Thursday 3 January 2013

Paedophilia as Sexuality?

Updated 15.28 on 3 January

Many thanks to @katesheill for alerting me to this story.  The Guardian carries a very interesting comment piece by Jon Henley in which he explores the disagreements amongst 'experts' about what causes paedophilia and whether it amounts to a 'sexuality'.  I'm not an expert on this aspect of sexuality but I confess to being open minded, and can see value in the arguments in favour and against it being a 'sexuality'.  The difficulty, is that this debate is so emotive and politicised that the arguments for/against become proxies for other sexual agendas rather than addressing the actual subject of inter-generational sex.

Henley himself makes a number of interesting observations about these debates from various experts, but he doesn't fully take account of the external forces at work upon these same experts.  A charity dealing with children has its own limitations, whilst academics - supposedly the most free of thinkers - are limited by institutional and Academy politics which condemn to silence whole rafts of opinion and thought.   That is perhaps the biggest change in recent decades, and perhaps explains the dramatic shift in 'attitudes' that Henley notes, and the contemporary challenges of viewing paedophilia through the lens of sexual liberation.

Henley does offer a definition of paedophilia, via the Sex offenders Act 1997, although an understanding of the complexities of this area might be better gleaned from the Sexual Offences Act 2003 - which also highlights the discrepancies in age when it comes to images rather than acts (you can consent to an act at 16, but an image only at 18).

For lawyers, the subject of consent is readily debated in other sensitive fields - notably the right the life (think abortion for example), and the recent right to life cases (for example Nicklinson and Pretty) and even in the context of age - the famous Gillick case of course.  Yet, consent in the context of sexual age is perhaps a taboo subject, touching as it so clearly does on the toxic subject of paedophilia.

The dominant rights-based discourse of the twenty first century is navigated by ascribing rights to 'children' (contrast with the nineteenth century) and those who are defined by sexualities - but not 'perversions' which remain taboo, and sometimes legally controlled and/or limited.  To define paedophilia as a sexuality would therefore shift the subject into a rights-based narrative, and thus one must face the liberal challenge of balancing rights, rather seeking to merely assert the rights of one group over another 'perverse' group.  Toxic stuff indeed.

Researching this area is surely a maze of funding difficulties, institutional politics and additional barriers  which one faces in the name of safeguards.  For example, a number of records of the now defunct Paedophile Information Exchange group (mentioned by Henley) can be viewed at the London School of Economics, but you must (or at least you did when I was using their archive for research on public sex a year or so ago) provide reasons for why you want to access those files which are then put on record.  My idle curiosity at looking at the files as someone who teaches law and sexuality was stopped dead in their tracks.  That's not a database I'd like my name anywhere near - especially when you consider the bungled Police operation that was Operation Ore, and the history of data becoming misconstrued.

Please don't misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that the current collective (if there is one) view of paedophilia (as variously understood) is wrong.  I am however, questioning the absence of a debate when we debate so clearly every other aspect of our existence.

The Henley article is therefore a really interesting insight into some of the arguments in this area, but those seeking a deep and open debate in this area must continue to wait.


Thanks to @PauldeMello_jnr who alerts me to the Telegraph piece by Damian Thompson responding to the Guardian article.  It does rather underline my comments.

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Anonymous said...

The problem is that the law is inconsistent and sometimes misleading.

I can legally have sex with a 16-year-old with all of its associated risks, but we can't watch each other masturbate on a webcam. The latter is called "child porn", or worse "child abuse images", even though there is no abuse.

Two 15-year-olds who have sex consensually sex are legally pedophiles and child abusers. Do we really think that the subsequent shaming will be less harmful?

Kids can't give consent. It doesn't stop them inhaling second-hand smoke, or legally having alcohol with their meals, substances that kill tens of thousands of people each year, not to mention junk food. How does the harm compare?

virped said...

Pedophiles are human beings. We are not perverts or predators: Most of us are productive, happy and law-abiding members of society. We are not monsters lurking in the shadow. We are members of society. Your son, your daughter, your best friend can be a pedophile. That doesnt make him bad or evil.

Now, if pedophilia was considered a sexual orientation: what would be the problem? What rights would you loose? We are not talking about depriving people from their rights. We are talking about giving a little of self-esteem, of self-respect to people who live being marginalized and excluded from society. Heterosexuals and homosexuals wouldnt loose rights. You wouldnt loose anything. And we would win self-respect, self-esteem, respect. We wouldnt be considered sub-human creeps, unworthwhile of human treatment.

You know how many children and teens are pedophiles? Did you know that most pedophiles find about their sexual orientation when they are not even 15? That would let those kids to feel a little human.

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