I’m afraid I gave in. I caved. I have read the much quoted Guardian article on Paedophilia as a potential sexual preference as apposed to an illness. Before I even comment on the content of the article I’d like to call out what I see to be an irresponsible title and sub-title;
Paedophilia: bringing dark desires to light
The Jimmy Savile scandal caused public revulsion, but experts disagree about what causes paedophilia – and even how much harm it causes.
By writing “BUT” directly after stating that Jimmy Savile caused revulsion Jon Henley has set the tone for the piece. There is much in the article to be discussed, it calls out the need to understand Paedophiles better, to establish ways of humanising them whilst accepting that we would have to rely on them to fight against their natural pre-disposition towards children as objects of sexual desire.
I do not disagree that it is important to openly discuss child abuse, the very nature of the experience means it so often gets swept under the carpet, hushed up, avoided. The association of guilt for the survivors and their families means that the subject so often becomes taboo, especially within the family circle. What I take issue with, amongst other aspects of this article, is the nebulous nature of talking about “Paedophiles” and the age of consent.
Henley states “Social perceptions do change. Child brides were once the norm; in the late 16th century the age of consent in England was 10″. This is true. We ALSO had significantly shorter life expectancy, girls may have reached sexual maturity at a younger age, they were certainly expected to live as women at a much younger age and there were a vast number of other things that were different; diet, education, health. You cannot compare how women/girls/children were treated in Elizabethan England to contemporary England, any more than you can argue that women should no longer have the vote-after all they didn’t back in Henry the VIII’s reign.
The article also does not make a distinction about the ages of the victims. It talks to various studies where the children have supposedly taken positive experiences from their relationships with paedophiles. Firstly, is there any data to support this assertion at a later stage in their lives? Whilst those children may have made statements to attest to feeling positive at the time…I have no idea how old they were, 12, 13, 14? What about that same set of children 10 years on? Are they still positive or have they found, as I did as an adult who was abused as a child, that the repercussions were manifold. Secondly, do the studies that point to sexual abuse being a positive experience for the child have a limit to the age of the child? Are we OK with a 6 month old baby being in a paedophilic relationship with a man, is penetrative sex OK? What age would we be saying this would become beneficial for the child, 3, 4, 5? It just DOES NOT WASH. Any which way you cut it, it simply doesn’t make sense.
I stated earlier that I’m for research, and I am. I think it is important, some of the results may be hard to hear, some of the conclusions drawn may also seem on the face of it to make sense. But I urge caution. When Sarah Goode, who is widely quoted throughout the article states “We can help keep children safe, Goode argues, “by allowing paedophiles to be ordinary members of society, with moral standards like everyone else”, and by “respecting and valuing those paedophiles who choose self-restraint”. Only then will men tempted to abuse children “be able to be honest about their feelings, and perhaps find people around them who could support them and challenge their behaviour before children get harmed”. I’m reminded of the cases so often arising where known paedophiles have attacked more than once. Cases where certain religious organisations have seen fit to turn a blind eye with the hope that its abusing clergy will show restraint.
I do not hold with the notion that we should lynch paedophiles, far from it, rehabilitation is key. I was abused; I was raped, as a child, by a much older boy, who over the years became a man in the eyes of the law. He needed help, but so did I.
Articles like this do NOT help those victims, they say that actually some paedophiles have positive relationships with their victims. I do not believe this to be the case. I do not believe that children can make an informed choice to consent, not in the way that another adult would. Children want to please the adults in their life, they want to be praised and because of this they are easily manipulated.
As they grow children are also developing a view of the world, which for as long as possible should be free from dealing with adult desires and coercion. Only then can they grow, thrive and blossom into adolescents who are free from the shame, guilt and fear that child abuse – in all its forms - ingrains.