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Pedophilia and Sexual Harassment: Do They Have Similarities?

Vern L. Bullough, R.N., Ph.D., 
3304 W. Sierra Dr., Westlake Village, California 91362 
(e-mail: vbullough@adelphia.net  )


Both Green and Schmidt raise important questions about pedophilia in their articles. Although Schmidt correctly defines pedophilia, distinguishing it from ephebophilia, in so doing, he narrows the discourse since, in spite of our attempts to be precise in definition, pedophilia in the popular mind has come to mean almost any intergenerational sex between an adult and a minor. It is this broader definition with which most of the public discourse is associated and which is the focus of this response.

Green is correct that adult sexual interactions with prepubescent and pubescent youth have been ubiquitous in many societies -- in fact, probably in the majority of past societies. Before the revisions of the national law codes in Western countries in the nineteenth century, the age of consent ranged between 10 and 14; even with the revision, providing there was parental consent, marriages at earlier ages could be arranged. There have been numerous marriages or betrothals of young girls with older men. 

Both St. Augustine, the founder of western Christian theology, and Muhammad, the founder of Islam, took prepubescent girls as their betrothed. Many of those who entered into such relationships, such as Samuel de Champlain (d. 1635), the first governor of French Canada, agreed that they would not have sex with a 12-year-old bride until she was 14, as Champlain did unless he consulted with her family and received their permission to do so earlier. Apparently, he did.

The issue, however, is not what people did in the past, but what should be our standards today. Green deals with the problems of getting research samples and I am uncertain whether a study similar to that of Wilson and Cox (1983) could be conducted in the United States because of laws requiring therapists to report pedophiles under treatment. 

The fact that Wilson and Cox concluded that the pedophiles seemed to fall within normal ranges and, on the basis of the personality tests, could not be classified as pathological is, I believe, a key to how to deal with such individuals.

There is a vast range of behaviors in the past which are not sanctioned today, many of them sexual. The behavior most of interest to me, and the one to which I would like to set forth as an example, is sexual harassment. What constitutes sexual harassment might be somewhat debatable (as is pedophilia), but simply to be accused of engaging in it creates major problems to the individuals involved. 

What we have done in American society is engage in a massive reeducation program emphasizing the acceptable relationships between the sexes and, in many cases, enacted laws to severely punish violators. As a Dean in a major university system, I had to institute workshops on the topic and take action against those who violated the new norms. The point of the workshops was to emphasize that while behavior now defined as harassment might have been normative in the past, it is no longer. It was not pathological behavior, but rather socially not approved, which is a different thing.

Rather than demonize the pedophile for what he thinks is his natural inclination, we have to emphasize that what was normative in the past is no longer the case. This does not make the pedophile a sociopath, but rather a person with a maladjustment to new societal norms. The


pedophile can fantasize and I would encourage them to fantasize. It is the conduct that is unacceptable, not the fantasy. Helping a person adjust to acceptable norms becomes an educational problems rather than a psychiatric one, and to regard it in such a way removes its pathological overtones. In the process, I think it makes the problem of pedophilia easier to deal with.

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