Thursday, September 3, 2020

Private Sexual Thoughts Do NOT Violate a Child's Rights

Just about everyone agrees that the making of child pornography is a terrible thing and rightly classified as a serious crime.

Most also think that viewing child pornography is terrible and rightly considered a crime. The main reason is that the children in the videos will find out that people have been viewing a record of their sexual abuse for purposes of sexual gratification and be distressed by that knowledge.

But there is also a movement afoot claiming that even if pictures of the child are innocent and in no way a record of child sex abuse, viewing them for sexual purposes is still immoral and harmful. This movement would like to make the positioning of such pictures in such a context illegal and punish those who do it.

One recent statement of this view is to be found in <"Everyday Pictures of Children in Sexualizing Context">  by Red Barnet.

The stated rationale for action against these pictures is that it harms children because they are being sexually exploited.

My alternative explanation for why this movement is powerful is that people are disgusted by the idea of adult sexual attraction to children, and they don't want any evidence of this to be visible online. This desire is independent of any harm to particular children from child sex exploitation.

One recent incident concerned people noticing that YouTube videos of children often attracted comments with timestamps, highlighting moments when (for instance) a girl's underwear briefly became visible. Other commenters clearly indicated that they found the child sexually attractive. This caused an uproar. Just about everyone agreed this was a terrible thing, and in early 2019 YouTube changed its policies to prohibit comments on most children's videos and imposed other restrictions. There may have been occasional mention of how distressed the child was to find out about such comments, and there was some mention of their parents being outraged on behalf of their daughters. But for the most part, the impetus was simply that people found the idea repulsive.

Makers of YouTube videos like it when their videos are popular, including getting lots of hits. For some it is a livelihood. YouTube's new restrictions seriously hampered this for many people. If the concern is for the children, YouTube could have created an "opt-in" where the responsible adult would say, on behalf of their child, that they wanted to be able to post videos as before and not have YouTube censor the comments. But such an option was never considered. Why? Because the real impetus behind the change was that people found it disgusting that pedophiles were expressing an interest in children that was available for the world to see.

Red Barnet starts with the UN's position that children have the right to be free from sexual exploitation. The authors feel that innocent pictures in a sexualizing context constitute sexual exploitation of the child. This stretches the meaning of sexual exploitation beyond reason. Obvious sexual exploitation is sexual activity with a child, including any filming of the activity. Arguably the child is exploited if people watch this imagery.

But the authors claim that "the act of inserting a child in a sexual context or sexualizing a context featuring a child constitutes the sexual exploitation of the child". This is incorrect, and one key feature to note is that the child herself is not being put in a sexualizing context, it is only images of the child.

The authors then ask if a child can be exploited if they are unaware of it, and answer emphatically that yes, they can:

"...putting everyday pictures of children in sexualizing contexts ... represents a serious violation of the children ... It is a gross violation of a child’s right to be protected from being made a sexual object. Whether or not the child knows about the sexualization does not change whether they should be protected from it. It is the child’s right. And it is our responsibility as a society."

Fundamentally, they are proposing that having sexual thoughts about children is a crime -- a thought crime. They may in practice be limited to investigating cases where images can be publicly found, but they are claiming that it is the child's right to have no one think sexual thoughts about her, even if neither she nor anyone else ever finds about it. In no free society can thoughts themselves be criminalized!

The true motivation here is not the child's right to be free of exploitation. The motivation is disgust at the idea of adult sexual attraction to children. The only straw they can find to clutch at for why this is actually wrong is the child's right to be free of exploitation.

Later, however, the authors take a notably different perspective. They studied posts in the peer support groups Vision of Alice, which I will ignore in this review. They also studied posts in the Virtuous Pedophiles group, of which I am co-founder. They recognize that through no fault of our own we pedophiles are sexually attracted to children and must live with that attraction, and they appear sympathetic to the idea that we would look at pictures of children and think sexual thoughts, as long as we make sure the child never finds out about it. They suggest that with this approach, we have the best interests of the child in mind. The implication is that maybe it's not so bad if we have private sexual thoughts about children. This is not consistent with their earlier absolute condemnation of child sexualization even if the child never finds out about it.

Perhaps the true motivation here reveals itself in a slightly different way. What they really want is for the public not to be able to find any evidence of pedophiles finding children sexually attractive. They may not like the idea that pedophiles think such thoughts at all, but as long as there is no visible evidence of those thoughts, maybe that's a reasonable compromise with our natural desire for some measure of sexual fulfillment. It is a concession to the reality of our position that lots of other people would not make. But it is not logically consistent with their earlier view.

Along with the child's right to be free from sexual exploitation, the authors also explore how children can be psychologically harmed by sexual interactions with adults or having records of their abuse publicly visible -- and naturally extend it to harm from finding sexualized pictures of themselves.

One key element is shame at having been viewed in that way. The authors rightly point out that there is no cause for shame as it is never their fault. But there is another way to reduce any temptation to feel shame. Here I think society has an opportunity and an obligation to change. The classic "pedophile rights" argument is that sexual activity between an adult and a willing child is only harmful because society says it is. I strongly reject that argument. In contrast, the Virtuous Pedophiles position is that the attraction itself, if never acted upon, should be accepted -- we didn't choose it and can't make it go away. And one consequence is that it should not be any cause of shame for a child to find out that an adult had sexual thoughts about her. This will be very hard for many people to accept, but that is where justice leads.

Consider for comparison male homosexuality. I am all for gay rights, but I personally have no interest at all in sex with a man and find the idea personally repugnant. If some gay man sees me and later has a private sexual fantasy about me, I have no problem with that. Suppose he finds an innocent picture of me online and puts it in a sexualized context, perhaps on the same page with explicit gay porn. If this is brought to my attention, I might feel a touch of revulsion, but I would not feel my rights were violated. Any negative reaction I have is my problem, not theirs. There is nothing wrong with a gay man finding me attractive and fantasizing about it, and there is nothing wrong with him putting together something online that shows that fact.

And this, I believe, is where society should aim to go with sexualized contexts of innocent pictures of children. Yes, some men may find a child sexually attractive, and there's nothing wrong with that. Many older children do sense this intuitively, being more flexible and open-minded than adults. And in this case, if they later change their minds, I believe it is primarily because of the prejudice that runs so strongly through our society.

I do believe it is rude to mark up children's YouTube videos with comments showing sexual interest, just like it would be rude for the gay man to send me the collage he has created of me. YouTube will of course make their own rules according to their own values and priorities. And as long as society retains its strong prejudices, it is most considerate not to create sexualized images of children that are publicly visible. But none of this should be of interest to law enforcement. 

This "Red Barnet" article is the third one that I have reviewed that springs from organizations whose goal is to eliminate sexual images of children online. I reviewed the other two <here> and <here>.


Saturday, August 15, 2020

Critique of Michael Harris podcast "The Worst Epidemic"

Michael Harris made a lengthy podcast called <"The Worst Epidemic">. This worst epidemic is allegedly that of child pornography images on the web. His guest is Gabriel Dance, one author of a couple New York Times pieces on this same subject in 2019. I responded to one of them in <this post>.

I listened to the full 2 hours. There are certainly things that I agree with. People raping small children and recording it to share with others is a truly horrible crime. Others watching and urging them on is nearly as horrible. I welcome steps to combat such activities and bring the perpetrators to justice.

In the podcast, child pornography is relabeled child sex abuse material (CSAM) and identified as such. I'm <not in favor of this terminology change> but pick my battles. We also learn that most of the statutes use the term "child pornography".

My main complaint is that the podcast lumps together in one group all CSAM (and all those who view it), when there are important distinctions.

It's a bit as if you said "Lawbreakers! Disgusting people! An epidemic of vast proportions! Some of them murder and torture people!" That's true. But there are other lawbreakers who park in "no parking" zones or let the time expire on their meters. The first class is tiny, and the second class is huge. "Lawbreakers" covers a wide range and there are important distinctions to be made.

I propose that there is a similar distinction to be made between the small group of those who make and trade CSAM, and a far larger group who watch it -- never paying, and never communicating in any way with the makers.

This second group is fundamentally misunderstood. For the moment I will restrict my attention to pedophiles (though the article claims that many of those who watch are not pedophiles but just find it arousing). The entire group is "foreign" and "other". Most people have a gut-level revulsion against anyone finding children sexually attractive. They do not know personally any members of this group, and the only ones they hear of at all are lawbreakers.

Most people would like to punish such people just for existing. In many places, they punish them for any related activity that is detectable. As a result, countries such as Canada and the UK have banned text-only stories that involve fictional underage people (under 18) engaging in sexual activity. They have banned drawings or cartoons showing such activity. And they can impose harsh criminal penalties on those who are found with such things. Arguments in support are: it might lead to hands-on abuse, or it stands in for the crime of hands-on abuse -- all of them are going to molest children. The evidence for such connections is very weak, and in any case nowhere else in the law would such reasoning be accepted. You cannot punish people for something that is merely correlated with crime and not a crime itself. For comparison, there is controversy about violent movies and video games and some talk of banning them. But there is absolutely no serious talk of sending to prison those who have such items in their possession.

With that as background, it is no surprise that all those who view CSAM are put in the same class as those who produce it or encourage others to produce it. There is no motivation to learn more about those who just watch and consider that different treatment might be called for -- lesser penalties and even <a measure of compassion>.

The podcast laments the huge numbers of CSAM images that are on the web, without considering just what it is that makes this situation so bad. We can identify possible reasons and consider them separately.

One way they are bad is as a representation of child sex abuse. For such purposes, what is relevant is the number of unique images. The podcast gives numbers that are all about total reports/images, without every emphasizing that the vast majority of them are duplicates. It notes that victims are notified when their images are found -- without noting that they can opt out of receiving such notifications. Those who do not opt out are inviting their own distress.

Another way they are bad is as a representation of how many people are looking at such images for erotic satisfaction. I will examine that below. But that is not correlated with the number of images in any obvious way. One possibility is that the purveyors of such images flood the internet with them, most of them irrelevant and unwatched, as a way of making it hard for law enforcement to find the ones that matter.

Another way they are considered bad is simply the awareness that such images exist and can be found in such quantities -- this in itself is a mark of a sick society or a problem that needs urgent attention. I hope on a little reflection people would see this differently -- this is NOT "the worst epidemic". This is not where you should be sending your charitable contributions when there are so many other issues where people are suffering direct harm.

Let's look at the effect of a few different policies on the incidence of child sex abuse. There is an assumption that reporting of such things will lead to more children being rescued, while no numbers are offered. We hear of how the man raping a boy on Zoom was caught -- but also of how very rare this is, and how it came about because of an undercover agent, not detection of the images. But here's another possible policy: people of good will have suggested that if your goal was to reduce child sex abuse, you would make possession of such images legal and encourage wide distribution to increase the chance that someone will recognize the child or the perp. THAT could rescue a child. Since this idea does not even get a hearing, it is fair to infer that protecting children is not what really what motivates the campaign.

Going through the podcast, there is a clear line to be drawn between the worst-case scenarios, presented as anecdote without numbers, and the vast majority of passive watching.

Harris speaks of a vast audience willing to pay to see horrific abuse. His guest Gabriel Dance much later corrects him that money is hardly ever changing hands.

We hear an anecdote of a man who put drugs in juice boxes to makes children unconscious and then film himself abusing them. A horrible image -- but how common is it? On the anecdotal side of the divide.

There is anecdotal mention of some men who are interested in sexual activity with very young ("pre-verbal") children. There is no mention of how many people actually make such videos. I suspect it is quite small. I want a number, and we are not given even an estimate.

On the other side of the divide is the statement that New Jersey could arrest 400,000 people for viewing CSAM images-- nearly 5% of the population. But based on the <report of Michael Seto>, very few of them are watching videos of crying children, or unconscious children, or pre-verbal children. Mostly they are children who appear to be happy. I am not saying they ARE happy, or that even if they are, it is OK -- they are being exploited and may come to feel bad about it later. But though data is scarce, <Virtuous Pedophiles surveys suggest>  that the majority of the men who watch it are not in favor of child suffering. Watching is an activity motivated by lust, and if there is no evidence on the screen of the child suffering, they can put that aside in the throes of sexual desire. They feel guilty as soon as they have climaxed. Much of society is disgusted by any of that, but they will have trouble finding any harm in an individual act. Very few people actually <believe in telepathy>. Yes, victims are upset to know that others are looking at their abuse, but sadly, this is just not a problem we can solve. If we removed 90% of the images of them being abused, they would still have to live with that basic psychological fact.

Much of the podcast takes as a premise that it is a high priority to remove such images from the web. I disagree with that premise. I'm not saying I am in favor of such images existing -- I would prefer that they not exist and were not present on the web at all, let alone in such numbers. But this is a problem which cannot be easily solved, and the benefit from throwing resources at the problem is very limited. The common measure of the size of the problem -- number of images online -- has no remotely direct connection to the one fundamental horror at the heart of this -- the numbers of children being sexually abused.

We are presented with the astounding fact that it is a crime to see child pornography and not report it (including if someone sends it to you unsolicited), while it is not a crime to see a murder and not report it. It is hard to see how that is compatible with much of any concept of civil liberties. We are told that surely THIS (such an explosion of CSAM images) is a reason why full encryption is a terrible thing -- law enforcement needs a back door -- while also noting that the chances of actually rescuing any children by this method are tiny. The podcast suggests that the police want such back doors for other crimes, but are (cynically) happy to jump on the bandwagon of public outrage at child sex abuse images to get what they want for other purposes.

The solution to child sex abuse is to put a camera in every room of every house in America. That would be a way to make a stab at catching ALL the abuse, not just the tiny subset that is recorded or the subset of that that is put up on the web or the subset of that that "has legs" and is widely disseminated. There is serious potential here for catching other serious crimes too. Harris asks us to consider whether there is anything we are doing online that is justifiably secret to the extent that it makes encryption necessary if the cost is not being able to track down child sex abuse. Let me ask the very same question about what you are doing in your home. If you have nothing to hide, why should you object to cameras in every room?

Of course this solution isn't really enough -- the web would still be flooded with CSAM images made in other countries.

Monday, July 27, 2020

SYNTHESIS: THOUGHTS ON THE PEDOPHILES IN REVIEWS HERE


I have been reviewing books about pedophiles off and on since I began this blog six years ago. Today I am going to look at them all together (gathered in <this part> of my index of posts), in search of patterns.

First, all of these pedophiles are three-dimensional characters with some redeeming or intriguing qualities. There are various forms of fiction in which pedophiles are presented as nothing but monsters, but those would not be very interesting to me. Second, I do not claim to have made any sort of systematic survey of such stories. Perhaps readers will point me to others I should know about.

A few of these stories are quite simple. One is my evaluation of the real-life J.D. Salinger. His peak attraction is to 10-year-old girls, but his only known sexual advances were to girls of legal age.

The pedophile Kit in "More Lives Than One" is squeaky clean. Most of the book is about the false accusation against him by a teenage girl who has a crush on him. His true attraction is to boys, something he reveals to his wife near the end of the book (in just a few pages) because he can't stand to keep it a secret any longer. He hates his attraction, he never allows himself to fantasize about it, he's never seen child pornography, and he never thinks about it when he is making love with his wife. If a non-pedophile is trying to think about accepting some pedophiles, Kit is the ideal candidate. He is also the only one in this set whose attraction is to boys -- for the rest it is all girls.

Holden Caulfield is the protagonist of "The Catcher in the Rye". I diagnose him as a pedophile based primarily on his near-worship of his 10-year-old sister Phoebe, against a background of his sharp criticism of everyone else, and his lack of response to a mature female prostitute sitting in his lap. But there is no evidence in that story of him molesting anyone.

In "Pedal", the pedophile is Smirks. His only actual relationships with young girls are described in his brief reports of long-past events. In one of them he did act sexually with a girl and felt she would have felt fine about it if not for societal attitudes convincing her otherwise -- she conveniently died suddenly of unrelated causes a few months later. In the present, he feels tormented about his feelings for small girls, but he seems to be in no danger of abusing anyone.

In all of the other stories, we know quite a bit about what actually happened between the man and his main girl -- any other victims are secondary and not described in detail.

"Tiger, Tiger" is the only non-fiction story in this group, concerning author Margaux Fragoso's long relationship with Peter, starting when she is 7 and he is 51. Peter is a pedophile and sexual interest and activity is a large component of their relationship. She doesn't like it and he knows that. There is also, however, a strong emotional component to his attraction.

I have not reviewed Lolita, the most famous pedophile story, but readers are likely familiar with it. The protagonist Humbert Humbert is more calculating and sex-oriented than any of those in my set -- he is less sympathetic than any of the others -- and even less sympathetic if you believe he is an unreliable narrator and is sugar-coating some of what happened to portray himself in a better light.

"Lamb" and "Helpless" deserve to be discussed together, because both involve a man kidnapping a girl but never actually doing anything sexual with her. In "Lamb", the girl Tommie comes from an emotionally barren home and welcomes the intense positive attention that Gary gives to her -- she more or less consents to the kidnapping. Gary lets the girl Tommie know he is sexually attracted to her but he never does anything of that kind. In "Helpless" Ron imagines that his girl Rachel is being abused and needs to be rescued, though this is mere delusion on his part. It fits the "man rescues girl" scenario from his point of view. He has no chance to form a friendship with her gradually, so it requires an actual abduction of an unwilling girl. His fantasy is that she will quickly come to appreciate being rescued and love him, but he soon realizes this isn't going to happen. A willingness to kidnap might make you suspect he would get violent -- when he does finally start engaging in some frottage with her, he senses her fear and instantly stops. He's out of touch with reality with his kidnapping plan, but he can tell when a girl is uncomfortable and his feelings towards her remain tender and protective.

In "Una" the girl (Una) is 13, with sexual and romantic awareness, and she is fully in favor of the relationship as it develops. What the world sees as kidnapping actually develops as an elopement. Ray's primary attraction is to adults, so he is not a pedophile. He is an opportunistic offender against the sexually developed Una. Ray has no real plan, and in his ambivalence abandons Una in a particularly insensitive (and self-destructive) manner. He is caught and ends up serving jail time. If he had just told her they couldn't elope and taken her home, all might have ended with far less drama.

In "My Dark Vanessa", we have a high school teacher (Strane) who comes on to his 15-year-old student Vanessa. She is sexually mature. He is actually a pedophile but is attracted enough to her to be strongly sexually interested in her. Although there is some talk of poetry and literature, his interest in her is primarily sexual. He is quite manipulative, and at the center of this story is the need to keep the relationship secret to avoid dire consequences for him. She goes through excruciating contortions to do that for him.

In "Dream Children" we have the most authentic and close relationship. It begins when Bobs is four and continues until she is ten. This is true pedophilia. Oliver is a boarder where she lives, and they have adjacent rooms in the attic. For the most part, he is relating to her on an appropriate level, in a playful and creative manner. She is thrilled. He takes inherent joy in the friendship and being able to do things for her. He does, however, start introducing sexual activity into the relationship. The author takes us inside of Bobs's head, where we learn she didn't mind this part at all. She is heartbroken when he breaks things off abruptly (moving to the US) when she is ten years old -- that she minded a great deal. He did it in large part due to fear of discovery, but also anguish at how the relationship will inevitably change -- deteriorate -- in the years ahead.

What patterns can we see? In "Pedal", "More Lives Than One", the real J.D. Salinger, and the fictional Holden Caulfield, nothing happens in the real world. This is also true of the two pedophiles I detected in the background in "Helpless". Naturally the interesting issues start arising when things happen.

One theme is the role of the fear of discovery. It is central to "My Dark Vanessa", plays a large role in "Dream Children", and has some role in "Tiger, Tiger". Discovery is understood to be inevitable in Lamb, Una and Helpless. Pro-legalization pedophiles will argue that this fear makes things worse for the girls involved (and the men too, of course). Once the relationship has started, this is likely true. However, that fear of consequences deters men from beginning a sexual relationship in the first place -- which I believe is the more important consideration. It was wrong for all of these men to let a sexual relationship develop.

In none of these stories is a struggling child being forced to do something sexual. However, sexual activity is coerced in "Tiger, Tiger". While Rachel is kidnapped in "Helpless", no sexual activity takes place. Consent is sometimes iffy in "My Dark Vanessa", but she still wants sex. Bobs in "Dream Children" seems content with everything that happened sexually, and Una is downright enthusiastic. A pattern seems to be that girls who have reached puberty are enthusiastic about sex (at least some of the time) and pre-pubertal girls are not. Bobs does seem to be OK with it in "Dream Children" -- I assume this is because Oliver is in fact very carefully attuned to her and just about never does anything Bobs doesn't want. But when the author takes us into Bobs's mind, we never hear of sex as something she ever especially wanted or looked forward to. She did it for him, relatively happily.

One thing that unites all of the men in these stories is a lack of clarity about what they are doing and why, and a degree of impulsiveness. Given society's laws and attitudes, those are almost a prerequisite for any man who strives to have a positive sexual relationship with a young girl. Losing track in the initial stages of the consequences of discovery and the difficulties of remaining undiscovered seems common. Yet none of the men ever has bad intentions -- none wants to hurt his girl.

Rachel is kidnapped. All of the other prepubescent girls enter into their friendships with the men voluntarily, and all fit the pattern of someone with a barren home life who craves some positive attention. The postpubescents (Vanessa and Una) enter from romantic or sexual desire, with no need for a bad home situation to impel them.

The portrayals of all the pedophiles in these stories seems reasonably realistic. The poster child pedophile Kit strains credulity a bit when he says he has never fantasized sexually about boys, and never, ever thinks of them when having sex with his wife. At the other extreme, Ron making a room in his house for a girl and then kidnapping her seems like an extraordinarily rare story.

Based on my experience with pedophiles online, all of these authors have done a decent job of portraying a believable pedophile.

(I ignored two posts in this category that aren't really about pedophiles, "The sexuality of Mr. Rogers" and "Regret of Early Sex in Diary of a Teenage Girl", though the latter does suggest that early sex for a girl can be harmful even if it is consensual and legal if not tied to love).



Sunday, July 26, 2020

Review of "Dream Children"


This book by A.N. Wilson has an "old" style that is rare in the modern novels I read -- an intricate use of language. I had to slow down to read it, and I can find a certain pleasure in the style. As for deeper connections, I'm the sort of guy who got Bs and Cs in literature courses, and leave it to others to evaluate it as Art.

At the center of the story is Oliver, a successful and somewhat famous professor, of whom great things are expected. One of his adoring students (Cuffe) leads him into the odd household where most of the book takes place. It features a widow (Janet), her daughter (Michal), the daughter's daughter (Bobs, short for Roberta) and the nanny (Lotte). As the author introduces the household in considerable detail, the position of Bobs is sketched by omission. It is in the briefest asides that we learn that none of them like her or children in general, her mother is especially ineffectual, and the nanny is "rather simple". All of the women adore Oliver, and also are aware that he shows no romantic or sexual interest in females. They think perhaps he is gay, but they adore him nonetheless, and his lack of interest is what allows this situation to remain stable for seven years. He lives in the attic, with no academic responsibilities. It's considered a bonus that he seems happy taking on much of the responsibility for Bobs and that Bobs also adores him -- the fifth female in the house to feel that way, though of course her interest is that of a child. Before long Bobs moves to the other room in the attic.

There are long descriptions of philosophy, philosophers, and Oliver's intellectual history in dealing with them and his ideas. It all sounds plausible to me, but a separate story line that has no apparent integration with the main story. But we are also introduced to the idea that Oliver thinks children deserve sexual liberation -- something he blurts out within a philosophical panel debate -- live, on a radio broadcast to millions. When Wilson then takes us into his head, we find he has felt this all along and until then has kept it secret -- and vows to himself never to mention it again. He also realizes that his sole sexual attraction is to children. He fantasizes about them. Late in the book we learn that he also has a very strong sexual appetite, and his most typical masturbation is inspired by looking at Charles Dodgson's 19th-century photographs of naked little girls. These are examples of the "Dream Children" of the title. His fate is to get solo sexual satisfaction from children he dreams of. He isn't particularly ashamed of his attraction, just frustrated that he can never live it out in reality.

He is not initially interested in or attracted to 3-year-old Bobs, but when she is 4 he comes to adore her and sees this as an unexpected chance to be intimate with another person. And from the ages of 4 to 10, they have a special friendship. They love each other -- person to person. Initially he is expressing his love at the same level as Bobs -- a child-like level. She sleeps in his bed at night, and he adores looking at her and touching her -- but it is sensual, not sexual.

After a few years sexual activity creeps in, but this seems very much secondary to the friendship. This we learn for certain when Wilson takes us at different points into the heads of Oliver, the 10-year-old Bobs, and the 27-year-old Bobs. Oliver confides to the reader that if he can satisfy some of his strong sexual desire with Bobs, that's great, but there's plenty left over to be handled alone.

When Bobs is 10, Oliver decides that he must wrench himself free of her, because their relationship poses a great danger to him, she will inevitably pull away, and the slow death of their special friendship is far more painful to contemplate than a clean break. His plan for getting free is to marry a woman outside the household and move to America. Most of the plot concerns how the various women of the house react to this news and try to get him to call off the wedding and stay at the house.

He does move out, but if he hadn't, we can wonder what would happen as Bobs enters puberty and becomes sexually unattractive to him, though this issue is never raised. Since the core of their friendship is non-sexual, it seems unlikely to be a problem for Oliver. Perhaps a bigger problem would arise when Bobs's own sexual desires came into full bloom. Even bigger would be the inevitable questioning and rebellion that comes with the teenage years. The way Bobs as an adult sees the situation is, "She understood well enough, with the perspective of time and age, that Oliver would have felt great embarrassment to continue living with Roberta as she grew up. She knew too much, and too much of which the others all knew nothing. She just wished, and sometimes she had wished it to the point of heartbreak, that he could have attempted, however embarrassing it was, to have ... made a little farewell speech." She might have wished for a farewell speech, but I can't see that it would actually have changed much. What she imagines as "embarrassment" would I think more accurately have been felt by Oliver as "terror" (of the discovery) and "profound anguish" (at the relationship's changing).

What we see here at the start is a very typical pattern for child sex abuse -- a girl is seriously short of adult attention, and latches onto a man who provides her with the attention she craves. If he wants to do a few sexual things, that's OK with her (at least at the time) as another sort of game, even if it's not her favorite one. But in this case Oliver is not in it for the sex and adores her at all levels.

Much is revealed at the very end of the book about how this all plays out in the years that follow, and in terms of the situation that the bulk of the book has painted, there could be plenty of other equally plausible endings. Oliver does marry a woman (a lesbian) and moves to America, and they adopt two children and raise them, Oliver being an attentive father and househusband. Bobs is a successful career woman. She has presumably tried out a few boyfriends, but they aren't for her, as the only man she has ever loved is Oliver. She lives with and cares for her mother (and the aging nanny) and expects nothing further of her romantic life. At the very end Bobs meets Oliver and his younger child, a girl (Oliver's wife has committed suicide some years earlier). We are left to wonder at the end what that relationship is, how Bobs will perceive it, and what her reaction will be. She already knew of Cal's existence. Possibilities range from her angrily going public with the story of her abuse to the two of them deciding to get married.

Wikipedia's plot summary is: "Paedophilia is at the heart of the story. Oliver Gold's pure thoughts, and seemingly asexual life contrast with the reality of his desires and deeds. Oliver abuses Bobs over a long period." This is a mis-reading of the book. Our excursions into Bobs's head suggest that if Oliver ruined her, it was from the emotional connection, not the physical one. Bobs could have had an intense childhood friendship with a peer during that period, or a close non-romantic relationship with an uncle or aunt who would die or move away when she is 10, with similar results. We are taken into her adult head when she is 27. There is plenty of time for her in the years ahead to decide to form a relationship. She even has ten more years in which to have children of her own.

In the stereotypical pedophile story, sex with Bobs would be the culmination of Oliver's life -- the peak experience, and the fundamental reason he got close to her at all. Bobs as an adult would realize this and feel deeply betrayed. But neither of those things is true in this story. Adult Bobs doesn't suggest that she ever had a strong desire to spill the beans, which is plausible as she felt no felt no particular torment about the sexual aspect of their relationship.

I have blogged that <pedophiles need to avoid more than sex>. The book and movie <"Lamb"> make a clear case for this. Surely we would tell Oliver when he first considers something sexual with Bobs that he must refrain.

But as for how things actually turned out, Wilson portrays a very special friendship and relationship for both Bobs and Oliver. As for future complications, life is what happens while you're making other plans.

No story of a pedophile and a girl has affected me so deeply. I am profoundly envious of their non-sexual relationship. At one point Bobs wonders if they could devise a new unit to measure level of anxiety. They do, and call it a "dentist". Mild anxiety is half a dentist, pretty strong anxiety is four dentists. That level of creativity and playfulness would be priceless. Such a close friendship might have been possible 40 years ago, but today's social climate would not allow it.

--------------------------

I wrote my first version of this review (above) shortly after finishing the book. Four days later, I have some additional thoughts. I am leaving the part above exactly as it was.

I said that I was profoundly envious of the non-sexual relationship between Bobs and Oliver. I am.

On a few days' reflection, I have much less sympathy for Oliver. The book omits a crucial time -- the moment when Oliver saw fit to introduce sex into his relationship with Bobs. It's OK with me that he is exclusively attracted to children sexually -- it's not his choice so it's not up to me to be OK with it or not. It's OK if he thinks that children can consent to sexuality -- in theory. But it is not OK to let sexuality enter his actual relationship with the actual Bobs, given the world we live in. It's not that Bobs will be unhappy about it at the time -- as the fiction is presented, Oliver has enough sensitivity and deep caring for Bobs to have detected that and immediately stopped any tentative advances.

When Bobs muses at age 27 about whether Oliver confided to his late wife about their games with "bananas and cream", she is telling us that his ejaculating penis was part of Bobs' experience (though unclear whether she was licking the banana or consuming the cream). She also reflects that she retained her power because she retained her virginity. Oliver at one point says she was feeling pleasure, and while her reminiscence does not contradict that, she doesn't see fit to mention it. So we have a fair picture of the limits of their sexual activity. It was way more than kissing or ambiguous fondling.

There are two grave problems, both of which Oliver should have foreseen. One is that he had no way of knowing that Bobs would not come to feel awful about the sex over time -- the fictional Bobs when she is aged to 27 did not, but that may be based on details of her personality and circumstances. The second is that at the moment that sex entered the picture he put upon her a need to keep a secret. She was likely keeping many other secrets about what she and Oliver did together, because she wanted to. But if she had decided she wanted to confide all those, nothing terrible would have happened. But the moment she decides she wants to tell about sexual activity, she has a dilemma -- keep a secret she does not want to keep, or blow Oliver's life apart.

Could Oliver have had such an intense friendship with Bobs, a strong sexual attraction to her, no other prospect of satisfying sex in his life, and never acted on it? If not, then he had an obligation not to let his relationship with Bobs get so intense.

If he could keep sex out of it, we are not entirely out of the woods. He still may have felt the need to wrench himself free of her when she turned 10 or so because of the strength of his feelings. If so, then he also had an obligation not to let the relationship get so intense. But without wrenching himself free he could have ended things in a positive way. For instance, he could move out of the house, to a place in London not too far away. He could initially continue to visit with Bobs a few times a week, gradually weaning her off of frequent visits and expectations of a special friendship, while still letting her process her grief and other feelings as they change and develop. While the women of the house may have been delighted not to have to deal with Bobs, they were not entirely neglectful. After he moved out they did rise to the occasion and finish raising Bobs. So another path here is for Oliver to have been honest with the others about his strong emotional attraction, allowing them to intervene if they saw fit, and allowing Bobs to confide to them absolutely everything that happened.

Suppose we imagine the world that Oliver proposes in his radio address, where children have sexual agency. Imagine Oliver asking permission of Bobs's mother about doing sexual things with her. Imagine the mother consulting with Bobs and the two of them saying yes. I don't see any necessary disaster in that scenario. Yet I think such a world would be dangerous, as the mother's assent might well have been a quid pro quo. Michal, Bobs's mother, had a strong motivation to approve because of her desperate desire for Oliver to stay in the house rather than moving out. Bobs's own assent in the actual story sounds like a quid pro quo as well. "Prostitution" is a continuum that ranges from a man's marital commitment to support his wife in exchange for having sex with her regularly, all the way to the starkest commercial transaction. Some people are fine with all stages of that continuum as it pertains to adults. Most have grave concerns when they think of children on this continuum.

Setting aside that speculative world, I have sketched a way that the intense friendship between Bobs and Oliver that I envy so much could have developed so as not to be harmful. The book is fiction, but we can ask whether such a positive outcome is realistic, given Oliver as he is presented. I have my doubts. The fictional Oliver deserves our serious and thorough condemnation. He made a huge mistake and caused much grief to the girl he loved.

I still do not give up on the possibility of an intense, non-sexual friendship between a pedophile and a girl with a happy, healthy ending and no need to keep secrets. But it would be difficult, and the book helps us to see why.

Monday, July 20, 2020

You can ignore the "(Index)..." posts

The previous <two> <posts> might seem peculiar to people. Why these two lists? The story is that I maintain an <Index by category> of my posts (a featured link on the right side), and I recently updated it. Maybe there's some elegant way to do this, but if so I don't know what it is, so I've just made posts that have links to others. Ordinarily the updated posts don't show up in the chronological list of posts when all I do is edit them. But in this case I wanted to split two topics into two pieces, and the new pieces show up in my list of posts.

I don't read a lot of blogs, so I don't know how common an "index of posts" is, but it makes sense for my blog because it really is closer to a series of essays than reactions to current events. If I wrote on a topic six years ago and it's still what I believe, I don't see any need to write about it again, and I want my readers to be able to find it.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

(Index) Books and films about specific pedophiles

These are books and movies about specific pedophiles, fictional or real, known or alleged. This category separated from "Other Projects" 18 July 2020.

Review of Pedal by Chelsea Rooney
Regret of Early Sex in Diary of a Teenage Girl
Review of the movie and book Lamb

(Index) Child pornography -- other posts

Posts in category "Child pornography -- other posts"
(as of 3 March 2017, updated 18 July 2020)
Key posts are <here>.

Real child pornography
Harm to children in child pornography
How does CP offending affect contact offending?
The right to be left alone -- short and sweet
John Grisham on CP: The bad and the good
More on CP -- preparing to go digging
Pulling CP apart -- the child's reaction
Pulling CP apart -- the activity
Pulling CP apart -- other aspects
Saving kids from child porn -- possession, that is
Does this link point to CP?
What if ordinary porn was illegal?
Review of 'Ethical Porn For Dicks' Part 1 of 3
Review of 'Ethical Porn for Dicks' - Child porn
Review of 'Ethical Porn...' - Lessons for pedos
Lessons from mass shootings for CP viewing
Compare: subway molesters and CP viewers