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The Beginnings of Radical Paedophilia in Britain
The general public in the UK has long been aware of 'child molesting' and 'perversion'. But only in the 1970s did it come to hear about 'paedophilia', a designation suddenly lifted from the obscurity of medical textbooks to become a crusading badge of identity for those whom the term had been designed to oppress.
'Paedophilia' became simultaneously a recognized word and a public issue in August and September 1977, when a series of connected events resulted in the activities of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) being given prominent attention in the national press. Prior to this time, most people had no idea that an organization like PIE was in existence, which is perhaps not surprising considering its tiny membership - the total at that time standing around 250 - and the fact that it had only been going since October 1974. Nor, when the dust had settled on that late summer's attention, were they any the wiser as to the reasons for its appearance, its philosophy, its proposals: the nature of the publicity had seen to that.
It was not until PIE had been going for a number of months that I myself heard about it, or about Paedophile Action for Liberation (PAL), which was later merged with PIE. There had been virtually no newspaper coverage at that time, and the only people 'in the know' about paedophile groups were readers of gay newspapers and magazines, and others in gay circles who had heard by word of mouth. 1
I came into neither category. The only friend of mine I knew to be gay had invited me along to a gay lib conference, but that was very much a 'one-off' event for me - a rather daring excursion into a completely alien world. Unlike the relatively sober conferences of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, this was a let's-be-outrageous Gay Liberation Front drag show, full of wonderful, gutsy, flamboyant queens, the air dripping with scent and theatricality: beards, I recall, were no longer just hairs growing out of a man's face, but were now pronounced, with great solemnity, to be 'the last bastion of male chauvinism'.
Much as I admired the panache, I felt this was not for me. I didn't feel like a queen. I didn't feel gay at all, and although Quentin Crisp is firmly in my pantheon of twentieth-century heroes, I felt as out of place in GLF company as I would sipping tea with Mary Whitehouse.
My discovery of the nascent paedophile subculture was something of an accident. At the time, I was Editor of the Open University staff newspaper, Open House, and decided to cover an OU Women's Group meeting on homosexuality. This led to a controversial feature, in which two staff 'came out' as homosexual. It was rumoured that this attracted the ire of Sir Frederick Warner, Chairman of the University Council and the man chiefly responsible for my ultimate dismissal from the position of Press Officer with the University (on the grounds that my connection with PIE had embarrassed the University). In the preparation of the Open House article, I 'came out' as paedophile to the gay contributors, and was soon pointed in the direction of PAL and PIE, the latter of which I joined in May 1975.
In the same spring, I went to several meetings of PAL, which had developed as a breakaway group from South London GLF. It was at these meetings that I first met other paedophiles, and experienced the sheer exhilaration and joy of suddenly finding a whole new social world - a world in which the Great Unmentionable was all at once the thing to talk about, a source of instant, garrulous rapport, between the unlikeliest combinations of people: at my first meeting there were maybe a dozen, all male, mostly young, not easily pigeon-holed by either dress, accent or manner, into any obvious social class stereotypes. Among them were a naval petty officer, a motor mechanic, a former child welfare officer, a medical research technician, a high-ranking administrator and a bus driver. At a later meeting a middle-aged man introduced himself as the headmaster of a boarding school for boys.
It was not long that year before PAL proved itself slightly too garrulous, too open, too devil-may-care, for it became the subject of classic 'expose' treatment in the Sunday press - a whole front page, plus centre-page spread, in the Sunday People, which resulted in local intimidation and lost jobs for some of those who were exposed. For a long time (though not ultimately), PIE was luckier, and better able to survive than the demoralized members - or embers - of the PAL conflagration. Personally, I felt that in a short time PAL had done a lot for me. It had given me new hope and new friends, but in the year that followed the expose it was to PIE that I turned for some serious hope of encountering a durable vehicle for paedophile radicalism.
PIE, like PAL, had grown out of the gay movement of the mid-1970s. A brain-child whose parents were idealism and a sense of injustice at society's reaction to 'deviant' sexuality, PIE had been the idea of Michael Hanson, a gay student living in Edinburgh, who became the group's first Chairperson. He wasn't even a paedophile, though a passing relationship with a youth whom he took to be sixteen, but who turned out to be a year younger, provided the mental stimulus for his deliberations on paedophilia.
Set up initially as a special interest group within the Scottish Minorities Group (now the Scottish Homosexual Rights Group), PIE's advertising soon brought in a preponderance of enquiries from England, and the group's centre of gravity moved to London, where it acquired a new Chairperson in the following year.
This was Keith Hose, then aged twenty-three, who, like those who had started PAL, had connections with the South London group of GLF. He had found GLF radicalism exciting and productive. Inspired by Engels, their thinking questioned the basis of the family as an economic, social and sexual system. And well before Keith's appearance on the scene, a large contingent of GLF had favoured the abolition of the age of consent; their youth group had even staged a march in support of this.
It is also true that an equally large contingent were against paedophilia, on the ground that it had sexist overtones (boys, in relation to men, arguably being placed in a subordinate 'woman's role'), but to Keith GLF's appeal lay as much in the vigour and freshness of their direct action campaigns as in their ideas. If GLF gays found themselves discriminated against in a pub, they would promptly stage a mass sit-in there; action which sometimes won them the respect and support of 'straight' locals, rather than hostility. 'Radical drag' was one of their more flamboyant manifestations: gays would dress in weird combinations of clothes, such as 'butch' pit boots worn with a 'femme' feathered hat, in a graphic, art-derived and powerful visual challenge to traditional assumptions - assumptions not just about dress, but about the sociosexual roles of the wearers.
Keith was also adamant that we must move towards a society in which children's rights, and the equality of children with adults as persons, would be recognized. In the original formulation of the aims of PIE, children's rights did not figure. They were:
1 To clear away, where possible, the myths connected with paedophilia by various means, including the making public of scientific, sociological and similar information.
2 To give advice and counsel to those isolated or lonely because of their paedophile orientation.
3 To help those in legal difficulties concerning sexual acts with under-age partners that took place with the latter's consent.
4 To campaign, as members see fit, for the legal and social acceptance of paedophile love.
5 To provide a means whereby paedophiles might get in contact with each other.
Keith attended the Edinburgh meeting, in March 1975, at which these aims were approved, and at his suggestion the following words were added: 'As a result of the above the group believes that it is essential that attitudes towards young people should change.' A small, but significant, change of emphasis.
The shock waves in the wake of PAL's Sunday People affair were felt in PIE, so that it proved difficult to find people prepared to take the risks involved in front-line activism. The only way out, it was decided, was an aggressive policy. 'The only way for PIE to survive,' Keith later wrote, 2 'was to seek out as much publicity for the organization as possible.... If we got bad publicity we would not run into a corner but stand and fight. We felt that the only way to get more paedophiles joining P I E... was to seek out and try to get all kinds of publications to print our organization's name and address and to make paedophilia a real public issue.'
The extensive publicity he had in mind proved harder to achieve than any of us imagined. For a long while our news releases were swiftly consigned to Fleet Street wastepaper bins, and we had to take what comfort we could from coverage in 'alternative' press sources. But PIE began to make its presence felt in other ways, notably by Keith's attendance at the 1975 annual conference of CHE at Sheffield, where he made an impassioned speech on paedophilia that was well received (and was covered at length in The Guardian, and also at a conference in the same year organized by MIND, the national mental health organization.
One outcome of the MIND conference was the suggestion to Keith that PIE should submit evidence to the Home Office Criminal Law Revision Committee on the age of consent. With amazing despatch Keith did exactly this, preparing and submitting the seventeen-page document discussed in Chapter 6 in a matter of weeks, without the benefit of research time or facilities at his disposal. What's more, we have it on reliable authority that his work caught the imagination of no less a figure than the Home Secretary of the time, Roy Jenkins. He is said to have been impressed (our informant did not tell us whether he actually agreed with anything proposed), but added words to the effect: 'Of course, it hasn't a hope in hell.'
The emphasis in PIE, during most of its short history, has been on campaigning, on producing what we have intended to be thought-provoking and controversial documents, such as our Evidence on the Age of Consent, and on seeking publicity for them. But, as already pointed out, our formally defined aims were much wider than this: they included giving 'advice and counsel', and/or legal help, to paedophiles who ask for it, and providing a means for paedophiles to get in touch with each other.
In other words we have always intended to be a 'self-help' group. In this respect we have something in common with a slimmers' club, or Alcoholics Anonymous, though of course our philosophy of self-help has been vastly different to either. The point of paedophiles helping each other, as we have seen it, has not been to help each other to reform himself, to try and modify his sexual identity to fit in with the demands of society. The point has been one of learning how to cope with the fact of living in a hostile society. How to be paedophile without being suicidal about it, without feeling guilty just because other people expect you to. Guilt-ridden, anxious paedophiles are almost bound to become more relaxed, more happy as individuals, if for the first time in their lives they find themselves amongst other paedophiles who have learnt not to be depressed by their oppression.
How have we fared in this aim? What have we done to help paedophiles themselves?
Like PAL, we have in the past had regular London meetings to which members could come along and chat about their problems and experiences, but beyond a doubt our most consistently successful service to members has been the Contact Page. As the name implies, this is a bulletin in which members who want to be put in touch with others place an advertisement, and wait for replies. The advertisers simply give their membership number, general location, and brief details of their sexual and other interests. Replies are sent to PIE, as with a box number system, so that until a measure of trust is built up between the correspondents neither is informed of the other's address.
Obviously, we have always had to be very careful in the kind of ads we have accepted. The purpose has always been to put paedophiles in touch with each other, not with children, and once in a while we have had to turn down ads which could have implied the latter. Likewise we have been careful not to allow ads for the sale or purchase of erotica. Not surprisingly, the News of the World eventually turned its attention to our ads. These are some that caught their eye:
No. 273 Energetic middle-aged male sincere and discreet Iks boys 8-15 yrs and the various ways in which they dress. Int swimming. Wld lk to hear from others with similar ints.
No. 390 Male. Interested public school type boys, 12-16, either in football shorts or corduroy trousers, wd like to meet young male, 20-30, with similar interests. (S W London/Surrey).
No. 379 Male Int girls 6-13 wd lk to correspond/meet others with similar interests; music, sports, fashion, Hi-Fi, photography, dance, reading, films. (Blackpool).
No. 373 Doctor, male. Poet and author, interested photos little girls in white pants and little boys out of white pants. Wd like to hear from male or female with similar interests. All letters answered. Perfect discretion. (Reading, Berks).
No. 401 Anglican priest, south London, anxious to meet other paeds for friendship and help.
We have never conducted a formal survey of our members' use of the Contact Page, but I imagine the figure would be well over 80 per cent having written or received at least one letter during their membership. I myself used the system during the early months of my membership.
Neither of these essential activities of a 'self-help' group - the holding of small, informal meetings, and the putting of members in touch with each other - is presently a simple matter for PIE: meetings have been infiltrated by a hostile press 3 and the contact ads have resulted in a prosecution, in that their publication has allegedly involved a 'conspiracy to corrupt public morals'. Such basic functions would present no problems at all for most organizations. Nor would they probably have become that much of a problem for PIE, if we were not also a vigorous and controversial campaigning group.
Our expressed intention to provide 'advice and counsel' and legal help is less controversial than either our campaigning or our contact ads, but, perhaps surprisingly, these are activities which have not been concentrated upon. Although PIE does deal with dozens of personal letters every week, many of them requiring carefully considered and tactfully worded replies, we find that the need for 'advice and counsel' doesn't often arise in quite the terms that we originally conceived it. Only very rarely do paedophiles write to us asking for 'advice', as opposed to information, or a sharing of confidences, and in any case there is usually little advice that can sensibly be given. What we find people need is friendship, and that is something for members to give each other, not a commodity to be dispensed by experts specially assigned to the job.
There are exceptions. Like the sophisticated young man - good Cambridge University honours degree, several years' experience in teaching - who professed himself at a loss to know what to do. He felt that he was going to get into trouble with boys and wanted to know whether to accept his doctor's advice, which was to undergo a course of aversion therapy. We spent a couple of hours talking it over. I told him of the unpleasant nature of the treatment and the possibility of its failure. By way of balance, I also waxed fairly lyrical about the fate of the various people I knew in prison for paedophilic offences, and the fact that it might be his fate too, if; as he seemed to think likely, he was going to get into trouble.
I sensed that he really wanted me to tell him what to do. To direct him to have the treatment or not have it. Despite his obviously high intelligence, his ability to think the issues through, at that point in his life he simply wasn't capable of making tough decisions on his own. Maybe I let him down, because I declined to be judgmental in the way in which he was inviting me to be. I tried to hide my own distaste for aversion therapy, and other forms of 'treatment', but at the same time explored with him some thoughts about the philosophy of sexual identity - thoughts which underlay my distaste. In particular, I asked him how important a part of his personality he felt his paedophilic orientation constituted. If he were to wake up in the morning finding himself attracted to women rather than boys, would this give him joy, or distress? Would he feel still the same person essentially, or would the change have meant the death of a part of himself which he held dear, a part which was an inalienable aspect of his sense of self?
Somewhat to my dismay, his sense of the importance of his own sexual identity appeared to be rather slight, and I suppose if that were not the case he could never even have contemplated aversion therapy. I don't think I persuaded him, one way or the other, nor, as I say, do I think that is what I should have tried to do. Whether he ever took the treatment I do not know, but he did get into trouble, and is now serving a four-year sentence.
As you may imagine, I felt dreadful about that. If I had come down firmly in favour of him doing what his doctor told him, would it have happened? I wrote, and offered to visit him in prison, but it turned out that he was being well looked after there by his family, and had a good job in the prison library - where he was able to get on with writing his novel, plus a critical edition of the works of some eighteenth-century poet.
I do not think I can be blamed for him being in prison. But the incident threw into sharp focus for me the impossibility of a radical paedophile like myself giving 'good' or 'sound' advice. To have recommended the 'sensible' course of doing as the doctor ordered would have stuck in the craw too much.
PIE's contribution as regards the law has been more modest, and consequently less perilous. Usually, it boils down to recommending a good and unprejudiced solicitor - a rare commodity when it comes to dealing with paedophilic offences, but we know quite a lot of people who fit the bill. In addition, if the worst comes to the worst, we arrange where possible for people to be visited in prison, or for them to be provided with regular 'pen pals'. Practical help of this sort is almost certainly the most useful thing we can do for members, and a service which we intend to develop rather more systematically than we have done so far.
Already, in these remarks on self-help, I have indicated a number of areas in which our campaigning aims conflict with those of being useful to our membership. In nothing is this more true than the scope and nature of the regular magazines distributed to members. The original Newsletter, run-off in sometimes almost illegible copies from a badly-typed original, was superseded in 1976 by an altogether more ambitious venture, called Understanding Paedophilia. As the name implies, this was conceived as something of a shopwindow for PIE, and for paedophilia generally, and the aim was to sell it in radical bookshops and elsewhere, as well as to distribute it free to our own members.
Printed on high-quality paper, with an attractive and stylish format, UP was very much the baby of Warren Middleton, one of PIE's first London members. The rest of us on the Executive Committee (which I had joined in 1976) were all too busy doing our own thing for PIE to thrash out what we wanted for the magazine in terms of any consistent approach or philosophy. Such comments as we made tended to follow the appearance of an issue, rather than precede it, and tended to be relatively minor suggestions, like 'Why not have a picture of a little girl on the front page for a change, instead of a boy?'
Yes, there were pictures, which brings us to the central dilemma of this and all our publications for members: Warren was firmly on one side in this dilemma, and to a degree, though not entirely, I was on the other. For Warren, UP was to be an almost entirely didactic enterprise, an elevated, cultured journal, which would show paedophilia in a new light. There would be extracts from sensitive paedophilic literature, and long highbrow articles from heavyweight psychologists and others throughout the world, who would establish the respectability of paedophilic love. Not too much emphasis would be placed on the physical minutiae of paedophilic sex, as this would be 'sordid' and would lower the tone - an attitude which I felt merely reinforced the anti-sexual prejudices of society at large.
By contrast, I reasoned that our members were paying a substantial subscription (then 5 pounds) and that apart from the Contact Page, the magazine was their only regular benefit from PIE membership. Accordingly, it ought to be geared to what they wanted, and if we failed to deliver the goods we could reckon on a low resubscription rate. What did I think they wanted? Some intellectual articles, by all means, but articles designed for them, not for the relatively ignorant outside world. I also felt that we should get as near as the law would allow us to doing a kind of Forum page - publishing letters from readers on the details of sexual relationships. There was also scope for erotic fiction, and erotic pictures of children (which the law would then allow rather more than it does now). And why not? What could be more in tune with our aim of taking the sense of guilt out of sexuality than to be cheerfully erotic about it ourselves?
With Warren's eventual departure from active work with PIE, UP was replaced by a new magazine called Magpie. Its approach has been, and continues to be, a compromise between the shopwindow concept and a lively forum for members, which, although not overtly erotic, is still attractive. The staple is a mixture of news, book and film reviews with a paedophilic or children's rights angle, intellectual articles, non-nude photographs of children, humour (yes, humour about paedophilia), letters and various other contributions by members.
By 1977 we had yet another regular publication too, edited by 'David'. This was called Childhood Rights, and was an entirely campaigning journal. Since David's retirement, we have given more children's rights emphasis to the content of Magpie, in lieu of CR.
How, overall, is the impact of PIE on its own membership to be assessed? Two letters have appeared in Magpie which I think sum up rather well the dilemma we have faced - the essential conflict between PIE the campaigners and PIE the self-helpers. First of all the pessimistic viewpoint:
'I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that I should resign from PIE. When I joined, I saw it as an organization serving the purpose of meeting friends whose sexual orientation was similar to my own. It therefore gave me: (1) a feeling of release, in that I could safely share views normally repressed; (2) a feeling of security - in that I no longer felt isolated from the world because of my sexual outlook.
'Speaking purely for myself, I no longer feel a sense of (1) release - in so far as our aims seem no longer the mutual discussion of views, but rather an attempt to convince the community of the rightness of our views; (2) security - in so far as I now feel much more at risk in expressing paedophile views than I did before this year's [1977's] campaigning began.
'It is, I think, a correct summing up of what happened in 1977 to say that in spite of the courage you have shown in your outspoken views, and in spite of the publicity we have sought - and gained - the image of the Paedophile in the minds of the Community is now much further removed from reality than it was before our publicity-seeking began.
'That is the cardinal, indisputable tragedy of our situation. There is thus no object in my remaining a member. My decision is, however, a most reluctant one, since some of the finest people I have ever met in the gay world are PIE members. I have very much enjoyed their companionship, and no doubt in leaving PIE I shall be losing that friendship. I have no doubt that my loss will be greater than theirs....'
That letter saddened me, of course, and I answered it at length in Magpie. But it is only one side of the story. This member reached quite different conclusions:
'Yesterday I was clearing the moths out of my wallet when I came across my PIE membership card and noticed it was, like my bank balance, about to expire. This set me wondering what exactly my twelve months membership of PIE had done for me.
'Probably the most obvious thing is that I now have a number of friends who, like myself, are paedophile. Also I feel more secure and no longer have a great fear of others finding out about my sexuality. This is probably just as well, as I shall endeavour to explain.
'About four weeks ago I took out a subscription to Boys International. Three days later an envelope arrived containing my first issue of B.I., some illustrated lists of other publications, and a subscription form containing my name, address and the magazine I was subscribing to. I put the copy of B.I. in a drawer and sat on the settee to look through the book lists. A couple of minutes later there was a knock at the door so I put the lists and subscription form under one of the seat cushions on the settee, and went to see who it was. Anyway for one reason or another that was the last I thought about the lists.
'That evening I was sat in the kitchen having a cup of coffee when a large van pulled up outside the house. In come two guys and promptly load the three-piece suite, book list, subscription form and all, into the van. My flat-mate had bought a new suite, sold the old one and forgotten to tell me about it. Well twelve months ago I would have been running down the road after that van trying to recover the "incriminating evidence". Instead I finished up rolling about the kitchen floor laughing my head off at the thought of some prude cleaning the "muck" out from under the cushions.
'What exactly all this proves I haven't the faintest idea. But if I should find myself down at the local nick for having the audacity to love a young boy now, I have some friends who I know will understand. I couldn't have said that last year. 4
In its present form I suppose that PIE can only help those paedophiles who at least have in them the potential for this spirit - but I like to think that, despite all the problems, this amounts to not a few of our membership.
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NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. The emerging gay movement of the early 1970s presented a challenge to established sexual mores and values and a forum for radical debate, out of which it now seems inevitable (with the benefit of hindsight) that the issue of inter-generational sex would be raised at some stage, from which paedophile groups would develop. Given such a context, it is not surprising that in the groups that did emerge there were far more homosexual than heterosexual paedophiles, though this would not appear to reflect the balance in society as a whole.
2. PIE Chairperson's Annual Report, 1975-6. [Back]
3. See p. 234. [Back]
4. Magpie, No. 7. [Back]