This post contains the heart of my anti-contact argument.
Should society accept and allow adult-child sex with a willing child?
The benefits to pedophiles are obvious -- they might get to have sex without fear of legal repercussions. But no decent person wants to allow sex unless it's good for both parties. What are the costs and benefits to children?
Humans vary a great deal. I suspect that among the many millions of 8-year-old girls on earth, there are a few who would really like to engage in sexual activity with another person -- to give and receive pleasure. (I'll shorten "sexual activity" to "sex", though I'm not primarily thinking of intercourse). I exclude those who might feel this way because they have previously been convinced to have sex and now see it as a way of connecting with people -- getting love or approval or other good things. But a few might just really want this because that's the way they are. Perhaps they actively prefer adult men as partners -- or perhaps they find it hard to find peers who are interested. I'm willing to grant that a few exist. To the extent that society reduces shame around sexuality, there might be a few more than today. Even for this minority, it is not vital to their happiness. Men and women starting in their late teens care deeply about whether they are having sex or will soon -- it can play a large role in deciding whether life as a whole is good or life is bad. But for 8-year-old girls, absence is never a big deal. Its presence would be at most a nice extra.
This low baseline probability means everyone (notably men and the courts) ought to have great skepticism of a girl reported to be interested in having sex with a man. Coercion, bribes, or doing him a favor all are more likely then genuine, inherent interest.
Children are routinely made to do things they actively don't want to do. Some are to keep the adults' lives manageable -- like a rule against screaming in the house or throwing food. Others are because they believe it is in the child's long-term interest, whether brushing teeth, eating vegetables, going to school, or doing homework. The child implicitly assumes one of these motivations as well. We take a dim view of a parent exploiting a child for selfish ends. We would certainly disapprove if a parent forced a child to do 12 hours a day of piecework for profit -- though if the family was starving it might be acceptable. But our answers to these questions depend on values -- how much work is too much? At what age do we expect kids not to throw food?
But with sex, the lines are easy to draw. There is no good reason for a child to have sex, so we prohibit adult involvement in children's sexuality completely -- by law through the age of 16 or 18, by custom often longer than that. (The prohibition on parent-child sex is effectively lifelong).
So the child lives in a world where other people are asking him or her to do things he or she would rather not do. Trying to take a positive attitude towards unpleasant tasks is part of a successful childhood -- maybe you really will like green pepper if you give it a chance. A request for sex can fit right into that pattern. From the child's point of view, the situation is further confusing because children do feel genuine affection for grown-ups, they like to snuggle, they may even enjoy a gentle stroking of hair or back rubs, for instance. Viewed objectively in terms of what flesh is touching what other flesh, sexual touch may not seem all that different. It's not like being asked to sit in a dusty room and screw nuts onto bolts for hours at a time.
But of course sexual touch is ultimately very different from other affectionate touch. Judging from the interviews of Susan Clancy in The Trauma Myth, children are rarely traumatized at the time, but most had the feeling that something was not right. The 8-year-old will discover sooner or later society's view that there was indeed something not right, and typically feel used and betrayed. A girl may feel among other things: No man would do this unless he was evil -- it was my fault because I didn't clearly say "no" -- there's something sick about me to make a man do that -- it felt kind of good and so that makes it my fault. I would love to change society so many of those consequences go away. I'd like the girl to be able to just get angry and say, "What a jerk! Tricking me like that and using me for his own pleasure!" Shame and guilt should have no role. But I have no desire to change society so she reliably says, "Oh well, I didn't object so it must have been OK" with a shrug. I'm not sure such a change is even possible -- it may go against our human nature, in which sex is special.
A girl may have reason to feel betrayed if the man was nice to her, she thought it was just genuine and freely offered, and then she discovers that it was for the ulterior motive of sex. If she was rewarded with gifts or special outings, she may have consented and later feel ashamed, thinking she was agreeing to prostitution.
Fortunately, truly devious, cynical men are fairly rare. But well-meaning men can put a girl in the same position. The pedophile may love her in the same way as one adult is infatuated with another. He may want her happiness just as much. But in his sexual passion, it is all too easy to take the girl's silence as consent, or her reluctance as nervousness at something new, while just assuming that fundamentally she wants it as much as he does. This sort of problem is all too common in adults, where young women find themselves giving in to sex they don't really want. The potential with young girls is much greater. I do not want a man who feels intense sexual interest in an 8-year-old to be in a position of interpreting her true desires.
So, to evaluate costs and benefits, consider what happened when a man and girl had sex and the girl didn't strenuously object or struggle. There is a very small chance that the girl actively wanted the sex, though even if she did it was not of great value to her. There is a far greater chance that she didn't have any active interest and was gamely going along trying to meet adult expectations. Even factoring out the parts of society's response that are overreactions, she still is likely to view what happened as betrayal, even if she recognized she consented. How large a cost is this for her? It varies. The Rind studies show that it is fairly unlikely her life will be ruined -- but it is still far more common than a girl actively wanting sex. A more common negative reaction is that she felt she was wronged. That is enough to be an outcome worth avoiding.
Against that background, I do not want any man to think it's OK to have sex with a prepubescent -- to diagnose her as one of the very rare ones who is truly interested. The prior probability is very low, and his desire gives him a strong bias to misperceive the situation. I want a blanket prohibition. I certainly do not want his legal defense to be that she consented at the time, and is now either lying or has rewritten her memory -- a legal defense that would likely succeed because of the reasonable doubt standard. The cost? Some very few girls somewhere don't get the sexual activity they might have enjoyed because the man refused, fearing adverse consequences. It's a trade-off I'm entirely willing to make.