The Case of Charles Osborne
Myths about Paedophiles
Why Society Reacts Violently to Paedophiles
Power and Consent in Sexual Relations
A Bill of Rights for Children
Which Way for Society?
The Case of Charles Osborne
What has been learnt during a dissection of Clarence Osborne’s life demands one final short summary. At the risk of being over-repetitive, the salient features of the man and his activities need to be emphasised so that the social and sexual barriers Osborne assaulted can be re-evaluated in the light of his attack. The facts about Osborne can be pithily put and in themselves would not be disputed by policeman or paedophile activist.
Clarence Osborne was a man filled with an obsession for young males. From early adulthood most of his mental and indeed his physical energies were devoted to pursuing young boys and in recording details of their physical and genital development. He learnt very early in life that males have a desire to explore their sexual potential. He also learnt that young males require affection and love in the same way that females do. Osborne consequently became the man for all seasons and provided the boys with whom he came in contact small or large quantities of these commodities. Although a hunter for sexual thrills, Osborne often found himself hunted by the very boys he so desired who were quick to see in the older man a potential partner for their own sexual and psychological needs. But we should not simply see Osborne in sexual terms. He did, quite genuinely, concern himself with the youths’ problems and aspirations and spend much time in dealing with them.
Although his youthful partners would have felt otherwise, to most adults there was nothing particularly pleasant about Osborne’s character. He was, after all, almost neurotically obsessive, at times excruciatingly boring in terms of his obsessive interest in young males. His colleagues found him hard to get on with because of his obsessiveness with both his work and his hobby and because he exhibited a cutting and biting tongue that he used with effect. But all these traits hardly make him a monster and the acts of generosity that he displayed both towards the boys he was close to and with his colleagues at work showed that there was a facet of Osborne that was soft and gentle. Osborne could justifiably be criticised for some of the methods he used to entice young males even if he saw himself differently. Osborne appeared to convince himself that he was flawless as is illustrated by the following comment in his manuscript:
Nevertheless, over twenty years Clarence Osborne was able to have a physical relationship with at least 2500 boys. This is some feat indeed, although it should not be assumed that the sexual relation-ships were as passionately wild as the media would have us believe. In fact Osborne’s exploits would not make the first page of a gay sex manual — he was after all only really interested in masturbating his partners, measuring their penises and touching their bodies. It was very rare that he engaged in anything as dramatic as anal intercourse and even then he only did it when asked to.
In short there is a great deal of pathos in the man. The picture of Clarence Osborne that emerges is of a middle-aged man devoting his life to his card index containing, as it did, random observations of young boys’ physiques, filling his house with over 8 kilometres of taped conversations and spending a lot of time rationalising out his activities by saying that he was engaging in a ‘science’. These activities are hallmarks of high tragedy rather than high drama. If monsters are made out of these ingredients, then we as a society have little to fear.
But Osborne was more important than he thought. For the case of Clarence Osborne raises a host of questions about the way we use sex in this society generally and the nature of childhood sexuality specifically. Perhaps the most crucial meaning of sex to adults is that in our culture it is charged with a tremendous amount of importance: the decision to ‘consent’ or ‘not to consent’ is assumed to have enormous consequences and ramifications. For the decision to consent’ has overtones in our milieu of accepting a commitment or, at the very least, something which will radically and permanently affect one’s future life. For this reason Osborne’s case raises issues not only of consent but also of the morality of unequal power in sexual relationships. Before we grapple with these difficult questions it is important to explore some of the social myths surrounding paedophiles and paedophilia.
Myths about Paedophiles
In the case of paedophiles as opposed to, for example, parents, it is assumed that any disparities and inequities in power between the adult and the child will be exercised by the adult malevolently. In reality, however, many paedophiles are patently well disposed towards their partners and take the role of loving teachers, house parents, or simply close friends. Clarence Osborne often epitomised the benevolence that exists in paedophile relationships because, in many respects, he displaced the interest shown by their parents. In short, it is a myth to assume that paedophiles necessarily use their greater experience and power in a destructive way.
An associated myth concerns the very common view that the child is traumatised and socially and sexually seriously damaged. We have dealt with this point in length in past chapters, but it is worth reiterating that the evidence simply does not support these assumptions. In the short run the studies suggest that problems with the partners of paedophiles often flow from the reactions of parents and officials, who respond to news of their son’s relationships with such horror that it elevates the significance of the event in the child’s life. Even in the study showing the worst possible result—Gagnon’ s sample of 333 victims — only 5 per cent of the ‘victims’ had what Gagnon called ‘damaged adult lives’. [*1] Even here though ‘damaged adult lives ‘is a vague term and diverse causes of the damage besides the paedophile relationship could be possible.
Similar myths surrounding the interactions between the youth and the adult are also without foundation. For example, coital relationships do not generally occur between the two and the usual sexual acts simply involve showing, fondling and being fondled. Most paedophiles are not into ‘fucking little kids’, and, as we have seen time and time again sexual relationships are rarely forced. Indeed, a substantial number of relationships are initiated by the child, continued by the child, and often, ended by the child or adolescent. While there are undoubtedly cruelly exploitative paedophile relation-ships, the vast majority are not of this type. And the literature does have a few case studies which demonstrate youths benefiting psycho-logically from their contacts’ with the adult. [*2]
There is no denying the fact, however, that there is a considerable problem when we come to defining the meaning of the term ‘exploitation’. Clearly, many social and sexual relationships involve the use of power and domination. For example, feminists have pointed out how men dominate women and how parents often use children to meet their (the adults) emotional needs. The critical question, it seems to me, is who benefits from the relationship and by how much. Thus, in many cases parents may ‘dominate’ their children but the child may gain a great deal from such domination. The questions of power and domination in sexual and interpersonal relationships are complex ones and righteous statements about the morality or immorality of such domination have to be considered in specific cases rather than in generalised categories or events.
As well as myths concerning the nature of the relationship between the child and the adult, a number of false assumptions highlight the arguments surrounding the paedophile himself. For example, one common view is that paedophiles are ‘dirty old men’. However, as we have noted in previous chapters, paedophiles transgress all age ranges, although Mohr suggests three major clusters: one culminating in adolescence, another one in the mid to late thirties, and the classical old age category, which according to Mohr ‘appears less frequently than the other two’. [*3]
Paedophiles are also seen typically as being ‘strangers’. In reality, of course, many paedophiles are close relatives or friends of the parents of a child and know the child for some time before an erotic liaison begins. Similar myths surrounding allegations about the paedophile being ‘mentally ill’ or ‘monsters’ are equally unenlightening. While the empirical evidence on the mental health of paedophiles may be far from complete, what evidence there is suggests that there are no greater incidences of severe psycho-pathology in them than there are in heterosexual or homosexuals. [*4] Even those studies which do seem to show psychological disturbances amongst paedophiles do not tease out the chicken from the egg. It is just as likely that observed disturbances could be seen as a consequence of the extreme stereotyping and scapegoating that paedophiles are subjected to rather than as an endemic pathology of the activity itself. In this context it is salutary to remember that adult homosexuals were seen as being both ‘monsters’ and as being ‘mentally ill’ a few short years ago, and even today such statements are made about homosexuals by moral crusaders such as Anita Bryant. In short, it is clear that to talk generally about the ‘paedophile’ or the ‘homosexual’ is as useful as talking about the ‘heterosexual’. These labels a~ often terms which distort more than they help. For beneath the label lies an immensely complex and diverse set of personalities and experiences which are united in the case of paedophiles, only in one way: that is, the emotional and erotic attraction that these men have to children and adolescents. There are many other facets to a paedophile’s life and the interest in children is only one part.
As Plummer perceptively points out, one obvious problem with the stereotyping of paedophiles and the consequent myths that arise as a result of these stereotypes is that the myths and stereotypes usually direct us to look only at the behaviour of men. Similar activities when performed by women such as cuddling, caressing, touching and stroking children are socially acceptable. [*5] But for a man to engage in such contacts is inviting the label of paedophile and possibly risking imprisonment. The stereotypes surrounding paedophiles erect a sexist myth — and that myth is that only men have intimate physical relations with children. The myth conveniently ignores the fact that women often engage in similar sexual behaviour and therefore perpetuates two common views. The first is that ‘men should not do this but women can’ and the second that ‘any man who does this is deeply disturbed’. But by perpetuating these myths, we conveniently forget that children have sexual needs and emotional components that are well documented by contemporary psychology. The very barriers that we put between ourselves and paedophiles are in a sense the same barriers that we put between ourselves as parents and our own children. With both groups we prefer to stereotype them (‘paedophiles are monsters’, ‘children are innocent’) and in this way avoid realities that we would otherwise be forced to face.
Why Society Reacts Violently to Paedophiles
There are a number of possible explanations why society reacts with so much vitriol towards men who have relationships with boys. Of course not one explanation in itself is the reason for the harsh social and legal stereotyping of paedophilia that characterises most industrialised countries; rather, different people react differently to various aspects of paedophiliac relationships.
In explaining the antagonism towards paedophiles let us return again to the analogous example of incest. One of the reasons why so many people could be unwilling to come to terms with incest is that they themselves are frightened of any incestuous thoughts. As long as we continue to believe that incestuous assault can happen only in other families, we can avoid examining our own lives. These defences protect us from the sexual feeling we may have experienced as children for older family members and any possible interplay that may have occurred in our own childhood, as well as feelings we may have towards our own children as we watch them developing into men and women. And so it is with paedophilia. While most of us do not act upon these feelings, it is our refusal to acknowledge to ourselves that we might be sexually attracted to young boys and girls — to acknowledge in effect that we ever have such feelings — that creates our silence, aversion and unwillingness to openly discuss the issues associated with sexual relationships between adults and children.
If we are honest we know that there are many conditions under which adults and children become sexually aroused. For example, there is the favourite uncle who rocks his little niece on his knee, then is alarmed to find he has an erection. There is the brother who becomes psychologically and physically aroused at the unexpected sight of his sister naked; the father who suddenly sees that his small daughter is flowering into the bloom of adolescence. These are situations which many of us would like to forget and one of the ways of forgetting them is by condemning persons who reflect our own ‘deviant’ thoughts and past deeds.
On a more general level we can look at the undoubted fact that in this society children are the property of their parents; they are placed in the hierarchical family structure which demands that they be non-sexual and denies them the liberty to choose with whom they want to associate. However much a child may suffer persecution from peers and be unloved by parents, because of this property relationship, a friendship with an adult is frowned upon. Together with the wrath which results from their breaching of property rights, paedophiles also incur wrath because many people consider sex to be basically brutal and exploitative by its very nature and not mutually enjoyable. Some people therefore assume that any paedophile relationship must necessarily consist of an adult sexually exploiting a child. Consequently the law operates on the assumption that the superior power position of the adult has been used to force the sexual relation-ship. The criminal justice system then, according to this argument, is not primarily concerned with the safety of the child at all but with the safety of the family structure and the maintenance of private property.
No one puts this argument more forcibly than Greek-love advocate, Tom Reeves. Reeves, a self-confessed pederast, is a Harvard graduate and a professor of history who has championed the cause of boy lovers in the United States and elsewhere. Reeves has often felt the brunt of the antagonism expressed by a hostile community towards paedophiles. Realising that his love for boys was his ‘second coming out’ he says:
Reversing the usual arguments about the exploitation of boys by their men lovers, Reeves springs to the attack and suggests that a man having sex with a girl or a woman is in a relationship laden with so many centuries of role-structuring that it is hard to shake free the dominance-submission dynamics that are involved. According to Reeves, a man loving a boy has a different tradition: one of rebellion, freedom and play. He argues that this tradition is full of youth and liveliness, self-awareness and social resistance.
Reeves proposes that there is a deep-seated reason for the intense feeling of abomination that society feels for Greek love. His argument is simply that as the sex in such a love relationship is involved with boys and the boys are the future of American capitalistic, industrial-istic society, then such a society has to condemn these relationships. Reeves proposes that boys are meant to grow up and become the future supporters of capitalist society by taking up their position of lawyers, doctors, corporation heads or whatever other positions are required for the perpetuation of the prevailing ideology. According to Reeves:
Reeves suggests that society is very much afraid of anyone who ‘molests’ its youth and by ‘molesting’ he means anything that keeps the boys from repeating the mistakes of past generations.
This argument may well be tenuous to some but its ideological overtones have a familiar ring to them. After all, it is no different from similar arguments put forward by feminists to explain the reasons why men oppress them in order to preserve a patriarchal family structure. It has as well similarities with other arguments put forward by radical gay collectives to suggest the reasons why homophilia is so rampant in capitalist societies. Proponents of these views do not suggest that on an individual level people consciously rationalise out their hatred towards paedophiles in these ideological terms. But they do suggest that as a collective entity society operates by these rationalisations.
We do not need such sophisticated arguments to unravel the nature of contemporary society’s hatred of the paedophile. Less complicated explanations are sufficient for explanatory purposes. As we noted in the beginning of this section the paedophile reminds some of us of our own behaviour at some point or alternatively of fantasies that we have had that we would prefer to forget. The lovers of boys threaten the conception that some of us have of ourselves, of our views of ourselves as being ‘masculine’ and of dividing the world into those who have sexual feelings (men) and those who do not (boys).
Even those of us who are not worried by social roles and social expectations have severe reservations about Greek love for other important reasons. Many men and women who are unconcerned about their self-image and self-identity feel very strongly that man-boy relationships are exploitative and epitomise the powerful dominating the powerless. Their concerns cannot be written off as fanciful delusions. They are made by people who, regardless of their own sexual inclinations, are genuinely worried about oppression in any form. Because this issue is such a vital one in any reasonable discussion on paedophiliac relationships it must be dealt with seriously.
Power and Consent in Sexual Relations
One of the major objections to paedophiliac relationships is based on the argument that adults have supreme power over children in terms of the economic, physical, intellectual and emotional aspects of their lives. It is argued therefore that in this situation, relationships of some equality cannot be formed when it comes to mutual sexual expression. This argument assumes that in an ideal situation where sexual relationships take place, the context is one where there is mutual agreement between both parties with approximately the same power base and where informed consent is given by the two persons involved.
Critics of paedophiliac relationships do not necessarily deny that children are very sensual and erotic beings who enjoy physical contact. It is argued by the critics, however, that children do not have the same categorisation about sex as adults do and with a low level of autonomy and awareness, the child’s inability to say ‘no’ should therefore not be taken as an informed and mature acceptance of mutual sex and contact.
In a considered, detailed submission on paedophilia, the gay socialist journal Gay Left argued against the legitimacy of paedophiliac relationships using the power imbalance between the two parties as the central thrust of their argument. Gay Left, however, were honest enough to point out the paradox that exists when this area of sexuality is discussed. They, and many others, have observed that there is always much uproar about the power imbalance between adults and children in the sexual area, but there is very little debate about the gross economic differences between adults and children and about the intellectual and physical advantages adults have, all of which can be, and are, used to exploit and ‘corrupt’ children. As they put it:
Critics of paedophiliac relationships often become very ambiguous when they attempt to define an age or a period of life when meaningful consent to sexual relationships can be given. Two periods usually given where consent can legitimately be granted by the young person are puberty and adolescence. The two of course are not synonymous as puberty means quite literally ‘being functionally capable of procreation’, while adolescence refers not so much to a physiological change but to a social event that occurs between child-hood and manhood or womanhood. Both concepts, of course have enormous difficulties associated with them. The myth that children become sexual at puberty has been largely dispelled by an avalanche of research that shows otherwise. And the definition of what ‘adolescence’ is, is irritatingly vague as it begs the all-important question of what characterises childhood as opposed to adulthood. [*9]
According to Tom O’Carroll, the intellectual guru of the Paedophile Information Exchange, the question of what is maturity in terms of a child or adolescent giving informed consent to sexual relationships is really trivial, [*10] The issues to him are not so much ones of maturity but of wider matters surrounding the topic of paedophilia generally. O’Carroll considers that the major division between opponents and proponents of child-adult sex is the philosophical cleavage between people who believe that sex is good and natural and those who regard sexual activity as an area of special danger and difficulty. Indeed O’Carroll and other paedophile activists often reverse the argument of their critics and state that children are better equipped to sexually relate to adults with a spontaneous, unproblematic sense of pleasure, precisely because they are not mature: children in effect are less likely to have been damaged by society’s prevailing anti-sexual mores.
Most observers of sexuality would agree that society seriously distorts the nature and discretion of sexual feelings and might well agree that childhood and perhaps adolescence are the only times in which people can act physically and erotically with a degree of naturalness. However, the imbalance in the power and experience between men and boys is not satisfactorily excused by referring simply to the naturalness of childhood sexuality.
There is no doubt that parents and adults generally have far more power than children do in most relationships. But it cannot be assumed that this adult power base is always used in a constructive way for the benefit of the child. There are many examples of both the physical and sexual exploitation of young boys and girls that are appalling in their consequences. The answer to this exploitation is not to abandon the often constructive aspects of parental nurturing as such but, as O’Carroll has put it, ‘To think instead in terms of supporting alternative, less introverted family structures, in which power is spread more broadly and used more constructively for the benefit of the child.’ [*11] These structures and concepts of children’s rights help to counterbalance the exploitative position of an adult power base and these will be pursued in the next section of this chapter.
In the case of paedophiles, as with parents and children generally, it is totally unjustifiable to assume that because there are some cases of child exploitation, all relationships between adults and children of a sexual nature are necessarily exploitative. Indeed, the evidence strongly suggests that the majority of paedophiles go to considerable lengths to look after and protect the child. In the Osborne case we have seen many examples of boys who came to him and continued their relationship over sustained periods of time in order to acquire his affection and knowledge of physical matters. In this sense Osborne represented an alternative to the strictures and narrow horizons of some of the parental homes that the boys came from.
Nevertheless, even with these caveats it must be admitted that the adult will generally have a greater power base than the child. Paedophiles are quick to point out that the child or adolescent often has his or her own power base — their sexuality — even though they certainly do not have the economic, social and experiential resources that the adult in a relationship does. Clearly though it is impossible to judge every case on the basis of this general principle and the individual components of power and exploitation in particular cases have to be considered systematically and carefully.
The other major issue that confronts the advocate of Greek love relationships is one of consent. No one, not even paedophile spokespersons, would argue that an adult has the right to have sex with a child or adolescent without his or her ‘consent’. The real question though is whether the child or adolescent is capable of making an informed and rational decision whether he or she will engage in physical relationships with an older person. Like the question dealing with power, the issue of consent is not only confined to paedophiliac relationships. For example, it has been argued by many feminists that mature women ‘consent’ to sexual relationships with men when they are not emotionally or socially really prepared to do so. In other words the argument is that men, because of their greater social and economic position, are able to obtain a false consent to intimate relationships from a woman and therefore in a true sense, consent is not given. Similar examples can be given in the fields of medicine or psychiatry where patients give their ‘consent’ to controversial surgical or treatment procedures without being fully aware of all the facts surrounding the procedures.
Clearly, in our culture sex is charged with tremendous importance and the decision to ‘consent’ or ‘not to consent’ is assumed to have enormous consequences and ramifications. Historically, the reasons for this state of affairs are not hard to find with sex for many years being tied to marriage and unwanted pregnancies a threat for women who engage in sexual intercourse. Today, however, it can be assumed that sex is not seen only as something that invited a commitment to a long-term relationship, but also as a method of obtaining short-term enjoyment just as playing a sport leads to short-term enjoyment. This is not to deny that there is more to sex than just playing games, but it is to state the obvious that sex is in itself an enjoyable activity and does not necessarily have to lead to a long-term relationship. In short, I am arguing plainly and categorically for a redefinition of sex, not only in the context of paedophilia but in terms of human relationships generally. Unfortunately, in our society sex is seen as one of the few ways of achieving intimacy and that is more a reflection on the way in which we have distorted and perverted the nature of sexual expression, than it is a reflection of the activity of sex itself. In other words, if there is no commitment and no adverse consequence to the sexual act, then concepts such as ‘a sense of responsibility’ or ‘being mature about sex’ have no meaning whatsoever.
In a strange and somewhat paradoxical way Clarence Osborne was reinforcing society’s view that sex is tremendously important and therefore potentially destructive. The brilliant French philosopher and psychologist Foucault has often pointed out how in western societies sexuality has not so much been repressed as constituted or patterned in particular ways. [*12] Priests, doctors, psychiatrists and others have invested sex with magical powers so that, as a society, we often look to our sexuality in order to find out about ourselves.
Osborne is very much in this tradition. It is, for example, perfectly possible to see Osborne not as the bizarre sex monster he was so often painted as, but instead as a high priest of the prevailing Western sexual ethos. After all, in measuring thousands of boys’ penises and documenting his findings Osborne was doing in an exaggerated form what the doctors already do with sex. He was giving it an importance, ‘constituting it’ in Foucaultian terms, in a way that made it mystical and critical in people’s lives. Osborne was giving sex an importance it probably does not deserve.
No such importance was given by many of the boys to sex. Osborne’s youthful partners often saw sex as being no more than just a ‘game’ and did not expect it to lead to any major commitment. Indeed some of the children and adolescents were lured to Osborne because they thought that sex was pleasurable or, knowing that society thought it was ‘naughty’, they were positively influenced to try the forbidden apple. But in the vast majority of cases the boys who were engaged with Osborne conceptualised sex as simply being a game and not as an activity that led to the black plague or the end of civilisation. And while sexual liaisons were followed by close emotional relationships between Osborne and his partners, these occurred not necessarily because of the sexual nature of the interaction, but because, for the first time in their lives, an adult was adopting a caring and affectionate attitude towards them. These intimate relationships also show us quite clearly that paedophiles are as able as anyone else to relate to their sexual partners as people and not just as sexual objects.
A Bill of Rights for Children
In exploring the case of Clarence Osborne and looking at the children who were connected with him, it has become abundantly clear to me that ‘laws of consent’ or other legalistic manoeuvres that attempt to protect the child from sexual or social oppression by adults will invariably fail if for no other reason than the fact that they can never be enforced with any degree of effectiveness. To give a simple but obvious example, it is perfectly obvious that the number of paedophiles who are caught and punished by the criminal justice system is infinitesimal compared with the number of paedophiles who are able to have relationships with children undetected. And even if it were possible to enforce the consent laws, the oppression that this would bring to our community would be intolerable in a society which professes to be humanitarian and democratic. The criminal law is after all a weak instrument to use when it comes to the imposition of moral standards as even a cursory glance at the history of prohibition or of laws relating to homosexuality, gambling, and other ‘victimless’ crimes make clear. What really is needed in order to stop children being violated in social, economic and sexual ways is a children’s bill of rights which besides having legislative teeth, becomes part of the social climate of our community. Such a proposal, of course, is hardly radical as it has been suggested for many years by supporters of children’s rights.
The question is to decide what the major parameters of such a bill should be. While it is not my intention to give detailed submissions on such a bill the present discussion requires, at the very least, an outline of what areas such a charter should cover. [*13]
To begin with there must be a right to self-determination so that children have at least some say on matters which affect them most directly. As it is now children are treated as the private property of their parents on the assumption that it is the parents’ right and responsibility to control the life of the child. Parenting should be seen as a privilege and not as some innate right allowing adults to dictate their children’s psychological, religious and social development. The implication of allowing children to have some say in their religious instruction, sexual behaviour and ethical conduct is, to most parents, quite frightening, but this right must be considered as a cornerstone by anyone seriously concerned with children’s liberation.
A second right which meets with more social approval than the first, is a right to a responsive environment. It is quite clear that parents are not always the best people to bring up their children and an estimated four million children are abused annually in the United States alone. It is obvious that alternative forms of parental care have to be designed. These forms should not necessarily be the bland institutional homes and orphanages which are the options open to children at the moment, but instead creative child exchange programmes, twenty-four-hour child care centres and various kinds of schools and employment opportunities. In Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, children have their own ombudsmen who are able to criticise the institutions they live in and suggest alternative living arrangements. In most countries though legislators believe that parents have an innate right to bring up their children. Consequently politicians have failed to use their creativity and imagination in order to consider possible options that might well provide more constructive and responsive environments.
A third section in any children’s bill of rights must deal with their right to equitable education. This means that the child must have the right to all information available to adults including, and perhaps especially, information that makes adults feel uncomfortable. Such a right would mean that the formal, mundane, and compulsory nature of many courses that operate in our competitive schools would have to be abolished in favour of an educational curriculum that is non-competitive, innovative, and which is at least partly designed by children to cater for their own and not adults’ needs. Education can change only through the achievement of new rights for those exploited and oppressed by it — the children themselves.
A fourth right relates to economic and political power. At the moment children are disfranchised and have no one to represent their constituency or to reflect on legislation that affects their day-to-day activities. Furthermore, children do not have the right to work to acquire and manage money or to receive equal pay for equal work. They never learn to use money adequately because they are never allowed to develop a credit record, nor do they learn what a binding contract means because children do not have the right to enter into such contracts. They must achieve financial independence and political power in order for them to be free of adult oppression.
A fifth right is their right to freedom from physical punishment. At the moment children are physically and sexually abused in the home and in schools by adults who feel that they have the right to treat ‘their property’ as cattle rather than as people. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the use of corporal punishment in homes and in schools which is often arbitrarily given with sadistic delight. A child should have the same rights as an adult has to be free from physical abuse and punishment which often comes under the guise of ‘discipline.
A sixth right is the child’s right to justice. The juvenile justice system originally designed to protect children from the harsh treatment of the adult criminal justice system has ended up as a system where children lack the legal right of adults and where they are subjected to paternalism and arbitrarily punished for activities which, if they were adults, would not be considered crimes. Children must have the guarantee of a fair trial with due process of law, a lawyer to protect their rights from over-zealous bureaucrats, a uniform standard of detention, and the right to be treated as adults with respect to questions of what offences, would be considered to be ‘criminal’. For too long children have been doubly jeopardised by the criminal justice system and are not only criminally liable for acts which, if they were an adult, would be considered crimes, but are also often charged with offences which would not be crimes if they were adults.
The seventh and final right is the right to sexual freedom. If one agrees with the other six rights that I have stated then it is only logical that children should have the right to conduct their sexual lives with no more restrictions than adults do. A prior condition to this right though is that children must be provided with all information about sex and related matters so that they are in a position to make reasonable choices concerning their present and future sexual behaviour. If we as a community are genuinely concerned about the fact that children might be sexually misused by adults, then we have a moral, and indeed a social obligation, to provide young people with the most contemporary and most relevant information and the knowledge which will allow them to refuse sexual advances. At the moment children are trained not to refuse adults anything and to accept all forms of physical affection as being the right of an adult to impose on a child. They are therefore not able to learn to trust their own emotional feelings and reactions to people and often become involved in physical relationships which they really do not wish to get involved in. We keep children innocent and ignorant and then somewhat hypocritically worry that they will not be able to resist the sexual approaches of people such as Clarence Osborne.
Which Way for Society?
Osborne’s case drives home one important point that should be a clear message to us all. And that point is very simply that how adults react and what adults say to interpret sexual acts may be much more influential, and much more crucial in the emotional and sexual development of the child than the actual sexual act in which he may have been involved. A punitive and draconian justice system that directly punishes a paedophile, indirectly scapegoats a boy who has been involved in a sexual relationship with an older man, violates this message and does so with an impact that severely damages both the man and the boy. For the reality is that the boys have come to older men and will continue, for time immemorial, to come to them in order to have their sexual and emotional needs met. In a very real sense the boys are attempting to reaffirm their own identities, to obtain some measure of self esteem, and to fill the vacuum left by their home environments.
But in saying all this we are still begging the question of what approach society generally and the criminal justice system specifically should take towards sexual relationships between older and younger males. I have argued that a legal age of consent is an arbitrary point, a line drawn that has no basis in the physiological or psychological development of the child. Furthermore, an age of consent in law does not prevent the sexual activity taking place and serves to perpetuate the myth that most, if not all, adults can and always do rationally consent to sexual relations. I would abolish any age of consent in sexual relations on the basis that in my opinion it is both unjust and unworkable, and I would also repeal all legislation relating to the age of consent in the field of sexuality specifically. Instead, offences would be considered on the basis of the use of violence, force, fraud or pressure rather than an arbitrary age limitation. This would mean that the concept would be an arbitrary concept that would be applied variably according to the case that one was talking about. In practice the police would only investigate a paedophile relationship if there was a complaint by the child himself or by the parents or relatives or by anyone else concerned with the welfare of the child. 14 The onus would be on the police to prove that force or fraud or trickery were used to obtain sexual relations with the child. The police would not be able to argue, as they do now, that a crime has been committed just because a physical relationship between a man and a boy or adolescent took place.
Obviously, there will still be with these new laws many cases where parents and other people violate children. But no law is going to protect children from the physical or psychological abuses of adults, and if we pretend that they will then we are fooling ourselves very badly indeed. Whether it be incest or paedophile relationships, the only approach that will have any effect is the removal of criminal sanctions from non-violent sexual activities, but at the same time providing the maximum social means for protecting the child. In concrete terms this would mean implementing the seven fundamental rights that children should have as expeditiously and as honestly as we can.
A small, lonely, obsessive and not very likeable man living in a middle-class suburb in Brisbane, Australia, has more significance than even he thought. For he has shown us that many thousands of young people in western countries feel sexually repressed, alienated from adult company, and emotionally bankrupt. This should make all of us reflect on those social conditions and family structures that have led young people to become alienated from adults.
Clarence Osborne’s life, pathetic as it might well have been, drives home some other fundamental lessons that we should all remember. Young boys are sexually active from a very early age and will pursue their sexuality whenever they can find an opportunity to do so; young males wish to give and receive affection in ways that we as a community have not clearly understood before; men who have relationships with boys often do so for benevolent reasons and assist those boys to cope with the business of growing up in an increasingly adult-orientated and impersonal world. For too long we have concentrated on the darker side of sexual relationships between adults and children without looking at the reasons for these relationships — the bland condemnation of Greek love and the resulting draconian measures taken by a vengeful society destroy everything they touch. We may still morally and aesthetically disapprove of adult-child relationships and that is our undoubted right. But if we don’t heed the lesson that Clarence Osborne has taught us, then we will continuously reinforce bigotry and prejudice and we do so at the cost of further damaging our children’s welfare.