"There are things that happened to me when I was a kid that you don't know about. ..." So recounts Richard Hoffman in his critically acclaimed autobiography Half the House: A Memoir, attempting to speak to his father about the child sexual abuse he had suffered in secret from his baseball coach 30 years earlier.
Hoffman still feels his father is complicit in the abuse because of the neglect and malicious beatings that drove him to seek love and affection elsewhere. He knows he must confront his father after seeing a horribly burned boy whose disfigurement reminds him of his still painful emotional scars: "My eyes welled and I trembled. It wasn't so much pity for the boy that moved me, although I pitied him, but my identification with him."2
Now in his forties, Hoffman listens with mounting anger to his father's reaction. After all these years he displays the same callousness, making light of the emotional devastation suffered by his young son. Finally he can be still no longer, and explodes with rage: "'Do you have any idea?' I was on my feet now, fists clenched at my sides, leaning over him, roaring. 'DO YOU HAVE ANY ****** IDEA WHAT HAPPENS TO A LITTLE BOY'S SOUL WHEN YOU SHOVE A **** UP HIS ***? DO YOU?'"3
Righteous anger such as that expressed by Richard Hoffman is often absent in sterile, academic debates about whether sexual abuse4 is harmful to children. But one finds an echo in the warning of Jesus: "But whosoever shall offend one of these little ones who believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea." (Matthew 18:6)
Sexual Deviation and the Academy
A key element of those forces striving to transform our culture and overturn its historic Judeo-Christian sexual norms is the social legitimization of sexual deviancies -- which pedophile activist David Thorstad calls "complementary facets of the same dream."5 This all-encompassing goal of unrestrained sexuality cannot succeed as long as such practices are marginalized, confined to sleazy bookstores in the seedier areas of cities, and subject to societal opprobrium.
The crucial battle, however, is not being fought on the level of the vice squad. Rather, the struggle is being played out in the academic citadels of the land. Given the almost religious authority accorded to scientific disciplines in Western culture, professional organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association and its sister guild, the American Psychological Association, exert enormous influence upon the public perception of sexual behavior.
The "sacred text" of the American Psychiatric Association is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), considered the authoritative guide to psychiatric disorders. Evolving views of sexual deviancy found in the DSM have proven to be an influential force for transforming cultural norms of sexual behavior.
A gradual progression away from traditional views can be seen, for example, in the APA's piecemeal acceptance of homosexuality. The first version of the DSM, appearing in 1952, listed homosexuality in a group of sexual sociopathic personality disorders classed as sexual deviations. A subtle but crucial change appeared in the revised version, DSM II, which called homosexuality a sexual orientation disorder only for those who are disturbed by their condition or wish to change their sexual orientation. According to DSM II, homosexuality was no longer considered to be in itself a psychiatric disorder.
The final step came in 1973, when DSM III no longer referred to homosexuality by itself as a sexual orientation disturbance. Homosexuality was considered a problem only when it was "ego-dystonic," causing unwanted and persistent stress for the individual. Subsequent revisions of the Manual, DSM III-R and DSM IV, make no mention of homosexuality whatsoever.
A similar progression to legitimize sexual aberrance is evident with regard to pedophilia. DSM I and II both classify pedophilia as "sexual deviation." However, in DSM III pedophilia is labeled a "paraphilia" (an aberrant sexual fantasy or behavior), a less pejorative designation than "sexual deviation." DSM III-R, a revision of DSM III, adds a subjective qualification similar to that which appeared with regard to homosexuality: The individual must be "markedly distressed" by his own pedophilic activity to be considered needful of therapy.
The diagnostic criteria in the latest revision, DSM IV, specify that pedophilia is to be considered a paraphilia when the behavior causes "clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning."6 The same changes in DSM IV can be seen with regard to sexual sadism, sexual masochism and voyeurism.7
The APA's classifications of sexual deviancy gradually have shifted from an objective description of aberrant behavior to the subjective perception of the individual. Thus, according to DSM IV, if a person feels no desire to change, there is no need to seek therapy.
The far-reaching ramifications of the APA's reclassification of homosexuality have extended beyond medicine and law -- where a proliferation of homosexual rights legislation has swept the country -- to popular culture, where homosexuality is almost invariably portrayed as a positive and healthy, if misunderstood, lifestyle.
Cracks in the floodgates have been appearing regarding pedophilia as well. Emboldened by the APA's acceptance of homosexuality as a valid lifestyle, advocates of adult-child sex are making cautious forays into the scholarly literature. Once again, this move is shrewdly calculated, with the expectation that society in general will follow the lead of the "high priests" of the scientific community.
A significant initial salvo for the acceptance of pedophilia in academia was the publication of what would become a highly controversial study on child sexual abuse in the prestigious journal Psychological Bulletin. Authored by Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch, and Robert Bauserman, the study -- "A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples" -- asserted that the widely held belief that sex between adults and children always causes harm to children "is of questionable scientific validity."8
While the authors contend that "the vast majority of both men and women reported no negative effects from their CSA [child sexual abuse] experiences," they nonetheless allow that some experiences result in negative consequences for the victim.9 And to what are these negative effects attributed? To none other than family environment factors such as "traditionalism" that prevent the child's parents from lending support to the child engaged in pedophilic activity.10
According to the Rind study, the child sexual abuse itself was "relatively unimportant compared with family environment" in causing negative effects.11 The clear implication is that children would suffer few if any negative effects from pedophilia if only society were more accepting of such behavior.
Adult-child sex, conclude the authors, should not be indiscriminately termed child sexual abuse. "One possible approach," they suggest, "is to focus on the young person's perception of his or her willingness to participate and his or her reactions to the experience. A willing encounter with positive reactions would be labeled simply adult-child sex, a value-neutral term."12
The Rind study was roundly condemned by many and eventually criticized by the American Psychological Association, publisher of Psychological Bulletin. Paul Fink, M.D., former president of the American Psychiatric Association, pointed out that most of the studies discussed by the authors had never undergone rigorous peer review, and that the results were largely based on one study conducted over 40 years ago.13
In addition, the majority of the incidents of "child sexual abuse" included in the study consisted of indecent exposure that did not involve physical contact, or sexual advances that were rebuffed by the subject. Thus, in most cases the "sexual abuse" was either comparatively minor or nonexistent. As Dr. Fink observes, "It is as if a study that purports to examine the effects of being shot in the head contained a majority of cases in which the marksman missed. Such research might demonstrate that being shot in the head generally has no serious or lasting effects."14
A study by Debra K. Peters and Lillian M. Range found significant differences between contact and non-contact child sexual abuse (distinctions that for statistical purposes the Rind study ignores):
Further, a consistent finding was that women and men whose sexual abuse involved touching were more suicidal, less able to cope, and felt less responsible to their families than nonabused students. Adults whose sexual abuse was exploitative but involved no touch were not significantly different from nonabused adults. The experience of being touched in a sexual way appears to be more damaging than other kinds of unwanted sexual experiences. ...15
Steven M. Mirin, M.D., medical director for the American Psychiatric Association, stated that his organization "strongly disagrees" with the conclusion of the Rind study "that not all sexual contact between adult and child should be considered abusive." He explained:
[F]rom a psychological perspective, sex between adults and child[ren] is always abusive and exploitative because the adult always holds the power in the relationship and the child does not. Such exploitation destroys the child's trust that the adults in his or her life will not harm [him or her].16
Undeterred by the scholarly panning of the Rind study, the North America Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) -- otherwise known as the "the intellectual elite of child molesting" -- in a press release touted the study as "good news."17 Since efforts to legitimize pedophilia can be expected to continue unabated, let us pose a series of questions that address the chief contentions of the advocates of adult-child sex.
THE EFFECTS OF CHILD ABUSE
Does pedophilia cause harm to children?
NAMBLA's web page cites a German study of 8,000 reported victims of sex offenses, which, NAMBLA reports, concluded, "None of the boys experienced force or coercion, and no negative outcomes were observed for any of the boys."18 (Emphasis in original.) This astounding interpretation of the study by NAMBLA is one that even the Rind study -- which conceded some degree of negative effects -- would not support.
In truth, those who would dismiss the negative effects of child sexual abuse do so against a veritable mountain of evidence documenting the pernicious consequences of adult-child sex. Lucy Berliner and Diana M. Elliott, in The APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment, summarize, "Research conducted over the past decade indicates that a wide range of psychological and interpersonal problems are more prevalent among those who have been sexually abused than among individuals with no such experiences."19 In their review of 45 studies, Kathleen A. Kendall-Tackett, Linda Myer Williams, and David Finkelhor concur, "Fears, posttraumatic stress disorder, behavior problems, sexualized behaviors, and poor self-esteem occurred most frequently among a long list of symptoms noted. ..."20 David Lisak adds to this long list of pernicious effects suffered by the survivors of child sexual abuse, which he describes as "a legacy of childhood abuse that permeates all of the important domains of its victims' lives":
The analysis identified prominent affects and affective states (anger, fear, helplessness, loss, guilt, and shame), salient cognitive sequelae (inability to legitimize their experience as abuse, negative schemas about the self and about people and self-blame), pervasive issues around gender and sexuality (homosexual issues, masculinity issues and problems with sexuality), and interpersonal difficulties (betrayal, isolation and alienation, and negative childhood peer relations).21
Researchers attribute the harm inflicted on the child to a number of factors: The abuse is often confusing, frightening -- and painful. Sexual activity between children and adults, by its very nature nonconsensual, interferes with normal development processes and leads to maladjustment later in life.22 These negative effects can be categorized according to age group.
Effects of Child Sexual Abuse on Children. Contrary to the opinions of those who would minimize the negative consequences of adult-child sex, the effects are immediate and often severe. In a clinical study, Robert L. Johnson, M.D., found that "70% of those who had been molested (by a male or female) felt devastated immediately after the molestation incident had occurred."23 Bill Watkins and Arnon Bentovim, in their review of research on the sexual abuse of male children, found three common short-term effects.24
One effect is the development of homosexual tendencies. Watkins and Bentovim found that adolescents attributed the onset of their homosexual desires to having been victimized by an older male. Secondly, male victims of sexual abuse often turn their rage outward and attempt to reassert their masculinity in inappropriate ways, such as aggressive and antisocial behavior. Finally, some boy victims try to recapitulate -- or re-enact -- their victimization, this time with themselves as the perpetrator and someone else as the victim.
Another common reaction is for the victim to withdraw into himself or herself, dejected and plagued with self-doubt. This only aggravates the pain, for it is thought that children who do not speak about their sexual abuse suffer greater psychic distress than those who are able to seek help.25 Johnson notes:
Low self-esteem and depression are the most important long-term effects experienced by sexually abused boys, along with a tendency to feel helpless and vulnerable. Some of these boys are almost compulsively drawn into situations where they are repeatedly victimized. Adult types of sexual dysfunction appear to be as common among former sexual abuse victims as they are in adult rape victims.26
These may include running away from home, being enticed into prostitution, promiscuous sex, and substance abuse.27
Finally, and not surprisingly, many of these children become suicidal. They are more likely than other maltreated children to receive the psychiatric diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.28 Because of the nature of the abuse, they have difficulty forming trusting relationships -- especially with those they view as parental figures.
Effects Continuing into Adulthood. In their study of the long-term impact of the abuse of children, P.E. Mullen, et al., note, "Child abuse, and sexual abuse in particular, has come to be regarded by many clinicians as making a powerful contribution to adult pathology."29 The cycle of abuse continues when the victims of sexual abuse become parents themselves. Danya Glaser and Stephen Frosh observe:
Most significantly, perhaps, for social workers and other professionals working with children, it seems that victims of child sexual abuse may be more likely than others to become abusers themselves (Sheldrick, 1991) or to have children who are themselves abused, both physically (Goodwin, 1982) and sexually (CIBA, 1984).30
W.L. Marshall, H.E. Barbaree, and Jennifer Butt found that 53 percent of the child molesters in their study claimed to have been sexually molested by an adult when they were under age 16, while only 17 percent of the controls made such a claim.31
The dysfunctional home is often the result of parents who have been abused as children who continue to suffer from debilitating effects, including the following:
Emotional distress: Depression is the most commonly reported symptom among adult survivors of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse victims may have as much as a fourfold greater lifetime risk for major depression than do individuals with no such abuse history (Stein, et al., 1988). The pervasiveness of depression among some survivors is thought to be the cumulative effects of chronic betrayal, disempowerment, feelings of guilt and helplessness, and low self-esteem (Finkelhor & Browne, 1985; Peters, 1988).32
Anxiety: Various types of phobias are also a well-documented effect of sexual abuse, "with sexual abuse survivors having up to five times a greater likelihood of being diagnosed with at least one anxiety disorder than their nonabused peers (Saunders, Villeponteaux, et al., 1992; Stein et al., 1988)."33
Rage: Adult survivors of child sexual abuse often report chronic irritability, unexpected and overwhelming episodes of anger, and fear that their anger might turn violent. The anger is sometimes turned outward in verbal or physical abuse of others, or internalized as self-hatred and depression.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): The psychiatric diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder covers individuals experiencing extreme emotional reactions to traumatic events.
Child sexual abuse has been shown to result in PTSD in as many as 36% of adult survivors (Donaldson & Gardner, 1985; Saunders, Villeponteaux, et al., 1992). When the abuse included penetration, the risk for developing PTSD appears especially high, with as many as 66% of such victims developing the disorder at some point in their lives (Saunders, Villeponteaux, et al., 1992).34
Substance abuse: Abused children who try to numb their emotional pain with drugs often carry their dependency into adulthood. "Current clinical experience shows as many as 80 percent of hospitalized substance-abuse patients have a history of childhood sexual abuse."35
Promiscuity: Child sexual abuse produces a range of behavioral problems, including compulsive sexual behaviors.
One such consequence is adult sexual promiscuity. Anxiety which arises over childhood abuse may be dealt with by compulsive or addictive behaviors. Repressed or forgotten abuse may manifest itself in adult life symptomatically by out-of-control behaviors which are abusive of self and others.36
Suicide: Victims of child sexual abuse are at greater risk for suicide.
In two studies of outpatient women, for example, patients with an abuse history were twice as likely to have attempted suicide [as] were their nonabused peers (Briere & Runtz, 1987; Briere & Zaidi, 1989). In a community sample, approximately 16% of survivors had attempted suicide, whereas less than 6% of their nonabused cohorts had made a similar attempt (Saunders, Villepondeaux, Lipovsky & Kilpatrick, 1992).37
Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse for the Elderly
The adage "Time heals all wounds" does not automatically apply to sexual abuse, which is not simply "forgotten" with time. Sadly, while many victims of childhood sexual abuse learn to cope with their experiences, others continue to battle the residual effects of victimization into their later years. In a study of the effects of early sexual abuse on the elderly, Christopher T. Allers, Karen J. Benjack, and Norman T. Allers conclude that "these residual effects commonly appear in the form of chronic depression and revictimization (i.e., elder abuse) and may be misdiagnosed as dementia or mental illness."38
The authors found that the elderly may actually suffer increased difficulty in coping with unresolved childhood victimization: "We suspect that these difficulties may be compounded because of the loss of peer support, physiological changes in later life, and the loss of roles and resources that at one time served to distract the survivor and alleviate the stress arising from unresolved abuse issues."39
Does the absence of negative symptoms indicate that child sexual abuse did not occur?
Researchers in the field of child sexual abuse note the curious anomaly of victims who appear to suffer no outward effects from their molestation.40 However, the vast majority of psychologists and psychiatrists treating child sexual abuse do not arrive at the facile conclusion that such subjects did not suffer abuse. While Johnson readily admits, "Most of the child-abuse victims we have seen ... remain relatively silent. They don't show any major symptoms," he hastens to add that they "may be sitting time bombs, at risk of developing significant or subtle psychological sequelae."41
There are a number of factors that cause some victims to appear asymptomatic:
Reliance upon self-reporting: Research such as the Rind study, which relied upon the subject's retrospective self-reporting, often fails to uncover the underlying psychic trauma of their subjects. Cathy Spatz Widom points out:
Retrospective accounts of sexual abuse may be subject to bias or error. For example, unconscious denial (or repression of traumatic events in childhood) may prevent recollection of severe cases of childhood sexual abuse. It is also possible that people forget or redefine their behaviors in accordance with later life circumstances and their current situation.42
Absence of correlative testing: Berliner and Ellicott found that, as a group, the self-reporting of sexually abused children often does not significantly differ from comparison groups:
However, emotional disturbance has been found on personality tests (e.g., Basta & Peterson, 1990; German, Habernicht, & Futcher, 1990; Scott & Stone, 1986) and projective measures (Stovall & Craigm 1990). Projective measures may pick up aspects of functioning that children cannot or do not reveal symptomatically.43
Some victims cope better than others: Finkelhor conjectures that "the asymptomatic children are mostly ones who have suffered less serious abuse and have adequate psychological and social resources to cope with the stress of abuse." Such children are more likely "to have gotten support from parents in the context of a relatively well-functioning family."44 It is deceptive and exploitative to use the fact that some children are able to marshal the resources to overcome the effects of their abuse as "evidence" that child sexual abuse is therefore not harmful. Even those who outwardly appear asymptomatic suffer throughout their lives the memories of how they were personally violated.
Societal Disapproval and Pedophilia
Are the negative effects of child sexual abuse due solely to societal disapproval of pedophilia?
Pedophile organizations such as NAMBLA advocate the overturning of all laws regulating sex between adults and children. NAMBLA states, "We believe sex is good and wholesome. ... We encourage and support young people in their rebellions against the anti-sexual restrictions imposed upon them by adults -- parents, police, 'moral' crusaders, the church, the law, and the state."45 According to this view, psychological dysfunction on the part of sexual abuse victims is caused by negative familial or societal attitudes toward adult-child sex. Were it not for such religion-based disapproval, alleges NAMBLA, children of all ages would freely and eagerly participate in a wide variety of sexual practices with adults.
This view is evident in Alfred C. Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, published in 1948, which created a doctrine of "child sexuality" from data derived from the systematic molestation of hundreds of boys. Kinsey concluded that children are "sexual beings" from birth. In 1953, his companion volume, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, stated, "It is difficult to understand why a child, except for its cultural conditioning, should be disturbed at having its genitals touched."46
This position has been examined by researchers and found wanting. Kendall-Tackett, et al., reviewed studies testing the theory that an unsupportive family environment, not the sexually abusive activities per se, is the cause of trauma in sexually abused children:
However, certain evidence from the studies included in the present review argues against such a conceptualization. First, the studies showed that nonabused siblings (i.e., children raised in the same dysfunctional families) displayed fewer symptoms than did their abused siblings (Lipovsky, Saunders, & Murphy, 1989).47
If family dysfunction was actually causing the trauma, then all siblings should be similarly affected.
Angela Browne and David Finkelhor did find a relationship between how parents reacted to their child's telling them about sexual abuse and the degree of negative symptoms experienced by the child:
The Tufts (1984) study found that when mothers reacted to disclosure with anger and punishment, children manifested more behavioral disturbances. However, the same study did not find that positive responses by mothers were systematically related to better adjustment. Negative responses seemed to aggravate, but positive responses did not ameliorate, the trauma.48
In other words, mothers who lacked compassion and understanding made a bad situation worse -- but even those mothers who were supportive and tried to help could not prevent the negative effects from occurring.
Kendall-Tackett, et al., found,
[A] review of the 25 studies in which the influence of intervening variables was examined (Table 5) consistently showed strong relationships between specific characteristics of the sexual abuse and the symptomatology in the children (e.g., Newberger, Gremy, & Waternaux, 1990). All of this argues for traumatic processes inherent in the sexual abuse itself that are independent from a generalized family dysfunction or generalized maltreating environment.49
The Myth of Consent
Isn't it true that some children desire and initiate sexual contacts with pedophiles?
Those who propose the legitimization of adult-child sex frame their cause as a moral crusade for the "freedom of choice" and the "rights" of children. They allege that children freely desire and willingly consent to have sex with adults, and are only prevented from doing so by oppressive societal condemnation. Thorstad rails against what he calls a "heterosexual dictatorship" that is ruthlessly stepping up its efforts to "control, police, and instill fear in the population."50 The United States, according to Thorstad, "is becoming -- perhaps already has become -- a police state." Why? Because of an "antisex hysteria" that prohibits boys and men from engaging in sexual relations: "Men and youths have always been attracted to each other, and, like homosexuality in general, their love is irrepressible."51
Pedophiles attempt to portray adult-child sexual relationships as mutual, tender "coming of age" experiences fondly cherished by the child. Such arguments belie the reality of the well-documented dynamics involved in the seduction of children by beguiling, manipulative pedophiles.
Far from the stereotype of dirty, unkempt men hanging around playgrounds, most pedophiles are middle-class professionals who often live "next door," and who spend weeks and even months "grooming" their victims. The modus operandi of child abusers is well known to both researchers and police. The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior notes, "Sergeant Lloyd Martin, formerly head of the Juvenile Vice Bureau of the Los Angeles Police Department, related to us that, when he sees a man who is much nicer to a child than any father would be, 'I know I have a child abuser.'"52
Lieutenant William Spaulding of the Division of Criminal Intelligence in Louisville, Ky., shares his insight into the mind of the child abuser:
It is vitally important for those persons involved in the investigation of cases of exploited children to understand that a strong bond often develops between the child and the adult offender. The preferential child molester (pedophile) is very good at obtaining cooperation and gaining control of the child through well-planned seduction processes that employ adult authority, affection, attention, gifts, or threats -- either articulated or implied.53
Many pedophiles have a "sixth sense" for spotting children who might be susceptible to their advances. In her analysis of adult sex offenders, Dawn Fisher describes the elaborate methods that molesters employ both to set up the situation where the abuse occurs and to overcome the child's resistance:
The grooming of the victim may involve developing a friendship with the child, using bribes of affection and gifts, threats or physical violence. Some offenders may target particular children who are perceived as being vulnerable in some way, possibly through poor parenting or previous sexual abuse.54
Given the complex stratagems that pedophiles employ, it is understandable that few victims realize the ultimate goal of their newfound "friend." A U.S. Department of Justice report on child sexual exploitation states, "Most preferential sex offenders spend their entire lives attempting to convince themselves and others that they are not perverts and that they love and nurture children."55 The tragic fact is that children who are being preyed upon "have been carefully seduced and often do not realize they are victims. They repeatedly and voluntarily return to the offender." The truth often does not become apparent to them until after they have been abandoned: "Then they see that all the attention, affection, and gifts were just part of a master plan to use and exploit them."56
The report catalogues the lengths to which pedophiles can go, even after detection and arrest, to keep their victims loyal to them:
Because of their bond with the offender, victims frequently resent law enforcement intervention and may even warn the offender. Even the occasional victim who comes forward and discloses the abuse may feel guilty and then warn the offender. The offender may also continue to manipulate the victims after the investigation has begun -- for example, by appealing to their sympathy or by making a feeble attempt at suicide to make them feel guilty or disloyal.57
Even after incarceration for their crimes against children, pedophiles cling to the notion that their relationships with their victims were consensual. Richard Beckett, in his study on sex offenders, found that pedophiles typically display a range of more fundamental distortions, related to the belief that some children will actively seek sexual encounters with adults, can consent to and benefit from such encounters and have the capacity to reciprocate the degree of emotional feeling and attachment the adult abuser may feel for the child.58
Such "fundamental distortions" or moral reasoning are aggressively promoted by pedophile advocates such as NAMBLA, which is vocal in its insistence that the sodomizing of young boys constitutes an act of "love." But do pedophiles really care about children? Beckett's findings regarding this question are revealing:
Several studies of child abusers have indicated they are impaired in their capacity for empathy, particularly towards their own victim. ... When victims are perceived as deserving of abuse, guilty of provoking or enjoying sexual contact with adults, their distress is likely to be ignored.59
Thus, the self-deception of pedophiles that children seek after and "enjoy" being sodomized serves as a convenient justification for ignoring the trauma inflicted upon their young victims.
The Morality of Consent
Shouldn't children be permitted to engage in sex with adults if they so choose?
While the empirical findings of the harm caused by adult-child sex constitute a compelling argument that pedophilia should never be permitted in any society that values its children, there is yet another consideration that carries momentous weight. In a perceptive analysis, David Finkelhor, noted researcher of child sexual abuse, explores the moral issue of consent that lies at the heart of the societal prohibition of adult-child sex.60
The idea of consent is one of the fundamental notions governing social interaction. Even though the larger culture may no longer subscribe to what it considers a restrictive, "Victorian" sexual morality, the idea of consent remains at the heart of what is considered permissible behavior. Consent involves more than a simple "yes": The individual and his or her circumstances must demonstrate the giving of informed consent.
In pre-Civil War America, some slaves felt that slavery was a positive economic benefit to them. After all, they received food and housing in exchange for their labor. Similarly, in the child sweatshops of the past century, there were perhaps many children who, if asked, would claim that they enjoyed their work and that it was good for them. Nevertheless, few would argue that such questionable self-evaluation warrants the conclusion that either slavery or child labor is justifiable.
There were occasions in the concentration camps of World War II when selected newly arriving women were given the choice of becoming the short-lived mistresses of SS guards or going directly to the gas chamber. Some chose the former option, though it meant only a temporary reprieve from certain death. Could it be claimed that these women truly "consented" to having sexual relations with their guards?
The concept of informed consent is well established in law. Hence, a woman, even though she may not have struggled or called out for help and may even appear to have "cooperated" with her rapist, is not assumed to have genuinely consented to the sexual act. That is because, as in the other described illustrations, the circumstances make it clear that the individual is either not giving, or is incapable of giving, true consent.
To these examples Finkelhor adds the situation of sexual relations between therapists and patients: "Many patients may benefit from sex with their therapist, but the argument that sex is wrong does not hinge on the positive or negative outcome that results. Rather, it lies in the fundamental asymmetry of the relationship."61
According to Finkelhor, certain conditions must prevail for informed consent to occur. The person must understand what he or she is consenting to, and must have true freedom to say yes or no. Are children capable of fulfilling this condition in "consenting" to sex with adults? Finkelhor denies that they can:
For one thing, children lack the information necessary to make an 'informed' decision about the matter. They are ignorant about sex and sexual relationships. More important, they are generally unaware of the social meanings of sexuality. For example, they are unlikely to be aware of the rules and regulations surrounding sexual intimacy -- what it is supposed to signify. They are uninformed and inexperienced about what criteria to use in judging the acceptability of a sexual partner. ... [They cannot know] what likely consequences it will have for them in the future.62
Children may genuinely like the adult who is molesting them -- or, more to the point, may have become emotionally or otherwise dependent upon the pedophile. They may willingly spend time with their molester, and may even find some enjoyment in the physical sensation of pleasure. But all this is not enough: The fundamental conditions of genuine consent are not present. Children "lack the knowledge the adult has about sex and about what they are undertaking...In this sense, a child cannot give informed consent to sex with an adult."63
For their part, the advocates of pedophilia "do not acknowledge the enormous manipulativeness and callous lack of regard for children's well being that characterize the behavior of many persons who try to seduce children. Most children are not capable of protecting their own interests in the face of this power and this guile."64 In truth, Finkelhor says, "Most of what we see as 'consensual' behavior among children is a response to the powerful incentives and authority that such adults hold."65
The force of this argument is not lost on those who would argue for greater acceptance of pedophiles. British researchers Glenn D. Wilson and David N. Cox's study of pedophilia, The Child-Lovers, expressly attempts to view pedophiles in a more positive light than is generally accorded them. To accomplish this, Wilson and Cox drew their research subjects from a support group for pedophiles. Yet despite their efforts to present the self-understanding of "successful" pedophiles, in the end the authors balk at legalizing non-coercive adult-child sexual relationships:
We are inclined to agree with the argument of Finkelhor (1979) that the issue of empirical harm needs to be separated from the more directly moral question of whether meaningful consent can ever be obtained from a child. Although modern society has moved towards a permissive stance with respect to any mutually consenting sexual activity that is harmless to the parties involved, we still regard sex as immoral if there is any suggestion that social power has been abused in obtaining it. This applies to doctor-patient relationships, boss-worker (e.g. the fabled 'casting couch' in the theatre) and teacher-pupil relationships, even if the pupil is above the age of consent. Adult-child relationships in general fall into this category. Children are trained to respect and obey all adults, not just their parents, and this results in such an imbalance of social power that legalizing sex between adults and children could quite easily result in exploitation.66
In the face of these weighty concerns leveled against pedophilia, the advocates of adult-child sex prefer to frame the argument as one of the "right of children" to "control their own bodies." What such proponents are actually arguing for is for the "liberation" of pedophiles to prey on children. And their professed crusade to "liberate" children sexually has not thus far sparked a groundswell of popular opinion in their favor. Finkelhor observes that "it seems extremely doubtful that any large group of children are complaining that they are not 'allowed' to engage in sex with adults. If polled, we suspect that children would vote for better protection against adult sexual overtures, not more 'freedom.'"67
Suffer the Little Ones
"Suffer the little children to come unto me ... for of such is the kingdom of God."68
Alan Walker, age 48, suffered terrible sexual abuse throughout his childhood, beginning during his preschool years when he was raped by teenage boys. When Alan was 11, a family friend abducted him, terrorizing and sexually molesting him for a week. His alcoholic stepfather was emotionally and physically abusive. There was no one to turn to as his life became a living hell of sexual abuse at the hands of dozens of molesters.
Alan is physically scarred and broken now, and damaged in spirit. He is learning to deal with the horrors of the abuse he suffered. But he will always remember the terror of being hurt with no one to help. He has written a plea from his heart:
What are you doing to me? You don't love me!
Can you not see that you are passing on the confusion that is in your mind to my mind?
Please stop it now before it is too late!
You are NOT loving me -- you are sexually abusing me.
I don't want to become like you.
You have no right!
If you really love me, stop having sex with me -- I'm just a child!69
In the end all academic arguments fail in the face of such monstrous crimes committed against little ones like Alan Walker, Richard Hoffman, and untold myriads of others, many of whom suffer in silence.
What are the effects of child abuse on children? They are measured in the tears of a young child sobbing alone in bed at night, hurting, with no one to turn to. Their measure is the burden of painful confusion in a young boy's heart when the man he so much wanted to be a father figure is doing things to him that he knows are wrong. What hurts the most is that he knows, though he cannot articulate it, that he is being violated by someone who claims to care for him. And he needs so much for someone to really love him.
For too many it is too late to protect them from those who took advantage of their need for love and attention. Only by exposing the lies and deceptions -- including those wrapped in scholastic garb -- of those who seek legitimacy for sexually preying on children, can we hope to build a wall of protection around the littlest and most helpless among us.
1 Here defined as "recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 years or younger)," Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1994), p. 528.
2 Richard Hoffman, Half the House: A Memoir (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1995), p. 11
3 Ibid., p. 119.
4 The following definitions are useful for this discussion. Child: "In general, a child is defined as someone who has not yet reached his or her 18th birthday," "Understanding and Investigating Child Sexual Exploitation" (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, 1997), p. 2. Also, "The Federal child pornography law defines a child (minor) as someone who has not yet reached his or her 18th birthday," ibid., p. 3. Sex: Finkelhor writes that "'sex' refers to activities, involving the genitals, which are engaged in for the gratification of at least one person. Thus 'sex' is not limited to intercourse." David Finkelhor, "Sexual Abuse as a Moral Problem," in Child Sexual Abuse: New Theory and Research (London: The Free Press, 1984), p. 14. Child sexual abuse: "Sexual abuse involved any sexual contact with a child where consent is not or cannot be given (Finkelhor, 1979). This includes sexual contact that is accomplished by force or threat of force regardless of the age of the participants, and all sexual contact between an adult and a child, regardless of whether there is deception or the child understands the sexual nature of the activity." Lucy Berliner and Diana M. Elliott, "Sexual Abuse of Children," in The APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment, John Briere, et al., eds., (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1996), p. 51.
5 David Thorstad, "Pederasty and Homosexuality," English translation of a speech originally given in Spanish to the Semana Cultural Lesbica-Gay, Mexico City, June 26, 1998, www.nambla.org/pederasty.htm.
6 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1994), p. 528. (Henceforth "DSM IV".)
7 Ibid., pp. 525-532.
8 Buce Rind, Philip Tromovitch, and Robert Bauserman, "A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples," Psychological Bulletin 124 (July 1998): 22-53.
9 Ibid., p. 37.
10 Ibid., p. 38.
11 Ibid., p. 41.
12 Ibid., p. 46.
13 Mental Health Leaders Suggest Flawed Research May Promote Pedophilia," Press Release, The Leadership Council for Mental Health, Justice, and the Media, May 24, 1999.
14 Ibid. It is significant to note that one of the studies cited by Rind, et al., found that "unusually high percentages" of the "positively rated experiences" were those of boys or young men who had sexual experiences with older females. Paul Okami, "Self-Reports of 'Positive' Childhood and Adolescent Sexual Contacts with Older Persons: An Exploratory Study," Archives of Sexual Behavior 20 (1991): 454. Few clinicians would class such experiences, although undoubtedly abusive, as equivalent to the abuse -- not infrequently including anal intercourse -- inflicted upon a young boy by an older man.
15 Debra K. Peters and Lillian M. Range, "Childhood Sexual Abuse and Current Suicidality in College Women and Men," Child Abuse & Neglect 19 (1995): 339.
16 Letter from Steven M. Mirin, M.D., to Robert Knight, Director of Cultural Studies, Family Research Council, dated May 27, 1999.
17 Julia Duin, "Hill Joins Pedophilia-study Critics; Lawmakers Urge Professional Journal to Disavow Report," Washington Times, May 13, 1999.
18 "What Can Science Tell Us about Man/Boy Love?" www.nambla.org/benefit.htm, referring to M.C. Baurmann, Sexuality, Violence, and Psychological After-Effects: A Longitudinal Study of Cases of Sexual Assault Which Were Reported to the Police (Wiesbaden: Bundeskriminalamt, 1988).
19 Berliner and Elliott, op. cit.
20 Kathleen A. Kendall-Tackett, Linda Myer Williams, and David Finkelhor, "Impact of Sexual Abuse on Children: A Review and Synthesis of Recent Empirical Studies," Psychological Bulletin 113 (1993): 164. See also Cathy Spatz Widom, "Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse -- Later Criminal Consequences," Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse Series: NIJ Research in Brief, March 1995: "The link between childhood sexual abuse and negative consequences for the victims later in life has been examined in clinical reports and research studies in the past two decades. Frequently reported consequences include acting-out behaviors, such as running away, truancy, conduct disorder, delinquency, promiscuity, and inappropriate sexual behavior."
21 David Lisak, "The Psychological Impact of Sexual Abuse: Content Analysis of Interviews with Male Survivors," Journal of Traumatic Stress 7 (1994): 544. Chandy, et al., concur: "[T]here is ample research evidence to show that a history of sexual abuse constitutes a risk factor for adverse outcomes among children and adolescents." Joseph M. Chandy, Robert Wm. Blum, and Michael D. Resnick, "Gender-Specific Outcomes for Sexually Abused Adolescents," Child Abuse & Neglect 20 (1996): 1219.
22 Berliner and Elliott, op. cit.
23 Interview with Robert L. Johnson, M.D., conducted by Diane K. Shrier, M.D., Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality (September 1988): 35.
24 Bill Watkins and Arnon Bentovim, "The Sexual Abuse of Male Children and Adolescents: A Review of Current Research," Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 33 (1992): 216.
25 Angela Browne and David Finkelhor, "Impact of Child Sexual Abuse: A Review of the Research," Psychological Bulletin 99 (1986): 66-77.
26 Johnson, op. cit.
27 Robert J. Timms and Patrick Connors, "Adult Promiscuity Following Childhood Sexual Abuse: An Introduction" in Short and Long Term Effects (New York: Garland Publishing, 1995), Volume 4, p. 20. See also Lenore E. Auerbach Walker, Handbook of Sexual Abuse of Children (New York: Springer Publishing Company, 1988), p. 7.
28 Berliner and Elliott, op. cit., p. 55. Bagley, et al., concur: "Experiencing unwanted sexual activity before the age of 17 has a statistically significant link with various indicators of poor mental health, including depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and a history of suicidal ideas and behavior." Christopher Bagley, Michael Wood, and Loretta Young, "Victim to Abuser: Mental Health and Behavioral Sequels of Child Sexual Abuse in a Community Survey of Young Adult Males," Child Abuse & Neglect 18 (1994): 694.
29 P.E. Mullen, J.L. Martin, J.C. Anderson, S.E. Romans and G.P. Herbison, "The Long-Term Impact of the Physical, Emotional, and Sexual Abuse of Children: A Community Study," Child Abuse & Neglect 20 (1995): 19.
30 Danya Glaser and Stephen Frosh, Child Sexual Abuse, Second Edition (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993), p. 21.
31 W.L. Marshall, H.E. Barbaree, and Jennifer Butt, "Sexual Offenders against Male Children: Sexual Preferences," Behavior Research and Therapy 26 (1988): 386.
32 Berliner and Elliott, op. cit. p. 57.
35 Timms and Connors, op. cit., p. 20, and Watkins and Bentovim, op. cit., pp. 224-225. Also, Browne and Finkelhor note, "Several studies of special populations suggest a connection between child sexual abuse and later prostitution" (Browne and Finkelhor, op. cit., p. 71).
36 Timms and Connors, ibid., p. 19.
37 Berliner and Elliott, op. cit., p. 57.
38 Christopher T. Allers, Karen J. Benjack, and Norman T. Allers, "Unresolved Childhood Sexual Abuse: Are Older Adults Affected?" Journal of Counseling & Development 71 (September/October 1992): 14.
40 Kendall-Tackett, et al., op. cit., p. 175: "Yet the absence of symptoms certainly cannot be used to rule out sexual abuse. There are too many sexually abused children who are apparently asymptomatic."
41 Johnson, op. cit., p. 34.
42 Widom, op. cit., "Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse." See also Kendall-Tackett, et al., op. cit., p. 175.
43 Berliner and Elliott, op. cit., p. 55.
44 David Finkelhor, "Early and Long-Term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse: An Update," Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 21 (1990): 328. See also Glaser and Frosh, p. 23.
45 "Introducing the North American Man/Boy Love Association," North American Man/Boy Love Association pamphlet, undated.
46 Alfred Kinsey, Wardell B. Pomeroy and Clyde E. Martin, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (Philadephia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1953), p. 121.
47 Kendall-Tackett, et al., op. cit., p. 174.
48 Browne and Finkelhor, op. cit., p. 75.
50 Thorstad, op. cit., p. 7.
51 Ibid., p. 8.
52 Samuel S. Janus and Cynthia L. Janus, The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1993), p. 129.
53 Lieutenant William Spaulding, M.S., "Interviewing Child Victims of Sexual Exploitation," National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (February 1987): 8. For an in-depth discussion of the tactics of pedophiles, see Michele Elliot, Kevin Browne, and Jennifer Kilcoyne, "Child Sexual Abuse Prevention: What Offenders Tell Us," Child Abuse and Neglect 19 (1995): 579-593.
54 Dawn Fisher, "Adult Sex Offenders: Who are They? Why and How Do They Do It?" in Sexual Offending against Children, Tony Morrison, Marcus Erooga, and Richard C. Beckett, eds. (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 24.
55 "Understanding and Investigating Child Sexual Exploitation," op. cit., p. 19.
56 Ibid., p. 7.
57 Ibid., p. 9.
58 Richard C. Beckett, "Assessment of Sex Offenders," in Sexual Offending against Children, op. cit., p. 68.
59 Ibid., p. 71.
60 Finkelhor, "Sexual Abuse as Moral Problem," op. cit. Note Finkelhor's definition of child: "[A]t least in the first part of this discussion, [child] means a prepubertal child" (p. 14).
61 Ibid., p. 18: "A patient, I would argue, cannot freely consent to sex with a therapist. The child-adult sex situation is similar, with the addition that not only the child could not freely consent, but also the child could not give informed consent. An adult patient is somewhat more aware of the social significance of sexuality, probably foreseeing some of the consequences of sex with a therapist."
64 Ibid., p. 19.
65 Ibid., p. 18.
66 Glenn D. Wilson and David N. Cox, "The Child Lovers: A Study of Paedophiles in Society" (London: Peter Owen, 1983), p. 129.
67 Finkelhor, "Sexual Abuse as Moral Problem," op. cit., p. 19. 68 Mark 10:14, King James Version.
Timothy J. Dailey, Ph.D., is senior writer in Family Research Council's cultural studies department.
Published by the Family Research Council. Copyright © 2002. Reprinted with permission.