Is pedophilia ever acceptable?
in: Dyneslines (dyneslines.blogspot.com),
Feb. 28, 2010.
Reproduced here by permission of the author.
new book by Susan Clancy, The Trauma Myth: The Truth About the Sexual
Abuse of Children--and Its Aftermath (Basic Books), addresses the
explosive issue of sexual relations between adults and children. An
experimental psychologist, Clancy has indicated that the book's title
was imposed on her by the publisher. In fact, she does not regard the
behavior as never traumatic per se, but only that sometimes it is not.
So it is not actually a myth.
An earlier study (Clancy &
McNally, 2005-2006) yielded some of the data on which the volume is
based. [SA Clancy and RJ McNally (2005-2006), "Who needs repression?
Normal memory processes can explain 'forgetting' of childhood sexual
abuse," Sci Rev Ment Health Pract. 4(2):66-73.] This study's finding
that 92% (25 of 27) of the subjects were confused recurs on page 38 of
the book. The question remains, were they o n l y confused, or was the
confusion acccompanied by more specific harms? This is not an either-or
matter. Instead, the feelings of the child are probably, in most
instances, overdetermined, creating a mingling of effects.
title, The Trauma Myth, which Clancy should not have approved, has
elicited some possibly unwarranted criticism. Even so, though, a number
of serious difficulties persist.
In the earlier study,
"subjects were asked to rate their CSA [child sexual abuse] on a
10-point scale (1=not traumatic at all, 10 = extremely traumatic."
Clancy and McNally report that the average rating was 7.5 (2005/2006,
p. 69). This finding indicates that many subjects thought that the
abuse itself, not what they learned about it years later, was
traumatic. Perhaps not extremely traumatic, or life-threatening, but
traumatic all the same.
Other researchers have pointed to the
large volume of psychological research documenting many short-term
effects, some quite damaging, of sexual attention imposed on children.
P. Lacter of San Diego has been working in the field as a practicing
psychologist for 24 years. During that period she has seen many abused
children, together with adults who say they were abused as children.
Lacter holds that cases of children registering only "confusion" (in
Clancy's sense) during the time frame of their abuse are quite rare.
She finds that, in addition to confusion of various types, they
experienced some combination of the following factors:
1. Physical pain, in some cases extreme.
2. Actual disgust with regard to the sexual acts, the presence of abuser genitalia. and emissions.
3. Fright in cases of extreme force, restraint, or restriction of the child's breathing, gagging, etc.
Dread based in threats to self, loved-ones, pets, and other cherished
persons and things, to ensure compliance and/or to prevent disclosure.
5. Fear based in the abuser overriding their attempts to escape, ignoring their pleas for the abuser to stop, and so forth.
Fear, shame, and guilt, based in an awareness that private parts should
be covered, and an awareness that the abuser was making great efforts
to hide the abuse, to keep it secret, and to ensure that they kept it
secret, causing the child to understand that these acts were harmful
and morally wrong, feelings sometimes reinforced with physical
7. Betrayal and hurt in cases of abuse by loved ones,
based in a sense that the abuser was requiring them to engage in
harmful and immoral acts, and in many cases, reinforced that family
members were knowingly allowing the abuse to continue.
8. Guilt and shame for not escaping or physically fighting off the abuser.
The feeling that one is an "accomplice," based in receiving gifts and
special privileges from the abuser. It seems that Clancy portrays these
"gifts" as "benefits" that the child derives from sexual abuse. This
equates child victims with prostitutes who trade money for sex. Yet
children cannot make valid "contracts" to be sexually exploited. In
many cases, sexual abuse is imposed on children against their will and
with no understanding of the meaning of sexuality. Abusers then use
gifts and favors to further manipulate and entrap children.
Anxiety-producing sexual arousal during the abuse, even in cases in
which the abuser took precautions to prevent or minimize the perception
11. Residual sexual feelings and responses that caused
great anxiety, crying, tantrums, accompanied by unanswered pleas to
caregivers to, "make it [the sexual response] stop", and the like.
12. Rage at the abuser for inflicting the above.
13. Social, behavioral, and cognitive (including academic) problems driven by the above.
Actual physical damage, including damage to internal organs, sexually
transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and in some rare cases, death.
weighty catalogue brooks no light dismissal. Still, one may grant that
there have been instances in which confusion is the dominant, or
perhaps even the sole emotion experienced by the child who is the
recipient of such attentions. There are even cases where the young
person has clearly initiated the activity. In these instances, the
subsequent embarrassment and mental anguish that result seem to be
largely the product of the later intervention, or fear of such, by
other individuals. Still, this simple sequence--confusion, followed by
subsequent disclosure and unpleasantness--does not hold true of many,
perhaps most cases. In these instances, the problems are experienced ab
origine, as it were, at the time that the adult intrudes upon the
Taking a larger view, Clancy is simply repeating
a line advanced by Dutch propedophile researchers fifty years ago, who
emphasized the negative effects of disclosure and social framing, when
the occurrence becomes transposed into the larger universe of social
disapproval. I grant, though, that Clancy's views may have some
plausibility because, unlike the Dutch boy lovers and their latter-day
followers, she is not an interested party.
problem with this line of argument, whether advanced by the Dutch
pedophiles or by contemporary researchers like Susan Clancy, is that it
is pars pro toto--a fallacy. For the sake of argument, let us grant
that some, perhaps many cases of adult-child sex may be harmless, even
beneficial. The trauma that results in such instances is in large
measure the result of the shaming ensuing upon the disclosure of the
Yet for this view to gain traction, it would have to
be shown that the trauma a l w a y s results s o l e l y from
such exposure. In fact, I don't think Clancy maintains this.
contra, there is a large residue of cases, a class that is scarcely
statistically insignificant, in which the child or adolescent
experiences revulsion in the course of the behavior itself. One can
feel disgust at any age.
What the propedophile advocates
stubbornly refuse to acknowledge is that adult-child affection takes
many forms--from simple hugging, which is probably OK, to forcible anal
entry, never OK.
Most of the studies reflect events that have
occurred in the everyday world. The penal setting of reformatories
presents another set of problems, as noted in a recent article by
Kaiser and Stannow in the New York Review of Books. It stands to
reason that some who seek this activity will gravitate to jobs in
reformatories in which young people, usually boys, are confined. In
the Texas institution cited, one supervisor was viciously predatory,
the other, who gave cake and fine treatment, arguably was not. We have
recently learned of horrific cases in Australia where young British
children, taken to that country against their will and placed in the
"care" of pedophile predators, were relentlessly and repeatedly raped.
The British Parliament has recently apologized for this hideous program.
as I say, pedophilia takes various forms. The refusal, on both sides,
to acknowledge this behavioral pluralism continues to be an obstacle to
advancement of understanding.
However, even if one were finally
able to secure agreement that sometimes pedophilia is harmless or
neutral, and sometimes deleterious, this more nuanced view would not
help the pedophiles and their defenders. To assist their cause one
would have to show that it is n e v e r harmful. As we have seen,
that is impossible
Of course some advocates of pedophilia will
advance the bad-apples excuse. The proverb on which this kind of
assertion is based is "One bad apple spoils the barrel." So if one
removes the bad apples from the bunch, the remaining apples will be
just fine. Yet, as with teachers' unions today, the pedophile advocates
do not want a n y apples removed. It is all just fine and dandy. There
the parallel breaks down, though: teachers' unions are powerful,
pedophile advocates are few and vulnerable.
comparison aside, the bad-apples excuse is now employed in a different
sense, implying that, statistically, a problem is rare, amounting to an
anomaly. A recent example is the conservative defense of torture at Abu
Ghraib in Iraq, where it was claimed that the misconduct was limited to
a few low-level rogue actors who got out of hand. This is the
bad-apples excuse that is now so commonly encountered. We now know that
Abu Ghraib this was not so, for under the Bush administration torture
was applied broadly and systematically.
The question to ask
about pedophilia, then, is how frequent is abusive behavior? Setting
aside the question of whether children can give informed consent--and
most observers believe that they cannot--how frequent are cases in
which the adult pedophile forces his attentions on his underage partner?
of the secrecy that enshrouds the practice, there are no reliable
statistics. As with the Catholic clergy situations, most instances
escape detection, at least at the time they occurred. To judge from the
cases that have come to light, the abuse involves more than just a few
bad apples. It may well encompass the majority of cases of sexual
activity involving a adult and a child. This is surely true where the
horror of forced anal penetration occurs.
At all events, even if
only 5% of the boys and girls involved in this behavior were harmed,
most observers (except for the special pleaders, the pedophiles
themselves) would say that that is far too many. The No Harm Principle
is deeply embedded in our common law. The "anything goes" umbrella
proffered by its advocates must needs wither when confronted with this
principle. In the aggregate, the practice of pedophilia fails the
no-harm test. It fails it glaringly and irrefutably,
the following question is mandatory. Why should we tolerate the
practice at all? Some young people have sexual urges, to be sure, but
they can surely postpone enactment of them until they are older. For
their part, pedophiles must either redirect their desires to other
adults or practice celibacy. If they fail to do either, legal remedies