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Paedophilia thesis comes under fire

Doctorate could justify child sex, say abuse experts

Matthew Taylor, education correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday December 2, 2004

An academic awarded a doctorate by Glasgow University for his thesis which described sex between adults and children as sometimes positive was criticised last night by child abuse experts.

Richard Yuill said his research, based on interviews with paedophiles and their victims, "challenged the assumption" that sexual relations between adults and under-16s were inherently abusive.

"The conclusions are that in such relationships I think you've got the good, the bad and the ugly, and that's where I stand on that," he said in the Times Higher Education Supplement.

But child abuse experts said his thesis would play into the hands of paedophiles who justified their actions by claiming their victims were willing participants.

Chris Harrison, a senior lecturer in social work at Warwick University said:

"Whatever his intention, one of the things we know about sexual offenders is that they seize on this kind of thing and use it to support their position."

Mr Yuill, who was awarded his doctorate this week, interviewed paedophiles by describing himself as a "boylover" and said his work could challenge the law which states that children under 16 are incapable of giving informed consent to sex with adults.

"The law may well take that view," he said. "The only thing I'm reporting is that the research findings do not concur with that overall picture. A number of respondents would concur with the law ... but others found positive experiences or at least what I'd call neutral."

Glasgow University said last night the thesis did not represent its views but defended the decision to award the doctorate.

"This student and his research was the subject of a full investigation by senior university staff. His research material was examined by Strathclyde police who were satisfied that nothing of an illegal nature had taken place," it said.

But other academics criticised Mr Yuill's research.

Andrew Durham, author of the book Young Men Surviving Child Sexual Abuse said victims of abuse sometimes reported positive experiences, but this was often a result of manipulation by the abuser, or simply a coping mechanism.

"When I work with people who have been abused it often feels like you're talking to the abuser in the child's head," he said.

Natalie Cronin, head of policy at the NSPCC, said the suggestion that the research could result in a change in the law was unacceptable.

"The age of consent sends a clear message to adults and young people that sexual intercourse and sexual activity under 16 is wrong in law. This is the age at which young people can give sufficiently mature and informed consent to sex. The NSPCC does not agree with the introduction of a lower age of consent," she said.

Mr Yuill said his research included "a lot of interviews with a lot of different groups" including victims of abuse who reported only extremely negative experiences.

Liz Kelly, professor of sexualised violence at London Metropolitan University, said: "Within its own terms the thesis may be fine but that is not the same question as whether its contents are strong enough to carry such big claims as that made with respect to the age of consent.

"A lot of young men and almost all young women in our study who had intercourse with an adult when they were a child regarded it negatively."

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