HISTORY AND STRATEGIES OF PRO-PEDOPHILE ACTIVISM
Pro-pedophile activism (also spelled pro-paedophile activism) refers to a small socio-political movement advocating the acceptance of pedophilia as a sexual orientation rather than a psychological disorder. Pro-pedophile activists also advocate the related goals of "normalizing" the concept of sexual activities involving an adult and a child (legally defined as child sexual abuse in every developed country), legalizing such activities by lowering or abolishing the age of consent laws, and reform of child pornography legislation. Some but not all pro-pedophile activists self-identify as pedophiles, or as adults attracted to children in a sexual or romantic way.
Pro-pedophile activists have described their movement as analogous to other new social movements, in particular the LGBT social movements, and some call for what they describe as "children's rights", to allow children to make decisions about sexual relationships without constraint by the authority of their parents. Some pro-pedophile groups are involved in opposing vigilante groups that target pedophiles.
Present-day pro-pedophile activism occurs mostly through websites and internet discussion forums; in the past the movement was advocated through periodicals such as the Paidika: The Journal of Paedophilia (1987-1995) and through a few membership organizations that have declining membership or have ceased their activities in recent times, such as the Danish Pedophile Association and the North American Man/Boy Love Association and others.
1. Definitions of pedophilia
3. Terminology and symbols used by the movement
5. Perspectives of pro-pedophile activists
6. Scientific claims
7. Controversy and public reaction to the movement
The term Pedophilia refers to the sexual preference for prepubescent children. Hebephilia refers to the sexual preference for individuals in the early years of puberty (generally ages 11-14). Ephebophilia refers to the sexual preference for individuals in later adolescence. However, the term pedophilia is commonly used to refer to any sexual interest in minors below the legal age of consent.
The ICD-10, an international classification of diseases published by the World Health Organization, lists pedophilia as a paraphilia, and refers to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), mentioned below, for its definition.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR), describes pedophilia as a paraphilia. In addition, the APA released a statement in 2003 regarding the diagnostic criteria for pedophilia:
The DSM is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals and provides clear, objective descriptions of mental illnesses, based upon scientific research. Pedophilia is categorized in the DSM-IV-TR as one of several paraphilic mental disorders. The essential features of a Paraphilia are recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors that generally involve nonhuman subjects, children, or other nonconsenting adults, or the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner. An adult who engages in sexual activity with a child is performing a criminal and immoral act and this is never considered normal or socially acceptable behavior. Darrel A. Regier, M.D., M.P.H., Director, American Psychiatric Association’s Division of Research states, “there are no plans or processes set up that would lead to the removal of the Paraphilias from their consideration as legitimate mental disorders.”
Regarding the foundation of positions that in some ways mirror later pro-pedophile activism, Robert Stacy McCain writes: "Academic defenses of sex between adults and children date back at least to Alfred Kinsey's famous 1948 and 1952 reports on human sexuality, in which the Indiana University professor claimed that 'children are sexual from birth.' Critics say that pro-pedophilia activism cannot be dismissed as an irrelevant fringe movement because it has real-life consequences." In the 1970s, the movement established itself in continental Western Europe, particularly in the Netherlands. At that time the North American Man/Boy Love Association was also a leading gay youth and pederast rights activist group.
Psychologist and sexologist Dr. Frits Bernard has stated that he and others formed the Enclave kring ("Enclave circle") in The Hague, the Netherlands in the 1950s. They built upon pre-1940 member information of the surviving Dutch branch of German Magnus Hirschfeld's sexologist Wissenschaftlich-Humanitäres Komitee (WHK) (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee) provided by former WHK member Arent von Santhorst (see interview with Bernard led by ethnologist and political scientist Dr. Joachim S. Hohmann). Bernard, through this Dutch WHK connection, built upon contacts he had established in 1940 for the same purpose with Dutch WHK president, donzel Dr. J. A. Schorer and sexologist Dr. Benno Premsela. Bernard apparently was aware that the German WHK along with its international organization Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, ("Institute for Sexuology"), had published articles on adult-minor sexual interactions prior to 1933. However the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940 prevented any further co-operation until the end of World War II. One of the very first German occupation regulations in the Netherlands was public declaration of enforcement of German Penal Code sections 175 regarding same-sex activities and 176 regarding adult-child sex interactions in Verordnungsblatt Nr. 81 dating July 31st 1940. WHK members von Santhorst and Bob Angelo (alias Niek Engelschman, later a pedophile activist) had destroyed all Dutch WHK documents to prevent Nazi investigations, and member information was re-constructed after the war by von Santhorst in order to form the Enclave kring.
The Enclave kring, as built upon the pre-war Dutch WHK model, defined itself as a "movement" consisting of "institutions and organizations" serving purposes such as: "to break down prejudice about the issues of erotic contacts and relationships between minors and adults, and to provide information and advice as well as to initiate a direct assistance program." A publishing company of the same name serving these purposes was founded in 1958. According to Bernard, the Enclave kring developed into an international organization (gaining support in Western Europe, New York, Japan, and Hong Kong), and Bernard himself made lecture tours in some of these places. Results of these efforts of the Enclave kring included more positive feedback about pedophile activism in various publications independent from the Enclave kring such as the Dutch Vriendschap ("Friendship", published since 1859), German Der Weg zu Freundschaft und Toleranz ("A way to friendship and tolerance"), Danish Amigo, and Dutch Verstandig Ouderschap ("Reasonable parenthood") by the 1960s.
In 1972, Bernard published the book Sex met kinderen ("Sex with children", published not by the Enclave kring but the independent Dutch sexual reform organisation NVSH). The book outlined the history of the Enclave kring and international research in adult-child sexual interaction, partly spurred by the activism of the Enclave kring, partly independent from it, up to that point. According to Bernard citing historian Dr. E. O. Born, this book "had an effect throughout Europe and abroad." It laid the foundation for the 1970s pedophile activism movement in Western Europe.
In the 1970s, most organized pedophile activity was centered in the Netherlands and to a lesser degree in Western Europe. Here, a number of researchers, among them Bernard, social psychologist Theo Sandfort, lawyer and politician Edward Brongersma and psychiatrist Frans Gieles, wrote a significant number of papers on the topic, both from theoretical and practical standpoints. A number of papers were produced discussing the effects of adult-child sexual interactions. The data for these papers came mainly from analyzing pedophiles, but also from adults and young people who, as children or adolescents, had been involved in sexual relationships with adults. In a 1988 interview, Bernard said that up to that point he himself as part of his psychological work, and also as an authorized expert witness in a number of court cases, had talked to and analyzed "more than a thousand pedophile adults and about three-thousand children and adolescents who had had contacts with adults."
On June 22, 1979, a petition along with a letter with the same content was sent to the Dutch minister of justice and simultaneously was brought before the Dutch parliament, both petition and letter demanding legalization of mutual sexual activities between children and pedophile adults.
The petition was authored by the Dutch Society for Sexual Reform (NVSH), the Coornhert League for Penal Law Reform, the Humanitarian Confederation, and "radio priest" Alje Klamer. It was signed by social welfare and public mental health organizations such as the General Probation Association, the Netherlands Association for the Integration of Homosexuality (COC), and the official Netherlands Feminism Association. The petition also achieved considerable success within the Dutch parliament, being endorsed unanimously by the executives of the ruling Labour Party as well as the executives of four minority parties in the Dutch Lower House (the Democratic Socialist party, the Pacifist Socialist party, the Democratic party, and the Radical party).
The section of child and youth psychiatry of The Netherlands Society for Psychiatry, as Jan Schuijer wrote, was "apparently alarmed by the success of the petition," and publicly opposed the demands for decriminalization claiming it would undermine parental authority.
In 1980, the COC, the largest gay association in the Netherlands, publicly declared pedophilia a gay issue, and declared further that gay liberation would never be complete without the sexual liberation of children and pedophiles. From 1979 through 1981, the last major success of pedophile activism in the Western world was achieved when the Dutch Protestant Foundation for Responsible Family Development (PSVG) sold and distributed tens of thousands of copies of a booklet entitled Pedophilia (originally illustrated with photos) in and to Dutch elementary schools.
In the late 1970s, the center of activity briefly shifted to the United States and the United Kingdom with the 1974 formation of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) in Scotland (later based in London), and the 1978 formation of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) in Boston: "In 1978, the Boston protests spawned an authentic pedophile activist movement, the North American Man-Boy Love Association NAMBLA claimed to be in the tradition of an earlier gay rights movement, the Mattachine Society, which had been intolerably controversial in its day but was now seen as an honored forerunner of mainstream gay activism." Both of these groups achieved relative notoriety in the early 1980s due to a public outcry against them. In an aforementioned 1988 interview, Bernard credited this to severely aggressive and radical behaviour of pedophile activism outside of continental Europe, while on the other hand stating his regret of what he called significant ignorance in sexual matters in general in the US. The PIE capitulated to public pressure and disbanded in 1985, however NAMBLA continued to exist. A 2005 newspaper article quoted an undercover police officer as saying that, in 1995, NAMBLA had about 1,100 members.
On February 5, 1987, Bernard appeared as a guest on the Phil Donahue show and advocated pedophile activism, accompanied by a 23-year-old male who had allegedly been involved in a sexual relationship with an adult as a child.
In the 1980s, a number of other pedophile advocacy groups formed including MARTIJN (1982), situated in the Netherlands, and the Danish Pedophile Association (DPA) (1985). This was followed in the early 1990s by the formation of Ipce (then the "International Pedophile and Child Emancipation," IPCE), an umbrella organization for pedophile activist groups. Although MARTIJN and Ipce continued to function, DPA disbanded in early 2004.
Post-1982, the objections to pro-pedophile activism in continental Western Europe did not appear as heated as in English-speaking countries. Formerly active pro-pedophilia organizations did not get significant or memorable negative public press, but just seemed to lose interest in maintaining their public activities any longer. For the most part, the issue retreated from public awareness. Bernard (born in 1920) retired from his occupation as a psychologist, as an expert witness, and from all of his offices in international organizations in 1985. Even earlier, the number of NVSH members drastically decreased to below 10,000 (at times it had had up to 240,000 members) yielding a serious financial crisis.
Meanwhile, law enforcement's efforts to combat child pornography and sexual contact with minors became more aggressive. In the Netherlands, emerging feminist and victim organizations as well as juvenile police units still supported decriminalization as of 1982. However, Dutch police (such as Hans Heesters of the Amsterdam police's youth and moral bureau) and law officials were increasingly educated by the FBI on "FBI methods of tracking down the makers and collectors of child pornography" (virtually and effectively "guidelines target those who engage in sexual contacts with underage minors"). In 1989, then-resident Dutch minister of justice Korthals Althes publicly stated that weekly meetings on these matters with the FBI and British government had been established in 1985.
After the International Lesbian and Gay Association was granted consultative member status within the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1994, the United States (including President Bill Clinton) publicly threatened to cancel its annual financial contributions of US$1 Million to the UN because ILGA had four pronouncedly pedophile activist member groups: NAMBLA, MARTIJN, US-based Project TRUTH, and German Verein für Sexuelle Gleichberechtigung (VSG, "Association for Sexual Equality"). As a result, the UN status of ILGA was suspended and ILGA expelled all four organizations. The German Bundesverband Homosexualität (BVH, "National Homosexuality Association") called for international protests on ILGA for expelling these groups, in spite of the fact that BVH never before had been observed as sympathizing with pedophile activism.
In the coming years, pro-pedophile advocacy began to make use of the Internet: "For socially isolated pedophiles, the search for 'human companionship' was a salient concern, and Internet technology provided a virtual solution to the absence of physical convergence settings." This use of the Internet as a space for advocacy and as a "convergence setting" began with the establishment in 1995 of BoyChat, a message board for "boylovers." In 1997, participants on BoyChat and other online resources formed Free Spirits, an umbrella organization with the mission of raising money and providing Internet hosting services: "Web sites such as Free Spirits can be viewed as 'convergence settings' in the sense that they provide structure and continuity in face of any given individual, group or network instabilities." Ipce (formerly "International Pedophile and Child Emancipation") is a leading activist site. The Montreal Ganymede Collective was formed in Montreal by Free Spirits members in 1998 as a forum for pedophiles to meet in the real world.
- Child-lover (CL), Boy-lover (BL), Girl-lover (GL), MAA (Minor-Attracted Adult). These are terms of self-identifications used by pedophiles.
- Pedosexual. Some members of the movement use the term pedosexual (also ephebosexual and nepiosexual) positing that pedophilia should be seen as a distinct sexual orientation as with homosexuality and heterosexuality. It has also been used simply as a synonym for pedophile.
- A blue spiral-shaped triangle symbol, or "BLogo", symbolizes a boy (small triangle) surrounded by an older male (larger triangle). It was designed by a pedophile with the pseudonym "Kalos".
- A similar logo, a heart within a heart, or "GLogo" was later developed by some pedophiles attracted to girls to symbolize a "bond of love" between adults and girls.
Some pro-pedophile activists attempt to create a culture of support to pedophiles who are afraid to discuss their attractions for fear of being criminalized and ostracized. To this end, some pro-pedophile organizations provide online counseling services. Organizations, like the Krumme 13, have been accused of encouraging pedophiles to act out their desires, thus break laws regarding child sexual abuse and the legal Age of Consent. Other organizations encourage others to take care in not breaking local laws.
Much online pedophile activism takes place on message boards. Some pedophile activists also use blogs.
MARTIJN, as well as publishing a magazine called OK and providing support for pedophiles, is also involved in overt activism, distributing flyers and pamphlets at public gatherings and gay pride marches.
Robin Sharpe, a Canadian pedophile, successfully challenged some aspects of child pornography laws in the Canadian Supreme Court in 2002, arguing that his fictional writings were not illegal because they had artistic merit.
Various groups also promote "holidays" intended to spread understanding and acceptance of pedophilia. International Boylove Day occurs on the first Saturday after the summer solstice and some people also celebrate on the first Saturday after the winter solstice. Alice Day is celebrated by female-attracted pedophiles, on April 25. This is the day Lewis Carroll met Alice Liddell, the girl for whom he wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, on April 25, 1856.
Age of Consent reform
During the late 1950s to early 1990s, several pedophile membership organisations advocated lowering or abolishing age of consent laws to legalize sexual activities involving an adult and a child (something often considered as child sexual abuse). As one of their arguments to lower or abolish the age of consent, members of pedophile advocacy groups promoted their belief that children are psychologically capable of consenting to sexual interactions with adults (although this opinion is contrary to legal and scientific consensus; see D. Finkelhor, A Sourcebook on Child Sexual Abuse, 1993, p. 26; and K. Kinnear, Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Reference Handbook, 2007, p. 3), and they often portrayed themselves as fighting for the right of children to engage in what the activists consider to be consensual sex with adults. Some activists tried to link their goals with those of the early LGBT social movements, but in the course of time those movements universally rejected this linkage.
Examples of past initiatives to lower or abolish ages of consent include:
- The Netherlands
In 1979, the now-defunct Dutch Pacifist Socialist Party supported an unsuccessful petition to lower the age of consent to 12.
In 1977 while a reform in the French penal code was under discussion in the parliament, a petition to decriminalize of all consented relations between adults and minors below the age of fifteen was sent to Parliament but did not succeed in changing the law. In 1978 the petition was discussed in a broadcast by radio France Culture in the program "Dialogues", with the transcript later published under the title Sexual Morality and the Law in a book Michel Foucault. The participants, including Foucault, play-writer/actor Jean Danet and gay activist Guy Hocquenghem had all signed the petition.
- United Kingdom
According to sociologist Matthew Waites, in the 1970s, a number of grass-roots political actions took place in Britain in favor of lowering the age of consent, that he described as based on claims of children's rights, gay liberation, or, as a way to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
In May 1974, the Campaign for Homosexual Equality suggested a basic age of consent of 16, but 12 "in cases where a defendant could prove the existence of meaningful consent". In September 1974, the Sexual Law Reform Society proposed lowering the age of consent to 14, with the requirement that below the age of 18 the burden of proof that consent for sexual activities between the parties existed would be the responsibility of the older participant.
In 1976, the British political pressure group Liberty published a proposal advocating reducing the age of consent laws to 10 years of age, only when both individuals are younger than 14, with a close-in-age exemption of two years if one of the involved individuals is older than 14 but younger than 16.
The modern Communist Party of Great Britain lists abolition of age-of-consent laws among its immediate demands.
In 1989, sociologist Mary de Young reviewed the literature published by pedophile organizations for public dissemination. She found that pedophile organizations she studied used the following strategies to promote public acceptance of pedophilia or the legalization of adult-child sex:
- Adoption of value-neutral terminology. According to Herdt, an anthropologist who has studied sex between adults and children in other cultures, pedophile advocates should replace "dull and reductionistic" terms like pedophilia and abuse when discussing sex between "a person who has not achieved adulthood and one who has". Moreover, words like "child" or "childhood", which have psychologically developmental meaning, should be "resisted at all costs". See also Promoting "objective" research.
- Redefining the term child sexual abuse. Another recurring theme among those seeking to gain social acceptance for pedophilia is the need to redefine or restrict the usage of the term "child sexual abuse", recommending a child's "willing encounter with positive reactions" be called "adult-child sex" instead of "abuse" (Rind et al. 1998). For example, Gerald Jones (1990), an Affiliated Scholar at the Institute for the Study of Women and Men in Society at the University of Southern California, suggested that "intergenerational intimacy" should not be considered synonymous with child sexual abuse. According to Jones, the "crucial difference has to do with mutuality and control" (p. 278). Jones suggested, "Intergenerational attraction on the part of some adults could constitute a lifestyle 'orientation', rather than a pathological maladjustment" (p. 288).
- Promoting the idea that children can consent to sexual activity with adults. The reconceptualization of children as willing sexual participants along with the decriminalization of consensual sexual relations is perhaps the key change sought by pedophile advocates. In his book Paedophilia: The Radical Case, activist Tom O'Carroll claims "What there most definitely needs to be is the child's willingness to take part in the activity in question; whatever social or legal rules are operated, they must not be such as to allow unwilling children to be subjected to sexual acts. But there is no need whatever for a child to know 'the consequences' of engaging in harmless sex play, simply because it is exactly that: harmless." Many other pedophile activists, amongst them David Riegel, Frans Gieles and Lindsay Ashford, actively campaign against the idea that children are unable to consent to sex.
- Questioning the assumption of harm. The most common stance against child-adult sex is the assumption that it causes psychological harm to the minor. This claim is taken as true at face value, and any criticism about it is taken as a defense of pedophile activity. This remains to be one of the biggest barriers against pedophile activism, and advocates of pedophilia have attempted to change these barriers in a variety of ways. For example, pedophile activists have argued that there is little or no harm from child-adult sex. Some support their arguments by citing various studies that have argued that the negative outcomes attributed to adult-child sexual relations can usually be better explained by other factors, such as a poor family environment or incest.
- Riegel (2000) asserted: "The acts themselves harm no one, the emotional and psychological harm comes from the 'after the fact' interference, counseling, therapy, etc., that attempt to artificially create a 'victim' and a 'perpetrator' where neither exists" (p. 21).
- Similar arguments are made by SafeHaven Foundation, an organization for "responsible boylovers". On their website, they wrote, "The child abuse industry ... takes a boy who has enjoyed pleasurable and completely consensual sexual experiences with another boy or man, and traumatizes him in an attempt to convince him that what he did was 'wrong'". In addition, SafeHaven argues that, "many of the supposed traumas elicited by psychotherapy turn out to be nothing more than the result of the False Memory Syndrome" (SafeHaven Foundation, 2001).
- In Pedophilia: The Radical Case, Tom O'Carroll writes: "The disparity in size and power between parent and child creates a potential for abuse. But, on the basis that parent–child relationships are generally positive we accept that inequality is simply in the nature of the thing. I would like to see paedophilic relationships looked at in a similar light."
- Edward Brongersma, in "Boy-Lovers and Their Influence on Boys," where he reported the result of interviews with participants in adult–child relationships wrote, "within a relationship, sex is usually only a secondary element."
- Promoting "objective" research. Pedophile advocate Edward Brongersma, have argued that investigators of child sexual abuse have biased views (Brongersma, 1990), also calling for a less "emotional" approach to the subject (e.g., Geraci, 1994, p. 17; Jones, 1990). Brongersma and Jones have cited Theo Sandfort's (1987) research on boys' relationships with pedophiles, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Sex Research, as an example of what they consider "objective" research (e.g., Brongersma, 1990, p. 168; Jones, 1990, p. 286). However, critics suggest that the study was "politically motivated to reform legislation" (Mrazek, 1990, p. 318). Robert Bauserman (1990, see also Rind et al. controversy), in turn, has argued that Mrazek's criticisms are "irrelevant, or just plain false".
- Declassification of pedophilia as mental illness. Activists of the movement quote Moser and Kleinplatz (2003), who suggest that all paraphilia be removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Other academics specifically criticizing the DSM diagnosis of pedophilia include sexologist Richard Green (2002) and professor of psychiatry William O’Donohue (2000).
Views not mentioned by DeYoung, but often opined by activists include:
- Promoting understanding of the difference between pedophilia and sexual activity. Some pedophile activists seek to draw a distinction between pedophilia and adults' sexual activity with children.
- Promoting the testimonies of people who claim no harm from sex as a minor. Some activist websites collect and publish anecdotal material that, according to them, is from various people, mainly adults, who, having been sexually involved with an adult as a minor, claim to have enjoyed or suffered no ill effects from this experience.
- Referring to experiences of situations where adult-child sex interactions are not illegal, both historical and anthropological. Pedophile activists often point to situations where adult-child sex interactions are not illegal (though not necessarily common) and no negative effects are recorded. Some refer to ancient Greece, ethnological studies and post-antiquity historical situations in the Western world where such conditions existed.
- Invoking ideas of continuity between pedophile and other minority activists. Some activists argue that pedophile activism, feminism, gay activism, and anti-racism all relate to the experiences of suppressed and misunderstood groups. This argument is made by Harris Mirkin, in the article referenced above. Other scholars, such as Camille Paglia, have asserted that gay rights (from which much of pedophile activism diverged) should never have rejected the pederastic themes which some activists claim were the "giveaways" required to make homosexual culture acceptable.
- Pointing to juvenile sexual activity in the animal kingdom and invoking evolutionary arguments. Other species are sometimes used as examples of beneficial or normalized sexual contact between grown animals and infants or adolescents. One popular case is that of a close relative to humans, the Bonobo, where intercourse is sometimes initiated by the young. Elsewhere, it is argued that, in evolutionary terms, it makes sense for prepubescent humans to be educated in affective sexual intimacy before the age of fertility (hence the development of reproductive potential).
Other goals of pro-pedophile activism include a redefining of contemporary authority relations between adults and minors and the changing of institutions of concern to pedophiles, such as age of consent laws and mental disorder classification.
Members of the movement have referred to a few studies which document the percentage of people that responds to pedophilic stimuli, including papers such as Hall et. al., in which 26.25% of male volunteers exhibited equal or greater sexual arousal to pedophilic audio stimuli, and 33% for pedophilic imagery.
Pedophile activists argue there is a distinction between pedophiles and child molesters, citing, for example, Fagan, Wise, Schmidt and Berlin, who wrote, "Pedophilia is a diagnosis applicable to only a portion of individuals who sexually abuse children. Information has been drawn from published research about pedophilia and child sexual abuse in general to present the current state of knowledge. Despite a sizeable body of published, peer-reviewed articles about topics such as child sexual abuse, child molestation, and sexual offenders, data and our knowledge base about pedophilia have significant limitations."
Activists question assumptions about personality correlates of pedophilia as a condition. Some cite Okami and Goldberg, who stated in 1992, "The scientific support for the belief that pedophiles are passive, dependent, unassertive, isolated, and socially awkward is weak", claiming a difference between offenders against minors and pedophiles. Some also cite Langevin, who wrote in 1983 that, "The data also do not support the theories that pedophilia is due to fixation at an immature stage of development, to an inability to relate to women, to mental retardation, or to senility," and noted that, "One non-clinical study suggests that studies of clinical samples may be biased toward finding pathology which is not an inherent part of the sexual anomaly."
Pro-pedophile activists claim that pedophiles' feelings toward children include other emotions besides sexual attraction. Some activists again cite Okami and Goldberg, who wrote, "men whose sexual preference is for children often have a complex set of attitudes, beliefs, and feelings about children in which sexual desire may be subordinate. They often interact with children in ways that include many non-sexual aspects, including affection, which children experience positively."
Some pedophile activists attempt to refute scientific research that finds sexual contact between adults and children as predominantly harmful by stating that there is a variety of different categories for adult-child sex interactions that are commonly not acknowledged by mainstream scientific research. They claim that studies showing harm from adult-child sexual contact might have shown that some types of contact are harmless.
Some activists (for example, Edward Brongersma) claim that "sexual abuse" studies, by their very definition and aims, self-select the categories of interaction that involve negative experiences, even in those cases where medical or legal samples have been avoided and a sample more representative of the general population has been used.
Ben Spiecker and Jan Steutel, in a paper entitled Paedophilia, Sexual Desire and Perversity, argued that consent is possible in some older prepubescent children. They concluded, however, that, "Paedophile sex is a form of exploitation because it endangers the long-term welfare of the child. Consequently, paedophilia involves desires towards behaviour that is morally wrong, but only in some forms of paedophilia are these desires perverse." In Intergenerational Sexual Contact: A Continuum Model of Participants and Experiences, Joan Nelson wrote, "De Young (1982) reports that 20% of her 'victims' appeared to be 'virtually indifferent to their molestation' Instead, they tended to be traumatized by the reaction of adults to its discovery." Theo Sandfort's 1980 study in which 25 boys aged 10 - 16 and involved in pederasty were interviewed concluded that, "Except on the basis of violation of moral standards, there was nothing in what these boys said that would justify punishment. … should be so drawn up that the kind of sexual contacts which these 25 boys experienced would fall outside of their application."
A controversial meta-analysis of studies using college students by Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch and Robert Bauserman published by the American Psychological Association in 1998 found a weak correlation between sex abuse in childhood and the later instability of the child's adult psyche. It noted that a significant percentage reported their reactions to sex abuse as positive in the short term and concludes that for research purposes some cases of child sex abuse would be better labeled "adult-child sex". The article stated in the addendum that "CSA does not cause intense harm on a pervasive basis regardless of gender in the college population" (Rind et al., 1998, p. 46), but warns "The current findings are relevant to moral and legal positions only to the extent that these positions are based on the presumption of psychological harm" (p. 47).
The paper faced multiple academic disputations, including sample bias, non-standardization of variables, statistical errors, and researchers' personal bias.
Numerous pro-pedophile advocacy organizations have quoted the Rind study in support of their efforts to "lower or rescind age of consent laws", and defense attorneys have used the study to argue for minimizing harm in child sexual abuse cases.
Nearly all national governments conform to United Nations protocols for age-of-consent legislation and the criminalization of child pornography. From 2000 to 2004, over 130 nations signed a United Nations accord to criminalize child pornography. The U.N. convention on legal age for marriage has been in force since 1964.
Members of the movement assert that they do not support child abuse or illegal activity. Public reaction to this claim has been skeptical.
Law enforcement officials and psychologists have asserted that the movement's online support groups help some pedophiles to justify engaging in adult-child sexual contact. They claim that adults arrested for child molestation frequently cite the positions of the movement as justification for their actions (Finkelhor, 1984). In an interview with KCTV5, Phill Kline, Kansas Attorney General, characterized the goal of certain pedophile activists to change age-of-consent laws as "twisted." Some psychologists consider various positions of the movement to be the “cognitive distortions” characteristic of sexual abusers.
For example, in August 2006, The New York Times published the results of a four-month investigation of online pedophile communications and activities. The newspaper described how “pedophiles view themselves as the vanguard of a nascent movement seeking legalization of child pornography and the loosening of age-of-consent laws.” And while "pedophiles often maintain that the discussion sites are little more than support groups,” the newspaper reported that, “repeatedly in these conversations, pedophiles said the discussions had helped them accept their attractions and had even allowed them to have sex with a child without guilt."
Many child abuse prevention advocates, law enforcement officials, and journalists note that various child molestation convicts were also members of the movement.
Concerning the recent sex scandals involving Catholic priests in the US, some pedophile activists say that these scandals only or prominently involved minor partners that during the times of sexual interactions were adolescent and thus, these scandals have nothing to do with pedophile activism.
Many of these incidents giving grounds to skepticism involve members of NAMBLA, the organization most widely known to the U.S. public. Some claim that these activities are limited to members of this organization and are not representative of the larger movement. Dutch psychologist and pedophile activist Frits Bernard has argued that NAMBLA at least started out as an ephebophile, not a pedophile activism organization as identifiable by its original political and social reform program, and that its program remained like that at least until 1982 when Bernard made his statement.
- Rev. Paul Shanley, a priest accused of abusing children as young as six years old over a period of three decades, allegedly participated in early movement workshops and advocacy, according to contemporaneous accounts of the events obtained by the Boston Globe. Pedophile activists have sought to cast doubt on Shanley's conviction.
- Charles Jaynes was convicted of murdering a 10-year-old boy then having intercourse with his body in 1997; the parents of the boy filed a $200 million wrongful death suit against NAMBLA, Curley v. NAMBLA, claiming that while being heterosexual, "immediately prior" to the murder, "Charles Jaynes accessed NAMBLA's Web site at the Boston Public Library". By 2005, $1 million and five years had been spent to prove this claim. The ACLU protested against associating NAMBLA with this case and represented them, asking the case to be dismissed.
- John David Smith, a San Francisco man convicted of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy he was babysitting, met an undercover investigator through his activities as a NAMBLA member. According to the investigator, Smith used his contacts with NAMBLA to trade child pornography and arrange sex with children.
- Johnathan Tampico was convicted of child molestation in 1989 and paroled in 1992 on condition of not possessing child pornography. After breaking his parole, he was found after a broadcast of America's Most Wanted. He was arrested and convicted on child pornography charges. In his sentencing, the court found that Tampico was a member of NAMBLA, that NAMBLA supported a foster home in Thailand that sexually exploited children, and that Tampico and others traveled to Thailand in order to have unlimited access to young boys at the foster home, as evidenced by a number of Polaroid pictures, provided by Thai officials, depicting Tampico with young Thai boys sitting on his lap.
- James C. Parker, a New York man who, according to court records, told the police that he was a member of NAMBLA, was arrested in 2000 and convicted in 2001 of committing sodomy with an underaged boy.
- Tom O'Carroll, author of Pedophilia: a Radical Case and a leader in the Paedophile Information Exchange, admitted to two counts of distributing indecent images in September 2006, and in December 20, 2006, he was jailed for 2 ½ years at London’s Middlesex Crown Court. Whilst he admits to the illegal activity itself, O'Carroll defends his actions on an ethical basis.
- Ad van den Berg, co-founder and treasurer of the pro-pedophile Partij voor Naastenliefde, Vrijheid en Diversiteit political party in the Netherlands, was convicted of molesting an 11-year old boy in 1987.
- The late Edward Brongersma, a Dutch lawyer, politician and journalist was sent to jail in 1950, for 10 months after having sexual contacts with a male of around 17 years old. Upon his release, he successfully campaigned for a reduction in the legal age, which was first lowered to 16 and then to 12 (with parental consent and no objection from welfare).
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