Chapter 7 : Home : Chapter 9
Chapter 8 - 'Consent' and 'Willingness'
It has been seen that there are philosophical grounds for according sexual rights to children, including not only the right to sex information, but also the freedom to engage in desired sexual activity, i.e. the right to say 'yes'. Does such a right impede what Farson properly acknowledged as equally fundamental, the right to say 'no'? Can children ever be considered capable of consent based on true freedom of choice?
Basic elements constituting freedom of choice arguably include:
(i) a full knowledge of all the short- and long-term consequences to which participation in a sexual act could lead;
(ii) a developed notion of which sexual activities (and partners) are exciting and desirable;
(iii) control over the situation, so that withdrawal from it can be made at any point, if so wished.
These factors may prompt some approving nods as criteria for consent, if only because they appear to rule out most, if not all, children. Giving it a moment's more thought, however, a problem arises: even adults, in embarking on a sexual encounter or relationship, cannot be sure 'where it will all end'; nor do most people enter adulthood with a fixed idea as to the activities, and people, that might turn them on the scope for experiment and discovery is a lifelong one. Only the third factor, that of control over the situation, appears to maintain its crucial importance when viewed in an adult context.
The usual mistake is to believe that sexual activity, especially for children, is so alarming and dangerous that participants need to have an absolute, total awareness of every conceivable ramification of taking part before they can be said to give valid consent. What there most definitely needs to be, is the child's willingness 1 to take part in the activity in question; whatever social or legal rules are operated, they must not be such as to allow unwilling children to be subjected to sexual acts. But there is no need whatever for a child to know 'the consequences' of engaging in harmless sex play, simply because it is exactly that: harmless.
Sex, especially the non-penetrative sex play to which child-adult activity is almost entirely confined in the case of younger children (i.e. those children of whom it can most readily be said that 'They don't know what they are doing'), is not in itself remotely dangerous unlike playing in a busy road. Nor do children need firm ideas of what a particular new experience will be like, any more than do adults trying, say, '69' for the first time: the activity may prove more, or less, exciting than they suppose, but as it is completely harmless there is no reason why it cannot be safely explored.
It will of course be pointed out that children who enter a sexual relationship blissfully and innocently unaware of sexual shame and guilt, could be in for a rude awakening when a relationship is discovered. This leaves a question. Should we protect children from sex (to avoid the consequences of the guilt and social retribution arising from it) or, alternatively, should we make the reduction of guilt a priority? Knowing the hideous consequences of guilt, and the harmlessness of sex per se, I myself don't find it a particularly difficult question to answer.
In a nutshell, there is no reason why the same criteria of 'consent' that we would apply to a young adult signing on for a nine-year term in the Army, or for a lifelong commitment in marriage, should operate at all: such criteria, which hang on mature judgement, are not necessary for the protection of the child's best interests. Indeed, they positively harm those interests by artificially restricting the child's development.
The question, then, is not whether children are mature enough to consent the issues of 'maturity' and 'consent' (in the sense of willingness based on informed deliberation) together constitute a gigantic pair of red herrings 2 but whether we can ensure that children are willing participants in a particular act.
A child's control of sexual situations can be enhanced, as we saw in the last chapter, by the openness with which sexuality is treated in society as a whole. Far from needing to be mature before having a sex life, an unthwarted sexual development helps lead to full sexual maturity, as opposed to the mere attainment of adult years.
Nevertheless, it may be felt that children's lack of maturity renders them willing to involve themselves in acts which they might not want to take part in if their defences were better developed. A lack of ability to 'read' an adult's (possibly disguised) sexual wishes and intentions, and a failure to understand that their own (merely) friendly behaviour may be interpreted as intentionally seductive, could result in children allowing things to happen 'before they know where they are'.
Eager friendliness with an adult could quickly turn to apprehension, and perhaps to passive compliance in sexual acts which were not desired. Such a situation would plainly be unsatisfactory, for although the child might theoretically be able to say 'no', she or he might (perhaps through sudden fear of the adult, as a result of his unexpected behaviour) find herself or himself in practice unable to do so.
In protecting the apprehensive child in such a case, is it necessary to overrule the willingness of other children, and to say that none can 'consent'? I believe not. It is by no means difficult for the adult in question to tell if he has the child's confidence, and he should he legally responsible for his actions: in the event of a child being unwilling, even passively so, and without having tried to deter the adult, the criminal law should he available, just as in the case of overt intimidation or violence.
As at present, it need only be proved that the act took place: there need be no distressing courtroom wrangles, as tends to happen in adult rape cases, as to whether or not there had been consent. In most cases, however, as already explained, it would be in the best interests of the child to proceed by civil injunction, rather than through the criminal courts.
The possibility that adults may tend to 'engineer' the willingness of children, that they may 'manipulate' their consent, gives rise to a great deal of unease, and needs to be considered at some length. It might be suggested, for instance, that no matter how precocious a young child's sex education has been, there has to be a first time for all her/his experiences, and at this point the child is not in a position critically to evaluate whatever an adult partner says an experience will be like, or what it will lead to.
That this is the case is an incontrovertible fact. But the interpretation to be put upon it is an entirely different matter. In our culture, the words 'disadvantage', 'manipulation' and 'vulnerability' immediately spring to mind as concomitants of the younger partner's lack of experience; in the pro-sexual cultures examined earlier, ideas roughly corresponding to our words 'guidance', 'showing how', or 'initiation', represent the prevailing way of thinking.
A glance at the way in which we think about religion, and the religious education of children, may help to put our own culture's attitudinal response into a useful perspective. At an official level, it is agreed that a child's introduction to religion is extremely important. In Britain it is enshrined in the 1944 Education Act that all children in all schools shall begin the day with an act of worship the only element in the curriculum which is insisted upon by statute.
This being the case religion being considered to be of vital importance one might have expected that there would be an equal concern in Government, at least as great as that in relation to sex, that children should not be subjected to 'manipulation' by ruthless adult salesmen offering every kind of creed; that these people should not be free to exploit the vulnerable minds of children.
For if it is true that children are incapable of making judgements about sexual relationships, how much more adept are they likely to be at judging the rival claims of Protestant and Catholic, or Jehovah's Witnesses and the Exclusive Brethren? How can a child, who is so easily persuaded to believe in Father Christmas, be expected to make sense of it? Won't she or he accept, far too uncritically, the highly contestable notion that there is a god? Why not leave the child's mind in a state of unmolested innocence until an age is reached at which intellectually valid judgements can be made?
But no. Even though this is an important issue, adults are free to fill a child's mind with any prejudice or bigotry they like, without any danger of facing a sentence for corrupting a minor, assault on a child's mind, or anything else. Children are seen as fair game for the imposition of any religious belief or value system that the adult, particularly the parents, cares to impose. As Bertrand Russell has remarked,
'One of the few rights remaining to parents in the wage-earning class is that of having their children taught any brand of superstition that may be shared by a large number of parents in the same neighbourhood.'
Why does society tolerate this? Partly, there is a vague feeling that it is better for a child to have some religion than none at all not least because most religions emphasize a restrictive sexual 'morality'! But it is instructive to note that very little is made of the dangers of manipulating a child's mind.
The dangers are demonstrably far greater than any consequence of manipulating a child towards consensual sexual activity (one need only mention Northern Ireland to remind oneself of how religious bigotry reinforces antagonism between peoples) but, quite irrationally, society cares less about it. Religious manipulation is assumed to be good and is positively encouraged; sexual manipulation (or 'guidance', 'showing how', etc.) is assumed to be bad and is stamped upon with maximal force. I shall try to show that the latter assumption is misplaced.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom, not all child-adult sex is manipulative at least, the manipulation is not always by the adult. But even if this were accepted, most people would be quick to pounce on any possibility that the child could be manipulated, or seduced, by an adult, and without necessarily thinking very deeply about it, they would automatically assume this to be against the child's best interests. In showing that 'it ain't necessarily so', reference must be made to examples of 'manipulative' situations.
Incidentally, it should be borne in mind that the very word 'manipulation' has a pejorative ring, and is prejudicial. I am content to stick with it in so far as I recognize the possibility of an adult using his experience and skill to influence a child's behaviour but it should not be assumed that this influence is bound to be exploitative or unfair.
In previous chapters, something has been said about the sexual stimulation of babies and toddlers by adults. Closely documented individual cases are rare, but it is interesting to note the attitude brought to them by those with a fundamentally anti-sexual bias.
The infancy of Louis XIII of France provides a good example. Heroard, physician to Henri IV, kept a diary, from which it appears the infant prince had a delightful introduction to sex play from the earliest age. Louis was not yet one year old:
'He laughed uproariously when his nanny waggled his cock with her fingers,' reports Heroard, which he goes on to describe as an amusing trick which the child soon copied. Calling a page on one occasion, says the diarist, he 'pulled up his robe, showing him his cock.'
'He was one year old. In high spirits he made everybody kiss his cock.' This amused them all.'
During his first three years, nobody saw any harm in touching his sexual parts. The Marquise de Verneuil 'often put her hand under his coat; he got his nanny to lay him on her bed where she played with him, putting her hand under his coat.'
Even more astonishing is this passage:
'He was undressed and Madame too [his sister], and they were placed naked in bed with the King, where they kissed and twittered and gave great amusement to the King. The King asked him: "Son, where is the Infanta's bundle?" [Louis was already engaged to the Infanta of Spain.] He showed it to him, saying: "There's no bone in it Papa." Then as it was slightly distended, he added: "There is now, there is sometimes."'
The court was amused, in fact, to see his first erections:
'Waking up at eight o'clock, he called Mlle Bethouzay and said to her; "Zezai, my cock is like a drawbridge; see how it goes up and down." And he raised it and lowered it. 3
In discussing Heroard's diary, Lloyd de Mause, the 'psycho-historian', behaves as though he simply cannot believe this evidence, and sets about trying to demolish it as the pathological fruit of Heroard's 'projective fantasies': the baby was not sexually active at all; it's just that Heroard liked to think he was; he and the other courtiers, by projecting their own sexual needs onto the child were thereby enabled to use him as a sexual plaything, against his wishes.
Given that it is a matter of extreme rarity for paedophilic men to express any sexual interest in babies, and quite rare for them to be attracted to those of less than five or six years old, it is interesting that de Mause should so readily accept that a whole number of courtiers should be subject to identical 'projective fantasies'. If there were no objective basis at all for Louis's sexual behaviour, we would be forced to conclude the most amazing statistical freak in bringing together so many infantophile courtiers in France around the turn of the seventeenth century!
It is possible that Heroard himself may have been given to exaggeration. But what is clear to me is that de Mause is a good example of a person who would be unlikely to be swayed by any evidence in favour of child-adult sex.
All he sees is the danger of manipulation, with no possible beneficial effect arising from it. In making such a judgement, he ignores a fact that thousands of nurses and parents have learnt: that tearful, screaming infants can easily be lulled into quiet, relaxed, contented ones by the simple expedient of rubbing their genitals: a sexually manipulative act by the adult if ever there was one and with an ulterior motive to boot!
But on what basis could such an act be described as either wicked, or harmful, or a contravention of the child's rights? How could someone reasonably suggest that the adult should refrain from doing it because the child was mentally incapacitated from making an informed decision? Isn't the important thing in such circumstances the clear indication of pleasure on the child's behalf the fact that it stops crying? In other words, the child is not being cheated out of his right to say 'no' if there is due regard for her or his responses to the sexual stimulation.
A baby could of course be stimulated to the extent of its being unpleasurable. Ways in which one might guard against this possibility include a social taboo, plus legal sanctions, against any form of genital stimulation of infants.
By a draconian anti-sexual emphasis of this sort, however, society would achieve (as it in fact does) a lasting repression of sexuality in children, and destructive feelings of sexual guilt lasting throughout life exactly the vicious circle from which I am suggesting society should try to break free. Less heavy-handed measures might include support for extended, non-nuclear family arrangements, in which the infant's upbringing would be less monopolized by one person than at present, and thus less subject to the idiosyncratic needs and projections of any one person. Not that there is evidence in our society for the widespread sexual abuse of infants: the pathology of Heroard, if indeed he was subject to projective fantasies, is a great rarity.
Why, one might ask, should there be such a depth of doubt and concern as de Mause exhibits over a rare and exotic case, when other types of pathological fantasy are more harmful, but less stigmatized? The most obvious case is perhaps that of corporal punishment. There is no shortage of school teachers ready to beat out the fantasized 'badness' of their charges, largely for their own gratification. It is curious that this rates as such an unobjectionable activity in our society, especially among those who furiously oppose the sexual 'corruption' of children.
Young children above the age of infancy become susceptible to manipulation of a less direct kind, characterized by deception. When children acquire language, they can be told untruths, from the relatively (though not entirely) benign Father Christmas myth, to the pernicious threat of the 'bogeyman', who comes to take away naughty children.
Sexual myths usually fall into the pernicious category, alas, so that the whole area of sexuality becomes poisonously invested with mystery and darkness and the perpetrators, far from being paedophiles, are usually ordinary parents who, because of their own sexual anxieties and conflicts, are inclined to deceive children with such classics of deception as the idea that babies are brought by the stork.
If the use of deception is a possibility for parents, it is of course a possibility for paedophiles too. A paedophile who concocts a non-sexual 'reason' for he and a small child to strip naked together, say, may succeed in arousing the child's sexual curiosity and excitement. This would quite clearly be manipulation, based on exploiting the ignorance of the child as to the adult's motives.
Supposing, by contrast, the paedophile had been scrupulously non-manipulative. Supposing, instead of playing tricks, he had simply, and openly, invited the child to 'play' sexually. Both approaches would require for their success the child's willing involvement and participation at all stages.
The fact that in the more manipulative case the participation is induced by sleight of hand is really less important than the fact that the child is relaxed and enjoying the situation. Indeed, the sleight of hand may be an effective means of enabling the situation to occur 'naturally', so far as the child is concerned, without any embarrassment or uncertainty on the adult's part.
If the child is being led, or manipulated, it is at least a benevolent manipulation, in the sense that it leads so long as the child is willing towards a pleasurable and harmless outcome. Parents constantly engage in benevolent manipulation of this sort, without fear of social condemnation: usually it is called not 'manipulation', but 'encouragement'.
Very often, parents will presume to anticipate a child's long-term wishes by ignoring, or manipulating their way around, her or his immediate wishes. For instance, in teaching a child to swim. The child may at first be tearful and apprehensive of going into the water, or beyond a certain depth. By encouraging 'pull' forces, and cajoling 'push' forces, the parent persuades the child to have a go, to not be afraid, to do that which is not at first desired. The parent does this in the full knowledge that eventually the child will relax, learn to swim, and enjoy the water.
What the sensible parent does not do is to drag his protesting six-year-old screaming towards the edge of the pool and throw him into the deep end. Interestingly enough, were he to do so, and providing the child was not allowed to drown, this would probably not qualify as a criminal offence, although for the child it could be as nasty an experience as rape. It is not an activity in which the intervention of law is thought to be necessary. There is no elaborate questioning of whether in any particular case the child actually consented to be introduced to the water, or was manipulated into consenting. It is presumed that the adult will be benevolently intentioned, and that all will work out well.
I am not suggesting that in sexual activity a child's wishes should be ignored, in the same way that a parent gets round his child's fear of the water. Given that many children in our culture grow up with a deep suspicion and fear of all things sexual, and given that there are deeply held views as to the 'sinfulness' of many sex acts, adults are morally obliged to accept the child's attitude towards sex.
A parent does not accept his child's inalienable right to be afraid of water and of swimming. That would be silly. But the paedophile does have to respect the child's fear of sex. It is the child's right to take a negative attitude, whether because she/he is genuinely afraid of sex, or because she/he simply doesn't fancy, or like, the paedophile in question, or for some other reason.
As a boy-lover, I am aware that chatting to a twelve-year-old is a vastly different matter, on average, to doing the same thing with a boy half that age. The potential for manipulation, benevolent or otherwise, by a male adult at any rate, is enormously curtailed. By this age, practically every boy has learnt a great deal.
He will be well aware of the prevailing sexual mores. No adult could con him into sexual activity by disguising his own motives. He would know too well what the grown-up was after. He would know that such people are usually looked down upon. He would know that they are described as 'queers' and 'benders', and that to go with them could result in social disgrace.
So how on earth does the adult ever manipulate his consent? The answer is, with difficulty. Those who succeed tend to be the less sensitive ones: those who can take a rebuff with a shrug of the shoulders and try their luck elsewhere. Others, and I think this goes for most of us, do not like being rebuffed. It mortifies us. Cripples us. Then it takes a bit of courage to even talk to a boy again for a while, much less to connive at his consent to a sexual act. The truth is that children of this age who become involved in homosexual acts with men do so because they want to: if they did not, they would have every opportunity to keep out of it.
To be sure, the adult may take initiatives. He may use devices to break the ice, to establish an atmosphere in which both sides know that the social and sexual barriers are down. But in order for such devices to be successful, the children have to want it to happen. One paedophile I know went to great lengths to set up a 'film show' for a fourteen-year-old boy with whom he hoped to become sexually intimate. The boy was turned on by the films, and openly masturbated himself while watching them. He would not, however, let the adult touch him. He politely explained that he wasn't interested in sex with men, and that was very much that.
Within the context of, say, a youth club, or a scout group, the paedophile working as a voluntary helper has the opportunity gradually to win the confidence and affection, and perhaps, ultimately, the erotic interest, of youngsters, over a period of months or even years. Relationships may be built up without any attempt by the adult to work deliberately towards them in fact, paedophiles in such positions not infrequently avoid giving overt expression to their erotic interests (either because they accept society's view of the 'wrongness' of doing so, or from fear of discovery), and try to content themselves with the fact that although they are sexually alienated from the young, they are at least in some degree socially integrated with them.
There are others who use the opportunity afforded by such social integration to consciously and deliberately seek sexual encounters. Over a period, they may succeed in creating an atmosphere in the group in which sexuality generally is seen to be acceptable, in which the prevailing barriers of sexual inhibition and guilt are lowered. In such a context, the 'seduction' of an individual youngster is likely to be facilitated. It is possible to view the whole, long-term process as cunningly calculating, and therefore manipulative in a mischievous way, but only if one believes it proper that youngsters should feel sexual inhibition and guilt, and that they are being cheated out of these feelings.
In relation to adolescent boys engaged in homosexual activity with men, the Dutch Speijer Committee had some sensible things to say. This was an official Dutch committee set up to advise on the state of the law concerning homosexual relations with minors. The Committee paid special attention to the use of the word 'seduction' in a homosexual context. Essentially, they said, the manoeuvring, or manipulation, described above, could be looked upon as the initial stages of 'seduction': in the later stages, children themselves cannot help but take an active role in being seduced, or else the seduction is reduced to a meaningless failure.
The Speijer Committee started from a Dutch dictionary definition of 'seduction' as:
'to lead aside or away, figuratively speaking; to lead by persuasion or delusion to a specific evil, entice; (metaphorically) allure; beguile to do something wrong, to lead astray; (more especially) to induce to extramarital copulation with or without promises (particularly promises to marry).'
The word in Dutch, therefore, appears to correspond with its English counterpart in that it implies an ethically disapproving judgement. The Committee point out that this ethical loading depends on one's attitude to extramarital sexual activity, and go on to say that the word 'seduction' is used in the Report without any prejudice of this sort. 'It can often he replaced by less loaded terms such as initiation,' they say, 'or the making and establishing of contact by adults.'
The Committee note that what is so disparagingly called seduction is in fact a wholly natural and necessary function, which ought not to be so readily decried:
'A situation in which an attempt at seduction in this sense [i.e. the sense described above] occurs is common in a heterosexual as well as in a homosexual context. A seduction situation concerning a minor can be created by either the older or the younger person; often this situation is mutually constructed. A large proportion of human behaviour and especially where the younger person is concerned, this includes their appearance, clothing and choice of their means of transport involves the creation of seductive situations and is comparable with the decoy, showing off, and sexually impressing behaviour observed in the animal world.' 4
Even more positively, the argument continues:
'It must be recognized that a society which seeks to eliminate all seductive situations as much as possible, will not encourage public moral welfare. On the contrary, it is desirable for young people of both sexes that they are able to meet and cope with such situations. A normal development requires broad possibilities of introduction, experiment, contact and initiation'
The Speijer Committee was addressing itself to the homosexual seduction of minors over the age of sixteen, rather than those in the years immediately prior to puberty. But the argument put forward in relation to seduction, whether considered in a homosexual or a heterosexual context, might be advanced just as validly in relation to rather younger children.
It is hardly possible to conceive of an official committee in Great Britain solemnly declaring its support for any form of seduction, never mind the homosexual variety. But if we accept that homosexual behaviour is no more to be frowned on than heterosexual behaviour this is an axiom of pro-sexuality then the Speijer rationale suddenly begins to appear eminently sensible.
In the passages from The Speijer Report considered above, the focus was on boys. However, girls may in fact be thought more vulnerable to a man's wiles. The man's maturity, his authority, are relevant to a much greater extent than is the case with boys. No girl of thirteen or fourteen is likely to think of a man as a 'pervert' because of his interest in youngish girls. He may be dubbed a 'dirty old man' if there is particular reason to dislike him, but, basically, heterosexual attraction towards girls in their early teens is not regarded as abnormal: there are many men who also relate perfectly well to older women and who are attracted to this age group, but who do not find themselves drawn to much younger children of six or seven.
Girls in our culture are brought up on an unending diet of romantic magazines, films, pop lyrics: the attentions of an older man would be quite likely to make a girl fall over herself to be 'in love' with him. At the same time, she may have developed from other aspects of her culture quite a strong belief that sex before marriage is wrong. She may regard the loss of her virginity as cheapening, or she may vaguely feel she is 'not ready for it'.
Given her romantic feelings, the adult, if he is unscrupulous, might try to persuade her that by giving her body to him, she can 'prove' that those feelings are the 'real thing'. He might belittle her views about chastity, and tell her that she cannot really know what life is all about until she has experienced the physical side of love. Such tactics may succeed in undermining her defences. She may later come to realize that sex is all he is after, and that he doesn't really 'love' her at all if he had, he would have waited until she felt ready, and not have pressurized her against her better judgement.
What could easily be overlooked is that the entire scenario in which virginity is surrendered as a proof of love is in itself the product of a false equation in our romantic culture: that being 'in love' means committing oneself sexually, perhaps 'for ever and ever' to one person. Restrictions upon sexuality seem to encourage this outlook. If children were accustomed to having sex play among themselves and with adults, from infancy onwards, the mistakes of this naive romanticism could be avoided. By the age of thirteen, a girl would be far too well-versed in sexuality to 'surrender herself' for the first time out of love (whether misplaced or otherwise), and the development of emotional attachments would he unclouded by sexual confusion.
This analysis brings into sharp focus the validity or otherwise of a child's emotional life, given such factors as the distorted romanticism of present-day society. It also highlights the fact that emotional decisions may creep into a youngster's perception of what is sexually desirable or admissible. These themes will be taken up fully in the next chapter, in reviewing the broader issues of power in sexual relationships.
As a final exercise in perspective on the theme of manipulation, we may consider the advice given in a recent medical textbook 5 to those doctors called upon to examine children following a discovered sexual relationship with an adult:
'If the child refuses to be examined, a process of negotiation and bargaining sometimes results in acquiescence.'
(By offering a bag of sweeties, perhaps?)
'Sedation or deferral of the examination to another visit are other alternatives, depending on the circumstances. Occasionally, none of these alternatives can be utilised successfully, these cases will require admission of the child to the hospital for examination under anaesthesia. 6
So much for the consent of the child to an examination! In the same textbook, a contributor describes the paedophile's efforts
'to persuade his victim to co-operate and to acquiesce or consent to the sexual relationship, oftentimes by bribing or rewarding the child with attention, affection, approval, money, gifts, treats, and good times. But he may be dissuaded if the child actively refuses and resists because he does not resort to physical force. His aim is to gain sexual control of the child by developing a willing or consenting sexual relationship.'
The desire for a consensual relationship is thus represented as merely a cynical combination of manipulation and bribery by the adult, although it is conceded that
'At some level, he cares for the child and is emotionally involved with him or her.'
The point is that when the consent condition is fulfilled, the rules of the game are suddenly changed and consent is no longer of any account: the paedophile simply cannot win.
Hidden in this thinking are some deeply rooted beliefs concerning power relationships between adults and children: beliefs which find a degree of expression in the assertion above that there is an aim 'to gain sexual control of the child'. This issue, a key one, is taken up in the next chapter. But if we are going to make more than a pretence of taking children seriously, they must be enabled to say yes as well as no. Children have to have a choice, and should not be bound to either an anti-sexual approach (as usually taken by parents, religious leaders,etc.) or a pro-sexual approach (usually confined to peers and paedophiles).
Ch 8 - Notes and References
'Consent is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "voluntary agreement to or acquiescence in what another proposes or desires. Consent to a course of action does not imply a mature understanding of the consequences of that course of action but merely a willingness that it should take place. In a democracy any law which proscribes consensual behaviour will need justification; if there are large numbers of such convictions for consensual behaviour, the law may need re-examination.' (R. Walmsley and K. White, Sexual Offenses, Consent and Sentencing, op. cit., p.5.) ^
2. Much has been made of puberty as a landmark in life, and it is sometimes accorded a spurious significance in the age-of-consent debate, because of a supposed connection between its attainment and the attainment of intellectual and emotional maturity.
The journal Gay Left has given some prominence to this view, in the following words:
'An age of consent, in theory at least, would seem to be meaningless only in the context of an entry into social and sexual maturity, which in turn suggests a relationship to puberty. The problem is that puberty is a process rather than a particular age, occurring roughly between the ages of eleven and fourteen, though individuals differ greatly in their physical and emotional development at this time. Together with the sexual development of the body it implies a growing awareness of the social world, particularly through greater contact with peers and older children as sources of education and experience.'
It is important to realize that this thinking embodies some confused ideas. In the first place, puberty is not a process, as is suggested: it means 'being functionally capable of procreation' (Concise Oxford Dictionary), neither more or less. This capability is one with which girls and boys find themselves virtually overnight, although development of the secondary sexual characteristics associated with it (the growth of pubic hair and so on) takes longer, and the period of acquisition is known as 'pubescence'. It is worth noting that precocious puberty has been known to occur as early as age five or six, in children who show no sign of greater intellectual or emotional maturity than their coevals. (See J. Money and P. Tucker, Sexual Signatures, op. cit.)
What Gay Left are getting at in their description of a 'growing awareness of the social world' and so on, is not puberty at all, but adolescence, which fits the thrill by definition:
ADOLESCENCE (Person) growing up, between childhood and manhood or womanhood' (Concise Oxford Dictionary).
This distinction is not a merely pedantic one. For whereas the word 'puberty' has the clear quality of a 'natural frontier' about it, with direct reference to physiological changes, the definition of 'adolescence' is irritatingly vague. It begs all the important questions about what characterizes childhood, as opposed to adulthood. In answering such questions, it might be useful to make reference to a young person's demonstrable ability to cope with certain intellectual and moral concepts, a la Piaget, but it is not necessary for arguments relating to paedophilia to become bogged down in the question of 'What is maturity?', and in ages or stages associated with maturity: most people in our culture reach their so-called maturity, whether at puberty or some other time, in a state of total mental muddle about sex.
This may, and often does, lead to emotional crises, and it is sometimes suggested that children below puberty would not have the emotional resources to cope with them. But such resources, to cope with such crises, are only necessary for those whose upbringing takes them into adolescence saddled with monumental sexual hang-ups. Adolescence is not necessarily a time of emotional crisis: in some cultures the years before marriage are sexually relaxed, and idyllically free from the emotional stresses that afflict our youngsters (See especially Y. Elfin's classic description of the Muria, in The Muria and their Ghotul, Oxford University Press, Bombay, 1947).
Children, by contrast and the younger they are, the more this applies are better equipped to relate sexually to adults with a spontaneous, unproblematic sense of pleasure in our culture, precisely because they are not mature: because they are less likely to have been damaged by society's prevailing anti-sexual mores. ^
3. Extracts from Heroard's diary quoted in Philippe Ariιs, Centuries of Childhood, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1962, pp. 98-9. ^
4. The Speijer Report (Advice to the Netherlands Council of Health concerning homosexual relations with minors, 1969 (English translation, commissioned by the Sexual Law Reform Society, p. 28). ^
5. A. Burgess et al., Sexual Assault of Children and Adolescents, D.C. Heath Lexington, Mass., 1978. ^
6. Ibid., p. 152. ^
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