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949) was able to have sex with his patients without causing a scandal. This is because it was hushed up – something that could not happen today. But what is even more amazing is that James Inscoe, allegedly an underage male hustler, a patient of Sullivan’s or both, became his partner. That would be utterly beyond the pale now, but not then, when Sullivan encouraged his male gay patients to have sex with him.

On how people react to scandal, Sue quotes with approval an article “The Sex Monster”, by sociologist Abby Stein: “We have all have disowned parts of ourselves that wish to do harm. In the presence of perpetration, we may be repelled but we are also excited. In an odd way, people who have done awful, lurid, sexual things to others are not just more interesting to both lay and professional folk, they are downright sexy.”

Against this background, in which even professionals are not immune from feelings of both outrage and titillation, Sue recounted the story of her patient Frank, arrested and jailed after being accused of sexually abusing his seven-year-old granddaughter. Charges were dropped when the child recanted, but by then he had lost his job and the taint of scandal continued to poison his professional and family life. His file was kept open by the Administration for Children’s Services (ASC) and he was only permitted supervised visits with his granddaughter. He went voluntarily to therapy to be treated for depression and PTSD: he was having revenge fantasies over being got into trouble. He had also hoped Dr Kolod would provide a letter to say he did not fit the profile of a typical paedophile. Such a letter, his lawyer had told him, might persuade the authorities to close their file on him.

However, she began psychotherapy on the condition that Frank not ask her to advocate for him with ASC, with his family or in any court-related hearings. This was because there was no way she could know that the original allegations were false. My own opinion, having read some of the details of the case in Sue’s book chapter, is that the granddaughter’s original account could well have been true.

Frank was in therapy with Sue for two and a half years. His presenting problems abated without her ever being sure he was or was not a paedophile. She said the case gave her a problem of “countertransference” i.e. loosely speaking, emotional entanglement with her client. She had feelings of disgust, apprehension, outrage and fascination. In her book chapter she wrote:

Never sure whether I could trust my gut instincts, I was more distant with Frank than I usually am with my patients; more suspicious and also less likely to ask pertinent questions. For example, I was unusually reluctant to inquire into Frank’s sexual life and fantasies, a subject that was clearly relevant. I often experienced a distinct “not me” reaction to him. In short, I was uncomfortable with the idea of finding myself in him.

In an attempt to neutralise these feelings she decided to do something unorthodox. She would engage not with a fellow professional but with a paedophile: me! This would give the opportunity to see her feelings “in a context”. She took my advice not to seek a confession from Frank. After this, she said, her countertransference diminished: she was more able to see him as a suffering human being. She realised her job was to treat what he had come in for: depression and PTSD, not paedophilia. In the book she wrote:

Subsequent to this email exchange, I completely stopped trying to get Frank to confess to anything. Once I relinquished responsibility to get him to confess, I found that I was able to empathize with him. I stopped feeling either apprehension, disgust or fascination towards him and was able to experience him as a fellow suffering human being. My exchange with Tom O’Carroll helped me to “defetishize” my patient and to see him as “more simply human than otherwise”.

Sue read out from the emails between us. In the Q&A that followed her talk another analyst, Dr Mark Blechner, described it as a “remarkable exchange”. Sue wrote to me afterwards saying that Blechner, who is a training and supervising psychoanalyst at the William Alanson White Institute, which was holding the conference, “advocates if you have a patient with a problem or condition with which you are not familiar, it is important to consult with an expert on the subject. He was very laudatory of our interchange for that reason.” Blechner is the author of Sex Changes: Transformations in Society and Psychoanalysis (2009), a major theme of which is that some sexual practices once thought to be disgusting, perverse and illegal have become accepted.

After about two years, when Frank’s symptoms had significantly abated and he was doing a lot better, Sue finally felt able to confront her resistance to asking about his sexuality. She had sensed “an erotic transference”, with Frank becoming attracted to her. Frank told her he had become infatuated with a younger woman but was still married to his wife. In a dream he had been brought up against the need to decide. Sue recognised ambiguity in what he was saying: was the “younger woman” of his dreams his little granddaughter? This led her to have dreams herself, in which her countertransference came back, albeit in a milder form than before. She dreamt Frank was her date. When he embraced her, she was disgusted and broke free. Frank became despondent. She then felt guilty and sorry for him.

As treatment drew to a close Frank thanked her for all her work but also frequently asked if she believed him when he said he was not a paedophile. Her answers validated his understanding that some ambiguity remained in her mind, but despite that the pair parted “with warmth and loving feelings towards each other”.

Having heard all this in Sue’s talk, I found myself astonished and impressed by the candour with which she had described her own complex, deep and ambiguous reactions to her engagement with Frank. We MAPs, it seems to me, all too often fail to take account of the fact that even with the best will in the world, which I think Sue was demonstrating, it is extraordinarily difficult, when confronted with a demonised Other, just to toss that sense of Otherness out of one’s mind. So I believe we should respect that sincere effort, especially when it leads to a positive outcome, as in this case.

Sue recently wrote about follow-up work:

I am currently teaching a course at White on psychoanalytic process. I am playing recordings of my sessions with “Frank”. He gave me permission to tape him and to use the tapes for teaching purposes. At the last class I read from my correspondence with you and the students reacted very positively. They said that your comments helped them to see the patient in a more human light rather than as the “exotic other” – exactly the point of my presentation at the conference!

To be honest, my comments in those emails strike me as no big deal. It was very basic, simple stuff that focused in a matter-of-fact way on the patient’s feeling that the therapist should be there for them, not as some sort of detective trying to solve a crime. It is a simple message that accords well with traditional medical ethics. Encouragingly, it was taken seriously in this case.

Well, I say encouragingly, but it is a moot point whether MAPs will be able to secure ethical treatment in other settings. Those who find themselves coerced into taking part in sex offender treatment programmes at present are almost certain to find they are treated by therapists who regard crime prevention as their first goal, with the interests of the nominal “client” coming a vanishingly distant second. These are nearly all manual-based, one-size-fits-all CBT programmes in which the individual is systematically bullied into conformity. Treatments rooted in the Freudian tradition have at least taken an interest in looking deeply into people as individuals, but these probings, too, can be oppressive in a context of promoting “normal” sexuality: psychoanalysis since Freud, especially in America, has a poor track record of accepting even plain vanilla gayness as anything other than pathological.

As we have seen from Sue’s approach, though, the world of psychoanalysis is perhaps not as monolithically conformist as it perhaps once became in the US. It was a “sex offender”, actually, who first alerted me to its more radical possibilities. Ben Capel’s Notes from Another Country drew my attention to the fact that analysts such as Jacques Lacan, his protégé Jean Laplanche and British practitioner Adam Phillips (who gave the opening keynote speech at Sue’s conference) have struck a far less politically correct tone. Perhaps organisations such as B4U-ACT and its fledgling British equivalent FUMA (Forum for Understanding Minor Attraction), may see some merit in pointing individual MAPs in the direction of therapists who subscribe to this more radical tradition. This need not commit anyone to signing up for the sometimes abstruse theory these guys go in for: it’s the spirit that counts. Lacan himself is long gone; Laplanche died last year; Phillips, however, born in 1954, is still in private practice in London. As the William Alanson White Institute conference showed, there are also others.

Making virtues of ‘necessity’ and ignorance

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Many thanks, first of all, to all those who have contributed such excellent posts to a lively debate here at Heretic TOC in response to last week’s blog by the Virtuous Pedophiles. So, what are we left with after the blog itself plus some 7,000 words of comment? I think it will be a useful exercise for me not so much to sum up all this diverse input as to single out a few key themes. In doing so, I am also taking into account a further 3,000 words of email debate, to which I was privy, initiated by psychologist Prof. J. Michael Bailey earlier this month. This too was mainly an encounter between the same VPs and a couple of the heretical contributors here.

Because I aim to encourage thought, I do not propose to dwell overlong on the weaker aspects of the VP contribution, which heretics ably dissected. The strengths – and there were good points – are where we need to focus.

Briefly, then, let us get the downside out of the way first. Heretics pointed out a contradiction in the VP position. The VPs’ message to the non-MAP public is that adult-minor sexual contacts are always wrong; they tell us here, too, that in their minds and hearts they foreswear any other view. But they also say “under certain circumstances, we could reconsider”. Sugarboy’s response was “it seems that you have no ideals to fight for other than those that meet the majority’s approval. In other words, you make a virtue of necessity.”

Virtue or not, necessity will prevail by definition; accommodating to it is thus wise, not a weakness in itself. Ethan reminded us of a famous prayer by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Wise words indeed; but they are all too readily seized upon as a pat excuse for complacent passivity. It is significant that Ethan did not mention these words from the same prayer:

Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right

The VPs’ hidden agenda, I suggest, is the same: we should leave the heavy lifting to God, whose conspicuous absence from the affairs of man has always seemed, to a non-believer like me, a huge embarrassment for the faithful. Be that as it may. My quarrel here is not with God, or believers, but with those who lack the stomach to fight for change and the vision to see possibilities for it – and indeed its necessity. I will come to those possibilities in due course.

I will just add here that the most necessary and urgent aspect of change is to halt the rapid criminalisation of children as sex offenders, an issue to which the VPs seem callously indifferent. They casually say VPs “have no problem with children experimenting sexually with similarly aged peers”. But if they had an ounce of compassion and social concern beyond the narrow horizon of saving their own skins they would have a problem with it, the problem being that such “experimental” encounters are becoming ever more subject to oppressive surveillance and eradication measures. Even at kindergarten, sexual encounters between kids these days are said to be “perpetrated” by a child who is an “abuser”, as noted in an earlier blog, Being a predator is child’s play. There is no sex play for kids any more. The VPs react to this burgeoning new victim narrative with a shrug of indifference: not our problem! Leave it to the experts!

Likewise, they very dangerously leave therapy for distressed MAPs in the hands of presumed experts without apparently asking any of the right questions or insisting on proper standards. This would make a blog on its own. At this point I would just like to thank Gary Gibson from the therapy outfit www.iLoveChildren.us for turning up here. Gary, I may at some point want to ask you some of the questions the VPs are failing to deal with.

For the moment, I will just note the irony embedded in Niebuhr’s modern (20th century) Christian conservatism: if the early Christians had “wisely” weighed up the odds of their success in the days when they were being fed to the lions, they would certainly have given up!

The real weakness in VP’s position is making a virtue not of true necessity, which makes sense, but of a false “necessity”, in which the status quo is pusillanimously presented as inevitable. They manage to justify this lack of animation by keeping their eyes squeezed shut in order to block out the evidence that would support fighting for radical change. Thus, in order to make a virtue of “necessity” they must first make a virtue of ignorance! Ethan is quite explicit about it, saying “we bring no special knowledge to the table” about what is best for children. He shamelessly abdicates responsibility for informing himself on the subject, preferring to leave it all to the experts. While there is such a thing as genuine expertise in developmental psychology and so forth, should we be wholly reliant upon it? Based on the track record of scientists, who not so long ago were telling us that masturbation makes you go mad and that criminality can be detected from the shape of our heads (and who now insist paedophiles are on average a bit dim) this is clearly foolish.

This proudly proclaimed ignorance does not, however, inhibit the VPs from making unsupported assertions, such as “Children do not benefit from sex with adults, even if no harm is done.” On the contrary, it enables the VPs to do so with confidence, safe in the knowledge (their vestigial, minuscule bit of knowledge!) that their ignorance is invincible: they know that if they are confronted with evidence they can just stick their fingers in their ears and sing “La, la, la, can’t hear you. The experts know best. La, la la.”

This is not the time to go into detailed evidence showing that even in contemporary circumstances some children do benefit a great deal from sexual relationships with adults, or to expand on the positive possibilities that would attend a more liberated social vision. I will confine myself to mentioning that some such evidence was presented by T. Rivas, as discussed on Heretic TOC in A positive sighting of 118 black swans. I should also take this opportunity to plug a 90-page chapter in a new book in which a vast amount of evidence is presented on the positive side of man-boy sexual relationships. This is a long-censored paper with multiple perspectives on pederasty, by Bruce Rind: hence its appearance in a book called Censoring Sex Research. I hope to be blogging about this book and a related conference shortly.

Rind, significantly, is quoted out of context by Nick, as Ovid noted, in a fallacious bid to distance the fabled psychologist from claims that adult-child sex might be beneficial. This too is a product of ignorance – or, at least, I will charitably assume it arose from ignorance on Nick’s part rather than mendacity.

If making virtues of non-virtuous things (“necessity” and ignorance) are salient VP weaknesses, what about the strengths of their analysis? I believe they are correct in their claim that a measure of acceptance, in some circles at least, could be gained by those who loudly proclaim their adherence to mainstream moral opinions. As Sean noted, though:

Unfortunately, this amounts to a significant contraction of what Noam Chomsky has called ‘the bounds of thinkable thought’. Such thought policing has seldom brought positive changes to society and there’s no reason to think it will bring any to the predicament of paedophiles in the 21st C. It’s apparent that the worthy goal of ‘child protection’ readily devolves into a punitive, repressive, sex negative ideology that criminalizes and pathologizes not just sexual assault but normal childhood sexuality and sexual rehearsal. In fact, there is reason to believe that many ‘child protection’ initiatives are stalking horses for even more sinister authoritarian agendas, such as state assaults on free speech and increased domestic surveillance.

But the VPs have a significant counter-narrative. In an email, Ethan paints a rosy, even panglossian, picture of modern life compared to the past, the strength of his account lying in its element of truth. He celebrates the empowerment of women, the decoupling of sex and reproduction thanks to effective contraception, and intolerance of sex crimes such as date rape. As for children in earlier societies, they were “routinely abused physically and psychologically. In this context, unwanted sexual activity with adults might have seemed minor.” He is right to present a challenge to the idea of lost golden ages in which everyone could frolic freely together in some bucolic paradise of carefree intimacy. In most times and places life has been much harsher than it is for most of us today, both in the struggle for sheer survival and in the often brutal customs bred by such struggle. Ethan’s account, indeed, came dangerously near to being persuasive, as though – heaven forfend! – it might be based on something other than pure ignorance! Were it not for the fact that he appears never to read anything (despite having a PhD in psychology from one of the world’s leading universities), I might suspect he had been glancing at the odd page by Lloyd deMause, the “psychohistorian” who has presented history as a series of eras, each slightly less bleak for children than the last, culminating in our present relatively caring times. This simplistically progressive Mausian view has been criticised as grounded in a highly selective history of child abuse rather than a history of childhood. But I would not expect Ethan to have read enough to discover that much!

Peter Loudon, in reply, also astutely observed a fallacy in Ethan’s view:

One fallacy we all fall for is to regard the place we are now (in history) as being the place everything in the past was aiming for. The fact that we keep moving on means that this is not correct, and could apply to your assessment of where we currently stand…The price we have paid for security, immunity from dying in war, etc. is a succession of generations of people who have neither imagination nor initiative, and have traded life for obesity and a PlayStation. Everyone is held hostage to the threat of the paedophile and so no longer does anything outside or physical. Huge numbers of children suffer from ADHD.

The VPs have two even stronger points though. Firstly, they say radical activism by self-declared MAPs is doomed: MAP action on behalf of children, especially, will inevitably be discredited as self-interested. Discreet work for youth under some other designation than MAP would be more helpful, they say. I agree! Personally, having long been upfront as a MAP, such an option would not be open to me. Does that mean I would do well just to shut up? In terms of outreach to the wider public, maybe so. I do see a continuing public education role, however, for Heretic TOC and any other forums with a MAP presence which present the issues in a rational, informative and morally defensible way.

Ponder this: several times in Heretic TOC’s one-year history, the daily hit-rate has shot up massively for a while, by many hundreds, thanks to being mentioned in a hostile way on sites such as David Icke’s. Many of these people can be expected to have rummaged around the website in the expectation of being outraged. One might suppose these potentially very angry visitors would do their damnedest to set the comments pages alight with their flaming. Well, guess what? They don’t! I have not been flamed or trolled even once in 2013 so far as I can recall. Yes, they know that on a moderated site the flame would be trashed, but even so… My theory is that thousands of people go away less angry than they expected to be, and perhaps even a bit impressed. Am I wrong? If so, tell me why.

The VPs second strong point is that radical MAP activists have been reduced to talking among ourselves. This, too, is largely true. But, as my last point suggests, this does not necessarily make the exercise useless. Our actions are very, very constrained by the law and by public opinion. That being the case, we need to think, and websites such as this enable us to do so. Speaking for myself, I am too old and clapped out to lead any sort of revolution, for which in any case I lack the necessary attributes: I am more interested in “calling it as I see it” than doing all the tough alliance-building and strategy stuff that more political types do. But that need not stop younger people here from finding an opportunity to think things through and perhaps be inspired to great works.

Finally, I would point out that society is changing so quickly that none of us can really grasp how things will pan out. The western developed world has within a few decades undergone not one but several cultural revolutions, including non-marital partnerships, gay liberation and the empowerment of women. The new electronic technologies are now shifting things massively again: every kind of pornography except child porn has become ubiquitous, and is making a big impact – some of it good, some perhaps not – on the sexual sophistication of kids from late pre-puberty onwards. In this feverish climate it is by no means certain that the present panicky reaction of the conservatives, with their ever greater emphasis on surveillance and suppression, can hold the line. Children exploring and copying what they see, especially as they get into their second decade, may have a profound influence: we already have sexting and sexy selfies, and that’s only the start of it. In years to come it may prove technically impossible to hide child porn from most kids, too, including its more pleasantly erotic manifestations, in which the participants are seen to be enthusiastically engaged. Where would that take us? In those circumstances the currently dominant abuse narrative would suffer sudden catastrophic collapse, even though it now seems so solid.

It would be helpful, to put it mildly, for radical MAPs rather than VPs to be visible in the midst of such an eventuality, and for them to seize the day, in order to build a newly positive narrative. For such possibilities we need to be prepared.

Chemical castration and B4U-ACT: a challenge

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A few days ago a Briton living in the US was sentenced to serve 27 years in prison before being deported back to the UK, after plotting to kidnap, rape, kill and eat children. Authorities last year found a dungeon, homemade child-sized coffin, a child-sized cage with exterior locks, butchering kit and torture tools at the Massachusetts home of Geoffrey Portway, who had engaged in online discussions with others about a mutual interest in abducting and murdering children.

Castration tools were among the equipment found. In view of that grisly detail, there are some who might feel castration would be poetically appropriate as a precondition of Portway being considered for parole. Personally, I would prefer he were never released. His plans went far beyond S/M fantasy: even surgical castration – as opposed to the reversible chemical sort – would leave the more grotesque aspects of his criminal motivation untouched.

There are many other cases, though, in which offenders who have sexually assaulted children in a coercive or forceful way, or even those who have not so offended but have good grounds for fearing they are in imminent danger of doing so, could be considered appropriate candidates for treatment aimed at eliminating or greatly reducing their sex drive. B4U-ACT was castigated by a commentator here at Heretic TOC recently for failing to distance itself from such treatment. This was Jeff, who asked how could it be right for such an organisation to promote a treatment that would inevitably be harmful to a MAP’s mental health when it had been set up to improve standards of mental health provision?

Decca Aitkenhead, writing in the Guardian, visited some of the relevant issues in an informative and thoughtful article last year which makes a useful starting point for me to take the matter a bit further. She introduced her piece through the story of “Barry” (not the Barry who was responding here to Jeff!), who was sentenced to life in prison in 1976 for murdering a random stranger who had refused him a light for his cigarette. He had never been convicted as a sex offender but was put on a sex offender treatment programme (SOTP) in prison. This was because he committed an offence of common assault after being let out on licence: he had lured a girl behind some bushes and the assault occurred following a sexual advance, when she tried to escape. During the course of the SOTP he admitted to being a serial voyeur in constant danger of attacking young females.

So when a prison doctor offered him a pill that might take away his sex drive, “I didn’t think twice,” he reportedly said. “I jumped at it. And I haven’t looked back.”

For patients with obsessive sexual fantasies, Aitkenhead continues, antidepressants from the family of SSRIs that includes Prozac, often prescribed to treat obsessive compulsive disorder, can help them control their sexual thoughts. The second and more radical approach is an anti-androgen drug, such as leuprorelin, which reduces testosterone levels and makes the patient impotent. Research from Scandinavia, she writes, has reported a drop in reoffending rates from 40% to between zero and 5%. Barry was among those who advanced beyond SSRIs to anti-androgen treatment – which one would have thought would stand him in good stead with the Parole Board in order to secure a further release from prison. Herein, though, lies a tale to which I will return.

For the moment, let’s just review Barry’s situation as reported so far. He wants to be free; he does not wish to harm anyone (unlike Geoffrey Portway); he professes to be happy with the treatment, which he feels is a success; I imagine his supervisors on the SOTP feel he has made progress, judging by his attitude as it comes across in what he reportedly told Aitkenhead. So, if he can go back into society with a good prospect of making a success of it, what’s not to like?

Let us now turn to a very specific objection raised by Jeff: how could something as drastic as chemically blasting a man’s sex drive away (with side effects including growing breasts that may need to be surgically removed) be considered a voluntary treatment, as is usually claimed? In prison, especially, if castration appears to be the only way of getting released, it is surely a totally coerced choice, isn’t it, and therefore ethically dubious?

This is where I am going to bring in Mike Bailey. As I said in a previous comment, Prof. J. Michael Bailey once wrote a paper in favour of castration but more recently declared that “persuasive evidence for the harmfulness of pedophilic relationships does not yet exist”. These two positions at first blush may seem poles apart, as though Bailey’s views must have changed very radically. But it is not necessarily so. Among several possible interpretations of his position, he may believe that non-coerced adult-child sexual contacts are intrinsically harmless, and that castration, whether castration “lite” (chemical/reversible) or the real thing (surgical removal of the testes) cannot be justified in such cases, and maybe not prison sentences either, or indeed any kind of punishment. My point here is not to pin down Bailey’s position exactly but just to show that even belief in such a drastic treatment as surgical castration does not necessarily make the holder of such a belief an ogre of anti-sexuality and illiberal dogma. Indeed, I think Bailey’s unusual combination of views indicates that he is a thoughtful guy who is not afraid to go where evidence and logic take him, even when that makes him look a complete bastard to conservatives and liberals of the more emotional, knee-jerk, type for totally opposite reasons.

What more specifically is of interest to us here is the fact that his paper on castration, co-written with fellow psychologist Aaron Greenberg, addresses Jeff’s point about coerced “consent” to castration in detail and, I would say, with considerable care in around 1,250 words which I have posted online here.

In a nutshell, their argument goes something like this. Everything we do in life involves weighing up alternatives, and we are often forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. Whether a particular choice offered in the penal system is coerced to an improper degree is something that might possibly be defined [TOC: constitutional or human rights grounds come to mind] but the criteria would probably be very hard to agree upon. Instead of puzzling over what is or is not voluntary, a more productive approach is instead to ask simply whether it is morally acceptable to put the offender in the position of being subjected to one of the alternatives offered. If the prison sentence is fair [TOC: but at Heretic-TOC many of us believe sentences in this field are often appallingly unfair], why would a less disagreeable alternative chosen by the prisoner not be fair? If the prison sentence is unfair, that is a different issue. Far from decreasing the offender’s freedom, all adding castration (or anything else) as an option does is increase his freedom. If he prefers the full prison sentence to castration, he will refuse castration and will be in exactly the same position as if it were never offered. His position with the castration alternative will be better than or the same as, but never worse than, his position without the alternative. In addition, it is by no means clear that castration is a morally unfair punishment for certain sex crimes, even if imposed without the offender’s consent: in the case of very serious crimes, a punishment that may greatly reduce the chance of recidivism seems particularly appropriate.

So far as it goes, I think the reasoning here is quite strong (please point out flaws I have missed) but rather limited in the scope of its moral vision. It seems to me that true castration, like capital punishment, is one of those extreme ways of dealing with offenders that not only violates fundamental human rights but which also endorses violence: these punishments make the state look as vicious as the offender, or worse, and underpin, rather than undermine, a social climate in which violence is seen as a solution rather than a problem.

The point about the effectiveness of surgical castration in stopping further offences, is worth dwelling upon. Elsewhere in their paper, Bailey and Greenberg quote a 1970s German study, by Wille and Beier, indicating a very impressive postoperative recidivism rate of only 3%, whereas a comparison group of uncastrated offenders reoffended at a rate of 46% over 11 years. However, the also extremely good results reported above from Swedish research in relation to chemical castration do not appear to find support in the latest major study of the effectiveness of all types of sex offender treatment (or possibly all types in the UK: surgical castration does not seem to have been covered) published as recently as last month in the British Medical Journal by Långström et al. Well over a thousand studies were considered in this systematic review of the literature.

Embarrassingly for science, none of them were deemed good enough to demonstrate that any particular treatment is truly effective, including chemical castration. The paper notes: “The lack of credible studies of antiandrogen drugs is particularly striking given the prominence of ‘chemical castration’ in public debates concerning the treatment of known perpetrators.”

In that case, we might think, the ethical arguments reviewed above become redundant. What possible justification can there be for B4U-ACT, or anyone else, to promote a treatment that could be held to violate human rights, and which certainly has the humiliating and degrading (for a man) side effect of breast enlargement, if it may well be utterly ineffective? Isn’t it all a bit of a sham?

In practice, it is often a sham in other ways, too. Prisoners sometimes undergo castration on the basis of false hopes, as Bailey and Greenberg’s paper shows in the case of an offender called Jeffrey Morse in America. A particularly egregious injustice occurred in that case because Morse ended up being surgically, and hence irreversibly, castrated but then found himself given an increase over the expected sentence (from 25 years to 26), not a reduction.

There are false hopes and pervasive bad faith in the British penal system too. As Aitkenhead reveals, prisoners are in effect being led up the garden path: they are encouraged to undergo chemical interventions in the belief that their cooperation with suggested treatments will help secure their release. What they are not told, it seems, is that under existing rules the Parole Board is not even allowed to know whether prisoners have been on a course of SSRIs or had chemical castration! It is thus impossible for treatment to help secure their release but they are left with totally the opposite impression. This strikes me as utterly unjust and even fraudulent.

So where does all this leave us? Conscious of the rather heated clash in Heretic-TOC’s comment space over B4U-ACT’s apparently pro-chemical castration (in certain circumstances) stance, I have tried to approach the issues in a balanced and reflective way. It was not always so. As a young man, back in the 1970s, I delivered a fiery speech against chemical castration at a conference of the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty). It was later written up as an article in Gay Left after being attacked by Patricia Hewitt, who was later a cabinet minister in Tony Blair’s government. Reading that article again online, for the first time in over thirty years, I must ruefully note that it achieved nothing: chemical castration is still with us. Hewitt scoffed at my rather amateurish efforts – factual research by the unfunded non-professional was much tougher in the pre-internet era – and I now find my moral certainty at the time more than a touch simplistic.

The whole of the Gay Left issue in question is online as a PDF, and there is a Table of Contents. I might just mention in passing that the same issue includes a discussion of paedophilia by the Gay Left Collective, to which I replied in the following issue. Those who are interested in the changing attitude of the gay movement over time towards paedophilia might thus find these particular issues of Gay Left to be revealing. One of the leading lights of Gay Left was Jeff Weeks, then a radical young historian but sadly now – as I remarked in Tromovitch sets a poser on prevalence  – a rather bland and boringly PC emeritus professor.

What has not changed much, though, after all this time, is my opinion of chemical castration. Jeff (not Jeff Weeks!) is basically right, I think: chemical castration is an extreme form of intervention which is very hard to justify, especially as its efficacy is still in doubt after so many years. But that does not mean B4U-ACT is in some sort of conspiracy with the authorities or is anti-sexual.

This story related by Barry is worth recalling:

 …one young man … recently came to us seeking help. He had been on probation after he was released from prison for sexually assaulting boys, and during that time the state paid for him to receive anti-androgen medication. Now that probation was ending, he could not afford to continue the treatment and he was desperately asking for help to continue as he felt very strong urges to go out and assault another boy… What in actuality would be punitive is the 10- or 20- (or more) year sentence the MAP could receive if he were to act out on his urges. That would also certainly be more deleterious to the mental health of a MAP than a reversible course of medication…

These are strong points. It is not easy to know the right course to take when faced with responsibility for a case like this, which may be about self-coercion as a result of state brain-washing but is a very different situation to the hard choices faced by MAPs in prison or still under tight control during probation. If Jeff or anyone else can put forward a coherent and compelling policy for an organisation such as B4U-ACT in these circumstances, Heretic TOC would be pleased to hear it. Indeed, this blog would be interested to hear from B4U-ACT itself, in either its American or British manifestations.

MAIN REFERENCES

Aitkenhead, D., Chemical castration: the soft option? The Guardian, Friday 18 January 2013

Bailey, J.M. & Greenberg, A.S., “The science and ethics of castration: Lessons from the Morse case”, Northwestern University Law Review. 1998;92(4):1225-1245.

Långström, N. et al., Preventing sexual abusers of children from reoffending: systematic review of medical and psychological interventions, BMJ 2013;347:f4630 (9 August 2013)

Wille, R. & Beier, K.M., Castration in Germany, Annals of Sex Research 2, 105-9 (1989)

New quests sparked by fading old charts

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Heretic TOC is delighted to report that readers here are increasingly leaving comments on old blogs – even from last year – as well as the latest one, and these comments include some excellent contributions. This reflects the fact that Heretic TOC aims to do more than just respond to the latest headlines: a goodly proportion of the blogs so far have engaged with topics that will remain live issues long after many “major” news stories have been forgotten.

Admittedly, the mainstream media is where the “dominant narrative” is at its most comprehensively, well, dominant, and this blog is pledged to challenge that dominance. But the narrative doesn’t just spring out of nowhere: its sources and headwaters need tracking down, with careful exploration and mapping of some remote and obscure places. The commentators I am talking about are actively engaging themselves in that process: where Heretic TOC’s fading charts may say little more than “Here be dragons”, a new and determined quest may yield more accurate knowledge .

This is great, but it presents a bit of a problem because it is easy to miss some of these wonderful responses to the older blogs. One solution is to offer a guest blog slot to the best contributors. This has already worked very well, in my view. But what do you do when a new contributor simultaneously sends in four superb comments, amounting to over two thousand words in response to old blogs, raising  all manner of interesting discussion points? A useful way forward, I think, is simply to trumpet their presence, which I will now do.

These four posts all come from “A”, who I gather is female, but about whom I presently know nothing else. Two of her comments are in response to Tromovitch sets a poser on prevalence; another is about How to take a vacation from yourself; finally, there is one on Adultophilia or teleiophilia? This last item is on a long page with 35 comments, and quite hard to find: the search term “curly hair” will get you there. I absolutely urge everyone to read all of these posts, and to read especially carefully those in response to the Tromovitch piece, as they require some concentration.

I am tempted to wade in with some response of my own to A’s detailed points, but further words from me will only distract from what she is has written. So I say no more, except go to the links and see for yourself!

‘Work of genius’ lost in obscurity

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Heretic TOC yesterday meant to cover a further aspect of “Three reasons to be cheerful” but ran out of time and space. Well, I say ran out of space: I suppose a blog page can stretch to infinity but I doubt the same can be said for readers’ patience.

I had wanted to elaborate on one of the sources used by Jon Henley in his Guardian article. He refers to J Michael Bailey of Northwestern University: “…writing last year in the peer-reviewed Archives of Sexual Behaviour, Bailey said…he was forced to recognise that ‘persuasive evidence for the harmfulness of paedophilic relationships does not yet exist’.”

What Henley did not reveal is that Bailey’s article in the Archives was a review of my book Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons. I hope fellow heretics will read his full review, but here is a brief taster:

…fascinating, challenging and discomfiting. Anyone wanting to understand Michael Jackson will need to read it. The idea that pedophilic relationships can be harmless or even beneficial to children is disturbing to many people, including me. The lack of scientific evidence supporting my largely visceral reactions against pedophilic relationships has been one of the most surprising discoveries of my hopefully ongoing scientific education…O’Carroll argues against my intuitions and he argues well. J Michael Bailey, professor of psychology, Northwestern University, Chicago

I trust I will be forgiven for plugging Bailey’s recommendation, especially once you hear about an extraordinary campaign two years ago to have the book suppressed. I had written Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons under the pen name Carl Toms, but angry Jackson fans discovered my identity and outed me online as a “convicted paedophile” soon after the book had been printed and just weeks ahead of its planned June 2010 publication. Until that disaster it had been tipped by Amazon in pre-launch publicity as a likely best-seller. Publishers Troubador had been aware of my real identity all along but panicked and disowned the title in the face of Jackson loyalists who hated my portrayal of their idol.  This was because Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons defended Jackson as an active boy-lover rather than as a child-like “innocent”.

The upshot was that the only way I could get the book to market was to assume the role of publisher and distributor myself, and I started a company, Dangerous Books Ltd, for this purpose. All this necessitated legal action to secure the publishing rights and a heavy personal financial investment. That is one reason why the book cannot be offered at a low price if I am ever to break even. Another is that it is a 624-page doorstopper, which was expensive to print.

A year after the abortive launch, in May 2011, I was able to announce a re-launch via a press release headed “Sabotaged ‘work of genius’ to be relaunched”. The “work of genius” bit is not my hype, by the way: it is what historian Prof. William Percy, of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, actually said. It’s way over the top, of course. Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons is just an analytical biography, not Einstein’s theory of relativity. I was grateful for Percy’s enthusiasm, though, and the re-launch worked well enough to attract interest from The Sunday Times: their features editor said they were thinking of running an extract in the magazine section, although that interest evaporated just as soon as they realized my angle was pro-BL as well as pro-Jackson!

All in all, Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons has managed to attract many excellent reviews and notices, but they have all been confined so far to obscure academic journals hidden behind pay walls and other places that are not exactly like an interview with Oprah Winfrey in terms of mass exposure. So I urge all you heretics here to ponder at least a few of the reviews and consider whether this is a book for you. One thing is for sure: love him or loathe him, Jackson was one of the most colourful, fascinating and enigmatic figures ever to perform in public, so making the book an interesting read was the easiest of my tasks. Making it original, insightful and truly illuminating took years of research and hard work, but there is no shortage of critics who say I have succeeded.

Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons is available at amazon.com (recommended supplier: MindGlow Media) amazon.co.uk (recommended supplier: SafeSend) and Dangerous Books.

 

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