Saturday, May 16, 2020
The Moore Center of Johns Hopkins University has released <an online course> that is the first of its kind and extremely valuable. It will likely help reduce child sex abuse, and it will certainly help teen pedophiles, people facing a situation that is so difficult it is hard for most of us to grasp. Imagine that you have all the self-doubt and uncertainty that any teen has. You realize (after denial, anger, bargaining, etc.) that there is no escaping this stark fact: you are attracted to younger children. Society tells you that you are a monster and are doomed to molest a child. You likely know that if you confess your attraction to any professional, they may report you to police. Friends or family you dare to confide in will likely be embarrassed or not want to talk about it any more -- that's a reasonably positive outcome.
So, without the need to reveal their identity to anyone, this course gives young pedophiles information about how to deal with their attraction, with this key element: It never, not even once, implies that the pedophile is sick or evil or a bad person. It explains what behaviors constitute child sex abuse, and it describes how it is very harmful to the victims and the serious legal consequences.
An entire chapter is devoted to disclosure. It starts with the presumption that you should not disclose your attraction, and then goes through the various dangers and difficulties and helps you find the specific people you might want to disclose to, how to do it, and how much to disclose. Much of society thinks of a pedophile as nothing but a potential molester, someone outside humanity whose happiness is irrelevant. As such they would support all pedophiles disclosing their attraction publicly to help keep children safe, whatever the cost to them. The course treats pedophiles as people who deserve happiness as much as anyone else, and their suggestions are much more realistic.
The course avoids categorical rules. It qualifies its suggestions, so a simplistic "Never be alone with a child" becomes instead "Avoid being alone with a child you feel a strong sexual attraction to". It gives a reason for every piece of advice offered, and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions based on information -- and allowing for the particulars of their situation. It assumes they have the capacity to draw the right conclusions. If they don't, categorical statements aren't likely to move them anyway. The course does categorically recommend that pedophiles obey the law, which is entirely appropriate.
The course includes many "testimonials", read by pedophiles describing how things were for them. These are very good, and among other things highlight how much variety there is in pedophiles.
The final chapter is on building a healthy sexuality. They note that most pedophiles have a significant attraction to adults too, and should work from that basis to build relationships. They do not talk about eliminating the attraction to children, which most scientists today agree is impossible -- however much the average person desires that outcome. As always, they emphasize the positive and constructive.
One of the most delicate issues is touched on only in the third and last personal "Account" in the final chapter, not in the actual text. What do you do with your sexuality if you just have no interest in adults? The speaker says, "if you're exclusively attracted to children, refocus your sexuality/masturbation on just getting pleasure from your own body. The advantage of the latter is that it's free and you can do it any time and there are lots of safe ways to do it." The course has (rightly) made it very clear that looking at child pornography is not an acceptable way to do it. But they don't address pictures of children in swimsuits, or from nudist colonies. They don't address material from "child modeling sites". And they don't address bringing to mind the image of the girl who lives next door while you masturbate.
They also don't address whether you might do those things in parallel with working on developing your attraction to adults, or whether you might continue to do them even if you do have an adult partner. There is an enlightened mindset regarding adult sexuality today that says it's OK for adults to fantasize about other adults (typically through pornography) even in a committed relationship. This same mindset would also suggest this as a possibility for adults attracted to children (though not through actual pornography).
I can think of some good reasons for these omissions. The course designers may not agree with each other. What's legal may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction or not be legally settled yet. Detractors who dislike such a compassionate course for pedophiles might leap on such controversial suggestions. It is just as well to leave these issues unaddressed. The course has accomplished a great deal in getting to the point where these are the remaining questions.
On the whole, the course treats the teen pedophile as a real person, facing a real problem, and helps them solve that problem. And that is not a reaction they will get much of anywhere else! And while designed initially for teens, it will be helpful to pedophiles of any age.
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
(In case there is any doubt, the title is sarcastic).
The Moore Center of Johns Hopkins University just released an online course called "Help Wanted", aimed at people coming to terms with a sexual attraction to children. It is aimed at teens, but has elements that would be helpful to anyone. On the whole, this is a terrific resource. Virtuous Pedophiles is correctly listed as a collaborator.
I'm not inclined to make blog posts just agreeing with something, though in this case there are some aspects to this program I do approve of that I find rather subtle, so hopefully I'll get to that in later posts.
But today I focus on one particular aspect of the course that I disliked intensely. It has nothing to do with minor attraction. At this point the course has moved to the topic of pedophiles working to form relationships with peers. In a "Safe Sex" section is this entirely reasonable recommendation: "Always insist on a condom, even if your partner says they don't like condoms or assures you that they are taking birth control pills or don't have any sexually transmitted diseases."
However, they then follow this with a "Fact or fiction?" challenge:
"Sex doesn't feel as good when you wear a condom."
Their answer: "False. Studies show that women and men enjoy sex just as much with condoms as without them, so don't go along with that argument."
I find it outrageous. They don't say what studies they have in mind, but I searched and found <a likely candidate> , with the title "Study shows condom usage does not decrease sexual satisfaction". But when you look inside, you see instead, "With or without a condom, Americans report to find sex satisfying." That is a much weaker claim. And this study is funded by a condom maker. If you compare answers across groups and pose the question in certain ways, I can imagine you would get a "no difference" finding.
As any scientist could tell you, controlling for extraneous variables is a key to good research, and in this case scientists are handed to them on a silver platter a much better method: Ask people who have had sex with and without a condom which they liked better. I think the results are so obvious that no one bothers to do formal studies. But for instance, <this>.
The world is full of people who for good reasons want to encourage condom use, but the right answer stops with "Sex can be great with a condom too, and consider that part of the problem may be that you're not doing it quite right." Don't try to tell people it's just as great with a condom. For most people, it's just not true. And whenever you tell people that science has proven something they know to be just plain false, you lose credibility. You might lose all credibility. You certainly don't want to do that when you are conveying such key messages as that children cannot consent to sex with adults and abuse can be very harmful.
The generalization about satisfaction also rides roughshod over individual differences. Unless the studies showed that ALL men and women enjoyed sex just as a much with a condom, you (or your partner) might be different and know that for you personally, sex doesn't feel as good with a condom. And if there is one theme that sex education rightly emphasizes over and over, it is that people are different, and only you know what feels right for YOU.
"You need to wear a condom to protect yourself and your partner." That's based on facts and consequences, not individual preferences. "You will like sex just as much with a condom" is just very wrong, on many different levels.
The course would be greatly improved by simply removing that "Fact or fiction" item entirely.
Saturday, May 9, 2020
Much of illegal imagery involves teens who appear sexually mature, and those who enjoy viewing it are primarily attracted to adults. I dealt with that in <this post>l. Here I focus on the illegal imagery of clearly prepubescent children.
To much of the public, the man who feels any degree of sexual attraction to children has forfeited his place in humanity and is nothing but a monster. Why? It is those who have such feelings who molest young children, and the attraction feels very unfamiliar. Yet scientists and clinicians who work with people attracted to children know it is a very different story (as do pedophiles themselves). It is typically in the early teen years that a boy becomes acutely aware of who he is sexually attracted to. For most it is adult women, and the world is well aware of the power of that desire. For a small minority it is adult men, and such boys typically feel great distress. They will try to convince themselves it isn't true and they really are attracted to women, but the coming-of-age stories of gay men make it clear that their attraction cannot be wished away.
Another small minority of young teen boys realize they are attracted to children. The feelings are just as powerful and just as inescapable, but the distress is far greater than what gay men feel (at least those in reasonably liberal communities today). Hearing of a teen attracted to children, most people react with horror and denial. There must be a mistake. There must be a cure. The boys must have done something bad to make that happen -- maybe they even chose it. But none of that is true. It just happens, in exactly the same way that homosexual attraction just happens. So let's be clear: the men who look at CSEM of prepubescents are not monsters, they are human beings, just like you.
What should such teens (and the men they grow into) do about their sexual attraction? To most people, the answer is that they must never entertain fantasies or masturbate with children in mind -- and nowhere does this look clearer than it does in the UK. In the UK, it is not just CSEM images that are illegal, but cartoon drawings of children in sexual situations and text-only fictional stories that describe children in sexual situations. IWF stresses that the images it removes are from a crime scene and involve a real child. But these other images/stories are not from a crime scene but are still illegal. Some rationalizations for those prohibitions have been offered -- maybe anyone who looks at such material is actually abusing a child and hasn't been caught. Maybe it will in their minds make adult-child sex seem OK and lead them to offend later. The evidence for both has always been weak, and within the last decade studies suggest that both are <just plain false>. But rarely do people find that out and say, "Oh, OK, I guess they should be legal then!" The gut-level reaction is still that it is wrong and it is good that it is illegal and men caught with such material (during the making of which no actual children were involved in any way) should suffer severe criminal penalties.
But even if you made your peace with pedophiles looking at erotic material made without any real children, of course many pedophiles look at images of real children -- at CSEM. What are they thinking? Men attracted to children cover the same range as the rest of humanity on just about any attribute you can think of -- except who they find sexually attractive. Some are mean, some are callous, some abuse children, and some post the material online. But a great many do not have those traits.
A true pedophile knows he must keep his attraction a secret -- if he reveals it he will be hated and ostracized, likely losing his housing, job, family and social networks. He quite likely hates himself almost as much as others hate him. He knows he will never marry or have children and will quite probably never have sex with another person, or his occasional experiments with adults will be frustrating and embarrassing. Yet he has a sex drive as strong as anyone else's. He would never abuse a child because he doesn't want to hurt anyone.
On the other end of the spectrum from those who film themselves sexually abusing children, a great many would never dream of accessing CSEM and are horrified at the idea that anyone else would. Others might dream of it but have good self-control and a fear of legal consequences. They will never seek out CSEM.
Then there are those in the middle. Imagine a man who is drunk and feeling lonely and horny on a Saturday night. If he's an ordinary guy, he brings up adult pornography to see the people and situations that turn him on. But suppose he's a pedophile. Let's call him Bill. Along with loneliness is a fair dose of desperation. He searches the web for images of what fills the same role for him -- CSEM. He finds them easily enough. He doesn't pay a penny. The videos show no evidence the children are being damaged physically, and they are smiling. He suspects they are not actually happy and are being exploited, but it's not apparent from the videos -- and easy to brush aside given his state of sexual arousal. He also knows that whatever the children suffered, it's in the past -- what's done is done. He knows that their suffering does not increase just because he looks at their sexual abuse on that particular Saturday night and masturbates to it. But after orgasm he typically feels deeply ashamed.
The attitude of the IWF (and much of society) is to be unmoved by this story. Looking at CSEM is wrong, there is absolutely no excuse for viewing, and it is right if Bill goes to prison.
Let's consider a couple other of our fellow humans. Joe is a smoker, he has heart disease and also has two young children. The doctors tell him his smoking is threatening his life. He tries to stop but doesn't succeed. Mary is overweight, with diabetes, and her life is in danger if she doesn't lose weight, and she also has two young children. She tries to lose weight but she doesn't. So what the fuck is wrong with Joe and Mary? Aren't they selfish assholes? Perhaps we should put them in prison! Various ones of us may condemn them to varying degrees, but most of us retain a considerable measure of sympathy. We don't consider prison because we know why Joe and Mary are failing. They are imperfect humans under the sway of powerful psychological forces.
Now let's compare them to Bill. He has no prospect of love or satisfying sex in his life but has a strong sex drive. Sometimes he looks for erotic pictures of children on the web and masturbates to them but afterwards feels terribly guilty. Why does he do it? Because he is an imperfect human under the sway of a powerful psychological force.
Let's also examine the harm caused by Joe, Mary, and Bill. Joe and Mary's failure to change may kill them, leaving orphaned children who will bear psychological pain for the rest of their lives. As for Bill, no child is going to know he had sexual thoughts about them. Some children in CSEM videos feel upset to know that a record of their sexual abuse is available online and men look at it and think sexual thoughts. But Bill is just one of a group of thousands who collectively contribute to this distress. The "marginal harm" of his viewing is very close to zero. Joe and Mary have done far more harm, but we sympathize with them. Bill has done very little but faces prison.
Let's also remember what Bill did NOT do while under the sway of a very powerful psychological force. He did not molest a child. We know that ordinary men under the sway of that same force will sometimes make unwanted jokes, leer, whistle, harass, or grope women, things much of society strongly disapproves of but that rarely lead to prison terms. Bill did not do any of those things.
Child sex abuse is a terrible crime. Recording it and posting the recording for the world to see is also a terrible crime. There is no excuse for looking at CSEM -- it is wrong. But most of the time, it is not the act of a monster but of a weak and imperfect person who did not intend any harm or cause any direct harm. We as a society should choose the appropriate penalty with that in mind.
Friday, May 8, 2020
Implicit in the working model of <IWF> is that not all kinds of viewing of CSEM are harmful. In particular, it is just assumed that when their analysts view the material, that does not harm the children. This means that the intention of the person doing the viewing is a vital part of its harm.
The actual reaction of the analysts is of interest. Women in particular typically get some sexual arousal from viewing any sexual situation at all. We would expect men to have some when viewing images of girls who are well into puberty. Perhaps analysts who feel such reactions strongly are told this is not the job for them. It would be intriguing to know if dealing with more modest reactions is part of the counseling process, or whether the IWF's approach to this particular problem is blanket denial. Perhaps the key to the "no harm" assumption is that they are not watching it intending to get sexual arousal, and any such incidental arousal doesn't contribute to harm.
So what is the intention of a person who seeks out and views a CSEM image? I have an idea as to what case leaps to mind: a man who is sexually aroused by the abuse, who is glad it happened and was recorded for him to look at, who wishes he could have been there and doing it himself, and who feels nothing but satisfaction from the experience of masturbating to the image. In fact, the motivations and experiences of those who view cover a wide range, and I present some evidence below that the stark image I painted is actually rare.
Some people have reported viewing such images as an attempt to deal with their own childhood sex abuse. Some might view it with no arousal at all, but horror and sympathy at the plight of the child. But in fact, it's a safe bet that the vast majority of those who view the images do so because they find it sexually arousing to do so.
<VirtuousPedophiles> (of which I am co-founder) has an online support group for pedophiles who are determined never to act sexually with a child, and are against trying to change society to make adult-child sex legal or accepted. We do not require that they never look at CSEM, though we do not allow members who imply they are proud of their viewing. We do not allow admissions of illegal behavior, so we can't be sure about any individual, but it seems like many do sometimes view it. They try not to but they do.
I decided to start a poll of Virtuous Pedophiles members to find out what they are thinking. Among those who have never seen CSEM, nearly 90% say they feel really bad about anyone getting sexual pleasure from a child's abuse. Among those who have seen it, over half choose that very same option. They feel bad about what they have done. Under 4% think it is justifiable to make children suffer for their sexual satisfaction.
Men who have been caught and are in legal trouble for CSEM viewing (quoted in one of the IWF podcasts) have a strong incentive to voice such views. Those who respond to our poll, in contrast, are giving anonymous replies with no incentive to lie.
Now, VP members may not be representative of all those who view CSEM, but there is a significant group of pedophile viewers who think of CSEM and the children in it the same way as the ordinary person.
Thursday, May 7, 2020
In a complicated landscape of types of images, one major distinction is the age of the children. Images of younger children (let's say 0-8) are directed and produced by adults and the child has no agency, and I'll return to those in a later post.
Images of older children (let's say 12-17) are in today's "wired" world typically self-produced and freely sent to someone else online. The main complaint is that the recipient then releases them to the world at large, in a betrayal of the child's trust. But it's worth reflecting that this same dynamic can play out with adults. A 20-year-old or a 50-year-old would also be distressed to have images they provided privately shared publicly. Anyone would be upset by blackmail.
At one point, the IWF podcast describes how careful work can be required to verify that an image is in fact illegal, since teens often look indistinguishable from young adults. If the analysts can't tell which images are illegal without detective work, the viewers can't either.
So how can a viewer tell if the pixels are from a crime scene or not? When StopItNow <addresses this issue>, they say in a section titled "No Grey Area": "Uncertainty about a child’s age: As an adult, you will be able to clearly identify who is a child and who is an adult. There is no ‘grey area’ here. If there is ANY DOUBT, do not access the images." This verges on the incoherent. No one can detect by looking whether someone's 18th birthday is in the recent past or the near future. If taken at all literally, viewing the vast majority of adult porn which features reasonably young actors would be prohibited. If StopItNow thought their advice was reasonable, perhaps it is because they are actually against adult pornography as well and see no problem with just telling people never to look at porn.
In a society of just laws, the defendant gets the benefit of the doubt. You should be at legal risk for viewing images only if a reasonable person would be certain they are of a person under 18 -- and an interest in small, thin adult women with small breasts should put you at no risk. In practice, viewing of most child abuse images of 13-year-old girls would not be prosecutable on this basis. This is in a narrow sense a digression since IWF's mission is not to help convict people of viewing images but to remove them from the web. However, their series of videos is also clearly intended as an exhortation to people not to view such images, with episodes titled "It's not just an image", and "If you're watching, you're an offender".
If you can find the creator or original distributor of an image, determining whether the child is over or under 18 is important since it determines whether the image is evidence of a crime or not. If not, a reasonable IWF choice would be to ignore images that look like they could easily be images of young-looking adults.
IWF's approach also completely downplays any agency on the part of teens under age 18. They would like to present a simple story where any sexual picture of anyone under 18 is CSEM, the same category that encompasses 3-year-olds. Yet this narrative suffers from some uncomfortable facts that IWF and its allies would like to keep behind the curtain. UK law grants to 16-year-olds the right to decide when to have sex with someone. It is curious if in contrast a 16-year-old can be nothing but an innocent victim when it comes to sending images to someone. At one point in the IWF podcast it is noted in passing that children react differently to finding their abuse images are out there, immediately focusing on those who are highly distressed. They describe all self-made material as being forced or coerced. The voices of teens who say, "Yeah, I put it out there because I wanted to and I don't have any problem with it" are silenced. The podcast notes that teens very rarely make a report, and go through reasons -- they think the man is their boyfriend, or they feel ashamed or are worried about the additional publicity. Left out is the idea that this is an entirely rational calculation on their part, in terms of the costs and benefits to them. It also ignores the mundane possibility that they just don't think it's a big deal.
Another perspective on this is that as part of their journey to becoming independent adults, teens face dangers. They can start using drugs. They can stop applying themselves to schoolwork. They can engage in unsafe sex with peers. We know they can be the victims of devastating cruelty from their peers as part of jockeying for status or defining who belongs to the in-group. Online, they can engage in sexual talk with others, or send or receive sexual pictures. In some cases the result may be sexual pictures that are released onto the web and become visible to the IWF and others. Because of the visibility, IWF magnifies this particular form of distress to appear far larger than what it really is -- one tiny part of teens making bad choices and suffering the consequences.
For some perspective, I think it is clearly immoral to convince anyone to send sexual pictures under false pretenses, and it is immoral to release publicly anything sent with the understanding it was private. Younger victims may get more sympathy from us and bring forth our protective instincts, but their situation is fundamentally no different from that of adult victims.
With all that in mind, let's return to what a viewer should do if they see a sexual image of someone who looks to be on the young side. A young-looking 20? An early-maturing 13? The legal situation is the province of local laws, lawyers, and case law that is typically unsettled. But what about the moral situation, where we can hope for some conclusions that are independent of jurisdiction and do not require specialized training in the law?
In favor of not looking are: The idea that all porn is bad. The idea that a special interest in people who look on the young side is bad. The sense that the harm from any single act of viewing is great, so that it is vital to be on the safe side. The sense that that when teens make images of themselves, they have no agency and are nothing but helpless victims.
In favor of looking are: The idea that looking at porn can be a valid choice some people make for purposes of pleasure and satisfaction. The idea that an interest in the young-looking (but at least late pubescent) is natural and common. The idea that the moral status of what you look at depends on what you can actually see, not what might be going on behind the scenes. To expand on this point, a clearly adult porn actress might have been blackmailed into appearing, or it might be a choice forced by limited economic opportunities. An adult amateur might have been pressured by her boyfriend. Self-produced material by an adult might have been intended for private use only and not public distribution. Going beyond the realm of the sexual, any child who performs publicly, whether a singer, model, athlete, or actor, might be doing so under parental pressure and not from a free choice of their own. Most products you buy have long and complicated supply chains behind them, and some components likely are made in areas with poor labor conditions or repressive governments. Is it your moral duty to investigate all of that before making a purchase?
IWF and similar organizations take the first position, but it is based on assumptions that many other reasonable and moral people do not share. The law (UK law in particular) is more informed by the first position than the second, but many people might feel it is unjust and work for changing it (even as they obey the existing laws).
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
The Internet Watch Foundation is a UK organization dedicated to removing illegal images of children in sexual contexts (child sex exploitation material, or CSEM) from the internet wherever they can be found. A series of <podcasts> recently came to my attention: . It is nearly three hours of somber, slow-paced audio addressing this problem.
Readers of my blog posts on this issue would know that my main contention is that most CSEM viewers are not monsters, that the harm caused by their viewing is almost impossible to detect, and that criminal penalties for their behavior are far too severe. But I'm certainly not in favor of CSEM images. I suspect many would horrify me and make me very angry if I saw them.
I would love to enter into a debate with some thoughtful person who defends current policies on CSEM viewing. But I cannot locate such people. All I find is people who repeat slogans. So here I am, making a series of blog posts in response to a series of podcasts.
If I adopt a narrow focus, I'm not against IWF's basic mission. My main hesitation has to do with the priority they place on this work. They ask for donations, and the people who give must compare this with other worthy causes.
When we look at it from one end of the problem, it seems clear enough: Here is an image of child sex abuse on my screen. It shouldn't be there. I will remove it. It may come back but I will keep removing it over and over because it shouldn't be there.
But look at it from the other end. A worthy goal is preventing the suffering of children. They suffer for many reasons, but one reason is that they are abused. Abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual, and neglect is often put in the same category. So sexual abuse is something a decent person would like to reduce. The overwhelming majority of child sex abuse is never recorded. According to Seto (2013), of what is recorded, 3/4 is never released but kept for private use. We can also assume that large segments of what is released are not popular and quickly vanish. But some are popular (with certain groups of people), and are widely distributed. Sometimes the children in those images become aware of this, and are distressed by the knowledge -- it adds to their suffering, beyond what came from the abuse itself and the fact that the perpetrator chose to release it online.
Now, if you look back through that list of steps, you see that the harm that IWF is seeking to lessen is one part of the suffering of the tiniest fraction of child abuse victims.
This mismatch might lead you to wonder what the actual problem is that is being addressed. I submit it is not primarily the desire to reduce child sex abuse, but to reduce publicly visible evidence of that abuse.
Let me turn to analogies. It's as if you dislodge a rock from the ground and find lots of creepy-crawly things under it. With a narrow focus, you kill those creepy-crawlies. But you look around and see rocks peppered everywhere in this vast field, and know the same unpleasant sight awaits beneath every one -- and many are too large to turn over. The podcast at one point addresses the concern that vigorous enforcement in the UK just pushes the illegal material to somewhere else in the world. The director's reply is that if every country did what they did, the problem would be solved. But this is a very weak defense, as of course there will never be unanimity, and it takes only a few countries to host the offending material.
Consider the parable of the <starfish on the beach> . There may be too many to throw back into the sea, but if you throw one back you've saved it. It's a very narrow focus. Which question would you really like to answer, "Is it crazy to throw this starfish back?" or "How should I spend my time?" But there is a further twist. In fact, once the starfish are dislodged from the rocks where they live they are doomed, and returning them to the sea off a sandy beach does them no good. I would never want to say that a child whose images appear in CSEM is doomed (quite the opposite), but their troubles include: premeditated sexual abuse, betrayal by someone who they trusted, and knowledge that thousands of others have seen the images. IWF can take down the images. But they never get rid of them completely, and there is no control of what might be shared privately. The horse is gone, and closing the barn door can't solve the problem. Perhaps the victims feel some comfort that someone is trying to work on the issue, but if so it's a very expensive form of comfort.
Any organization that solicits funds from the public has an incentive to spin the story to make their work seem more important and relevant than it is. The IWF is no exception.
One key example is that they emphasize over and over that every image their analysts look at is of a real child -- it is at the heart of their appeal. Yet their <report hotline> immediately offers you the choice between reporting "Child sexual abuse images and videos" and "Non-photographic child sexual abuse images". This second group explicitly does NOT include an image of a real child. Perhaps they have a rationale for why looking at those images is bad, but if so it's got to be a very different story from the main one they are telling.
We are told with indignation that babies appear in these videos. We are told that people in these videos are advocating the rape of babies. We are told that you can pay to order the sexual abuse you desire and someone from a poor country will do it for you. These surely are rare and in no way representative of the vast majority of the images.
All that said, I don't think what IWF is doing is a bad thing. It is better if hard-core CSEM cannot be accessed on the web, and that pertains to every individual copy of every image.
Friday, February 14, 2020
<J.Michael Bailey> is a professor of psychology at Northwestern University. He has a crucial role in the existence of the Virtuous Pedophiles group, of which Nick Devin and I are co-founders. When we approached Mike with our idea of forming Virtuous Pedophiles early in 2012, he was very helpful with concrete suggestions and had important connections with other professionals who study sex.
He recently wrote a short essay in another forum and gave me permission to quote it here. In this blog I focus primarily on the pedophile view of the world, and the requirement for adults to never engage sexually with children -- no exceptions. Bailey has devoted more attention to what happens after men violate that rule -- the effects on the children. I found it a very interesting summary.
Mike Bailey writes:
My answers to two key questions:
1. Should adult-child relationships be legal or acceptable?
2. Should the age of consent be lowered?
It's complicated, but my answers are:
1. Probably not, but the penalties and stigma should be much less.
First of all, what is a “child?” Legally in many states it includes anyone less than 18 years old. A 6 year old girl and a 17 year old boy are children in Virginia, with respect to sex with adults anyway–although the penalties would be harsher for an adult who has sexual contact with the 6 year old girl. Generally, it is my impression that laws make such distinctions. My own intuitions differ according to whether the child is a 14 year old boy (where I tend to be pretty permissive) or an 8 year old girl (and can’t really imagine a case in which an adult should be sexual with her).
Also what is “sex?” Also quite variable in meanings. Also I assume treated as such in the law.
I think we should answer these questions as we should answer all policy-related questions: in terms of costs and benefits.
Benefits of adult-child sexual relationships may sometimes exist for a child, although I would not weigh them highly. It is difficult for me to imagine that any young person’s life has been made much worse by delaying sex (with an adult or another young person). This is not to deny accounts I’ve heard in which children (mainly boys) look back fondly to their sexual debuts with adults. The primary benefits of adult-child sexual relationships accrue to a child-attracted adult. I weigh these benefits even less, although I suppose if there were no costs to adult-child sex, they’d count for something.
Benefits of our current attitudes, laws, and systems concerning child-adult sex: They strongly discourage such relationships, primarily by consequences for any adults who might contemplate them. How much of a benefit this is depends on how harmful one believes such relationships are. There have been awful cases, surely, although for the most part as James said, the awfulness derives from coercion (and violence), threats (physical and emotional), and secrecy (causing alienation from others and fear). Violence and coercion should be legally for bidden for adult-child sex, and perhaps for most things. At least secrecy is always present, unless the adult is insane. But how harmful is child-adult sex intrinsically? That is, suppose a child agreed to have sex with an adult, the adult did not coerce or insist on secrecy, and there were no legal or social repercussions. How bad would this be for the child/youth? Oren acknowledges that this sometimes works out for the younger person but is persuaded by his clinical experience that sometimes it is quite harmful. I am not persuaded by clinical experience, because the clinical situation does not allow for knowledgeable consideration of the counterfactual: What would this person have been like if s/he had not had child-adult sex? I acknowledge that there are correlations between such experiences and some bad outcomes (although Rind’s studies suggest these correlations are not large), but their interpretation is not straightforward, to say the least. Any bad outcome could be attributable to one of the following: iatrogenic effects of societal/family reactions; preexisting personality factors that caused the child to engage in such interactions (of course, in a small minority of cases a child had no agency whatsoever, and these could not be a factor); genetic factors (in cases where the adult is a genetic relative); and especially relevant to the clinical situation, the desire to have an explanation for one’s problems–and ideally an explanation that others will accept and sympathize with, and reduce blame for one’s own problems. These alternative explanations are under appreciated and under explored, and I suspect they are more powerful in explaining negative associations between child-adult sex and adverse outcomes than anything intrinsically harmful about an adult non-coercively sexually touching a child.
Costs of adult-child sexual relationships: see above. In addition, James is correct that adults likely have some extra skills or coinage in luring some children. They are smarter and (sometimes) cooler and have more things and are bigger. But we should not forget that young persons are targeted for sex all the time by other young persons, and this also has costs. I spent far more time and energy protecting (policing?) my children from early sex with other young persons than I did protecting them from adults. (I certainly would have, but it just didn’t come up.) In our current society in the industrialized West, in my cultural milieu where we want college and economically productive futures for our children, I didn’t want my children to have a relatively early sex life–or to use drugs or some other things inconsistent with the future I wanted for them. I suspect most people I know feel the same way, although we don’t really discuss it. This issue is culturally variable, though, with earlier sexual debut more common in some subcultures.
Costs of our current attitudes, laws, and systems concerning child-adult sex: This is where the bad stuff is. First, believing that child-adult sex is one of the worst experiences one can have helps make it so. Making public ugly criminal cases whenever children and adults have sexual interactions only reinforces this (along with deterring adults, admittedly). Blaming others for one’s problems that are caused by one’s own personality and life choices more than by things that happened to us when we are young is underrated as a social harm and promoted in too much psychotherapy. I consider this an additional cost of placing CSA on a pedestal of harm. And although I don’t have any ambitions to promote the sex lives of child-attracted men, I do think our current system is far too ready and able to destroy their lives. (And by doing so, reinforces the beliefs of the children that they have been gravely harmed) And child pornography should not be illegal to download (although probably it should be to produce).
I close with the suggestion that if we reduced the severity of penalties for child-adult sex and lowered the age of consent, I don’t think all that much would change for children. Parents mostly regulate their children’s sex lives because of their own values, not because of the law. Reducing the severity of penalties is not tantamount to removing shame and community oversight.