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.
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.
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.
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.
In my opinion, the cases included in this book refute many myths and stereotypes about voluntary "pedophile" relationships. By the way, this does not mean that in some people prejudices can't be so pervasive that its contents will hardly affect their views on the topic.
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.
However, in my view, the main things that all of these cases taken together
clearly seem to demonstrate are simply
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.
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.
Important ethical criteria [*]
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.
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.
Some adults with 'pedophile' feelings may have what feels like a natural longing to get involved in several 'pedophile' relationships simultaneously. One may term this a 'pedophile' manifestation of the phenomenon of polyamory. It is known that polyamory in its more conventional form, of multiple erotic or amorous relationships of an adult with other adults, may be enriching for willing partners. Other people have strong monogamous longings though, and this means that it is of paramount importance to discuss one's polyamorous desires and respect boundaries. Similarly, many children may have serious problems with an adult's polyamorous 'pedophilia', and they should not be forced to accept it. In such a case, the minor's interest should be considered more important than the adult's own predilections. It is outright immoral to end an entire affectionate relationship with a child simply because of sexual desires or love for someone else.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Children's voluntary relationships with peers are already widely accepted and monitored by their parents or caretakers.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Power relations and consent
One of the main conservative objections raised against voluntary 'pedophile' relationships, is that the adult and the minor can't have the same level of control over the situation. Being older and therefore more experienced than the child or teenager, the adult would automatically have more possibilities to dominate and manipulate the younger partner. Thus, the mere fact that the adult has more power would imply that 'pedophile' relationships can never be equal enough, which in turn would mean that the value of the minor's consent to such relationships is nullified. In other words, because of an almost inevitable power imbalance, there could be no healthy, truly consensual and therefore morally sound 'pedophile' relationships.
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. There is no reason to assume that the contemporary rejection of all voluntary 'pedophile' relationships represents the final stage in the debate.
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).
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
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.
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.
Such a position would make all the cases included in this book utterly irrelevant in terms of desirable changes in legislation and social acceptance, and this would also apply to similar findings, such as those of Arreola, Neilands & Diaz. This team conducted a study, published in 2009, in which they asked 912 men if they had sex before age 16 with an at least five years older person and if so, if this sex was forced or not. There was no difference in mental health between the group that had no sex and the group which had consensual sex as a minor with an older person. Only the group of men, who were forced to have sex showed an impaired mental health.
The critics mentioned above 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.
Other scholars may hold that positive voluntary and harmless relationships simply cannot be part of the healthy development of a child. This is because the relationship would be unnatural and the child would miss out on a normal development that would exclusively involve relationships with peers. This point is very similar to the argument against gay relationships, namely that homosexual relationships are unnatural, because a normal development would only involve heterosexual relationships.
Even if this were true, this still would not invalidate the click or love between the minor and the adult, which motivates them to stay together, despite any differences or challenges. However, I personally can't see any reason to believe that it should be true, at least not to any alarming extent.
If it were, this would imply, for instance, that all relationships between parents and children could only be highly problematic. Children would never be capable of empathizing enough with their parents (or other adults) to make a bilateral, loving (platonic!) relationship possible, and parents would never be able to really understand and support their children!
The argument of the overriding importance of developmental phases obviously is not based on the evaluation of the kind of testimonies presented in this book, but simply on preconceived ideas. Even relationships between adults with a considerable age difference are affected by this type of uninformed bigotry. Let's hope that love and personal affection will soon be considered more important than any such cold formal criteria.