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Chapter 9 - Power and Equality
Much disquiet about paedophilia derives from the fact that child-adult relationships are between unequal parties. Adults are almost invariably much bigger and stronger than children; by definition, they are older, and their vastly greater skills and knowledge, their status in society – including the relative power and independence afforded by their earning power – and their experience of human relationships, may appear to lend them so much authority in the eyes of children as to give them an 'unfair advantage'.
This disparity of size and power must inevitably, it may be thought, create a potential for dominance and exploitation: a potential which some feminists have anxiously compared with the exploitation of women by men in our society.
Not all women see this power relationship as necessarily a problem though. Having researched paedophilia for a higher degree thesis, Jane Gale has written.
'Sexual acts between children are often considered exploratory and are consequently acceptable. Between child and adult the act is not considered exploratory, but rather a power relationship as the adult has a greater life experience and a greater propensity for evil and by his superior physical and mental strength may harm the child far more than another child could. It must be remembered that the adult, if he has a greater propensity for evil; also has a greater propensity for good. If a relationship should be deemed unacceptable because of the unequal distribution of power, then most heterosexual adult relationships are unacceptable. The greater life experience of the adult may be more beneficial to the child than a relationship with someone of his own age.' 1
In her thesis, Jane Gale went so far as to advocate the abolition of Britain's laws against consensual child-adult sex.
Those who see only a negative potential in power discrepancies should bear in mind that there is a comparable discrepancy in the parent-child relationship – in which women, as mothers, may sometimes with justice be dubbed the oppressor. Every time a mother makes an 'ageist' assumption that her child isn't old enough to do something she or he wants to do (regardless of her or his actual development), that she or he needs 'protecting' from a new experience, when in reality she or he needs freeing, needs to spread her or his wings, the mother is being oppressive.
Similarly, the psychological need of many women to keep their children as children, rather than letting them develop, is often an oppressive fact during those children's later childhood and early adolescence, and it can in extreme forms go on well into adulthood. This type of oppression is common enough, but the sexual constriction of children in early childhood by their mothers is much more than common – it is all but universal in Western cultures.
In the Freudian formulation, little boys fear that their fathers will castrate them, but in fact it is generally mothers who take upon themselves the role of imposing sexual taboos. It is the mothers who tell their little boys (and girls) the places where they must not touch themselves, the parts they must not play with. And if the barriers against masturbation in infancy are gradually being broken down, mothers still reinforce prohibitions against guilt-free sex play with age-mates, to say nothing of the incest taboo and the prohibition of sex with adults.
It is the mothers who must answer for the 'complexes' which are the result, and which give our culture its characteristically guilt-ridden flavour. Father may appear superficially to be the stern law-giver in the family, but mother is the law-giver-in-chief to both girls and boys in the formative early stages, and her threatened capacity to withhold love is a far more potent weapon in fashioning what Freud called the 'super ego', or castrating conscience, than any sanction wielded by the father.
The fact that there are oppressive elements in motherhood does not of course tell us that motherhood should be done away with. The fact that a mother's relationship with her child is not an equal one does not mean that it is inherently untenable or undesirable; the child, the lesser party in terms of power in this relationship, stands to gain from the inequality: it could not be mothered by another baby who was its equal. Immature mothers are not the best ones.
The disparity in size and power between parent and child creates a potential for abuse: a mother could not batter a baby as big as herself. But, on the basis that parent-child relationships are generally positive (and, in addition, given that safeguards can be built in, such as according rights to children) we accept that inequality is simply in the nature of the thing. In itself, it is not an aspect on which we would focus our attention in determining whether a particular mother-child relationship was good or bad.
I would like to see paedophilic relationships looked at in a similar light, because I believe that the comparison with the parent-child relationship is in most cases more appropriate than that with adult sexual relationships. Another model, made much of in J.Z. Eglington's Greek Love, is that of teacher-pupil – the mentor relationship. Why should these models, traditionally asexual as they are (in our culture), be appropriate? Essentially because, notwithstanding the sexual element of paedophilia, the affectual structure of a paedophilic relationship, so far as the child is concerned, is more like that between parent and child, or between teacher and pupil, than between lovers.
Sometimes the child feels 'love' for the adult, in a romantic sense; more often, in the case of pre-adolescent children, the affection for the adult is not different in kind to that which it would feel for a parent. On the adult's side there may, of course, be romantic, essentially non-parental feelings, but in any discussion of the impact of the relationship on the child, it makes sense to take as one's model that which best fits the child's perceptions.
Despite the inappropriateness of trying to measure up paedophilia against an idealized model of 'equal lovers', the arguments relating to power and equality remain immensely important, and it is necessary to examine them in some depth.
Jill Richard, in an article for the Radical Therapist, 2 sums up the issues with admirable clarity, and begins by suggesting that
'Children can ... explore sex mutually without the ulterior motives of a woman trying to catch a man or a man trying to trap a woman. Although kids may learn the sexual power "games" that adults play, the patterns of sexual exploitation are not as well developed in children's relationships. Sex between children of similar ages is likely to be more equal than sex between adults.'
Despite going on to develop a fundamentally anti-paedophilic line, she continues:
'It is true that children are stifled by not being allowed to experience their full sexuality (whatever that may be). It is also true that just because some children are hurt by relationships with adults, these sexual relationships should not be denied to all children. That would be like eliminating cars because children sometimes get hit by them.'
She even feels (rightly) that sex with children can have the virtue of being tension free:
'I agree that sex between adults and children could involve less tension than sex between adults. For adults this is true because children tend to be less inhibited about sex than adults.'
Beyond this point, Ms Richard and I part company, but in order to do justice to her view, it is necessary to quote her at some length:
'However, for kids, although the sex itself may not be any more tense than with other kids, if we look at it in terms of the relationship as a whole it is more complicated. Children are innocent in sex, not because they are unaware of their sexuality, but because they are unaware of the type of sexual (power) politics that occur in adult relationships.
'Because of their past relationships, adults entering any new relationship have lost the innocent belief that sex is a mere act. (Implications of sex include the complications of pregnancy, increased psychic and physical vulnerability, etc.) Adults have developed complicated defences and various power tactics (e.g. subtle manipulation, seductiveness, guilt-tripping or overt aggression). Children cannot see through these defences, nor clearly understand why they are needed. Thus children are left defenceless against adults' "premeditated" sex.
In addition, children see adults, especially males, as authority figures. Children know that they must respect adults' desires or they will be punished. An adult and a child are not equals in size, economic independence, social experience, knowledge of interpersonal politics, sexual experience, nor the expectation that the other will respect their wishes. How can we expect an equal relationship to develop? If it does, I think it will be due to the benevolence of the adult, not the child's control of the situation. This then does not truly liberate the child (i.e. give him/her power), but rather reinforces his/her dependence on adults.'
Let's look at this more closely. First of all Jill Richard's point that 'children can ... explore sex mutually without the ulterior motives of a woman trying to catch a man or a man trying to trap a woman.' Quite what she means about a man trying to trap a woman it is difficult to say. Is she talking about marriage? Or about rape? About her emotional enslavement without him getting 'tied down', or what?
These distinctions are important, because if we are going to talk about the power politics of relationships, we have to know what the politics are – what they are designed to achieve. Otherwise, how can we see whose interests are in fact being achieved and whose are being trodden upon?
The phrase 'a woman trying to catch a man' is much more familiar. Traditionally, it means trying to catch a man in marriage; to inveigle him into committing himself into a life-long contract, to lure him into providing her with emotional and economic security. Jill Richard and other feminists would doubtless agree that the politics of 'catching your man' are self-defeating, leading the woman into self-imposed bondage, dependency and inferior status. The implications for the man of the woman's success in making her catch are also a matter of male regret: in winning a woman's love, in winning regular sex, he pays the heavy price (usually too heavy, he feels) of being responsible or having commitments.
'Responsibility' and 'commitment' are in fact distinctively key words of adult life and often relate to matters outside personal relationships: a manager may have 'a lot of responsibility'; a priest may have a 'great sense of commitment' to the Church. Children (and the elderly) have lower status because they do not have such important responsibilities and commitments, and are considered incapable of discharging them.
We have seen that children, especially older children and adolescents, are kept artificially without responsibilities which given a chance they could discharge. But the mistake is to assume that children in a child-adult sex relationship even need to have a capacity for commitment or responsibility. They do not need to be emotionally mature.
Faced with a woman who uses her personal-political art to get a man to sign on the dotted line of a life-long marriage contract, a man does need such maturity (and often hasn't got it). He needs to be able to make subtle judgements about whether he and she are going to be suited to each other even when, in years to come, they may find each other a little less physically compelling. Notoriously, when people are romantically in love they are incapable of making such decisions sensibly: they become blind to the fact that because they 'love' each other now, this happy state may not last indefinitely.
As Denis de Rougement has eloquently argued, 3 marriages based on the ideal of romantic love are built on shaky foundations, and the mere fact that a couple are adult when they make their decision does not alter this. In essence, the decision to marry needs the same qualities, though to a much greater degree, that are required for decision-making in other aspects of adult life. Marriage is not so different from a hire-purchase contract. You don't sign unless you can keep up the payments. And you don't know your capacity for keeping up the payments unless you first have experience in handling money (or in marriage, the opposite sex) and your judgement is mature. Insufficiently mature judgement, it hardly needs saying, can land one with a great deal of misery and hardship.
To engage in an erotic act does not, as already noted, involve decisions of this order. The quality of predictive wisdom is not needed. All the child in such a relationship needs to think about – and she or he is capable of doing so – is whether the act is pleasurable. It is a myth that a pleasant experience will lead to a lifetime of consequences that the child doesn't know about. It is a myth that the enticements of an ensnaring adult will commit a child to the unknown, to some dark bourn from which she or he cannot return. There is no formal commitment (though there may be an emotional one): the adult doesn't ask the child to marry him. The younger partner, and the elder, remain free from obligations enforceable at law.
Not all sexual politics, or even most of them, are about marriage, it will be argued. But they do tend to revolve around the commitment implied in 'love' – the principal characteristics of which include 'psychic vulnerability' (a phrase coined by the radical feminist Shulamith Firestone and echoed by Jill Richard), of which the chief 'political' by-products are jealousy and possessiveness.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, it was the height of fashion to be a sexual revolutionary, a 'swinger', a wife or husband swapper, a group-sex, happy-go-lucky all-round fun-lover. The name of the game was to have sex without guilt. To enjoy the bodies of others, and let others enjoy one's own, without the essentially selfish aspect of trying to own the person inside the body, without trying to trap her or him into a 'heavy', committed relationship, which would serve only to shackle a partner in a physical and emotional chastity belt for much of the time.
If only people would let their partners go when they wanted to, instead of expending a lot of emotional energy on keeping them away from rivals, then all would be OK. Everyone would have a lot of sex fun. Everyone would be spontaneously warm and loving to everyone else, not exclusively to one closely-guarded body-and-soul mate.
The trouble is that in an adult context the issues are not nearly as simple as many people liked to pretend they were, or really thought they were. Some genuine, truly generous-hearted people, believed that the selfish aspects of possessive love could be broken if only people would trust each other: trust the stranger as much as the known quantity: trust the wife's newly acquired boyfriend to be as unpossessive as oneself, so that one would not be in danger of 'losing' her, only 'sharing' her. Some people managed to make it work.
Others saw the pitfalls, the potential for betrayal, the double-dealing in sexual diplomacy. They saw the fact that smooth and cynical operators of the new freedom could get themselves a lot of sex all over the place and still keep one person as their special possession. Or else someone might genuinely take the theory to heart, only to get upset when a favoured partner's freedom began to result in him getting cut out of the action. And then, what about the need for stability and commitment in bringing up a family?
It may be that a degree of selfishness and jealousy is necessary or at least inevitable, in any adult sexual relationship. In other words, one cannot have sex without relationships and all the complications thereof. As Jill Richard put it:
'Because of their past relationships, adults entering any new relationship have lost the innocent belief that sex is a mere act.'
What doesn't seem to have occurred to Jill Richard is the very obvious point that children are not adults, and that the type of politics from which it may be impossible to escape in adulthood do not necessarily apply to children. The men in boy-man relationships know that most of the boys are not going to grow up gay: they are Ariel spirits, happy for the moment to give and receive affection and sex play, but soon they will fly away to girls and adulthood. One might as soon try to catch the wind as tie them down in a heavy, exclusive, jealous relationship. They'd be off and away before you could say 'sexual politics'.
What, one may ask, of the boys who are gay? Who themselves seek a lasting relationship with one man? Or what about the children who have been so starved of affection before meeting 'their' paedophile that the thought of leaving him is intolerable? What about the thirteen-year-old girl who falls desperately in love with an older man? Aren't they all vulnerable to the adult's sexual politics?
The question only has to be asked for one to sense a paradox in the answer: if a youngster, for whatever reason, feels a desperate need for a particular adult, yes that leaves them 'psychically vulnerable'; yes that leaves them open to emotional exploitation. It will lead them to desire or expect that they will obtain possession of the older loved one, that they will have a proprietorial claim over him.
In this, they are open to disappointment if the adult's attitude turns out to be more casual than theirs. But the very fact that they feel the need – and it may be a very deep need – for such a relationship, prompts one to ask whose business it is to deprive them of any chance of it? The paradox is that if there is a danger of being emotionally bruised, there is also the hope of something much more positive: the hope of being loved, of being valued with a warmth that may never have played a part in that young person's life before.
Personally, I wouldn't like to be a parent responsible for coldly squashing such a young love. I wouldn't want to say to a thirteen-year-old daughter, 'What do you see in the old goat? He's only after one thing, and I'm not going to let you see him again!' That kind of peremptory, imperious parental authority is all too familiar. Wise counsel has its place, but truly wise counsel would admit that the child has rights: rights to an emotional life which admits the possibility of fulfilment in love, just as it necessarily admits (for adults as much as for children) the possibility of failure.
It should also be realized that the danger of a child being emotionally bruised by a relationship with an adult is a possibility even if sex never enters into it. A friend of mine – we'll call him Bill – went for a long holiday in Malta. Bill is a very likeable and perfectly 'normal' heterosexual, whose main passion in life is angling. In the first week of Bill's stay on the island, a boy of nine or ten came to watch him fishing. Over the next six weeks or so the lad was his constant companion.
When the time came for Bill to return to England, the child wanted to go with him. When told this was impossible, he did everything in his power to persuade Bill to stay. There was a scene that was not merely tearful, but anguished – hysterical even – like those harrowing scenes we associate with a court that awards custody of a child to the 'wrong' parent.
Bill was astonished and appalled. He had no idea how much the boy had fallen for him. One does not know why he felt such a bond with Bill, or what deep need inside the boy Bill was at least partly fulfilling. What is clear is that the trauma of parting cannot be attributed to the effects of sexual seduction, or to any 'manipulation' by the adult. There had been none of either.
In juxtaposing two entirely different situations – the free-as-the-wind Ariel characters and those caught in love-dependency, it can be seen that power, in paedophilic as in other relationships, doesn't necessarily reside with the elder party. It depends on the circumstances, especially on which partner needs the other most.
One might even propose, as a law of human nature, that power in a relationship resides with the party that needs the relationship less. If, for one party, the continuance of the relationship is a matter of indifference – if she/he can easily get affection, or sex, or whatever the partner can give him, from someone else, if the particular partner in question has no great charismatic pull on him – then it is he who holds all the aces in the power game, especially if the other partner is desperately keen.
If both parties feel they need the relationship a great deal, the power politics may well become very much more complex; one only needs to mention the scope this would imply for the use of a cunning diplomatic technique like bluff to appreciate this: a partner who is good at hiding his need for the other, at affecting indifference, may by so doing manage to get his own way disproportionately.
Surprisingly, the successful deployment of this and other power-play techniques depends less on the age and sophistication of the partner who goes in for them than on individual personality. Quite young children can learn the major techniques of inter-personal power play: the average five-year-old can operate the diplomacy of Metternich on a mini-scale. He can 'divide and rule' his parents by playing one off against the other.
Let us look at the power principle at work in a paedophile relationship. I know of one case in some detail which illustrates a number of points particularly well, in relation to both the corrupt and benevolent use of power: with most of the corruption coming from the younger parties! The paedophile – we'll call him Peter – was a sensitive, well-meaning young teacher, given to much agonizing about the overall impact on a child that any paedophilic relationship might have: the effect not just on the child's sexual development, but on his capacity to grow up as a caring, considerate person. He was self-consciously didactic, a believer in moral education, not just in the classroom, but in all his dealings with children.
He was reluctant to become involved in erotic relations with his pupils, partly because he accepted the conventional ethics of being 'in a position of trust', but also because of an undercurrent of anxiety that his classroom authority would be undermined. Not that he was a heavily authoritarian figure, far from it. His pupils knew him as a kind and gentle man, and some took advantage of the fact that he was 'soft'. He didn't want to be both 'soft' and vulnerable to the emotional blackmail that any 'special friends' in the classroom could impose upon him.
But he did allow himself relationships outside school, on the odd occasions that luck brought children into his life. One of these was when he met two boys at a pub, of all places. He had been drinking outside in the pub garden during a warm summer's lunchtime in the school holidays. Two boys had been wrestling in the grass nearby and had noticed that he was looking at them in an interested way.
'Let's have a sip of your beer, mister,' one of them said.
The boys' parents weren't in evidence. Peter allowed them a gulp each and began chatting to them. Both boys, Robert, aged eleven, and Paul, ten, were lively urchins, with little to do in the long summer weeks. Both came from large families whose parents had taken to turning their respective tribes out of the house first thing in the morning with just enough pocket money for a packet of crisps for 'lunch', and orders not to come back until tea time.
When Peter said he was thinking about going over that afternoon to do some work on his cabin cruiser on the canal, he wasn't surprised that they begged to come along. Much of that long summer holiday was spent with the boys on the boat, and there were expeditions to the swimming baths, funfairs and anything else that took their fancy. When things went well, they went very well: given a task to do on the boat – painting for instance – they would work hard, unprompted, for a long time. They were occupied, and contented. Sometimes when Peter treated them they could be embarrassingly free with their affection – to the extent of kissing and hugging him in public.
Yet within a day or two of meeting them, Peter became cripplingly aware of how conditional their affection was – conditional on the amount of ice-cream, soft drinks or rides on the fair he was prepared to pay for. And as they were never satisfied before they'd stuffed or ridden themselves totally sick, there tended to be problems!
He couldn't get over to them the idea that their incessant demands for more and more of everything were greedy and unreasonable. He had an idea of why they were so greedy: it was as though they couldn't believe their luck in finding a goose that laid such golden eggs, and they had to get as many eggs as they could while supplies lasted. There was a real sense, and Peter was under no illusions about it, in which the goose himself meant nothing. He was just a provider, an egg factory and not really a person at all. They couldn't understand, and didn't even attempt to understand, why he should want to spend his time or money on them.
Peter liked to think his own motives could not be reduced simply to the fact that he fancied them like fury – particularly Paul, a wiggly, skinny little eel of a boy, with glossy black hair and big brown eyes. But as the days slipped by, he couldn't deny in himself the feeling that his affection for the boys was becoming rather conditional too – they were ripping him off for all they were worth and he wasn't getting anything sexually, except their frustrating proximity. He felt himself being more cautious with his treats. Was it because he was anxious not to 'spoil' them? Or was there a hint of real meanness growing out of his resentment that 'nothing was happening'?
One day when he was out shopping with Paul, he asked the boy outright whether he had ever wondered why he had taken up with the two of them.
'Because you're a nice man, and you like us,' said Paul ingenuously.
'What if,' continued Peter hesitantly, 'what if I told you there's more to it than that. That even a nice man can sometimes like doing things that other people think are naughty'
'Like playing with little boys' willies.'
Paul stopped in his tracks, and stared ahead of him. Big tears welled up immediately.
'What's the matter?' said Peter, knowing full well what was the matter.
'I thought you were a nice man,' sobbed Paul.
'Well, I hope I am,' Peter muttered unconvincingly, not feeling like a nice man at all. 'I'm sorry. I didn't think you'd mind. I won't mention it again. Honestly. Come on, dry your eyes. People will wonder what's the matter.'
Peter was ruefully forced to acknowledge to himself that there was more to at least one of the little rip-off merchants than he had supposed. He had made the mistake of reading more 'adult' cynicism into Paul's greediness than perhaps was there. He could see now why Paul had taken to calling him 'daddy'. It wasn't just an affectation designed to bolster his esteem and hence get more sweets and treats out of him. That would have been far too subtle for Paul. It was genuine. He really needed a new 'daddy'. And what had Peter done? Just butchered the child's naive faith in him, that's all. Just put one more wall between him and his ability to ever trust anyone. The thought made him hate himself in a way that he hadn't for a long time.
It was a feeling that didn't last as long as he supposed. The next day, Robert and Paul called at his house together, as usual, both as bubbly as ever. Before very long, the younger one said, 'Peter, you know what you were saying yesterday? Well, if we let you, how much would you give us?'
Peter couldn't resist. He knew it was outright corruption, but with the boys making the invitation it didn't seem very evil to him. In fact, the offer made him feel a good deal better about Paul's tears the day before: Paul may have been disillusioned, but at least he wasn't agonizing over it for too long. For pocket money, they let Peter masturbate them.
Robert always appeared to be indifferent, just lying back placidly, accepting whatever Peter did. The only reason Peter continued to 'have' him was to prevent any division between the boys on account of unequal treatment. The only time Robert was at all sexually aggressive was in the swimming baths, oddly enough, where he would squeeze Peter's penis underwater – probably, Peter thought, he felt safe in the water, in control of what would happen in such a public place. Paul was much the more responsive of the two in bed.
Despite being uninterested in Peter's penis – though on one occasion he and Robert together had asked to see him ejaculate – he was sensitive enough to Peter's touch, so that masturbation was accompanied by little verbal bursts like 'That's nice!', 'That feels good!' But if left alone with Peter for too long – while Robert was downstairs watching TV – he would begin to show signs of anxiety, as though deep down he didn't trust Peter, as though he was worried that Peter would want to do some ill-defined something else. Perhaps buggery was at the back of his mind, or perhaps he was just worried that Peter wouldn't let him go. Whatever it was, Peter felt unhappy about it.
Surprisingly though, there was one occasion when Paul's general distrust appeared to relent. It had been after some promise Peter had made. A relatively trivial thing: the promise of an ice-cream if they behaved themselves. Something like that. The deal was kept on both sides.
'You never tell lies, do you Peter?' he had said. 'When you say you'll do something, you always mean it.'
'I try to. Why? Isn't your dad like that?'
'No. You can never believe anything he says.'
By this time, notwithstanding the sexual element, Paul had again taken to calling Peter 'daddy' from time to time. And Peter began to wonder if he ought to confine himself to behaving like a daddy. He felt that the boys continued to think of the sexual thing as something very bad, and he knew that the passing of money for sex could be called 'corrupting'. But the important thing to him was not that money changed hands for the activity, or that the boys were doing something they did not want to do – after all, they persisted in suggesting 'going upstairs', even though it wasn't difficult to wheedle 30 pence or so out of him in a variety of other ways. The important thing was that they were able to use Peter's 'little weakness' to corrupt the relationship in their own way, for it didn't take them long to realize that this weakness gave them enormous power.
Peter consistently found he could not control the boys as a parent would have been able to. As we have seen in our consideration of children's rights, this isn't always a bad thing. But sometimes it is. Sometimes it is quite clearly in the best interests of the children for them to be handled firmly, and in Peter's mind there was absolutely no doubt that these particular boys needed firm handling, in the sense that they needed to trust and respect an adult's appraisal of their behaviour. They needed an adult whom they would take seriously when he said that having too many goodies would 'spoil' them. They needed someone who, from a position of moral authority, could be angry at them if they shouted gratuitous abuse at an old lady in the street (Robert and Paul were like that!).
Peter not only lacked the official status of a parent. His 'weakness' was such that the boys found it hard to see in him a source of moral guidance. On one occasion they demanded (not for sex) more money than he thought it right to give them. Their response was to march out of the house in a huff and hold a 'demonstration' in the front garden, hurling obscenities at the house, and shouting 'Peter is a bender' for the benefit of all the neighbours. Inside the house, Peter was reduced to complete panic. He could either collapse in the face of their demands, risking an endless repetition of blackmail, or else risk neighbours tipping off the police. To go outside and chase them off or give them a clip around the ear would only have escalated the problem.
It is a situation that must have often been faced by paedophiles. Most will have opted to give way. Peter did not. Amazingly, he went into the garden and told the boys that he had no intention of being blackmailed, that he took an extremely serious view of the matter, and that they'd damn well better come to their senses or he would phone up the police and tell them the full story: and what would their fathers have to say when they found out about that? The boys didn't know if he was bluffing. At first they taunted him with the fact that he wouldn't dare, because he would go to prison.
But Peter wasn't bluffing. He honestly felt that to let them continue to get away with extortion like that would be a disaster for them, and he was prepared to face prison rather than let that happen. At last the boys could see he meant business. They came inside, calmed themselves down, and accepted that Peter had won back some authority with them, albeit by the skin of his teeth.
After this trauma, he decided that he would still be friendly with the boys, still let them come round to his house – but there would be no more sex. Not because there was anything wrong with the sex per se, but because he felt the boys could only accept his disinterested concern for them if it was in fact disinterested, or if it was seen to be disinterested. These children needed a parent-figure, he told himself, and a lover just would not do.
For a whole year or so he continued to see a great deal of both of them. They would come round to see him in the evenings, with nothing much to do except make a nuisance of themselves when he was trying to mark a set of exercise books or prepare his next day's lessons. He would allow himself to be interrupted, and try to get them interested in something constructive. He saw himself as trying to civilize them: to teach them manners, and an awareness of other people's feelings.
He didn't succeed. A classic example of his failure came one day the following summer, when they were out in his car, on the way to a pleasure park. He stopped the car and wound down the window to ask a local boy, roughly coeval with Robert and Paul, whether they were going in the right direction. The lad told them, pleasantly, carefully and, as it turned out, accurately.
No sooner had Peter thanked him and started to drive off, than his not-so noble savages in the back opened their window and called after him, 'Fuck off, you wanker!' To Peter it was like a stab in the heart. He couldn't believe that they should want to be so nasty. He stopped the car and made them go back to apologize, but it was really no good. The whole afternoon was soured for him. He no longer wanted to be with the boys at all. He could neither change them, nor accept them as they were. He had to accept that he simply didn't like them, and that no matter what he did or said there would always be incidents like this which would tear him to pieces. With a heavy heart, at the end of that afternoon, he told them he didn't want to see them again.
It didn't stop them coming. Again and again and again they'd be at his front door not long after he got back from school. They still needed somebody, but Peter just didn't have it in him to help.
A sad tale. Had the relationship resulted in a complaint against Peter under PIE's proposed law, an injunction would certainly have been granted against its continuance – the element of 'pocket money prostitution' would have seen to that. The story exemplifies a number of problems which objectors to paedophilia might have lurking at the back of their minds, not least that of monetary corruption. But if we look specifically at what happened in terms of the balance of power within the relationship, we can see that the shallow denunciations of the adult's supposedly automatic power simply do not hold water.
Right from the outset, Peter demonstrated to the boys that he was a 'soft touch' – right from the time when he let them take a sip of his beer and bought them each a can of Coca-Cola. He had taken them on a number of trips on his boat and elsewhere before there was any suggestion of sexuality, but by that time the relationship was already dependent on the boys being given material things. They needed, or at least wanted, the goodies Peter's money could buy, and theoretically Peter had it in his power to provide or not provide, as the whim took him. Theoretically, he was in charge.
He in fact used this power to buy sexual favours. He needed the boys' bodies. And in letting Robert and Paul know how important this was to him, the balance of power tipped in their direction. Instead of begging for money and favours, they could now be demanded, backed up by threats of blackmail.
In any case, there had been other, self-imposed limits to the exercise of Peter's power. He could not deny them some of the treats their parents would not, or could not, give them. At the same time he could not give them too much for fear of 'spoiling' them. Benevolent considerations like these do not always play a part, but when they do there is every reason to recognize them. In any case, they played such a large part that Peter decided to obliterate, or completely disregard, his own sexual desires in what strikes me as an entirely altruistic way: he did so in order to win back power in the relationship – power which he needed to have, in the best interests of the children.
Peter's story neatly illustrates two points in relation to power: firstly, a paedophile can endeavour to exercise power for good, just as a parent can; secondly, the 'politics' of a relationship do not necessarily revolve around the sexual element within it. For Peter, the key issue in these politics turned out to be whether he could make nice boys out of them. For the boys, the key element was the laying of golden eggs, with sex as only a very minor means of securing them. It is true that the boys abused their power by attempting blackmail.
A nastier adult than Peter might have abused his too, though it is not to be automatically assumed that the adult necessarily has any power, and if he has, it will rarely be as crude a power as that of blackmail. More often it is likely to be in the form of an emotional dominance, which is in itself dependent for its existence on the younger party getting something very important out of the relationship.
Having examined some of the realities of 'power' and 'authority', it is possible to return to Jill Richard's analysis with a fresh eye. When she says that 'children see adults, especially males, as authority figures. Children know that they must respect adults' desires or they will be punished', let's just imagine how ironic those words would seem to Peter! Had he been an authority figure, he might actually have been able to do some good! Of course children generally regard adults in the way that Richard suggests. That is why boys like Robert and Paul by the age of ten or eleven knew perfectly well (having learnt it from the adult authority of their parents, plus other reinforcing agents in our culture) that sex is supposed to be for men and women: when an adult is known to be a 'poof' or a 'bender' his authority rapidly evaporates.
As Parker Rossman has pointed out, sexual acts between children and adults, by their very nature, bring the participant children to see themselves in an entirely new, more potent, more important, relationship to adults than the one they are used to. Discussing oral sex in which boys are fellated by men, Rossman comments that there is 'the titillation of seeing a man take a submissive role, which is psychologically exciting to many boys who have grown up always having to submit to these giants.' 4
Richard also neglects the fact that children are used to power politics from infancy onwards, as we remarked earlier, in relation to 'divide and rule'. The little girl denied something by Mummy goes running to Daddy, without of course letting on what she has said. Then she smugly comes back to announce: 'Daddy says I can ....' The only reason for suggesting that children cannot handle politics of this sort in the sexual field is that in some way this particular field is more fraught with danger. But why? What is the danger? Richard talks about the 'complications of pregnancy, increased psychic and physical vulnerability'. In point of fact pre-pubertal children do not run the risk of pregnancy, nor, as we have seen, are they at risk psychologically as a result of the gentle, non-penetrative activities which account for nearly all paedophilic sex.
Yet there remains one aspect of 'political negotiation' within paedophilic relationships which expresses a tension between the mismatched needs of some partners, and its presence is plainly not ideal. I am thinking of those cases in which one partner has a much greater degree of sexual interest than the other, but in which the partner with little sexual interest is nonetheless deeply attached to the other. Some such relationships may involve a highly-sexed child and an adult who is largely, or completely, sexually indifferent to him. More alarming, from the traditional, anti-paedophilic, point of view, is the obverse side of the coin: cases in which the child is sexually indifferent (but nonetheless badly needs the adult) and in which the adult is highly sexually motivated.
Father Michael Ingram wrote about such cases in his study of participating victims in man-boy relationships. Not untypical were cases in which 'the boys were described by the men as seeking affection. They would nestle up to them, want to be cuddled by them, sit on their knees, etc. The boys would obviously enjoy being kissed and loved, and it would seem that on the whole they accepted the sexual activity passively for the sake of the love they were receiving from the man.' 5
The idea of children putting up with being masturbated, or with some other form of sexual behaviour, in order to win cuddles and affection, will strike many as horrific. It is probably what they have in mind when they think of children being exploited: their need for affection being turned into a bargaining counter for sex, rather than that affection being given freely by a parent or other 'responsible' adult.
Feminists may well see such relationships as parallel with the past subjugation of women: with the fact that they were expected to put up with varying degrees of unsatisfactory sex, including marital rape, in turn for economic security and respectability. The child's dependency on the adult for affection is much less cold-blooded than this: in order to meet the child's need for affection, the man has to have affection to give. He cannot be callously indifferent to the child. In effect, it is up to the children themselves whether they want to leave the whole deal alone, or whether they think they might be able to negotiate a 'no-sex', or 'very-limited-sex' clause in their relationship.
It is Ingram's view that children take from these relationships what they want to take. I think he is right. What is more, I would suggest that there are few adult relationships in which the sexual needs of the partners are so perfectly matched that there are no elements that one or both partners simply put up with – with more contentment or less, depending on the overall quality of the relationship.
The real problem for the children who allow sex play in order to get cuddles is not a sexual one at all. Their problem is getting the affection they so desperately need, and which has characteristically been denied them by unloving and neglectful parents. It should not be overlooked that for these children the paedophile, despite his limitations, represents a solution, not a problem. The paedophile succeeds, in their estimation, where their parents have failed.
What if, as a final thought, such a relationship became the subject of a complaint under the PIE injunction system? How ought a court to react? In my view, the principle underlying the court's decision should be exactly the same as in other cases: the child should be asked his own feelings. As we are talking about children who apparently do not want the sexual element in the relationships, it is not difficult to conclude that the court should impose an injunction against the continuance of such activity.
At the same time, the court ought to consider – if the child wanted it – whether there was merit in letting the paedophile continue to have access to the child, letting there continue to be kissing and cuddling, for as long as the child wanted. In order to avoid impossible temptations, it might be possible to stipulate that future meetings be in the presence of a third party.
Such an arrangement may or may not be practicable, dependent upon such factors as whether a court felt a particular paedophile was capable of honouring the agreement. At the very least, a court hearing on such a basis would help establish a child's needs and would encourage officialdom to seek out some positive solution to meet the needs of the child.
Ch 9 - Notes and References
1. Jane Gale, 'Paedophilia', MA thesis for the University of Kent, 1978. ^
2. Jill Richard, 'Children's sexuality', Radical Therapist, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1976, p. 7. ^
3. Denis de Rougement, Love in the Western World, Anchor, New York, 1957. ^
4. Rossman, op. cit., p. 150. ^
5. Michael Ingram, 'The participating victim: a study of sexual offences against pre-pubertal boys', paper presented at the International Conference on Love and Attraction, Swansea, 1977. ^
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