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PAEDOPHILIA ACROSS CULTURES AND TIME?
Imagine the parents who send their adolescent son to stay with his godfather, where he is made very welcome and becomes part of the new family for a while. During this time his godfather becomes physically involved with him, culminating with the boy being deliberately ejaculated upon. The parents are so delighted about this that they insist on giving the man joints of meat. Surely amore appropriate strategy would be to call in the police and child protection workers, or beat the living daylights out of the man? This social arrangement was to be found in various parts of Papua New Guinea
and Melanesia in strikingly similar ways (Bleibtreu-Ehrenberg, 1991). It was strongly believed that a young man who does not undergo such an initiation process will remain a child, incapable of marriage and fatherhood, never to become a warrior.
Prior to this initiation, a boy is regarded as belonging to his mother. He is a "woman" in that he can take part in their rituals and tasks without embarrassment. He is capable of pregnancy and, if illness caused stomach swelling, attempts were made to induce a miscarriage. Contact with sperm nourishes and changes this "social woman" into an adult warrior.
Changes in social relationships accompany this initiation peroid: from when he begins living with his godfather he becomes a "son" of the family and marriage with a daughter of the household is regarded as incestuous and taboo.
In older times, paederasty (buggery between a man and a boy) was not considered a problem or as something apart from other forms of sexuality (Bleibtreu-Ehrenberg, 1991). So, in ancient Greece and elsewhere it was not held to be different from adult homosexuality or transvestism:
The way in which paedophilia was conceived appears to warrant viewing it as normative rather than unusual or deviant:
But we should be very careful not to confuse the ideal with reality. After all, Boswell (1980) suggests that one should not necessarily assume that every man's ideal of female sexuality in modern Western culture is the late-teenage girl promoted by the mass media, pornography and literature. For this reason, deciphering the scanty historical record can be a fraught exercise.
Furthermore, much of this involved sexually mature males. It is something of an open question whether the sexual use of children was confined to the post-pubescent groups. De Mause (1976) suggests that this was not the case and presents evidence of it being common with younger boys and possibly with girls.
Aristotle saw homosexuality as frequently the outcome of the sexual use of boys in childhood. In imperial Rome, infants were castrated by having their testicles squeezed; the boys were later employed in brothels. Ancient Jewish culture sought to stamp out homosexuality. Death by stoning was held to be an appropriate punishment for buggery with children over nine years of age; sex with children younger than this was punished by the whip because it was not considered to be a sexual act!
Condemnation by European scholars and travellers resulted in their accounts of adult-child sex in other cultures being full of moral reproval, and lacking informative detail. Some see this as leading to a situation in which:
The question of brother-sister incest and the "incest taboo" is of considerable importance in Western sexual mythology. The claims that incest was sanctioned in some cultures allows a cultural relativistic view to predominate. The evidence that sibling incest was permissible in the royal families of such cultures as Egypt, Peru and Hawaii is seen as support for the view that incest taboos are II culturally based rather than deeper seated in biology. A belief that
inbreeding results in a weakening of the genetic stock is central to this latter view, because it indicates that incest prevention is essential within the nuclear family to prevent inbreeding (Bixler, 1982). If it could be shown that incest between siblings were at all common in vigorous societies then some accounts of the "incest taboo" would be seriously challenged.
There are numerous difficulties with the historical record. In particular, there is no clear distinction made between marital relations and sexual desire. Historians have recorded marriages between siblings but failed to document whether there was sexual desire and intercourse between the partners. So, in most respects, the evidence of marriage is no embarrassment to theories that postulate the primary importance of incest avoidance. Marriage between full brothers and sisters were rare in many of the cases of so-called sibling incest.
Furthermore, in documented cases, the evidence about sexual desire suggests that it is far from strong. Bixler points out that at least one culture seems to buck these trends:
In the history of sexuality, the notion that age determines suitability for marriage is relatively modern; penal statutes restraining sexual activity in young persons are a relatively recent phenomenon. There are a few rare exceptions to this.
In ancient Rome boys could not marry before 14 years and girls 12 years of age. Throughout the Middle Ages, Europeans had no minimum marriage age, according to Killias (1991). Suitability for marriage was largely judged on the basis of reaching physical maturity.
The close ties between the law, the church and morality meant that conduct unacceptable in Christian morality was in principle
sodomy, rape and abduction were all crimes. Sexual activity with children as such was not unlawful other than to the extent that it was il1egal under any of the prohibited categories:
The activities of a German priest, Johann Arbogast Gauch, are a case in point. During the 10-year period from 1735, Gauch was sexually involved with boys and a small number of girls in the village where he acted as parson. All of this was public knowledge in the village for several years until political changes in the area finally led to Gauch's prosecution and death sentence. In contrast to modern attitudes, the children were jailed for several months and the boys whipped and beaten because of their complicity. Apparently the oldest boy only just escaped a death sentence. The girls were treated rather more leniently because their "unchastity" was heterosexual and not homosexual.
Killias claims that under common law prior to 1800, in England, France, Italy and Germany, there were no legal prohibitions on the basis of age alone against sexual activities involving children past puberty. Although sexual behaviour was rigorously controlled, this was not primarily aimed at protecting young people from moral corruption (an exception being the protection of immature girls).
Things changed considerably in the late nineteenth century when the division of labour altered. Widespread and lengthening education resulted in a non-adult group with a distinct role outside of the main labour market. Killias argues that the age of sexual consent gradual1y increased since schoolchildren with family responsibilities were a considerable problem for the system.
Some evidence for Kil1ias' thesis is provided by the 25 small states in the federation which formed Switzerland. In the late nineteenth century, these different cantons had radical1y different educational systems and criminal justice laws control1ing young people's sexual activities. A strong correlation was found between both the age of consent and the criminality of sexual behaviour involving adolescents, as well as the extent and quality of the educational system. A well-developed
educational system can be seen as a good indicator of the degree of separation of the roles of adult and child.
But this should not be taken as a sign that the role division caused by increasingly universal education was responsible for attempts to control childhood sexuality, which is not the same as the age for consent to marriage.
From the eighteenth century onwards there had been growing attempts to limit sexuality in children, but these were often collusions between parents and the medical profession rather than a matter of state intervention. During this phase, which lasted into the early twentieth century, physical removal of the foreskin and clitoris were among the medical treatments for masturbation, along with any number of restraining devices intended to make masturbation impossible or even excruciatingly painful
In London in the eighteenth century, there is evidence that although the courts of law treated women victims of sexual violence appallingly and their attackers leniently, men who raped children, possibly because it was a putative cure for venereal disease, were severely punished (Clark, 1987).
Jackson (1990) has a somewhat different view when she suggests that
The ethnographic record on adult-child sexual contacts is best characterized as sparse. Davenport (1992) raises the important question of what would be unacceptable adult-child sexual contact in those cultures that allow intimacies that Western cultures find distasteful, but he provides no answer. He prefers to dismiss the very point of comparative perspectives:
Such is cultural universalism.