Discussion

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[Introduction]
Findings 
Important ethical criteria 
A role for the parents or care-takers 
Information 
Consensual relationships and their interpretation 
Negative consequences of consensual relationships? 
The prevention of harm 
Harm caused by reactionary forces  
Consensual and positive, but immoral nonetheless? 
 

Note:

At the moment we've collected 155 cases [*] of relationships and loose contacts. Obviously, the number is rather arbitrary and if we consider the contemporary taboos concerning the subject, it is clear that the real number of consensual and positive relationships and contacts must be a lot higher than what gets published.

[*] For a few other cases that are added at a later stage, see the Appendix

Some critics seem to think that the emancipation of harmless 'pedophile' relationships is based on an unrealistic world view according to which almost any child would long for a close personal friendship or erotic relationship with an adult. Obviously, this is not what the emancipation of morally sound relationships is about. No matter how rare these voluntary, harmless relationships may be, their respectability does not at all depend on their number. Even so, their real number might be hundreds or even thousands of times the number published in this book.

Sometimes, critics claim all of these cases are unreliable, i.e. that at the most they represent the twisted attempt of a small subgroup of abuse victims to rationalize their inherently traumatic experiences.

However, this does not explain the fact that positive experiences are reported by persons who clearly seem happy with their adult lives and successful from both a societal and a creative perspective as well. I got in touch personally with some of these respondents and based on my own impressions, I really cannot believe they are simply fooling themselves. 

Also, we already know from research by scholars such as Theo Sandfort that children can experience a 'pedophile' relationship they are involved in positively.

It only makes sense to explain such reports by a variation on the Stockholm-syndrome (victims who feel empathy and sympathy towards a  perpetrator) if the relationships were not really voluntary. In real cases of the Stockholm-syndrome we are always talking about an well-established crime (the term originally refers to a kidnapping in the Swedish capital), which includes elements of coercion, violence, and lack of freedom.
However, in the cases presented in this book, the former minors claim the whole relationship remained completely voluntary rather than being based on force, manipulation or 'grooming'.

An even nastier accusation reads that the cases are made up by 'lying pedophiles'. As convenient as this thesis may seem to opponents of the phenomenon of consensual relationships with minors, it certainly cannot be taken seriously in the large majority of the cases. To be sure, I know of only three cases in which there turned out to be some reason to believe they were based on fantasy. Two of these were included in the first edition of this book (the cases of Femke and Gjalt van Ommen), but discarded from later editions immediately after doubts had arisen about the reliability of these accounts. 

For one thing, if it were true, all of these people, including well-known personalities such as Kirk Douglas, should really be 'pedophiles'. Also, I've met several of the subjects (digitally or in person) and I'm certain that they are sincere. The same goes for subjects who were approached by reliable researchers, rather than the other way around. 

More generally, what I've never understood about the charge of fraud is that in my view, a real 'predator' would not be concerned with rational arguments for the emancipation of defensible relationships. What he (or she) is mainly interested in is getting sexual contact with minors and his strategy is covering up his intentions. 

All the people who are nowadays coming out with regard to their 'uncommon' feelings for children or teenagers are not only very brave but they clearly show an intention to remain ethically sound. (My impression is that the rare exceptions of unreliable testimonies probably stem from (a) people driven by 'kinky' fantasies, but without a personal preference for minors, and (b) misguided individuals with a higher education, who partly base their fictional stories on real-life experiences known to them, in order to further the cause of emancipation. In one of the few cases I rejected, we cannot completely exclude the possibility that it was produced by a vice squad, as a bait to lure predators.)

Opponents may consider this psychiatrically disturbed or naive, but (consciously) making up fictitious retrospective stories of positive relationships of others simply does not seem to fit the psychological profile of such persons. Rationalization of one's own feelings is one thing, but outright, conscious fraud is quite another.

What truly needs to be explained is why some critics feel the need to discount all positive stories out of hand, whereas they never manifest any similar inclination while evaluating reports of negative experiences. It strikes me as very arbitrary and unfair, and therefore also as irrational. In any other context the a priori rejection of cases would count as dogmatic and closed-minded. 
Explaining these cases by a variation on the Stockholm-syndrome would make it impossible to regard them as evidence for the existence of voluntary, harmless relationships. Scholars who stick to such an explanation should ask themselves what type of evidence would convince them. If the answer is "none whatsoever", they should try to justify their position by pointing to supposedly indisputable characteristics of the psychological development of minors, which would entail that such relationships are a priori impossible.

Some critics may consider this collection of cases "unscientific", but I would like to ask them what kind of research should be considered scientific or scholarly in this context. Certain phenomena can only be investigated scholarly through retrospective reconstruction. Experimentation is of course completely impossible and unethical in this context, so that we must depend entirely on the memories of respondents. As long as there is no reason to doubt the over-all reliability of their testimony, these stories should indeed count as evidence that is just as scholarly as evidence in any field that depends on memory and reconstruction, including the investigation of sexual abuse.

I recognize the fact that some of these accounts are better documented than other stories, ranging from an anonymous remark on an Internet forum to stories based on extensive personal correspondence or conversations. The reader should realize that in approximately 60% of all the accounts presented here the respondent revealed his or her (real) identity, either publicly or to an interviewer or researcher who has chosen to protect it. 

Critics should concentrate on the strongest cases within this collection while trying to assess what subtypes of positive voluntary relationships really exist. 

Findings 

However, in my view, the main things that all of these cases taken together clearly seem to demonstrate are simply
 

that consensual and harmless erotic relationships between children and adults really exist; 
 

that many of them involve friendship, affection and personal love, the erotic side being just one among many aspects of a sincere, affectionate relationship (platonic friendships demonstrate that a physical erotic aspect may even be absent altogether); 
other aspects being, for example: emotional intimacy and support, play, cultural activities, and intellectual stimulation; in none of the erotic relationships presented we have any reason to believe that the erotic aspects ruined the over-all quality of the relationship; 
 

that they can start even before the child is twelve years old (in about a third of the cases presented here the child was younger than twelve when the relationship started). 
This is only surprising for scholars who actually think that tenderness, erotic feelings, falling in love, or amorous relationships are essentially absent before puberty. It is important to realize that puberty merely influences these phenomena rather than creating them. How else could we explain romances between two prepubescent children, or masturbation and sex play in primary school children and toddlers?
 
This implies that the child's age is, in itself, not a good criterion for determining what relationships should be allowed or not. There is no solid reason for a so-called age of consent.

As a criterion, the formal principle of an age of consent should be replaced by the qualitative monitoring of relationships by the parents or care-takers, a qualitative principle that is already applied to relationships with peers.
 

That some of these friendships persist after the minor has grown up, usually in a platonic form, but sometimes even as an erotic partnership between adults; 
 

that the children involved can be both boys and girls - This confirms earlier findings such as those of Leahy. It is simply not true that positive relationships almost exclusively involve boys.  
 

that society's negative views and interventions often lead to stress on the part of the younger partner; and 
 

that a consensual and horizontal friendship between an adult and a minor, outside the context of family bonds, can remain wholly platonic. I personally believe that any type of voluntary relationship that is possible between two minors, is in principle also possible between an adult and a child, ranging from close friendships without any erotic attraction, to amorous platonic relationships, to erotic relationships. In this sense, I expect there to be a human relational continuum from relationships between peers to relationships between adults and minors. 

This means that consensual 'pedophile' relationships should be judged on their own individual merits rather than on the basis of the sex or age of the child. 

What these cases do not imply is that from now on any specific relationship should be unconditionally accepted by the child's caretakers. We know from these cases that many 'pedophile' or intergenerational relationships with minors are voluntary, consensual, and harmless, but we should not accept any individual relationship before we have checked whether it belongs in this category or really amounts to abuse.

This kind of differentiation is one of the cornerstones of the ethically responsible emancipation of voluntary and harmless 'pedophilia'.  

Some readers may wonder why I do not use statistics to analyze how often the psychological effects of these experiences are negative, neutral or positive. The reason is easy to understand: I've limited myself exclusively to cases in which the respondents themselves report that any noteworthy form of (inherent, non-external) harm was entirely absent.  

By the way, we cannot use statistical analysis or meta-analyses to demonstrate (that it is very likely) that there are harmless voluntary relationships. This can only be demonstrated at the level of the individual case history.

This collection does not intend to explore if some cases of alleged abuse are, as such, harmless, and if so, what percentage falls in this category, but if there are any cases of voluntary relationships without (inherent) negative repercussions.  

In other words, it does not start from the overly undifferentiated, conventional concepts of 'sexual abuse' or 'pedophile encounters', but specifically from relationships and contacts that were consensual from the minor's perspective.  

Therefore, questions such as: "Are boys and older children less likely to be psychologically harmed by 'abuse' than girls or preteens?", really do not apply here. 

The existence of positive memories of relationships between adults and children can hardly be doubted anymore, and this enduringly raises the issue of sound criteria for morally acceptable relationships. Based on the writings of other authors such as Dr. Frans Gieles and Dr. Frank van Ree, and my own thoughts, I have reached the following brief version of Important ethical criteria. 

Important ethical criteria [*]

[*] Please note that most of these criteria are only relevant for a future in which at least some types of 'pedophile' relationships would have been legalized. I'm certainly not suggesting that anyone should get involved in illegal relationships. These remarks may be superfluous, but I've noticed that some of my readers got confused about this.

1. Both the adult and child (or teenager) want to have a relationship with each other and experience the relationship as positive. The minor should be able to withdraw from the relationship at any moment. 
The adult should also make it clear that any sexual contact should be intrinsically desired by the minor, rather than being just a favor to the adult.
Margaux Fragoso's book Tiger, Tiger describes a relationship in which the adult clearly did not respect this basic principle. 
 

2. In case of erotic contact, there must not be any form of physical harm or unwanted pregnancy. 
 

3. Personal boundaries of minors ought to be respected and any possible erotic contact must be completely consensual, in the everyday, non-judicial sense of 'voluntary' or 'willing'.  In case of doubt about the child's wishes (e.g., because these have not been clearly expressed yet or because the minor shows signs of emotional ambiguity or a lack of enthusiasm), the adult should simply refrain from any erotic contact. The initiative for such contact should generally lie with the child or teenager. This ensures that any possible erotic contact will be based on the child's own wishes and over-all personality and keeps one-sided desires on the adult's part in check. 
Of course, there should not be any signs of manipulation or brainwashing by the adult. 

Critics have claimed that this would in practice be difficult to establish. However, they should not forget that we are talking about a future in which morally sound relationships will have become legal within a context of parental monitoring. By then, any adult engaging in such a relationship will have a strong personal interest in remaining sincere. If the adult turns out to have been clearly manipulative anyway, there will be consequences, and it will even be much easier to incriminate him or her than it is today.
 

Consensual 'pedophile' erotic contact is by definition based upon the consensual erotic activities that minors typically practice with themselves or other minors. Especially in relationships with young children, normally there will be no penetration, but only kissing, caressing, petting, mutual manual stimulation, shared masturbation, or oral stimulation, with only rare exceptions. 
As a rule of thumb, the minor's erotic initiative and involvement should not come as a complete surprise to his or her parents or caretakers, and they should know - or at least it should be easy for them to imagine - that their child would most probably act in a very similar way with a partner of the same age. 
If possible erotic interactions would amount to the minor's first relational erotic experiences, these interactions should be directly determined by the minor's pace of exploration, as well as his or her specific desires and aversions, insecurities, and of course personal boundaries. 
 

4. The adult must be honest about the nature and extent of his or her feelings and affection for the child or teenager. The minor should be made generally aware of what he or she can expect from the adult and from the relationship to prevent painful disappointments and feelings of being betrayed by the adult. 

In general, the adult must feel a basic personal respect and affection towards the child and not regard him or her as a mere sex object devoid of feelings or expectations. This is the moral baseline any relationship (and contact in general) must meet! 
Beyond this, the minor must be made aware of what can be expected of the adult in terms of (a) close friendship, (b) romance, and (c) the duration of possible physical aspects of the relationship. 
There are 'pedophiles' who know that they would not be able to continue erotic relations after the minor has grown up, because it simply would not accord with their sexual orientation. There are also adults who may have sexual feelings for other adults as well, etc. All such aspects must be made clear to the child at an early stage of the relationship. 

The adult should analyze the nature of the feelings of the minor and find out whether they match his or her own wishes and intentions. If not, or in case of reasonable doubt, the adult should certainly not abandon the minor, but refrain from erotic contact and, if necessary, help him or her deal with the situation.  

It is essential that the adult explores not only what the child is saying explicitly, but also what he or she is trying to convey implicitly. Then, it is very important to find out if the minor's general message corresponds with his or her personality. 
For instance, a child may want to seem very sensual and only interested in purely sexual encounters with the adult, whereas (s)he is really longing for affection and emotional intimacy.

Please note that some opponents of the emancipation of 'pedophile' relationships seem to believe that such relationships are simply based on the adult's selfish desires. From the collection in this book we know this is not true, as many of them are founded on friendship and love. 
In contrast, some minors may simply want to enjoy sexual encounters without any deeper connection. What really matters, is the right match between child and adult. 
 

5. The adult must in general respect the child's personality, activities, and wishes, and the minor's personal, social or relational freedom should not in any way be limited by the adult.  
 

6. In case the child or teenager has a relatively good relationship with his or her parents or care-takers, they ought to be fully informed about the relationship. 

(This implies that adults in the child's life with a parental role should almost always be informed. The only legitimate exception would concern really abusive parents or caretakers who do not have the child's interest in mind -- meaning that everyday problems between parental figures and children won't do as an excuse for withholding information about the relationship. If there is no parental figure around, the adult partner should try to find a suitable foster parent for the child.)

Important parental decisions about the relationship should be respected. The adult should also make sure that the relationship does not negatively affect the emotional bond between the child and the parents. 
More generally, important boundaries set by societal, religious, and cultural taboos, and the law should not be crossed, as long as this might create a scandal or negatively affect the child's self-perception or perception of the relationship.
 
In general, any adult who feels attracted to a minor should realize that it may take quite some time (perhaps decades) to change the dominant perception of voluntary and harmless relationships, and always act accordingly. In this sense, I certainly agree that any 'pedophile' with a conscience should for the time being follow the example of so-called 'virtuous' or celibate pedophiles. 
 

7. The adult should not spoil the child too much but rather support a positive development of his or her self-esteem and self-control, personal talents and potential, social skills, and a moral, pro-social attitude. Sexuality should not replace other emotional or relational needs and the frequency of erotic contacts should be moderate to avoid so-called sexual addiction (Obviously, if a minor is already showing addictive behavior before there is any erotic contact with the adult partner, the latter should address this problem, rather than encourage such behavior). Relationships that are affectionate and personal cannot be reduced to just sex.  
 
 

8. The adult should make the minor aware of the existence of real child abuse and warn him or her of non-consensual sex.
  
 

9. Not only should relationships be accepted by (benevolent) care-takers and relatives of the minor, but children should also be protected against avoidable negative reactions of bullies and narrow-minded neighbors. This implies a basic level of discretion about the relationship, although such discretion ought not to lead to 'secrets' towards other adults with whom the minor has a close emotional bond. 
 
 

10. Relationships should never be ended abruptly and the adult should always try to stay in touch as long as the minor needs this. 
 
A possible example of what should be prevented can be seen in a tender relationship, Dutch gay choreographer, dancer and writer Rudi van Dantzig engaged in with a Canadian soldier, when he was a young teenager. The story has become famous because of the film For a Lost Soldier, based on Van Dantzig's book Voor een verloren soldaat. After the war, the soldier did not get in touch with the boy anymore, which caused young Van Dantzig a lot of heartache.  
In general, affectionate erotic relationships deserve to be continued platonically after the erotic part would have ended. 
 
It is nothing short of a destructive misconception that 'pedophiles' are typically incapable of understanding the value of personal affection, because, by nature, they would be less loving and more selfish than most other adults or because they would lack basic social-emotional skills. 

Only relationships that meet these criteria deserve one's respect and protection. Such relationships are by definition morally sound and, in most cases, they involve a precious affectionate and personal bond that should not be sacrificed to ignorance, prejudice or narrow-minded intolerance. (Ethical criteria for loose contacts are mostly that the erotic contact should be voluntary, safe and non-violent, and that it should take place within a cultural and societal context that does not reject such contacts.)

If individual "pedophile" relationships are rejected by the parents or care-takers, this should generally be based on ethical criteria, not on purely formal criteria such as age, or the mere presence of "pedophile" feelings. At the level of the judicial system, only relationships in which there are signs that the adult does not follow these moral principles, should remain illegal. Relationships that are morally sound, by definition, cannot intrinsically harm the minor in any important way, meaning that any harm must really be caused by external factors. This implies that the total prohibition and demonization of such relationships is not only tragic but, ultimately, unfair and immoral as well. 

These criteria could be further refined, based on experiences with relationships and on ever growing insights into developmental psychology and personality. 

I'm in favor of a thorough intellectual debate among open-minded, unbiased experts with a humane agenda that rejects the demonization and exclusion of 'pedophiles', before any changes in legislation inspired by these criteria would be implemented. Such a debate could be repeated periodically (say every 5 or 10 years), so that new findings and insights could lead to further adjustments of the law. 

To my surprise, some critics have claimed that although these ethical norms are in principle sufficient to prevent harm in the child, no adult would be able to live up to them in practice. In my view, this amounts to an underestimation of the moral integrity of persons with 'pedophile' feelings. Pessimistic expectations regarding a specific adult's moral awareness and self-control may be  justified in the case of real, sociopathic or psychopathic child molesters. However, there is no reason to suppose that the mere presence of a 'pedophile' attraction should make someone more selfish or less capable of controlling one's actions than, say, an average adult heterosexual male would be in a relationship with a woman.

Even so-called 'virtuous pedophiles', who reject all types of voluntary erotic relationships (both now and in a hypothetical, more liberal future), may sometimes hold that an average mortal can never meet these moral standards. I find this view rather disturbing, because it would imply that opponents of 'pedophile' relationships are always right if they wish to keep 'pedophiles' away from their children. 

If 'pedophilia' is automatically linked to an immoral loss of self-control, why should we expect a platonic 'pedophile' relationship to remain safe for the child? 

Why would a 'pedophile' within a platonic relationship be able to respect the child's interests, if it were by definition impossible to do so within an erotic relationship? 
This could only be denied if such 'virtuous pedophiles' would claim that what leads to a dangerous loss of self-control, is not the (non-disturbed) adult's orientation per se, but the physical erotic contact with a child. However, such a hypothesis would not explain why, for non-disturbed 'pedophiles' without psychiatric symptoms (other than 'pedophilia'), turning into a selfish molester would be a real risk of erotic contact with minors, whereas erotic contact in general would carry no such risk for the child's peers, or any other (non-disturbed) person for that matter. 

In other words, either average non-criminal 'pedophiles' will have a normal capacity to control their desires when they are alone with a child, or they will not. If we should assume that they cannot control themselves, the case for the societal acceptance of voluntary platonic relationships inevitably collapses as well.

This means it is very hard to uphold the ethics of absolute celibacy (regardless of possible social and legal changes) propagated by so-called 'virtuous pedophiles', if we base such ethics on the notion that pedophiles typically possess less than average sexual self-control. This is because it suggests that rejection of erotic relationships should go hand in hand with the rejection of any type of close relationships (with 'pedophiles'), which goes much further than the average "virtuous pedophile" will want to defend. 'Pedophiles' could on average simply never be trusted, due to their supposed innate lack of self-control.

A role for the parents or care-takers 

Ideally, the parents or care-takers have an important role to play during a close intergenerational relationship of their child.  

By communicating with their child, they could regularly check (in a relaxed, non-directive way) whether the relationship and its possible erotic aspects really match the child's wishes and expectations and whether the adult adequately respects the child's boundaries.  

(This is more than just a utopian fantasy. In the Netherlands, there used to be a more liberal climate surrounding 'pedophilia' that enabled some parents to consent to their child's relationship and monitor its development.) 

More in general, they could also explore the adult's personality, level of self-control and integrity and make sure he or she has no (relevant) criminal record or reputation as a rapist, or as a 'loverboy' or 'sugar daddy' involved in child prostitution.
 In case of doubt, it may be a good idea to consult (benevolent) professional experts. The latter could also develop readily available guidelines to optimize assessment.  

Any age of consent is a formal rather than qualitative standard and will therefore inevitably lead to many undesirable situations. However, this does not mean that voluntary 'pedophile' relationships should from now on remain as unmonitored as gay relationships between adults. Rejecting formal criteria, parents or caretakers should rather apply the same method of qualitative evaluation and monitoring they're already using with their children's friendly or erotic peer relationships to the assessment of voluntary 'pedophile' relationships. 

Assuming that there is no reason to doubt the validity of this method in the context of relationships with peers, why should it be less valid in the case of 'pedophile' relationships? Parents or care-takers who are capable of assessing peer relationships should be considered capable of assessing 'pedophile' relationships as well.

Thus, their awareness of criteria for positive and safe relationships will certainly not lead to an increase of real abuse, but rather prevent potential adult partners who have good intentions but unfortunately lack basic empathic skills from endangering the minor's well-being. 

Opponents of liberalization surrounding voluntary 'pedophile' relationships frequently refer to recent neuroscientific data, which would suggest that on average young people are incapable of making really important decisions before their brains would supposedly have matured enough around the age of 23. 

However, in this particular context, such a hypothesis is only relevant if opponents acknowledge its implication that young people should not get any erotic contact with peers either, as long as they have not reached the magical age just mentioned. 
Of course, the underlying prejudice behind this specific argument against voluntary 'pedophile' relationships is that such relationships are radically different from relationships with peers, i.e. they are never really voluntary or positive, let alone harmless. Given the fact that minors can't possess the neurobiological maturity of a 23-year-old, they would (following the hypothesis) simply be incapable of realizing that 'pedophile' relationships are totally different from 'normal', 'healthy' relationships, and - as would be obvious to any non-disturbed adult older than 23 - intrinsically morally wrong.

I certainly reject this kind of argumentation, although I do agree that minors should be protected against an overly naive outlook on the probable level of social acceptance of a relationship. 

Furthermore, decriminalization of positive relationships will generally lead to more openness between parents or care-takers and minors about such relationships, but also about sexual abuse, and this, in turn, will be discouraging to real child-molesters and dangerous psychopaths.  

To ensure the child's safety, it could be a good idea, in case of doubts about the adult's intentions, to allow any possible erotic activity only after a period of months of exclusively platonic contact.  

This may also be important because it familiarizes the minor with what can be expected from the adult and prevents unrealistic dreams about the relationship. 

A seemingly rude but very effective precaution consists of asking the adult for a copy of their ID. Any adult who is sincere and does not have a secret agenda will understand why this is a good idea. 

(Remember that we are talking about a situation in which morally sound 'pedophile' relationships would have been legalized.)

Children's voluntary relationships with peers are already widely accepted and monitored by their parents or caretakers.  

Why should this not also become a possibility for their voluntary relationships with adults? 
 

Why should an adult in such a voluntary relationship be inherently more dangerous or less reliable than a friend who is of the minor's own age?   
In fact, if we really expect that an average adult would be unable to meet the kind of ethical criteria mentioned above, why should the minor's peers fare any better?

Note that we are speaking about individuals who have proven willing to submit themselves to such monitoring, not about adults who intend to abuse their relatively greater physical strength, power or experience at the expense of the child.  If we insist on comparing children's monitored, voluntary relationships with adults and children's relationships with peers - of course without underestimating the relational potential of minors - we would in fact expect responsible adult partners to be generally (even) more considerate and less impulsive than average partners of the same age. 

Furthermore, any adult involved in a 'pedophile' relationship should fully realize that non-compliance with the ethical criteria mentioned above, will inevitably lead to unpleasant consequences, for the child but also for themselves. Minor (but structural) transgressions may simply lead to restrictions or even the end of a relationship. In more serious cases, legal sanctions should be a real possibility, even if a relationship has always remained wholly voluntary from the child's point of view. This should serve as a deterrent to the morally feeble.

Critics may ask why parents would want to monitor their child's platonic or erotic relationship with a 'pedophile', if it is much easier to simply prohibit such relationships altogether. The answer is clear: they would be willing to test and monitor a specific relationship, because they notice that the relationship in question is positive and meaningful for their child. This implies that forbidding the relationship out of hand could lead to an emotional loss for their child and even be psychologically damaging. 
It has the same background as the reason that motivates them to monitor (rather than forbid) the child's relationships with other minors. 
Granted that they are not related to addictive tendencies (see ethical criterion 7 mentioned above) in the minor, possible erotic aspects desired by the child or teenager may either be an expression of great mutual affection or a manifestation of a specific personal need for sexual exploration and satisfaction in the minor. There is no solid reason to assume that these as such undeniably psychologically 'healthy' motives underlying erotic contact are any less important for the minor in voluntary relationships with 'pedophiles' than in relationships with peers.

Information 

To increase the general awareness of the criteria a good intergenerational relationship with a minor must adhere to, it is highly desirable that the public media provide plenty of information about this issue, and clearly differentiate between morally sound relationships and manipulation or abuse.

Responsible adults who feel attracted to minors should feel encouraged to increase their empathy towards them and understanding of them. They can benefit from the experiences of others like themselves, either on an individual basis or via bonafide organizations. 

Minors ought to be made fully aware of their rights and interests in the context of a possible platonic or erotic relationship with an adult, by easily available sources of written information or documentaries that specifically aim at children or adolescents. 

Consensual relationships and their interpretation

I'm aware that at present the negative general perception of consensual 'pedophile' relationships precludes most people from believing that consensual relationships even exist. 

This is reflected in the liberal or humanistic debate about 'pedophilia' that increasingly seems to focus on the personal integrity of individual (abstaining) adults or on effective therapies for child molesters, rather than on the integrity and quality of consensual relationships. 

From a moral standpoint, this inevitably means that, for the time being, it is, in general, not a good idea (for an adult) to engage in consensual 'pedophile' relationships with minors. 

Many - or even most - consensual relationships will inevitably end up being re-interpreted as abuse, which may have damaging psychological consequences for the (former) child or teenager, in terms of confusion and guilt. 

In my view, the intellectual climate first needs to be changed before it becomes morally sound again to have an intergenerational relationship with a minor. Sadly, this mostly holds even for platonic relationships, with the possible exception of platonic friendships that are totally and unambiguously accepted by the child's parents or caretakers and social environment at large. 

Negative consequences of consensual relationships?

It is sometimes claimed that it would be immoral to engage in consensual 'pedophile' relationships even if they were completely legalized and accepted by the minor's personal social environment. Even granting the validity of the kind of evidence presented in this book, it would still remain unclear exactly what consensual relationships might lead to negative consequences in the long run. 

This collection seems to establish clearly that neither the minor's sex and age nor sexual contact as such are the direct source of any potential problems in the future. Taking the existence of harmful consensual relationships seriously, this implies the possible harm must be caused by other factors. 

We already mentioned the phenomenon of what is sometimes called secondary victimization, i.e. a negative social re-interpretation of the relationship in terms of abuse. Also, some seemingly consensual relationships may not be consensual in certain important respects, such as the onset, frequency, or specific types of sexual contact. This may be caused by miscommunication and insufficient knowledge of the minor's development and personality. 

Herein lies a task for parents or other caretakers in that they should check in an open, unprejudiced manner if the minor really wants the relationship and its possible erotic aspects.  

Special care should in this respect be given to children with psychiatric or developmental problems, to prevent confusion. In case a minor has been (involuntarily) sexually molested by another adult, any erotic contact should be allowed only after therapy is completed.

However, in the context of direct consequences of real consensual relationships, the two main problems I can think of are  

misunderstandings about the intentions of the adult partner (e.g. about the duration of the physical aspects of the relationship - the minor would want the sexual bond to last, while the adult would not), and 
 

confusion in the former minor about his or her sexual identity.  

The first problem is covered by the fourth ethical criterion.  ("The adult must be honest about the nature and extent of his or her feelings and affection for the child or teenager..." et cetera.)

The second problem is mainly related to specific same-sex 'pedophile' relationships in which the younger partner would not possess a gay orientation as an adult and would feel insecure about his or her adult sexuality. The solution to this problem obviously consists of a greater societal acceptance of homosexual feelings, phases, and experiments and is in this respect related to gay emancipation. Please note that we are of course talking again about voluntary, positive relationships, not about relationships in which homosexual experiences are (more or less 'gently') being forced upon the minor.

Some authors seem to think that a third problem might especially arise when a relationship was exceptionally positive. The former minor might become dissatisfied when it turns out to be difficult to find a new relationship of comparable quality.  Something like this (besides possible other imperfections of his relationship or adult partner) seems to have been claimed by Ted van Lieshout, the Dutch author of Zeer kleine liefde, and Mijn meneer

(Please note that this claim concerns the consequences of well-balanced 'pedophile' relationships, and not just of one-sided, overly sexual relationships that might indeed lead to insatiable sexual desires; see the seventh ethical criterion.)

However, in my view, this cannot at all serve as an argument against the 'pedophile' relationship, but only against the normal way many adults apparently relate to each other. To blame this on the 'pedophile' relationship is a bit like blaming an outstanding musician for the fact that many or most musicians are (in comparison) mediocre.  

At the most, the emancipation of positive, consensual relationships ought to go hand in hand with the promotion of good relationships between adults, as part of a more general relational or love 'revolution'.  

Furthermore, any possible dissatisfaction is directly related to the taboo on 'pedophile' relationships in that the former minor may find it difficult to be open about what he or she is missing in relationships with other adults. 

Nowadays, if this issue is at all discussed, it is mostly regarded as a negative consequence of the 'pedophile' relationship itself. Even to the extent that any positive relationship should really be considered abuse, because a 'pedophile' would in this view invariably take the risk of making a 'normal' love life for the child impossible.  

Some also claim that a positive 'pedophile' relationship may lead to a general preference for older partners, as if such an alleged preference would be inherently problematic. Similarly, some claim that peers may seem less attractive due to a lack of erotic experience, as if such a 'defect' could not be overcome by the initiative of the former minor. 

Others even believe that the relationally experienced minor will end up being less attractive than average to potential partners of the same generation. This is odd, because quite a lot of candidates will find an experienced lover more rather than less appealing. 

Although the quality of a positive, consensual 'pedophile' relationship could be successfully approached as a general standard for affection or sexuality, even such a relationship is still usually regarded as an undesirable, abnormal interference by an adult in the life of a vulnerable child. I have the impression that some scholars welcome any possible complications after the relationship, as long as they can use them as an argument against consensual 'pedophilia'.  

Supporters of a popular myth of the inherent unpredictability of harm typically refuse to differentiate between the consequences of morally sound relationships and the impact of irresponsible contacts, and between secondary victimisation related to social condemnation of a relationship and real, intrinsic abuse. 

Many things in society ought to change, but something positive deserves to be protected. 

In general, I think that there are no inevitable negative consequences of consensual relationships, as long as the adult is aware of the larger societal context and sticks to the ethical criteria mentioned above. In other words, in my view there is no reason to suppose that any really consensual, morally sound relationship within a safe, accepting environment could have serious negative consequences. 

Of course, as a researcher, I remain open to possible other complications that I wouldn't have covered yet, but as it stands, my analysis seems pretty exhaustive. A logical, though admittedly hardly plausible, possibility I haven't mentioned yet, is that completely voluntary erotic activity is intrinsically harmless unless it involves children with specific genetic predispositions or personality types.

Critics ought to be aware that there really are harmless consensual relationships between minors and adults and that a constructive approach implies making such relationships possible (without increasing the risk of abuse) rather than simply ignoring their existence.

The prevention of harm  

Even if we completely tracked children's actions and physical encounters by audiovisual means, they could still be attacked by a sexual 'predator' before we'd be able to intervene. It is not feasible to remove all risk from a minor's life. For instance, deception by strangers always remains a possibility unless we wish to transform people into fully remote-controlled cyborgs (except for the persons controlling them, of course). Furthermore, excessive fear and restrictions in the name of safety might hinder the child's development and cause developmental harm by trying to preclude it.

In the context of voluntary 'pedophile' relationships, a general prohibition may bring about frustration and sadness in the child. The destruction of an already existing relationship with a specific adult may even lead to real psychological trauma. Therefore, completely forbidding a relationship is an extreme measure that may only be morally justified in case of real danger, i.e. when there is serious evidence of the adult's lack of responsibility or integrity. 

As Huib Kort and G.  G. stated in their article Demons: The Utopian Dream of Safety

"There is no solution in repression, subversion or elimination."

For these reasons, we should rather strive for minimal risk within a general context of liberty. The ethical criteria mentioned above, in combination with the principle of over-all (non-directive) monitoring of the relationship and adult partner, aim at doing just that. 
 
As I tried to demonstrate above, the acceptance and monitoring of voluntary relationships will most probably lead to a decrease, rather than an increase in abuse incidents. I welcome anyone who disagrees with this assessment to offer well-argued suggestions for improving my ethical criteria. 

Until I receive such suggestions, I believe the principles formulated above to be sufficient. Opponents of any type of liberalization concerning 'pedophile' relationships should demonstrate why the legalization of relationships that follow my ethical criteria and are subject to parental monitoring would probably lead to an increase (rather than decrease) in abuse incidents. Also, they should henceforth refrain from stressing the 'self-evident truth' of their assumptions and the 'insanity' or 'evil intentions' of people who do not agree with them. 
Within forensic psychiatry, the view that it is possible to within clear ethical boundaries liberalize legislation concerning 'pedophile' relationships nowadays often seems to be regarded as a sign of a serious psychiatric problem. In such a case, professionals appear to associate the 'deviant' view to a lack of empathic abilities, and this in turn to disorders within the autism spectrum or narcissism. It does not even seem to matter whether there are other (unequivocal) signs for such a diagnosis or not.

It is my claim that legalizing parentally monitored voluntary, positive relationships will lead to fewer cases of child abuse. Adults with 'pedophile' feelings will feel more accepted and more motivated to comply with ethical principles, and thanks to the parental supervision any immoral or risky actions will be detected sooner than in the present situation. Children won't need to remain silent about their feelings for adults, and everything will be much more in the open. Only extremely disturbed individuals would continue to assault or rape minors, and due to a greater integration of 'pedophiles', we should expect fewer individuals to become mentally deranged.

If my claim turned out to be unfounded, I would conclude that all 'pedophile' relationships should remain illegal and that even platonic relationships should be forbidden by parents or care-takers, because 'pedophiles' would typically even cross boundaries while being monitored. 'Pedophilia' would really be a dangerous syndrome, which would make sufferers from this disease too great of a risk to minors. However, so far I have no reason to think that I am wrong. 

Please note that I'm not dogmatic in my appeal for liberalization regarding monitored voluntary relationships. While writing this, I'm really convinced that a responsible type of liberalization would bring about changes in society that are good, constructive, and fair. Nevertheless, I'm open to convincing, reliable evidence or conclusive analytical arguments that would show the contrary to be true. Readers cannot expect me to simply follow the present consensus as 'the only sane thing to do', because this consensus does not take into account the kind of cases presented in this book. 

Harm caused by reactionary forces

Some critics hold that even though legalizing voluntary relationships within a society that fully accepts this type of relationships is as such morally sound, it could still endanger the psychological well-being of (former) minors in the long run. In their view, we could never be certain whether the societal acceptance will still be there after the child has grown up, so that the former minor might ultimately come to regard the relationship as negative. 

I honestly consider this a needlessly pessimistic view. Although I do agree that there can be a temporary wave of intolerance in response to an increase in relational liberty, this does not mean that we should expect an unending cycle of alternating tolerant and repressive periods without any enduring progress.

Especially in the West, we've seen an expansion of human rights since the Age of Enlightenment, and temporary setbacks have ultimately led to further consolidation of those rights. Similar developments can be seen in other parts of the world. This appears to be related to the fact that human rights are based on deep universal, transcultural moral intuitions about the intrinsic value and dignity of the individual. In my opinion, it takes a rather cynical view of contemporary history to simply overlook this remarkable phenomenon.

However, I do think that parents or care-takers need to prepare children for temporary reactionary developments after voluntary 'pedophile' relationships have become socially acceptable. It is also a good idea to issue numerous books, articles and documentaries about positive, harmless relationships, so that it will be very hard to deny their existence. Through these measures, children can be sufficiently armed against twisted messages of hatred and rejection, and remain positive about their experiences despite any negative propaganda from reactionary forces they might encounter later in life.

Pathologizing and self-pathologizing of 'pedophiles'

This being said, right now it is of course very important that the scholarly perspective on 'pedophiles' undergoes a major shift. As long as 'pedophilia' is seen as the result of general disorders such as the Asperger syndrome or as a pathological paraphilia caused by traumatic experiences such as incestual abuse, one cannot expect caretakers to expose minors to such potentially dangerous 'freaks' (not the term I would use for such people myself).

(Here, I won't touch on the question whether certain disorders really exist or not, because that would go beyond the scope of this work.)

For instance, according to mainstream forensic psychiatry, people diagnosed with the Asperger syndrome may have an abnormal interest in minors because they would have been unable to connect to peers during their own childhood or puberty. If so, they may be dangerous to minors because of their lack of basic empathic skills, and also because they generally find it difficult to assess whether certain behaviors are socially acceptable or not. In the case of abuse victims, the danger would lie in the lack of impulse control, and a tendency to relive the abuse by assaulting children. 

Forensic workers typically seem to be dogmatic in this respect, ignoring any evidence or argumentation that goes against standard psychiatric labels for individual 'pedophiles'. There have been historical precursors of this humiliating and unscientific approach. Only decades ago, it was official policy for psychiatrists to regard homosexuality as a bizarre paraphilia, rooted in developmental problems and commonly characterized by psychiatric traits such as narcissism. 

I'm not saying that there are no individual 'pedophiles' who actually have a problematic background how else could we explain the existence of real predators? However, there is no solid reason to suppose that most (let alone all) of them would have a psychiatric disorder or handicap.

It is a sign of this age of repression when forensic 'experts' believe that anyone with a 'pedophile' orientation simply must have at least one of the (other supposed) disorders described in psychiatric manuals such as DSM. Some conformist educated 'pedophiles' even seem to reinterpret their own orientation in such psychiatric terms, a tragic phenomenon that may be termed self-pathologizing. This demonstrates to what extent repression may lead to alienation and division among its victims.
We are still far removed from a fair, open-minded, and non-discriminatory approach to the subjects of 'pedophilia' and 'pedophiles'. 

Consensual and positive, but immoral nonetheless?

Some critics of consensual and harmless 'pedophile' relationships acknowledge the existence of the phenomenon, but they still hold that such relationships ought to remain completely illegal.

In their view, any type of 'pedophile' relationship is by its very nature immoral, because it would always involve a violation of the minor's integrity. Sometimes, they go as far as claiming that personal experiences should never be the sole or ultimate touchstone of the moral acceptability of a certain practice.

They may even compare former minors who have positive memories of a 'pedophile' relationship to individual (former) slaves who - due to a benevolent 'master' - had relatively good experiences with slavery. In other words, it would be so obvious that such relationships are inherently morally wrong, that no positive experiences can ever change this.

However, this comparison is invalid. Slavery is indeed a great evil, because it robs people of their personal freedom and this cannot be changed by the fact that certain individual slaves experienced their lives as relatively pleasant. In the case of (truly) consensual intergenerational relationships with minors, it is by definition out of the question that the children or teenagers involved would lose their freedom during the relationship. To be more precise, in this respect such relationships amount to an expression of the minor's individual freedom. In this sense, the legalization of harmless, voluntary relationships is part of child emancipation, and therefore it is related to protecting minors from violence, child prostitution, child labour and real sexual abuse. 

Only from a conservative, closed-minded outlook on life and human values may it seem obvious that some phenomena which are consensual and psychologically harmless should still continue to be regarded as immoral. Starting from any other approach, personal experiences are obviously more important than prejudices and caricatures.
 

See also the Appendix

Readers can reach me at: ipcetrivas@gmail.com 

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