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Fury over PhD for child-sex research

Phil Baty
Times Higher Education Supplement 04-12-03

A row has erupted over Glasgow University's decision to award a
doctorate for a thesis that describes "positive" experiences of sex
between children and adults based on interviews with paedophiles and their victims.
Richard Yuill received his doctorate this week for research that he
said "challenges the assumption" that all sexual relationships
between adults and children under the age of 16 are inherently

Access to the thesis is being restricted by the university, but Dr
Yuill told The Times Higher in his first media interview:

"The conclusions are that in such relationships you've got the good, the
bad and the ugly, and that's where I stand on that."

The study has angered academic experts in the field of child abuse
and child-protection practitioners, who said it would "play into the
hands" of abusers who often justify their activity by claiming that
the victims are willing participants.

"Whatever (Dr Yuill's) intention, one thing we know about sexual
offenders is that they seize on this kind of thing and use it to
support their position," said Chris Harrison, a senior lecturer in
social work at Warwick University.

Dr Yuill approached The Times Higher in a bid to clear his name
after his research techniques were attacked. It emerged in 2001 that
he had solicited interviews with paedophiles by describing himself
as a "boy-lover" and had corresponded with convicted paedophiles, to
whom he granted anonymity.

An investigation by Glasgow cleared him of allegations that he was
misusing his position as a researcher. The university confirmed this
week that the work had full ethical approval, and the police took no
action after being alerted to his work.

Dr Yuill said this week that he used "boy-lover" in an email to help
"build trust" and get interviews. The term did not describe his
sexual identity, he said.

He admitted that some of his emails had been inappropriately
"friendly", but he said the record showed that he had always
identified himself as a researcher. It was appropriate to protect
his sources' identity despite their illegal activity, he said, or
important research would not be done.

He stressed that he

"didn't challenge the assumption (of abuse) from
the point of view that they were all great, these relationships, as
they clearly are not."

And he wanted to stress that the research

"a lot of interviews with a lot of different groups",
including victims of abuse who report only extremely negative

Dr Yuill said the work could challenge the law, which states that
the emotional immaturity of children under 16 makes them incapable
of giving informed consent to sex with adults.

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

Andrew Durham, author of the book Young Men Surviving Child Sexual
Abuse, said Dr Yuill's thesis would "play into the hands" of
abusers. Victims of abuse sometimes report positive experiences, he
said, but this was often a result of manipulation by the abuser or a
coping mechanism.

Liz Kelly, professor of sexualised violence at London Metropolitan
University, said:

"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 spokeswoman for Glasgow said:

"This thesis was subject to the same
rigorous scrutiny as any other PhD research and was marked and
examined by an external examiner. The research submitted was of a
high academic standard, suitable for the award of the degree."

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