Sunday, February 22, 2004
By RUSS FLANAGAN
After nearly three decades of failed relationships and emotional discontent, Lindsay Ashford has finally found himself.
Since he was a child, Ashford has always had a deep attraction to young girls but never acted on his urges or knew they had a name.
It wasn't until five years ago, at the age of 30, that Ashford realized why his brief marriage and his countless flings across the United States and Europe always ended the same. Ashford is a pedophile.
For most of his life, he has buried his emotions and masked his long-secreted attraction. It wasn't until recently that Ashford decided to throw off the shackles of pedophilia and shed light on what he says is a misunderstood "sexual orientation." Last year, he became perhaps one of the first pedophiles in the world to put his name and face on a Web site to publicly profess his love for children.
"I am tired of being forced into the shadows by society," Ashford said recently in an e-mail interview. "I have committed no crime, therefore there is no good reason that I should have to hide myself. As long as pedophiles continue to hide, there is no chance of them ever being accepted."
Ashford, an American expatriate living in the south of France, believes it is time the public learned pedophiles are different from child molesters in that they enjoy a romantic and emotional, but not always sexual, connection with children. He also believes it is time for a child rights movement that will give kids more say in how to live their lives.
Ashford, 35, an unemployed business consultant, is part of a pioneering group of pedophiles from around the world who also believe pedophilia is not a sexual disorder that can be cured by medication and psychotherapy. He believes, rather, that it is a sexual orientation with which he was born, and therefore, cannot deny.
This is a view shared by numerous pro-pedophilia groups around the world. In the United States, the most notorious may be the New York-based North American Man/Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA.
According to its Web site, NAMBLA's goal is to end the "extreme oppression" of men and boys in mutually consensual relationships by educating the public on the "benevolent nature of man/boy love," and working to abolish age-of-consent laws.
NAMBLA representatives did not return telephone messages left at their New York offices seeking comment, but the association's Web site is clear about its agenda.
"NAMBLA calls for the empowerment of youth in all areas, not just the sexual. We support greater economic, political and social opportunities for young people and denounce the rampant ageism that segregates and isolates them in fear and mistrust," the Web site says. "We support the rights of youth as well as adults to choose the partners with whom they wish to share and enjoy their bodies."
The Danish Pedophile Association is another group with global reach and may offer the most-extensive set of links to similar pro-pedophilia groups on the World Wide Web. Like Ashford, it takes the position that pedophilia is not a sexual disorder, but an orientation that cannot be changed.
Pedophilia "has all the same characteristics as homosexuality, transvestism, fetishism, etc.," said Dan Markussen, spokesman for the 100-member association, which was founded in 1985.
"Sexual orientation is defined as a lifelong attraction, which pedophilia obviously is."
The assertion by pedophiles that their attraction to children is a natural sexual orientation with which they were born has done little to gain them allies. It is especially touchy for homosexuals -- who were similarly maligned in the past -- because gay advocacy groups used the same argument to win segments of social acceptance over the past two decades.
That, coupled with the notion of man/boy love, has caused gay rights groups to distance themselves from the pro-pedophilia movement to preserve their efforts for acceptance in the mainstream.
"We completely condemn these types of organizations. There's no question about it," said Michael Young, the associate director of regional media for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD.
While many may disagree with the pedophiles' claim that they are born with a taste for the young, a leading American doctor on the subject of pedophilia is willing to concede they are half-right.
"I think it can be both a disorder and an orientation," said Dr. Frederick Berlin, founder of the Sexual Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
While he believes people who are sexually attracted to children should not feel ashamed of their condition, he also says they should not act on them.
"Many of these people need help in not acting on these very intense desires in the same way that a drug addict or alcoholic may need help," he said. "We don't for the most part blame someone these days for their alcoholism. We do believe that these people have a disease or a disorder, but we also recognize that in having it that it impairs their function, that it causes them suffering that they need to turn for help."
Markussen, the Danish Pedophile Association spokesman, said that Berlin's line of thinking only leads to further public persecution of pedophiles.
"If it were a disease then it should be possible to cure it," Markussen said. "A few therapists have claimed that they could cure pedophilia as well as homosexuality, etc., but follow-up studies have never confirmed this."
Berlin, who also is a consultant on the National Conference of Catholic
Bishops' ad hoc committee on sexual abuse, said many pedophiles have an
unhealthy tendency to think of children as "mini adults," and want to
lavish them with all the rights and responsibilities
currently given only to those over the age of 18.
Pedophiles need to understand that "children are not mini adults, they can be harmed by these activities," he said.
Ashford said pedophiles see children as nothing more than children and are attracted by their innocence.
"This is a total nonsense," he said. "I do not see children as 'mini-adults' at all. I would argue that society sees them this way much more than I do. I see young people as individuals who see the world more clearly than many adults do, due to the fact that they have not yet been conditioned by society to see things the way that society wishes for them to."
Ashford and the other pedophile groups are quick to condemn child rape and those who prey upon children for sex. He said that while pedophiles and child molesters are often linked, they are in reality nothing alike. He blamed the media for distorting the difference.
"The media has an inaccurate conception of what a pedophile is, using the term 'pedophile' synonymously with 'child molester,'" he said. "In actual fact, most pedophiles are not child molesters at all and do not act out upon their desires, while many child molesters are not actually pedophiles. Numerous studies support this claim, and indeed, many anti-pedophile organizations state this as well."
Still, pedophiles, and NAMBLA in particular, fail to get the same support from organizations that traditionally stand up for groups fighting for acceptance, such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We're not taking any position on NAMBLA," said Larry Frankel, legislative director for the ACLU in Pennsylvania.
Despite public outrage, pedophiles will continue to press on through their intricate links of Web sites. Both Ashford, who has a daughter from his failed marriage, and Markussen claim to be celibate pedophiles, which they say has led to a feeling of emptiness in their lives.
"For a long time, I found a physical level of satisfaction by having relationships with adult women or with teenage girls over the age of consent," said Ashford, who claims to have twice tried to take his own life. But "emotional or spiritual satisfaction is not a possibility. The feeling of futility leaves me frequently sad and depressed."
Markussen's tale is similar.
"Most pedophiles lead a terrible life," Markussen said. "They can't tell anybody about their feelings. They have to fake interest in adults. Many live in social isolation which leads to weirdness."
Both Ashford and Markussen maintain they have never been arrested for having sexual relations with minors. Ashford said that because he has broken no laws, he does not fear retaliation from law enforcement for his beliefs.
"I am certain that law enforcement knows about me since a number of anti-pedophile organizations have informed me that they have reported me to the FBI, Interpol and other law enforcement agencies," he said. "But since I am guilty of no crimes, I do not see why this is a reason for fear. I believe that there is a greater danger from vigilante activity than from
law enforcement. At the same time, I must remain mindful that official harassment and persecution of pedophiles does exist."
Reporter Russ Flanagan can be reached at 610-258-7171 or by e-mail at