A response to Jon Henley’s article on paedophilia

Jon Henley had a piece in yesterday’s Guardian, entitled “Paedophilia: bringing dark desires to light”. He’s received a furious response on social media and I can see why. Many involved child protection will find it hard to see it as anything other than the commentariat’s backlash, a contrarian response to a public outcry over recent revelations about child abuse by the rich and famous.

That may be harsh, and I felt a considered response was important. These thoughts are my own, but I have lent heavily on the work and advice of Dr Liz Davies, a leading academic in the field of child protection.

In a brief Twitter exchange, Jon pointed me to the final two paragraphs of his article. Quoting senior lecturer Sarah Goode he writes, “If we can talk about this rationally – acknowledge that yes, men do get sexually attracted to children, but no, they don’t have to act on it – we can maybe avoid the hysteria. We won’t label paedophiles monsters; it won’t be taboo to see and name what is happening in front of us.”

The sub-heading for the article claimed: “The Jimmy Savile scandal caused public revulsion, but experts disagree about what causes paedophilia – and even how much harm it causes”

My main argument against this article is that this approach ignores the evidence of the experiences of abused children, the experiences of adult survivors of child abuse and the experiences of many professionals who work to protect children. It is a risky strategy at the current time because so many of those who promoted the rights of the ‘paedophile’ have in later years been convicted of sexual crimes against children. Equally, so many of those whom this lobby attacked have been vindicated in their efforts to protect and gain justice for children and survivors.

For Jon, the current public discourse is hindered because of moral panic around child abuse. Saying “If the complexity and divergence of professional opinion may have helped create today’s panic around paedophilia, a media obsession with the subject has done more: a sustained hue and cry exemplified by the News of the World’s notorious “name and shame” campaign in 2000, which brought mobs to the streets, to demonstrate against the presence of shadowy monsters in their midst.”

Defining moral panic this way with respect to the sexual abuse of children is shows a failure to understand the term. Stanley Cohen, author of “Folk Devils and Moral Panics” defines moral panic as “when a condition, episode, person or group emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests. Those who start the panic fear a threat to prevailing societal values”. Opposing the sexual abuse of children and upholding their human rights doesn’t fit this definition. Prevailing societal values are not under threat by those who challenge child sexual abuse because this society clearly legislates and upholds the rights of children to be protected from harm and all forms of abuse. The concept of a ‘moral panic’ is an academic argument being exploited to attack those who are striving to protect children from harm. They would never say that those who oppose racism are part of a moral panic so why apply it to those who oppose childism (to borrow an “ism” from the experts)?

The part of the article that concerns me most is where it touches on the experiences of the liberation campaigns of the1970’s saying: “The reclassification of paedophilia as a sexual orientation would, however, play into what Goode calls “the sexual liberation discourse”, which has existed since the 1970s. “There are a lot of people,” she says, “who say: we outlawed homosexuality, and we were wrong. Perhaps we’re wrong about paedophilia.”

The Paedophile Liberation Front and Paeodphile Information Exchange emerged also in the 70s. It is wrong though to suggest that everyone around at that time agreed with the extension of the ‘rights’ movement into including a child’s right to ‘sex’ with adults. This was definitely not the case. These groups were always on the very margins of the freedom and civil rights movements. Some of this pro-paedophile lobby, though, infiltrated academia and professional circles including the children’s charter and rights movement. Brian Taylor’s book “Perspectives on Paedophilia” (1981), the most depressing on my Christmas reading list, is one of the main examples of professionals who promoted this view. Some of the contributors were subsequently convicted for sexual crimes against children as was Tom O’Carroll, author of the “Radical Case for Paedophilia” (1980). Peter Righton, in Taylor’s book, wrote about boys expressing appreciation for the consideration and attention they received which they rarely got in their own homes and most felt they benefited. He was convicted in 1992 of importing and possessing abusive images of boys.

These claims, bogus of course, are perhaps why people were so angry at Jon Henley’s comment piece. The very fact that a respected features writer on The Guardian lent his authority to a number of pseudo-intellectual claims like these is deeply upsetting to many who campaign to expose child abuse as Britain’s hidden scandal.

Here are further examples of how leading writers of the time were captured by the language of liberation:

Cambridge criminology Professor, Donald West, author of “Children’s sexual encounters with adults. A scientific study” wrote about paedophiles ‘coming out’ in the late 70s, which aroused a “witch hunt” against paedophiles:

“there is an urgent need to distinguish between those adults who use force to obtain sexual contact with children and those who do not, as well as between children who just endure what is done to them and those who actively participate in sexual relationships with adults’.

“This study is concerned with adult sexual experiences with children.. its central aim is to give voice to the viewpoint of the paedophile”.

He criticises the prevalence statistics stating that they mainly include “relatively innocuous advances”. He also states that it is “unwise to overdramatise institutional abuse” as many boys “did not take the behaviour at all seriously or felt the need to make a formal complaint.”

Ralph Underwager was a high profile US consultant psychologist to the Cleveland Inquiry. He was exposed as contributing to a Dutch Paedophile magazine Paidika (1993) in which he wrote “Paedophiles should become much more positive. The should directly attack the concept, the image, the picture of the paedophile as an evil, wicked, and reprehensible exploiter of children”. He went on to say:

“Paedophiles need to become more positive and make the claim that paedophilia is an accceptable expression of God’s will for love and unity among human beings”.

No wonder many more enlightened academics like Dr Liz Davies talk of the “child sex abuse lobby”. She argues some academic writings have to be located in the context of what is known about those who spread those viewpoints and their agendas. Their views were clearly expressed in a document dated 1975 where Paedophile Information Exchange submitted evidence to the Home Office.This proposed abolition of the age of consent and the removal of consensual sexual activity at all ages from the criminal law.

Jon Henley goes on to make a number of other claims that deserve further challenge. They are listed in bold:

A liberal professor of psychology who studied in the late 1970s will see things very differently from someone working in child protection or with convicted sex offenders.

If there is such a person, daring to call themselves ‘liberal’ then I would want to know why they have not developed their thinking since the 70s to understand the dynamics of child sexual abuse and of child sexual abusers in a context of prevalence studies, survivor accounts and research, academic research and the findings and recommendations from hundreds of Inquiries. I cannot imagine why a Professor would want to situate themselves as seeing things differently from someone working in child protection. This would imply that they are confidently situating themselves outside the law, policy and practice guidance relating to the safety of children from sexual crime and abuse.

The vast majority of sexual violence is committed by people known to the victim, stresses Kieran McCartan, senior lecturer in criminology at the University of the West of England. Only very rarely is the danger from the “stranger in the white van”, Mccartan says.

It is commonly stated that most abuse of children is by the family or by people well known to the child. That is almost certainly true. But Dr Liz Davies argues that we do not have full statistics of abuse of children by ‘strangers’ e.g. the children who go missing and are never found are not counted by anyone and abductions do not count within the child sex abuse statistics. If there is one point we can learn from the Savile expose – it is that it highlights the extent of ‘stranger’ abuse. This is very important too.

MAPPA statistics do not differentiate between sex offending against adults and those against children which makes analysis difficult because the numbers of known offenders against children are not easily accessed. There is also substantial under-reporting of all forms of child abuse. It is important to compare prevalence statistics, such as NSPCC research citing that nearly a quarter of young adults experienced sexual abuse during childhood, with the numbers of children subject to a protection plan for child sexual abuse which, in 2012, were just 2300 in England and Wales. Where are the statistics of children illegally adopted, children trafficked for domestic and sexual exploitation, children who are victims of the “global industries of child abuse” such as online abuse and abusive images? All these forms of child sexual abuse are under-reported and largely absent from the official statistics.

…a sample of boys in paedophilic relationships felt positively about them
In order to sexually abuse a child a perpetrator will often groom the child and so it is not uncommon for a child to have some positive feelings towards the person harming them. The perpetrator may also be someone who is close to them and the child wants the abuse to stop but does not want to lose the relationship. This is no way suggests that the abuse is justifiable. In fact a state of confused emotions and responses adds to the severity of the trauma experienced by the child. That this is not obvious to Jon Henley is alarming to me.

Whether or not a child voluntarily entered into sexual relations with their abuser, and how positive or negative they felt about it at the time, is irrelevant when it comes to both the long-term effects of child sex abuse, and how seriously we should treat the abuse. Even if it is true that for some survivors of this type of consensual abuse there were no “undesirable outcomes” (though this is surely hard to quantify), this is certainly not true for all, or even many, if any, children who entered into abusive relationships voluntarily; and to draw a distinction between children who were violently abused and children who submitted willingly is irresponsible and damaging when children who submitted willingly are already more likely to feel shame, self-blame and not seek help due to their belief it was their own fault.

I hope Jon Henley reflects on how his features piece has, inadvertently I’m sure, lent credibility to bogus claims about child abuse that make it harder for policy makers to act decisively. In the few short weeks I’ve been looking at this subject, I know that we are failing children today. We have to act with boldness and at scale. I’m talking to colleagues about what Labour’s future policy in child protection might look like. I hope to talk to colleagues from other parties also.

Survivors of child sex abuse commonly suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, phobias, flashbacks, disturbing thoughts, intrusive memories, self-harming, alcoholism, eating disorders, and feelings of shame, anger and worthlessness. This is the reality, but Jon Henley doesn’t voice it in his piece.

48 thoughts on “A response to Jon Henley’s article on paedophilia”

  1. I was 6 years old when the abuse started, and it went on until I was 10, was not a family member but someone whom my family trusted. When this came out my father couldn’t live with the shame so he committed suicide, my mother never recovered and spent the rest of her life in and out of psychiatric hospitals. I didn’t receive any help as it wasn’t around in those days, and only got help about 15 years ago when I came to a crossroads in my life. The person who abused me, was never brought to justice. Talking about the abuse in my family was a big NO NO, so I felt that I was not wanted, not loved and not accepted. This feeling I carried with me all my life I never spoke about my abuse to anyone until I reached out after a failed attempt to end my life:

    Child sexual abuse has lifelong effects. Adults who are survivors of often report a feeling of being “stuck”. Their efforts to build and manage their lives often seem fruitless, hollow, or even hopeless. There can be a persistent perception that they are somehow different from others. They commonly report feeling that they are on the outside looking in or believe that they just don’t belong.

    Often, these symptoms are a mystery to the sufferers. They may not understand the connection between their childhood situation and their adult experience. Generally, the abuse has either been accepted by the survivor as “normal” or is viewed as something that is better left in the past. In some cases, the abuse may not be remembered. Consequently, the significance of symptoms and problems arising from the abuse is often not recognized.

    some of the things they may feel:-

    Find it difficult to develop or maintain close personal relationships.
    Have a strong desire to live in isolation or to “hide out” from life.
    Endure physical ailments like neck, back, stomach and gynecological problems that persist despite efforts at good self-care.
    Experience feelings of sadness, fear and anger that often seem unmanageable or overwhelming.
    Undergo panics, rages, depressions, sleep disorders, or self-mutilation or have suicidal thoughts.
    Find themselves depending on alcohol, other drugs, or may develop eating disorders to cover feelings of humiliation, shame and low self-esteem.
    Experience problems like low self-esteem, avoidance of sex, promiscuity, or inability to experience orgasms or erections.
    Exhibit signs of trauma like panic attacks, numbing of body areas, and feeling of being disconnected from their bodies.
    Some survivors compensate for their feelings of shame or inadequacy by becoming “over-achievers.” They frequently mask their pain or feelings of fragility so successfully that it becomes all the more important to the survivors that others around them do not discover that they are not really who they pretend to be. Having not been given appropriate levels of love, care, or attention when they were their true selves as children, they might feel that they will not be given love, care, and attention if they allow their true selves to be seen as adults

    Furthermore, the effects of childhood abuse also tend to recur at important junctions throughout survivors’ lives. Symptoms undisturbed for years may flare as they enter serious romances, consider marriage, or become the parent of a child. Adult survivors may fear the intimacy and responsibility of committed relationships. Caring for children may arouse memories of the survivors’ unmet childhood needs and lead to sadness and/or depression. They may fear that they may abuse children the way they were abused.

    Because our culture regards sexual contact between children and adults as taboo, sexual abuse usually takes place in secret and is kept secret. Denial of sexual abuse is much stronger than denial of physical or emotional abuse. Because of the silence surrounding most sexual abuse, children are forced to endure the abuse and it’s effects alone. As adults, survivors often continue to feel alone and isolated. They fear exposing the shame, rage, and hurt connected to their childhood experiences. They tend to blame themselves for the abuse, especially if there was pleasure, comfort, or a sense of caring attached to the incident. They frequently feel ashamed by the fact that they could not stop they abuse. In many instances, adult survivors do not have the words to talk about the sexual abuse. They often do not remember the details but have only a vague feeling of discontent with another family member or friend of the family. Adult survivors frequently report childhood blackouts in which large chunks of time are forgotten. The denial of sexual abuse may cause total blocking of the experience, leaving only an intuitive sense that something wrong has happened

    Sexual abuse survivors commonly live with a deep sense of shame. They may blame themselves for the abuse and fear being blamed by others if they ask for help. This self-blame is often exacerbated because it is not experienced as a guilty sense of having done wrong, but as a shameful sense of being wrong.

    Survivors deal with the sexual abuse in a variety of ways. They may become over-responsible, believing that they are accountable for everything and must take care of others, often meeting the needs of others before their own. On the other hand, they may act out against others in manipulative or abusive ways, especially if that is the only way they have learned to get their needs met. Moreover, the survivor may have developed self-destructive behaviors (substance abuse, eating disorders, acting out sexually, self-mutilation, etc.) as ways to escape from or as attempts to gain control over the pain that stems from the abuse. Survivors who did not have the resources or opportunities to work through the trauma they experienced are frequently prone to self-hate, self-destructiveness, and feelings of hopelessness.

    I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I help others with their trauma which has been a form of healing to me over the years. It should never be too late for victims to come forward and tell their story, even if the abuser is dead!! Just being heard is sometimes all we want, we are not in it for financial gain, because one cannot put a price on a lifelong fight for recognition that this happened and, as to what this has done to our lives!!

  2. If you are to examine data which suggests people below the age of consent in this country have enjoyed sexual relationships, the appropriate response is not to deny these people any agency and tell them they are confused. It wasn’t too long ago that 16 and 17 year old boys were told they were too young to have gay sex, on the basis that they’d inevitably regret it in later life.

    People don’t suddenly develop the capacity to consent to sex on their 16th birthday. People experience sexual urges long before then, and to suggest a 15 year old having sex with a 19 year old amounts to paedophilia is ridiculous.

    MPs are too worried about being vilified by the press to admit that our age of consent is a joke. Teenagers are having sex at 13, 14 … And our legal system criminalises them whilst simultaneously ignoring it ever happens.

    The age of consent is too damn high in this country. And considering how woefully inadequate sex education is, no wonder. The status quo seems to be ignoring that ‘children’ below the age of 16 are interested in sex, then bemoaning our lax culture when they find out everything they need to know via pornography.

  3. “…. acknowledge that yes, men do get sexually attracted to children”. women abuse too, sexually, physically and emotionally. Until we take a more realistic view of child abuse by woman many damaged children will continue to grow into damaged adults.

  4. Thanks for this intelligent response, Tom. The article made me angry, not because of its general point that it’s worth trying to understand why paedophiles feel and act as they do, but because in quoting their self-justifiying rhetoric without much by the way of critique, it “lent credibility to bogus claims about child abuse”, as you say.

    You say that makes it harder “for policy makers to act decisively”. I was equally concerned (and this was the real reason for my anger) that it will tend to shore up a pervasive view in society that sex between older children (e.g. 11 or 12 year olds) and adults can be in some way “voluntary” (this was one concept Henley used without suggesting any critique).

    There are surely lots of kids out there – like me, over 20 years ago – looking round for adults to listen to their stories, and being ignored or offered platitudinous reassurances by those who share in this idea, however vaguely or unreflectively. The last thing we need is an influential national newspaper giving voice to this idea as if it were somehow part of a legitimate debate, thus reinforcing it in society and shoring up the misery of abuse victims seeking to understand their complex and contradictory experiences and find psychological support in confronting their abusers.

    I also applaud your objection to the idea that the contemporary response to child abuse is somehow “hysterical”, that the “firestorm” surrounding the Savile case makes “real debate” difficult, and so on.

    Child sexual abuse is a subject that has scarcely been addressed in millennia of human history. Now, finally, after the feminist movement and the gay liberation movement, it is receiving some attention. If some people (or even many people) are shouting from the rooftops about it at last, how can that be a bad thing?

    Paedophiles are the ultimate social freaks, I suppose; but strangely they have often been allowed to get away with abusing children because of very conventional, very traditional patriarchal attitudes to children and their needs, especially in institutions such as public schools, churches and so on. Children are to be seen and not heard (and therefore shouldn’t complain about abuse); children are sinful (and therefore probably complicit in any abuse they suffer); and so on.

    My own gut feeling is that someone like Henley – presumably a straight man, and someone who has not suffered abuse himself – might think he is being right on in offering paedophiles a platform; but actually he is swimming against a historical tide that is about liberating weaker figures in traditional/ patriarchal social and sexual structures (women, gays, children). I hope, anyway, that that is the way the tide is now going.

  5. Excellent response to a deeply sinister article. I wonder what Jon Henley’s agenda is? He has given a platform to a convicted paedophile, whilst not giving a voice to abused children. Ex-PIE chairman Tom O’Carroll is now blogging about how impressed he is with Jon Henley’s work, so it looks like he’s made a friend there. I think the rest of the population (i.e. non-paedophiles) are sickened by his attempt to normalise child abuse. I hope this is the last we hear from him on this subject, as he is coming across as a liberal left counterpart to the Daily Mail’s David Rose, who specialises in writing articles which discredit victims of child abuse. I also hope the Guardian doesn’t run any more articles sympathising with child abusers.

  6. Thank you for this article – when I read the Guardian piece, I felt physically sick and the comments below the piece were nauseating. As a childhood abuse survivor the triggers were so bad, that I did not sleep after reading it. You have accurately pinpointed the problem with the article – there was no consideration of the devastating effects of childhood sexual abuse on survivors, none at all. The comments were almost like an intellectual exercise where certain privileged men pontificated on the pros and cons of using children for their own sexual gratification, as if children solely exist for their use. As I say, nauseating in the extreme. And Janette – thank you for your comments – spot on.

  7. A good response to Jon Henley.
    Everyone who takes child protection seriously knows that the views as expressed by Jon Henley are a justification for them to commit heinous crimes against children and young people .
    They must not be allowed to take the high moral ground.

  8. I completely agree with you.

    He highlighted the ‘harmlessness’ of child-adult sexual relations… made no comment on the power imbalance… concludes with we have to ‘tell abusers their fantasies are ok or it’s our fault they offend’.

    And dismisses all skepticism & dissent as panic, hysteria, hate, fear & willful misinterpretation.

    He also says he wrote the piece to make us understand & prevent child but at the same time he endorses nothing within the article, he’s merely publicizing it. Which seems disingenuous in the extreme.

  9. I Am a survivor of long term child sexual abuse within a family setting – with devastating effects on my adult life. Throughout the whole of the saville fallout, I have been angered, saddened, bewildered, that there has been no serious space anywhere in the media that gives voice to the victims experiences and ongoing struggle. It feels like a replay of the past – shut up, we don’t want to hear it. Thank you for your ongoing efforts in this area.

  10. Janette, I don’t know anybody in the world who could have given better insight than your piece has. Its the lived experience of millions across the world and the impacts are profound for society. Psychiatry is in crisis about its role mostly due to the re – emergence of the evidence that most Mental Health patients have long histories of childhood abuse – with sexual violence topping the issues experienced. (Drug. Looked After Care and Prison services evidence the same histories, as do many primary care presentations for emotional distress – its suspected). The December 2012 issue of The Journal of Psychiatry has lead articles evidencing its professional crisis. The question is does the political and policy class have the moral intelligence to finally tackle the issues? Given my own observations of them around sexual violence/abuse over the last 12 years I suspect they don’t. in my view the answer lies in a Royal Commission with a wide and transparent Terms of Reference. I know they take years but sexual violence and abuse needs to be unpacked robustly and fully to hear all the evidence and the options from real paradigm change. Only if Govt then acts proactively can the tide of abuse against children be turned back and the distress of historic and current victims – who’s emotional pain is real and lived today – be dealt with in ways which will effectively support them to find emotional peace and consistent legal justice .. it might also save money in the long run, as well as peoples lives and sanity! To continue the status quo isn’t a logical decision, its one built upon fear and victim blaming. Such a culture feeds abuse. The jury on change happening following all the current interest is out. And not only survivors are watching for the outcomes from within the silence – so is history. Freud hid from the truth and there’s been a heavy price to pay in human losses over the last 100 years – female and male – child and adult .. I wonder if we have moved on enough to avoid repeating his lack of courage, at the start of this new century, or will the truth and solutions have to wait until the next?

  11. I do agree with your analysis of Jon Henley’s article. Child abuse is far away from my area of expertise, but as a father I agree that Henley understated or neglected the serious impact of abusive relationships upon children.
    Where I feel Henley made a useful point is that current discourse tends to lump all offenders together as equally evil. The problems caused by such over-simplification is quite apparent when one considers the Victorian approach to problems such as vagrancy or garrotting.
    It is clear that the News of the World ‘name and shame’ campaign, and perhaps the ‘Satanic abuse’ scandal, corresponded to the 19th century ‘moral panic’ over the (largely imagined) problem of garrotting. This is not to say that child abuse is a largely imagined problem, but it is the case that a panic reaction to a problem leads to ill-considered action and poor policies.

    For the historical perspective, see:
    DAVIS, S.J., 1980. The London garrotting panic of 1862: a moral panic and the creation of a criminal class in mid-Victorian England. In: V.A.C. GATRELL, B. LENMAN and G. PARKER, eds, Crime and the law : the social history of crime in Western Europe since 1500. London: Europa, pp. 190-214.
    ROWBOTHAM, J. and STEVENSON, K., 2003. Behaving badly; social panic and moral outrage – Victorian and modern parallels. Aldershot: Ashgate.

  12. No child ever seeks sex with an adult (unless they have already been sexualised). It is, quite simply, not in their minds. All adult/child sexual relationships are predatory.

    This a subject I have had to cover occasionally as a BBC reporter over many years.

    One experience remains vivid. Accompanying Michele Elliott on a school visit as part of her Child Abuse Prevention Programme, four girls broke down and cried as she told a class of 25 how they could defend themselves against unwanted adult sexual advances.

  13. Thank you Tom and Janette for this cogent response to Henley’s article. Janette summarises the effects very well, the clear factor in these relationships is an abuse of power, children always have less power in society and, although the age of consent may be arbitrary to some extent, it exists to provide a clear line for society. You may not agree with it but you know exactly where you stand. I can’t believe the whole civil liberties debate has been re-opened and the line re homosexuality risks the whole paedo/homo tag becoming interchangeable.

  14. Anything that seeks to give justification to having sex with a prepubescent and/or emotionally unready young person is extremely dangerous and you have pointed that out with some of the articles and authors mentioned.

    It is not a wise step to give pedophiles the sense that they have any justification for their actions based on them having a ‘sexual preference’ as opposed to an illness.

    I don’t believe prepubescents are attracted to older people unless they are seeking out the meeting of other needs such as attachment, security, parenting etc> Children simply need secure bases, love and valuing what they don’t need is sex to gratify the desires of adults and whatever new research is done and laws last needs to take that as its basis.

  15. ‘If there is one point we can learn from the Savile expose – it is that it highlights the extent of ‘stranger’ abuse. This is very important too.’

    In fact Jimmy Saville was not ‘a stranger’ rather he exploited the fact he was a very well known and powerful male celebrity and he used his societal/institutional power in order to gain sexual access to female children. The girls Saville raped/subjected to male sexual violence knew that if they reported Saville’s crimes to police and/or a male authority figure they would be disbelieved because as we know ‘women and children are (supposedly) innate liars.’ This is how male institutional/societal power operates to silence women and girl survivors of male sexual violence.

    The Rochdale Case is evidence of how widespread is the view that girls supposedly ‘choose’ to become men’s disposable sexual service stations and therefore those men did not commit any sexual crimes against these girls. Such a claim would not have been made against any boy/boys who sought help from social services/police.

    Furthermore the research used by the male groups who advocate for their right of male sexual access to female and male children, was only conducted on boys not girls. Therefore it was the boys’ experiences which is being used to justify pseudo male sex right to female and male children. Girls’ experiences of male sexual predators is different to boys’ experiences because girls are socialised into supposedly ‘appropriate feminine behaviour’ whereas boys are socialised into ‘independent masculine behaviour.’ Therefore many boys/adult male survivors of male sexual violence believe they have been ’emasculated/effeminised’ whereas girl and adult women survivors commonly internalise the male supremacist lie that a woman’s sole reason for existence is to be men’s disposable sexual service stations.

    Sheila Jeffreys in her book Anticlimax analysed why those male libertarian groups sought to justify their pseudo male sex right to female and male children and Jeffreys did not fall into the trap of claiming ‘children’ are all the same but rather she noted that girls are socialised very differently to boys. Another reason why these male groups did not receive widespread acceptance for their claims of right of sexual access to children is because these males also wanted sexual access to boys. Now if these men had merely demanded male sex right to female children there would not have been such outrage. Remember it was First Wave Feminists who campaigned for years to criminalise males who sexually preyed on girls and young women and the male members of Parliament were wholly opposed to criminalising males who had subjected female children/adult women to sexual violence.

    Therefore without a feminist gendered analysis as to why Henley is advocating/promoting men’s pseudo right of sexual access to female and to a much lesser extent male children, we cannot possibly begin to understand why so many adult males believe it is their right to have sexual access to females of all ages.

    Gender neutral language such as ‘adults/children’ are in fact male supremacist language because it is the male which is being referenced not the female’s experience. Same applies as regards ‘young people’ which neatly erases the fact young women’s experiences are not identical to young men’s.

    In fact it is well known that adult males are the ones overwhelmingly committing sexual violence against women and girls not ‘adults’ but claiming it is ‘adults’ neatly invisibilises which sex is overwhelmingly committing sexual violence against women and girls.

    Protecting girls and boys from male sexual predators is essential but unless we disaggregate women’s and girls’ experiences then the same old misogynistic story will continue to be held and that is the male experience is the default one and women’s/girls’ experiences will remain invisible.

  16. Tom Watson,
    Thank you for your well reasoned reply to the Guardian article, and for publishing the excellent response by survivor Janette S, as to lasting effects on the child from the abuser’s self-justification mindset. Her response is not hysteria. Her response is one from a very articulate and wise survivor who echoes what countless abused children struggle with every day. To claim there is any other “side” to the issue of adult sexual abuse of small children is appalling. For commenters to conflate it with the “Romeo and Juliet” underage, but post-pubescent, pairings is to completely hijack the issue.

  17. From an investigative point of view in child protection issues the fact remains that someone has abused a child and that can range from a baby to someone near consenting age, You can therefore see that these offences can range from a horrendous criminal offence to an offence that, due to age of consent, is not of the same gravity. All offences have to be dealt with but am sure the public can understand that when it comes to being near an age of consent there is a fine line.
    There is also the organised child abuse rings which again are of the more sinister nature and usually involving people of power. So we can see that child abuse , Paedophila or whatever name is given to it has many differenet faces . I have known paedophiles who want help and do not want to harm anyone but as anyone in child protection knows the aim is the protection of the victim and to bring the offender to justice. The courts and state have the obligation to decide the punishment or treatment of the offender.
    Although part of me can see why the article was written I think it was a very bad judgment call however it has at least brought attention to the complex issues of child abuse and offenders and the way many of these people think and believe

  18. Tom,

    The fact that you appear to believe your last paragraph, sums up your inability to interpret the research (even if you have actually read it, rather than WP?), correctly.

    We could say that you do protest too much, but that *may* be a little cheap.

    No, as usual, you are just another, prime, example of the Child ‘Protection’ Industry, chasing populism and personal profit, thereby causing so much actual harm, fear and hysteria in our society.

    Time to do ‘the right thing’, Tom.

    The OSC

  19. Saw this yesterday. I have permission to repost this.

    Guardian article and ACE study

    This article in the guardian

    seems to ignore much of the research showing child abuse to be damaging to children.

    The study below (not in the article) details some of the effects of child abuse.

    Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study

    The ACE Study uses the ACE Score, which is a count of the total number of ACE respondents reported. The ACE Score is used to assess the total amount of stress during childhood and has demonstrated that as the number of ACE increase, the risk for the following health problems increases in a strong and graded fashion:

    Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
    Fetal death
    Health-related quality of life
    Illicit drug use
    Ischemic heart disease (IHD)

    Liver disease
    Risk for intimate partner violence
    Multiple sexual partners
    Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
    Suicide attempts
    Unintended pregnancies
    Early initiation of smoking
    Early initiation of sexual activity
    Adolescent pregnancy

    American Journal of Preventive Medicine
    Volume 14, Issue 4 , Pages 245-258, May 1998
    Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study

    Conclusions: We found a strong graded relationship between the breadth of exposure to abuse or household dysfunction during childhood and multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults.



    Prevalence of Individual Adverse Childhood Experiences

    ACE Study sample (n=17,337)


    Sexual Abuse

    women 24.7% men 16.0% total 20.7%

    Emotional Abuse
    13.1 7.6 10.6

    Physical Abuse
    27.0 29.9 28.3

  20. Response to ‘Paedophilia: bringing dark desires to light’ by Jon Henry The Guardian, Thursday 3 January 2013

    Paedophilia by definition cannot be regarded as consensual sex because children are under the age of consent. But even if the age of consent was lowered, children would not be able to give informed consent because they would have no concept of how sex with an adult would affect them in the future.

    O’Carroll is quoted in the article as saying: “If there’s no bullying, no coercion, no abuse of power, if the child enters into the relationship voluntarily … the evidence shows there need be no harm.” However, an adult having sex with a child by definition involves an abuse of power. A child does not willingly, consensually, knowing all the ramification of their actions, enter into sexual relations with an adult.

    Regarding the statement that ‘There is, astonishingly, not even a full academic consensus on whether consensual paedophilic relations necessarily cause harm”, there is ample evidence about how sex with an adult has destroyed children’s lives and how being photographed for pictures circulated by paedophiles has, in the extreme, led to the death of children. Is the article suggesting that there should be research to find out if children who have sex with adults are not harmed? How would this be done ethically without doing harm to children? I think we have to take a values position that sex with children harms them and operate from that premise.

    The finding from the Research at the sexual behaviours clinic of Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health suggests paedophiles’ IQs are, on average, 10% lower than those of sex offenders who had abused adults is significant. It would not be surprising if paedophiles are less intelligent than people who do not sexually abuse children. Child sexual abuse would only make sense to someone who did not have the capacity to understand their actions. No matter how it is defended, child sexual offenders are essentially rationalizing and trying to intellectualize offences against children, sexual offences that will damage children’s perception of themselves for the rest of their lives.

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  22. Back in the 80s I was appointed to a school committee studying the introduction of a “comprehensive,” k-12, sex education program into the public schools of a small American town. My view on appointment, was that this was a waste of time that could have better been spent on academic subjects.

    Over time, and introduced to alot of material by conservatives who opposed the program for other reasons, I became concerned largely about the “training” received by the teachers who would present the material. It was written, produced, and often presented by people with very questionable motives, including those who wished to change attitudes about adult-child sexual relations.

    What I find odd about Henley’s article and even the comments on it is that it is impossible to point to legitimate research on this topic since it would involve control groups and others who would in essence become victims of sexual predators in order to provide a valid result.

    This has been a problem with all research about sex going back to Kinsey, who used and abused children and infants in his “research,” and makes it possible for people with various agendas to make claims about studies in this area.

    I would go with the testimony of the victims themselves who most recently made clear how this abuse occurs in the Penns State (US) scandal.

  23. I’m appalled at Mr Henley’s article and I’m grateful that our legislators are willing to tackle his claims head on. I don’t want to give Mr Henley’s article the respectibility garnered by publicity. But it would be so much better if those who write such polemical pieices did so based on clear researched evidence.

  24. Dear Tom Watson,
    I am the researcher quoted in Jon Henley’s article. I am the author of two books, ‘Understanding and Addressing Adult Sexual Attraction to Children’ (Routledge, 2009) and ‘Paedophiles in Society’ (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). In the first book, I carefully discuss in detail exactly why adult sexual contact with children harms children (because they are not developmentally ready, and therefore any sexual contact is experienced as intrusive and invasive at a very profound psychological level, which is why it leaves such lasting scars, as evidenced by innumerable testimonies from people’s direct experience).
    In the second book, I go into considerable detail to critique the study referred to in Henley’s article, which is a book called ‘Boys on Their Contacts with Men’ by Theo Sandfort. I devote a whole chapter to analysing that book and explaining why its argument (that adult sexual contact with boys is not only harmless but positively beneficial) is unproven. The evidence from that book does not in fact support any conclusion of harmlessness or benefit, which should come as no surprise to anyone. People who wish to argue for adult sexual contact with children use that book (and a more recent statistical meta-analysis by Bruce Rind) as the only evidence they can find to ‘prove’ that adult sexual contact with children is not harmful, but their evidence is deeply flawed. Jon Henley, I am sure, did not in any way wish to offer any credibility to those studies, or to the opinions of those who endorse adult sexual contact with children.
    The business of academia being unclear about any consensus on the harmfulness of adult sexual contact with children is evidenced by responses to my own research, as detailed in an article in the Times Higher Education Supplement in about 2010, I think. (Can’t remember reference at the moment.)
    The main point of my research is to make a clear distinction between adult sexual attraction to children (paedophilia) and adult sexual contact with children (child sexual abuse). Some self-defined paedophiles choose not to have sexual contact with children, and I feel it is worth exploring how they manage to maintain law-abiding lifestyles, so that we can learn lessons from that with wider applicability to paedophiles in general, and thereby put better child protection strategies in place. I hope that clarifies my position.
    Many thanks for your interest in this very important topic.

  25. Any position can be argued/defended , that is why we have barristers and politicians, and debating societies. Jon Henley could present, no doubt, a good case for Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and genocide.
    Who will rid us of these intellectuals with their immense brains and cold rationalisations – they should get out more.

  26. Oops, perhaps I should have read Jon Henley’s article before commenting. Having now read the article I am now better able to comment – I have no big objections to the piece, it appeared to be a considered examination of adult sexual attraction to children, I saw no advocacy for paedophillia.
    There are however immediate and serious matters concerning the sexual abuse of children, this is not the time for intellectual examination of one aspect of human sexuality.

  27. Fantastic response Tom to a deeply offensive article. Your clinical dissection of the inadequacies of Henley’s argument is the perfect riposte to the child sex abuse lobby! As a professional social worker in child protection, I find the Guardian’s decision to promote such a line as deeply flawed.

  28. What I detested about the article was that it portrayed abusers as having the ability to prevent themselves acting on their feelings and abusing children, in all the work I have done for over 25 years there has been no progress in preventing these abusers from reoffending, they truly believe it is their god given right to destroy lives. Not one of them have blamed themselves, all have blamed the children for ‘being promiscuous, wanting it, flirting with them’, funnily enough I have never come across a 4 year old that ‘flirts’. We know that 16 is not a magical figure and that children are interested in sexual feelings from very early on, but the law is in place in order to protect young people who, until a certain age, are unable to make important choices, hence that is why they need parents.

  29. I will sign both your petitions, as they are campaining against the most sickening behaviour imaginable. I will, however, delay my signatures, until you instigate a petition against the prevalence of these activities by the ‘elites’. These people must have found it hilarious, after the News of the World instigated the campaign, which resulted in people marching around their own council estates. All filthy paedophile activity needs to be exposed, but without concentrating on it’s prevalence amongst those at the top, you are simply doing another ‘News of the World’.

  30. As a former journalist and with 30 years experience in child protection, 16 of them as a social work lecturer preparing new social workers for ever-complex employment, I was not suprised to see the article appear. It succeeds in tagging on to the post-Savile flash of excitment and public interest, trying to appear as a reasoned, reflective discussion after the hoo-hah has melted away. But what a mash-up of a story! Very disappointing and highly selective, lazy journalism, inadvertantly providing support to predatory paedophiles.

  31. Tom Watson – at last I am reading an article that demonstrates some SANITY.

    Please stay on this project and remain diligent – as a society we really need to become more effective in protecting our children. Good work!

  32. Let’s cut to the chase and condemn the Henley article for what it really is – a pile of pseudo-intellectual claptrap, disguised as an intelligent attempt to understand the paedophile, but which, very slyly, results in nothing less than an argument to justify the sexualization of young people and infants.

    You don’t need a 2000 word essay on this subject, a degree in child care, or 20 years in social work, to understand the issue, because it is very simple. Children and infants do not seek sex with adults. On the contrary, it is the adults that prey upon innocent babes, who are helpless and vulnerable and completely unable to defend themselves.

    These adults know exactly what they are doing, and they go to great lengths to hide their dirty little secrets. So let’s not fall into the trap of trying to understand the plight of paedophiles, they deserve no sympathy and should be cut no slack.

    The only thing more disturbing than the article written by Henley, is the fact that a quality newspaper like the Guardian saw fit to publish it.

  33. What Sarah Goode writes is rubbish – there is no separate group of ‘paedophiles’ distinct from child abusers. This is what they want you to believe and you’ve been conned.

    Anne: ‘What I detested about the article was that it portrayed abusers as having the ability to prevent themselves acting on their feelings and abusing children,..’

    Agreed. The article relied too heavily on quotes from abusers and wasn’t balanced by quotes from survivors.

  34. Great article Tom – and some really moving and insightful comments. If anyone is ever concerned about a child or just needs some advice on these issues they can call us on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk and you can remain anonymous if you prefer.

  35. I have not read the article but i would like to point out that the some called “campaign” waged by then editor of the news of the world rebecca wade was no more than her cynical play for the job of editor of the sun newspaper. It had nothing to do with children and is a better example of a situation created through media manipulation, hiding behind the abuse of children for respectability. Journo’s know this about wade why do they remain silent, then as now!!!! What the NoW did then is in sharp contrast to the genuine work newsnight did.later, you can tell because children were protected and abusers, prosecuted and put away.

  36. “The main point of my research is to make a clear distinction between adult sexual attraction to children (paedophilia) and adult sexual contact with children (child sexual abuse). Some self-defined paedophiles choose not to have sexual contact with children, and I feel it is worth exploring how they manage to maintain law-abiding lifestyles,”
    Do they really though, live law abiding lifestyles or are they only telling you what you want to hear?
    I believe there is no distinction between adult sexual contact with children and adult sexual attraction to children. Paedophilia IS child abuse.
    There is no way on this earth that an adult, male or female, who is ‘attracted’ to children does not view photographs or online images at the very least.
    Just because someone has not physically acted out their fantasies on a ‘real’ child does not mean they are not a paedophile.

    The fact that people have actually devoted time and effort into writing books that try to understand these acts makes me fear for the future of the human race.

    There is also a huge difference in a 15 year old having sexual relations with a 19 year old than a predatory older person manipulating an underage child into having sexual contact.

  37. Good piece, Tom. You will find in my book, Forgotten Children, (soon to be on Kindle) a discussion about the paedophile political movement of the 1970s and 1980s in which Tom O’Carroll featured prominently amongst others. I recount the following story in the book.
    I got a job at Release at the time, which was Home Office funded, and it was being used as a poste restante address by PIE. When, as a member of the collective (this was the late 1970s), I enquired why, I was told that they had asked and they were a repressed group. On my instigation, one of the PIE members came along and tried to persuade us that there should be no minimum age for sexual activity. Not surprisingly, we stopped them from using our address, which was rather fortunate since a few weeks later, they were exposed in the Sunday People.

  38. the attraction to innocence and to withdraw the autonomy of innocent -is a symptom of a cruel society – to prevent it – we need to teach boundaries and respect from babyhood and to teach ‘informed consent’ – a bully picks on smaller people – this is a manifestation of that

  39. Henley got some things wrong but he also got some things right. Overall it has been one of the more thoughtful pieces published in a daily newspaper on the subject in recent months. Look at you all, it got you all talking didn’t it? And about the issues that matter? Sure he was naive not to point out that since the so-called ‘liberal’ attitudes of the 70s, we have understood the concept of grooming and understand how children’s emotions are manipulated to make it seem as if they ‘want’ a sexual relationship. But he also makes some good points, as others have said. He brought to our attention that we need to talk and to discuss and to understand better. On those grounds it is a valuable contribution.
    But how sad to see Murun doing the usual knee-jerk of slagging David Rose. He and the late Richard Webster have raised uncomfortable truths about false allegations of abuse that some would rather gloss over or pretend don’t exist. That needs discussing too, or we only get half the story and we don’t hear the voices of those who are wrongly accused.

  40. Working in adult mental health over the last two decades has opened my eyes to the scale of adult sexual abuse of children and the extent of the damage caused. I and colleagues have wept at stories we have heard and fantasised about seeking out and eliminating perpetrators. I read the article when it came out and don’t want to revisit it. I echo all the objections noted above. Following this story closely in the press, especially since Tom Watson’s question in the House, I have been surprised and dismayed at the Guardian’s poor coverage. I stopped buying it after the publication of this article. The Independent and the Mirror are far less reluctant to cover this (Fernbridge etc). I worry that the low profile this issue has in the media will allow powerful interests to escape justice yet again. I’m writing to Rusbridgder about this, and to my local MP, to urge that thus is not allowed to fade quietly away.

  41. Hi everyone – I have come to this thread very late but I remember reading Jon Henley’s article in the Guardian. As a survivor of abuse I was distressed but not exactly surprised. This is not the first time that the Guardian has given a platform to the views of abusers. A couple of years ago they published an article entitled something like “Why do women claim to have been abused in childhood?” with the clear implication that women who say they have been abused are lying about it. (I can’t bring myself to look for the link, and I don’t want to post it anyway as it would trigger anyone who has been through this experience.) For comparison, could you imagine the oh-so-PC Guardian publishing an article called “Why do women cry rape?”

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