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By Rüdiger Lautmann
Prof. of Sociology, Univ. of Bremen;
Institute of Safety and
Prevention Research, Hamburg,
Late February, 2006

Physical maltreatment and sexual abuse against children are among the meta-themes of our time. Reports of them garner public attention immediately and demand from each of us – in science, politics, or simply on the street – a vote of condemnation. There is a growing consensus that something absolutely evil is happening here, that unspeakable harm has been done to people, and that in the final analysis we are all affected by it.

Child abuse is one of the few social problems with 'absolute salience' (Katherine Beckett aptly terms them valence issues), and is therefore one of the questions that has remained, from the beginning, beyond the realm of moral controversy because the verdict of worthlessness must always be a certain one. Most of the remaining problem areas (position issues) are not so immune; they are open for discussion, and lead to alternative and contested response-demands.

Doing empirical research in such a field is a risky undertaking. Whoever is not comfortable with the consensus, whoever makes too many differentiation – for example detecting gradations of harm – exposes oneself to danger. This will be very quickly be seen as

taking a perpetrator's perspective,
whitewashing it,
justifying it,
becoming an armchair perpetrator,

Valence issues tolerate

no lesser or greater evils,
no continuum of deviance,
no truck with it beyond a punitive posture.

Then, only the most extreme rejection is considered an appropriate response. "No if's. and's, or but's,” " ... and that's final" go the demands of moral imperative. Most researchers submit, or – as a rule –avoid the minefield altogether.

Horst Vogt's study does not labor under such handicaps. On the contrary, it greets pedophilic men in the posture of the most courteous of introductory questions: “How are you?” In this way the subjects' personhood is taken seriously, instead of immediately throwing up a wall of disgust, thereby throwing away any possibility for understanding. So long as child abuse is characterized as a super-problem, far-reaching ills and spheres of injury (such as the oppression of women, addiction, self-harm), scrutinizing and cautious voices will be completely absent.

In the long run, science and society have never been successful in getting people to completely renounce a given activity, or in denying their status as fellow human beings. Even the greatest "monsters" of world history are eventually depicted
in terms of their personal biographies and social contexts. Certainly, this is only successful once the fear and disgust have abated, allowing for both reflection and a change in the complexion of any one-sided verdicts.

The author, very sensibly, makes distinctions among the various manifestations of adult sexual interest in children. From there, Vogt focuses on its "primary" form: pedophilia.

Here the figure of the adult is not able to arouse or lead to any (or only to a diminished degree) erotic feelings and sexual acts. In sexual science and therapeutic terms, such an object choice. must itse1f be regarded as the real challenge. On the other band, a kind of "secondary" pedophilia also exists, which includes hetero-, homo-, or bisexual orientations towards adults; these men are not fixated on children, which means that, through intervention, their impulses could be steered towards socially acceptable avenues.


It is also very useful when Vogt makes a distinction between the phenomenon of pedophilia and the concepts of "sexual abuse" or "sexual violence," since pedophilia is a personal quality and not a category of behavior. A pedophilic orientation is not necessarily accompanied by pedosexual contacts. The ethical confusion permeating the subject is therefore lessened, and we are not having to constantly present actual interactions.

Two levels must be unconditionally and constantly kept separate:

on the one hand the social science analysis, and
on the other the strategies of self-help groups and institutions.

The goals and criteria of these two viewpoints are fundamentally different from one another -- and yet, can also help all of those involved in a myriad of ways: children, pedophile-identified men, social control authorities, and the general public.

Vogt stakes out his position on this with refreshing clarity.

On the one hand he takes an unbiased attitude towards his research group, and
on the other hand he declines to get involved in demands by representatives of pedophile interests to legalize pedosexual contacts.

This shows that the current Zeitgeist is fruitless, and leads to a dead end.

What's to be done? Vogt argues for -- with regard to the marginal group he studied -- a humane and constructive exchange.

This would then make it possible, if the social context were to change, to end the isolation. Both pedophilic persons as well as -- indirectly -- the affected children would thereby helped," he writes. (pg. 118)

The first step to such a process is being ready and willing to understand. Therefore we have to know more -- about girls and boys, about pedophiles, about us all. In addition to considerations of principle and morality we also must take into account empirically-based findings -- precisely the kind that Horst Vogt has presented here.

The study puts on an enormous display of theoretical preparation and empirical elevation. It can be praised as a typical example of a work in which a lone researcher dives into a closed subculture and returns with a cornucopia of findings.

As Vogt gains entrance into it, he wins the trust of the participants and his extensive questionnaire is bravely completed and returned -- this subject bas been searching for someone like him.

The author employs an astonishing array of personality assessment instruments. He thereby obtains a colorful portrait of the psychosocial situation of pedophilic men, more comprehensive than that achieved by any previous German-language study. One has to read this brief chapter in order to grasp this. Of particular appeal are the text's matter-of-fact tone and concise wording.

1t is perhaps required of any new generation coming of age (Horst Vogt is vintage 1973), in order to make possible a study like this one, that it conquer the front lines of the old sexual politics. The controversies of the 1980's and 90's were tied to a particular socioeconomic context, the bonds of which have since been loosened:

to ideas about sexual liberalization with their clutch of norms,
to the fictionalization of the women's movement into pro-sex and anti-sex camps,
to the welfare state with its promises of happiness.

Newly sober and non-ideological, the old problems arise anew.

As to questions regarding the pathologization, punishability, and dangerousness of pedophilic inclinations, one is always becoming entangled in the underbrush of conflicts over current opinion. And yet each and every time, Vogt returns to the same, surprisingly clear position. If the number of such voices increases,
then the phenomena of pedophilia and pedosexual behavioral patterns will be able to be dealt with more scientifically, and moreover without having to choose between running amok and walking on eggshells.

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