Thursday, 11 August 2011

A Memo From History

I spent the first part of this week down in London at the National Archives. I made some interesting discoveries but because I want to save them for publication, you'll forgive me if I don't publish them on here. I did however come across one memo to the Wolfenden Committee in 1955. Wolfenden was the committee that reccomended to the government in 1957 that homosexuality should be decriminalsied - and this was to herald the eventual decriminalisation of homosexuality in Engladn and Wales through the Sexual offences Act 1967.

Anyway, this memo was written to the committee, the identity known the Chairman but hidden from the official 'evidence' document. The reason? The man providing evidence was a homosexual and thus given the moral and legal condemnation of his disposition, he remained anonymous for the purposes of this document. Here's an extract:
‘What possible good can a prison sentence do? Fear of it will not stop a fundamental biological activity like sex. As it has not stopped it thus far, it presumably will not do so in future. Again imagine the opposite, i.e a law passed by homosexuals to make heterosexual relations illegal. Would it stop it? It would, if course, only drive it underground, as the law has at present driven homosexuality. It certainly helps to fill the overcrowded prisons at the tax payers expense.’
Replace the word 'homosexual' with 'paedophile' and it's quite a scary passage. No, I've not suddenly turned into a paedophile rights campaigner but I do recognise the law has thus far not found a satisfactory response to paedophilia. The above extract - albeit about homosexuality - serves as a powerful reminder as to why the law is having a real problem addressing this phenomenon. Sex is about desire, and a biological desire. Can one ever stop such a desire?

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Elly said...

I think as Foucault has suggested that both homosexuality pre-1967 and paedophilia, show how our society has a 'desire' to 'regulate' sex in legal frameworks. Not a biological desire maybe but a very strong urge!

I tend to try and look at the law as a societal set of discourses, and then it becomes more complex. But it doesn't focus on individual 'problems' of 'desire'.

Anonymous said...

(1) People who rape and abuse kids should go to prison, no dispute (2) But child porn is ill-defined (fraudulently defined in some cases), and innocent people have gone to prison, or committed suicide after being wrongly acused.

You don't have to be a pedophile to be labelled and emprisoned as one.

Remember newsreader Julia Somerville who was arrested after a film processing lab called the police: her husband had taken photos of the kids nude in the bath. It should never have gone to court.

Today you can go to prison for having Manga cartoons of kids having sex, where no real kids are involved, and the images are described as "child abuse photos" or "crime-scene photos".

Underage kids sexting explicit photos of each other are not being abused, except perhaps by the law, which claims on one hand that they are too young to decide whether to make an underage photo of themselves, but are old enough to be prosecuted!

Joan Collins recently admitted having sex as a 15-year-old with Marlon Brando. Today, he would die in prison.

If someone sends me child porn photos, I can go to prison. I have to prove my innocence. And so it goes on. Pedophilia is the new demonisation of individuals.

Elise Moore said...

Naturally, presuming we're not talking about rape or molestation, this all depends on how we define the age of consent. Which is about the construction of childhood in the West (and why the age was driven up in the 20th century). Pornography laws, and their frequent insanity (and the *danger* they present to freedom of speech and even thought), are another question.

Elly said...

well the age of consent helps to define what 'rape' is. Because 'statutory rape' simply means having sex with someone under the age of consent. In the Uk there is a 'grey area' between 13 and 16 where sex is not considered 'rape' necessarily. Under 13 it is always considered non-consensual.

Elise Moore said...

I'm talking about rape as forced sex, of course. Statutory rape is yet another question! And the use of "rape" for both is not very helpful. A friend who was raped (as in, sex forced on her) at the age of nine told me she much prefers the term "sexual assault," which would improve the distinction.

Chris Ashford said...

Anonymous - I completely agree with the comments you make.

Elise - I think you get to the heart of the issue and one I explore with my students, but I've yet to hear/find a clear solution to the very issue you present.

Such is the (understandably) emotive nature of this debate, there is an unwillingness to push the debate forward and few academics/policy makers want to be associated with this issue unless it's in the 'chop their balls off' camp.

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