"In America today, it
is nearly impossible to publish a book that says children and teen-agers
can have sexual pleasure and be safe too," writes Judith Levine in
the introduction to Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting
Children From Sex (Amazon.com). The book, on which she has been
working since the mid-1990s, was rejected by one publisher after the next,
its content called "radioactive" by one of them. The University
of Minnesota Press accepted the manuscript a year ago -- a decision
it now almost certainly regrets.
description of the book reads as follows:
A radical, refreshing,
and long overdue reassessment of how we think and act about children's
and teens' sexuality.
Sex is a wonderful,
crucial part of growing up, and children and teens can enjoy the
pleasures of the body and be safe, too. In this important and
controversial book, Judith Levine makes this argument and goes further,
asserting that America's attempts to protect children from sex are worse
than ineffectual. It is the assumption of danger and the exclusive focus
on protection-what Levine terms "the sexual politics of
fear"-that are themselves harmful to minors.
Through interviews with
young people and their parents, stories drawn from today's headlines,
visits to classrooms and clinics, and a look back at the ways sex among
children and teenagers has been viewed throughout history, Judith Levine
debunks some of the dominant myths of our society. She examines and
challenges widespread anxieties (pedophilia, stranger kidnapping,
Internet pornography) and sacred cows (abstinence-based sex education,
statutory rape laws). Levine investigates the policies and practices
that affect kids' sex lives-censorship, psychology, sex and AIDS
education, family, criminal, and reproductive law, and the journalism
that begs for "solutions" while inciting more fear.
Harmful to Minors
offers fresh alternatives to fear and silence, describing sex-positive
approaches that are ethically based and focus on common sense. Levine
provides optimistic, though realistic, prescriptions for how we might do
better in guiding children toward loving well-that is, safely,
pleasurably, and with respect for others and themselves.
The book has been endorsed
by Dr. Jocelyn Elders, who wrote the foreword, and by authors Robie
Harris, James Kincaid, and Debbie Nathan. But a misleading interview with
the author in late March quickly triggered a national wave of protests
against the book, mostly coming from religious fundamentalists. The
article by Mark O'Keefe (Newhouse News Service, published in the Star
Tribune) titled "Some in mainstream contend certain cases of
adult-minor sex should be acceptable" discusses recent scientific
studies of adult-child sexual interaction.
One of these studies is the
controversial meta-analysis by psychologists Bruce Rind and Michael
Bauserman that found that negative effects of adult-child sexual contact
"were neither pervasive nor typically intense, and that men reacted
much less negatively than women." (Much
of Rind and Bauserman's work is documented here.) [Also
here] Their study has been subject of loud scientific and political
controversy (so much that the US House of Representatives eventually
unanimously passed a resolution condemning the study).
The study is cited by
Judith Levine in her book, which is described in the article as follows:
book, "Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From
Sex," is being advertised by its publisher, University of Minnesota
Press, as challenging widespread anxieties about pedophilia.
In an interview, the
book's author, journalist Judith Levine, praised the Rind study as
evidence that "doesn't line up with the ideology that it's always
harmful for kids to have sexual relationships with adults."
She said the pedophilia
among Roman Catholic priests is complicated to analyze, because it's
almost always secret, considered forbidden and involves an authority
She added, however, that,
"yes, conceivably, absolutely" a boy's sexual experience with
a priest could be positive.
"When I was a minor,
I had sex with an adult," she said. "He was one of my first
lovers. My heart was broken, but my heart was broken by a lot of boys,
too. I'd say on balance that it was a perfectly good experience."
Even with the little
information provided here, it is already obvious that this is a gross
mischaracterization. From the UMN press release, it is clear that Levine's
book discusses much more than just pedophilia. Her statement about a
relationship between a boy and a priest is abridged, and it is unclear to
which question she responded. Levine's last statement could come out of a
completely different context, e.g. statutory rape laws (how old was she
when she had sex with an adult?).
Based on this almost
propagandistic mischaracterization, a media campaign against the book
quickly followed. One of its main spokespersons is Robert Knight of the
religious fundamentalist propaganda organization "Concerned
Women for America", which is also anti-homosexual, anti-evolution
and anti-abortion. Two days after the Star Tribune story, CFI
released the following statement:
Reject Academic Cover
for Child Molesters, CFI Says
University of Minnesota to Fire Officials Responsible for Book
Advocating Adult-Child Sex
Washington, D.C. -
"Child molesters are getting a big boost toward legitimacy with the
University of Minnesota Press' publication of a book advocating sex with
children," said Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women for
America's Culture and Family Institute.
"Harmful to Minors: The
Perils of Protecting Children from Sex is every child molester's
dream--and every parent's nightmare."
who was Bill Clinton's surgeon general, wrote the foreword for this evil
tome," Knight says. "Not content to advocate for adults
teaching children to masturbate, she is giving cover for adults having
sex with kids--so long as the kids give their consent. Everybody except
for the molesters and their apologists knows that children cannot give
meaningful consent to sex. Everybody knows that children are coerced
into giving 'consent,' and that the damage can last a lifetime. The
author of this book, Judith Levine, is Exhibit A. She was molested as a
child and now advocates it for other children.
have already misused a 1998 study published by the American
Psychological Association to justify their perversion; now they will be
citing this hideous book to excuse their crimes against children.
"If the Regents of
the University of Minnesota do not act quickly to fire those
responsible, the people of Minnesota and their elected representatives
should move quickly to replace them," Knight said.
One should also note the
small notice at the bottom of the press release:
a former media fellow at the Hoover Institution, wrote and directed The
Children of Table 34, a documentary about Alfred C. Kinsey's use of
children in sex experiments, and is the author of The Age of Consent:
The Rise of Relativism and the Corruption of Popular Culture (Spence
The Children of Table 34
is a professional, expensively produced "documentary" that has
been used to discredit Alfred Kinsey's groundbreaking and unique work on
human sexuality -- because some of his data on child sexuality came from a
pedophile's personal records. As a propaganda expert, Knight was the right
man for the job of destroying another book that advocated a positive
attitude towards children's sexuality.
He managed to get his
message, which was based on a misrepresentation in another article, into
the international Associated Press wire news service, from where it was
then broadcasted to millions of homes, over websites like MSNBC, ABCNews,
CNN and others. The AP story quotes Knight as saying that "the action
is so grievous and so irresponsible that I felt they relinquished their
right to academic freedom." He calls the book "very evil",
although he admits he hasn't read it. He also claims that "this book
will aid and abet child molesters because it gives a pseudo-scientific
rationale that can be used by a defense attorney."
ABCNews, in their expanded
version of the AP story, at least allows Levine to make her case:
Levine says her quote was
misconstrued and that she does not approve sex between authority figures
such as parents, priests and teachers and the minors in their charge.
However, she argues that teenagers should be given more credit for the
choices they make when they become involved in relationships with
Levine endorses the
Netherlands' approach to age-of-consent laws. In 1990, the Dutch
parliament made sex between adults and children ages 12 to 16 legal as
long as there was mutual consent. The child or the child's parents can
bring charges if they believe the minor was coerced into sex.
Levine believes the Dutch
law is a "good model" for the United States because it
recognizes children as sexual beings who can determine their future
while not ignoring the fact that they are weaker than adults and still
need legal protection. U.S. consent laws, she says, mistakenly put all
minors under one category without recognizing their ability to pursue
a class of people categorically unable to consent to sexual relations is
not the best way to protect children, particularly when 'children'
include everyone from birth to eighteen," Levine writes.
"Criminal law, which must draw unambiguous lines, is not the proper
place to adjudicate family conflicts over youngsters' sexuality.
If such laws are to
exist, however, they must do what [social psychologist Lynn M.] Phillips
suggests about sexual and romantic education: balance the subjective
experience and the rights of young people against the responsibility and
prerogative of adults to look after their best interests, to 'know
surrounding my book is precisely what my book is about," Levine
said. "There are some real dangers [facing children] in the world,
of course. But we need to look at them realistically and separate the
real ones from the exaggerated ones."
Elsewhere, Levine also
clearly states that she doesn't think children below the age of 12 can
have positive sexual experiences with adults. "I deplore rape, sexual
abuse of children and any way that a person is forced to have sex against
their will," Levine says. "I am a feminist, and I am glad that
our legal system has laws against rape. For anybody to say I promote child
abuse is absurd."
Of course, given the
emotions already invoked by calling Levine a pedophile-defender, her
rebuttal was not enough. State Rep. Tim Pawlenty, majority leader of the
Minnesota House and Republican candidate for governor, called for the stop
of the book's release, according to the Star Tribune:
"In recent weeks,
the headlines have been filled with the stories of victims sexually
abused as children," he said in a prepared statement. "This
kind of disgusting victimization of children is intolerable, and the
state should have no part in it."
Pawlenty said Wednesday
night that he has not read the book but became upset after reading
articles about its content.
"We deserve to know
why the name of one of our most respected institutions is being
associated with this endorsement of child molestation," Pawlenty
While the UMN has so far
mostly defended its release of the book, it had reportedly received more
than 200 mostly negative responses by early April, and has now announced
to review its publishing guidelines. While the press release still defends
the book, it sends a chilling message to all those wishing to inititiate
rational discourse of children's sexuality.
What we have here is a
classical case of an attempt to kill a book before it is even released.
Apparently the rationale of current statutory rape laws, which has put
many juveniles in prison for consensual sex, as well as for sexual
abstinency education, a major cause of teen pregnancies, is so weak that
anyone arguing against it must be singled out and completely discredited
in a well-funded ad hominem campaign.
Some of Levine's previous
writings are interesting to gauge where the author is standing. For
example, in Shooting
the Messenger: Why Censorship Won't Stop Violence, she argues against
using the media as a scapegoat for school violence as was done in the
aftermath of the Columbine shootings. In A
Question of Abuse (Mother Jones 1996) she tells the tale of a
young boy who was treated -- and psychologically destroyed -- for being a
"sex offender" at the age of 9.
She describes the
"children who molest" scare, which I have already discussed in
my Right to Pleasure article. To understand the child sexual abuse scare,
the book Making Monsters: False Memory, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria
(Amazon.com) is an absolute must.
If you want to protest the
smear campaign against Levine's book, you can contact the University of
Minnesota Press to show your support:
University of Minnesota
111 Third Avenue South, Suite 290
Minneapolis, MN 55401
You can also contact the Minneapolis
Minneapolis Star Tribune
425 Portland Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55488
Of course, pre-ordering the
book will probably send the strongest message.
The attempted suppression
of Levine's book raises another question: How many books about
controversial subjects never find a publisher? What is the value of free
speech if nobody is willing to make your speech heard? Hopefully, the
Internet and books published through print-on-demand will eventually make
it possible for non-technical authors to reach large audiences
Book Advocating Adult-Child Sex Draws Howls of Protest (Fox News)
Child sex book scandal triggers review of U of M publishing arm (Star Tribune)
[Link does not work anymore]
Critics say book encourages pedophilia (USA Today) [Link does not
New book on children's sexuality causes furor (AP story on CNN), [Link
does not work anymore]
Book on kids' sexuality causes furor (AP story on MSNBC),
Furor Over Youth Sex Book (AP story on CBS)
Erik Möller 2002,
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