Interview: Monica Pieterse
Monica Pieterse is the author of two works on paedophilia: "Pedofilie", Leiden, 1978, her Ph.D. thesis; and "Pedofielen over Pedofilie Zeist, 1982. She is a Jurist, that is, she has completed all the course work for a law degree. She has worked for the National Ombudsman Service and is at present working with the Auditing Division of the Dutch government in The Hague. After her university studies she was awarded a year and a half government grant for research on paedophilia. She said she did this research because she thought "the law was wrong, that society had a misunderstanding of these contacts, and that perhaps society and the paedophile could come closer together." This interview was conducted in English.
Paidika: You published a work in Dutch, "Pedofielen over pedofilie", in 1982. As most Of our readers would not be familiar with that research, could you briefly summarize the research and your conclusions?
Monica Pieterse: I sent out about 300 questionaires, and I got back 148. They answered the questions very openly. Some were very long, stories of their lives. I put all these answers in a computer. Then I did interviews with eighteen: eleven men, two women, four parents and one man who had a pedophile relationship as a child.
How did you find your sample of three hundred?
I put an advertisement in Sekstant, and two ads in the newspaper, and one ad in the NVSH bulletin.
Were the respondents self-chosen? Did they contact you?
Yes. I also went to a lot of congresses on paedophilia. People got to know me and told each other. It was like that.
The eleven men and two women you chose to interview in depth, how were they selected?
I knew them by name and got to know them at congresses. They were the more open and active ones. I tried to make the selection a cross section of adults. This was very difficult.
Why did you do this particular project on paedophilia?
I thought it was important for society to listen to paedophiles; to hear and understand why they had sexual contacts with children, what they feel about children. I hoped society and paedophiles would come closer to each other and so the happiness of children, paedophiles and parents would increase. Parents often react panicky when they know their children have had sexual contacts with an adult. And their reaction is very bad for the child. I hoped they would react in a better way, when they knew more about paedophilia. So, I wanted to make visible a large group of paedophiles and see what things they had in common. I made a questionaire and had the interviews. The interviews were useful because they gave a background to the answers in the questionaire. They put the answers in the right perspective. Also, I wanted to give a juridical solution to the problem of paedophilia, with a focus on the child. I thought that paedophilia being a criminal offense was a bad solution for all the parties involved. The most important one in the relationship, the most vulnerable member of the relationship is the child. But I thought that if the paedophile didn't do anything bad, why forbid it? I thought that making a criminal act of it was, and still is, a very bad solution.
The conclusions you reached, can you briefly outline them for our readers?
The last thing I mentioned, about the juridical, is the most important. You have to get rid of references to paedophilia in the penal code because it doesn't do any good and there are more than enough laws in Holland to protect the child. For example, the law forbids someone to threaten another to have sex, to do things someone doesn't want to do, and parents can have the judge forbid someone to get in touch with their child. So there are more than enough laws and solutions already if you don't want your child to have a contact with a paedophile.
Have you continued to update the research, stay in touch with these individuals or enlarge your sample?
No. I thought I knew enough about paedophilia. The thing was clear for me. I wanted to do some other things.
Have you encountered any new factors since your research to cause you to change your conclusions?
In the last four years there have been major changes in attitudes, particularly in English speaking countries, but also perhaps in the Netherlands, regarding paedophilia. Do you think the attitude is worse now than when you published your work?
It's about the same in Holland, although there is more ado about incest.
Accusations have appeared in the foreign press that Amsterdam is an awful place with child slave auctions in Dam Square. Do these kind of foreign press reports affect Dutch attitudes?
No. This has been in the papers, but it's also been in the paper that Holland isn't the source of child pornography. The average person in the Netherlands hasn't changed their attitudes in spite of what has been in the newspapers.
What is the Dutch attitude towards paedophilia?
Paedophilia is something that is there. it's not regarded as a good thing. Parents feel that paedophiles ought to leave their child alone. If it happens in a family people will start screaming and panic. I think that's bad. Maybe there's a small difference in the last ten or fifteen years. There are more publications, and articles in women's magazines, so perhaps people will be just a small bit better about this, and will think first. Then they'll start screaming. But, sexual things are easier now so perhaps there's a difference. An improvement. If slight. Now at least people say, if it's other parents and other children, lob, paedophilia isn't so bad", but if it's their child they'll react very badly.
Is there more awareness in the Netherlands of paedophilia now?
There is more awareness. And there is one big difference with ten years ago, though this difference is with the prosecutors. They won't prosecute so quickly now. Unless there is harm and no consent, a nasty smell about it: pornography or money. But for a relationship or maybe one contact, there won't likely be prosecution, and that's an improvement. I think the police have improved their behavior towards paedophiles. And twenty years ago when there was a sexual contact the police would ask the child what was done and how was it done. The child would get very nervous and upset. But nowadays the police do it in another way. They ask for a social worker or teacher. They won't react so exaggeratedly. I think that's a real improvement.
What has caused the improvement, though the society in general hasn't changed?
I think it's because sexuality in general is more in the open. And more education, more explanations of things, studies about it, research. The police are better informed about it and they know it's not alright to upset the child. It will do more harm to the child than the sexual contact.
Your study of paedophilia seems to be unique in the variations it covers: men with boys; men with girls; women with girls. This last group have been almost unstudied. It has been the official line of the American feminist movement that women cannot be paedophiles, that such people don't exist. Yet in your sample you have two women who are willing to talk about their paedophile feelings. As you looked at these different kinds of relationships, what differences did you see between, for example, men who were interested in boys, men interested in girls, and women paedophiles?
To start with the group of men. I don't think there's much difference between men with boys and men with girls. The biggest group in my study, 80%, was men with boys; 12% men with boys and girls; and about 10% men with girls. The men with girls, or with boys and girls, tended to look for somewhat younger girls than boys, so that's a small difference. As for the relationship on its own, I don't see much difference. There is a difference between men and women. But my sample contained only a very small group of women, so it's hard to judge. The questionaire was actually answered by four women. Two of the women hadn't had a relationship. One woman I think had had a relationship, but it was all very theoretical. For the men the sex was very, very important. But for the women it wasn't. They talked more about warmth, affection, love. But for the men it was focused on sex.
The focus on sex-was this true for both the men with boys and the men with girls?
Did you study the results of sex on the children?
No. It was nearly impossible to get in touch with the children. Also, Theo Sandfort had done such interviews with the children. So I thought his work was enough. (Sandfort's research has been published in Dutch under the title Het seksuele aspekt van pedofiele relaties: Ervaringen van jongens by the Sociological Institute, State University, Utrecht, 1981, and in English as The Sexual Aspect of Paedophile Relations: The experience of twenty-five boys by Pan/Spartacus, Amsterdam, 1982: ed.)
Did you notice any differences in the way these groups established relationships? For example, men interested in boys can often meet the boys at sports events and such but it's harder for a man to initiate a relationship with a girl. Is there a difference in that area?
I think there's a difference, because the girls tend to be a bit younger and it's harder to get in touch with a girl of nine or ten than boys of twelve or thirteen, because they are more with adults and the boys are going out more on their own. But that was all.
Does society react differently to these groups, because men with boys share something of homosexuality? Are man-boy relationships condemned more, do you think, because there is a double prejudice against same sex relationships, as well as intergenerational relationships?
People think homosexual relationships are bad. But also, the thought of such a small girl with a grown man with a big penis-that's very bad to people too.
Isn't it very unusual to find women who are willing to talk about their paedophile relationships? Outside of the four in yours sample, have you found any others?
I didn't find any others. These four were in the NVSH. Their groups talk a lot about sex and women don't like that, so most of the women stay away. How can you trace them? I'm sure there are other women.
Could you tell us more about how the women's attitudes differed from the men's?
These four women could have sex with other women, or with men, so there wasn't a need to have a sexual contact with the child. They could do it with an adult. But the men couldn't do it with an adult, so they had to have sex with the child. For these women there was always an escape. They were more omni-sexual. Because sex wasn't so important to the women these contacts with children were more "normal". Society wouldn't even call them paedophile. It was just "lovely feelings". So, perhaps there are lots of women who have these kinds of feelings towards children but if it's not sexually expressed, it's hard to trace or see. When you see a woman kissing a child it's "normal", but a man kissing a boy on the street-well!
We've spoken of the negative attitudes even in the Netherlands on the part of society about paedophilia. From the interviews or the questionaire, how did these negative attitudes affect the paedophiles' understanding of themselves? How did they react to it? Were they, as a group, more self-condemning? Were they more militant?
The younger were more militant, proud of it. On the whole, ten years ago they were more afraid and felt bad about it. It was on their conscience. Nowadays, they are more militant. It's like the line homosexuality is taking.
One of the frequent attacks made on paedophilia is that there are unequal power balances in the relationships. From your interviews or the questionaire, how did you find power was experienced and felt by each of the parties?
As for the child's attitude, I only spoke with one adult who had had a relationship when he was a child. He was very ambivalent about the sexual part. He loved and trusted the paedophile. He could speak about anything with him. But he was very uneasy about the sex. He was afraid of it, to give himself. But he had a religious upbringing, and that was twenty years ago. Sex was something to exchange. He got love and affection, and so on. He gave sex. But, otherwise, he liked it but he didn't dare to like it. So it was a problem. Well, that was twenty years ago and today people are more relaxed about sex. So, perhaps the situation has changed, though I think it still might be like that in quite a few relationships. The child wants to have love and affection in the first place. He will give in to the sexual part because he knows that the paedophile loves it and it gives the child some grip on the paedophile. Also, there are lots of boys in puberty who love to do sexual things with men, and they feel the adult loves to do that. So, I think that the power is divided, both parties have some cards. Of course, the adult knows clearly what he wants, and the child frequently just feels it or dimly knows it.
You had also interviewed the parents in four families where the children were involved with paedophiles. Did you hear from them Of any feelings of powerlessness on the part of the children ?
No, I didn't hear about that. The children were very closed about the sexual part. It was a very private thing. Also, there wasn't sexual activity in every relationship. What I think though is that the power is divided. The adult knows what he is doing and is gradually working towards sex. But the children don't know exactly what the paedophile wants. They know he wants something so they try it out. The child knows he has something to give with sex. In that situation there are always children who blackmail the paedophile who is in need of sex. And there are paedophiles who blackmail the child who is in need of love and affection. These, of course, are very bad situations. But on the whole the power is divided. just as it is in most relationships.
How conscious of their power were the paedophiles themselves? Did they talk about the realization of power they held in a child's life and their responsibility for it?
Yes. They felt very responsible for that part of the relationship. They spoke a lot about it. But I don't know in practice, in the relationship or in making the contacts, if they always are so responsible. But they speak a lot about it.
Many attacks on paedophiles claim they aren't even aware of this, that they simply wield power unthinkingly. It's good to hear from your research that the community is aware of this.
Yes, it's like that in the Netherlands.
We're curious about the child saying 'no' - about the child's ability to say no to sex. Were the paedophiles creating an atmosphere in the relationship where the child could say 'no'? Were there situations where the child couldn't say 'no'?
That's more a question for Theo Sandfort. But I found, yes, the child could say 'no' in these situations. I don't think the paedophiles I talked to would do harm to the child. They sincerely loved the child. Especially having sex with the child but they wouldn't do any harm. So, the child could say 'no'. Or just stay away and not come back. The child has a lot of power in that way. And because he can speak to his parents, or to his friends.
Could you clarify one thing: in your sample do you think the parents always knew about the sexual relationship with the child?
No. Some knew and some didn't. 1 asked the question but it was hard to get clear answers because some paedophiles had many many relationships.
In Dutch the word "relatie" can be translated as "contacts", implying just sexual encounters, or "relationships", which implies in English an ongoing commitment. How many paedophiles were carrying on relationships as opposed simply to contacts, and in the course of your research did you notice any differences in the kinds of persons who carry on relationships as opposed to those who just seek contacts? Any qualitative differences?
That I don't know. Some had hundreds of contacts; some were very occupied with sex and not relationships. But that was only a small group. And other paedophiles search for real relationships.
You had earlier stated that children would be better off if the laws stigmatizing sexual contacts between paedophiles and children were eliminated. How did this conclusion grow from your research?
I didn't arrive at that conclusion from my research. But my doctoral thesis was a bibliographical study on paedophilia. I had read all the research too, and that tended in the direction that making paedophilia a criminal offense was not good.
How many paedophiles in your sample, both the interview sample and the general sample, had had legal problems because of their paedophilia?
Let's see, my research says 43% were in touch with the police and a judge. Perhaps those paedophiles who have been in touch with the law are more open about it, they don't have anything to lose.
We notice that you don't deal with incest cases, and there seems to be a lot of confusion in society between paedophilia and incest. How do you see incest as related to and different from paedophilia? Both of them involve sexual contacts with children, but how do they differ?
I don't think there's a relationship between the two. They are totally different things. Paedophiles focus on the child. They love the child. But in incest relationships the men and women who have the incestuous contacts aren't attracted especially to children. They normally have sexual contacts with adults, but the situation in their families makes them have sex with someone in the family: the child, because that is the easiest. They aren't focused on children, as the paedophile is. Also, the child can't say no in incest situations. It's the family setting, the adult not focused on children, it's a totally sexual act. There is no relationship. It's an easy thing to do. These are a few important differences.
How should these differences be reflected by the laws dealing with each? If the laws stigmatizing paedophilia were removed, would it still be necessary to have incest laws?
There are such laws in the Netherlands already. If the children are in your care, in your power, if you are a teacher let's say, you can't have sex with the children, if you're already in a power situation with them. That's the way it works in Dutch law. I think it has to stay like that.
One of the differences then that you see is this area of consent: that the child cannot say 'no' in an incest situation. We did speak of consent earlier. But now: what do you see consent to be for a child in a paedophile relationship?
It's a difficult question. If there is a real possibility that the child can say 'no' - if the child has the ability to say no and still keeps the contact with the man - then he is consenting.
So, to clarify your criterion, it is that if the possibility to say 'no' is there, and not even necessarily the ability to say an informed 'Yes', then there is consent.
Yes, I would agree with that.
Is there a difference between informed consent and just consent?
Yes. There was a commission here in the Netherlands, the Melai Commission, that tried to make that distinction. You know, that for true consent in a paedophile relationship the child has to sign on the dotted line, something like that. But why should the sexual relationship harm, do harm to the child twenty years later? That was the kind of harm they were trying to say must be guarded against. If your parents eat your pet rabbit, that will do a lot of harm too. I think it is very difficult to trace harm. There are so many children who have lousy parents and don't get any affection. That's very bad when you are a child. The society only seems concerned about the sexual part. Why is that the most important thing? I don't know.
A number of the attacks on changing the age of consent laws come from English-speaking feminists who talk about the fact that the male is so sexually aggressive-which is one of the things, by the way, that is shown in your research-and the need to protect female children from male sexual aggression. Do you have any response to that real bad cases there is the law, and if the law keeps concern? if we remove all the laws against paedophile behavior will it give free rein to all those men with girls? No, it's nonsense. Those women don't know any thing about it. As for real aggression there are enough laws to protect the child. Parents haven't studied paedophile behavior either, otherwise they would be more careful in their behavior toward their children. In terms of changing the law, removing the stigma against paedophilia-do you have any suggestions how this can be done?
By information. Articles in women's magazines. Changing the public perceptions. The same direction taken by homosexuals in changing the laws.
Will the AIDS crisis affect the public perception Of paedophilia?
I don't know, but I don't think so. Paedophilia is such a small group. Perhaps it will change the attitude towards sexuality in general, but not specifically to paedophilia.
Regarding parents' reactions: you described earlier how there would be a big ado. Do you think there would be an option after that-for it to calm down and the parents to have an acceptance of paedophilia?
It's more possible now than ten years ago for there to be something after the hysteria. But it depends on the people involved.
There is a proposal for the change of the law here in the Netherlands, proposed by COG for the Minister of justice, to decriminalize consenting sexual acts with boys 12 and over. Do you think this has a chance of passing?
I think, with all this talk about incest, that this is not such a good time for changes, or that the changes have such a good chance. I think there's a small chance, but a very small chance. But, even if it's twenty years for changes to come, it's the prosecutors that matter. And that is better already. So, the law will be a dead letter. And for being applied as it is now applied, well, it won't be so bad then.
Some final questions. From your interviews could you distinguish qualities that would make for good or healthy paedophile relationships? First, what do you define as a good or healthy relationship, and then, how can paedophiles arrive at that?
It's like a normal relationship. The paedophile has to accept his sexuality, that sex is not the most important thing in the relationship, but that the person is the most important thing. It's the same in all relationships. The paedophile has to focus on the child and not on the genital part. He has to focus on the personhood of the child. Also, this kind of sexuality is better in the open. The paedophile needs to have friends and to discuss this. Also, it's better if the parents know. If a paedophile behaves like that, it's an improvement. There is a group of young paedophiles who are like that now. I spoke with a few of them. They are the more militant ones.
Again, from your studies, was there any specific advice you would give paedophiles as to how they should create these healthy relationships, and healthy attitudes for themselves.
Yes. Don't hide your sexuality. Try to let it happen in the open. Speak to the parents. Not the first week; maybe three months later, I don't know exactly. Try to be friendly with the parents. You don't have to tell them the sex part on the first time. Go to the parents and talk with them and when they have accepted you as a person then it's easier for them to accept you as a paedophile. Don't focus so much on the sexual side. It's not so necessary now. Twenty years ago this part was a very big problem and so a lot of paedophiles focused on sex. If you start with a focus on the relationship, and think about the person of the child, it will be alright.
What should the paedophile keep in mind about society?
II think that in the U. S. if a small girl is loved it is the same thing as a small girl being raped. There's no difference there. But here in Holland, if someone is paedophile the prosecutor says to go join the NVSH paedophile work-group. And that is healthier, a healthier environment. But you know, I don't always think paedophiles are acting so wisely. They are acting too militantly and they don't want to understand society. It's not so good, this. You have to try to understand, to have a little understanding of society's attitudes about this, to be wise.