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[Newsletter E 10] 

Protection of innocence?

Sexual Privacy for Paedophiles and Children
Paper delivered by Tom O'Carroll to the Symposium on Sexual Privacy at the annual meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research, Paris, June 2000

[…] Nowadays, children are in a remarkably analogous position to that of the white women who used to be "protected" by lynch mobs of Ku Klux Klansmen in the American South. The dominant white male culture of the old South in the slavery era held that women, like today's children, were not sexual beings; they were pure. Thus if there was any sexual contact between them and a black man it could only mean one thing: rape. White ladies were not allowed to have sexual feelings for black men; it was literally unthinkable. Women who dared to break this iron taboo were ladies no longer, just whores.

Nowadays, the locus of sexual anxiety has shifted towards children. As this anxiety has been cranked up and up in recent decades, we have been seeing increasingly repressive measures designed not to protect children themselves but to protect the myth of childhood innocence in which society has invested so heavily. Punishing children for sexual involvement with adults, however, would be too nakedly a contradiction of their victim status. It would imply they had known what they were doing, and were not innocent. In order to preserve this notional innocence of the child, it is far easier to blame the adult, the despised paedophile, whatever the facts of the case may have been.

But when children have sex with each other there is no adult available to blame. Scapegoating the paedophile as-it-were "ethnic minority" is not an option. Instead, the repression of children's sexuality needs a secondary scapegoat. Clinging ever more desperately to the dogma that children in general are non-sexual, a minority of kids are being stigmatised as deviants and delinquents when they are caught in sexual activity with their peers. There have even been attempts to criminalise sexual activities in which no single child played a dominant role, so that it was not possible to blame an allegedly abusive power relationship of a bigger or older child over a smaller or younger one.

Children’s privacy

Creating the concept of child sexual deviants, analogous to "fallen" Southern women, has been one aspect of modern Western society's efforts to preserve the innocence myth. Ideally, from a conservative point of view, the embarrassment of seeing kids on sex registers and exposed as sex ring participants, would be avoided if at all possible. So what we are seeing alongside these highly public but fairly rare cases is a much more pervasive phenomenon: the invasion of all children's privacy for the purpose of sexual repression.

Children, it is true, have always been spied on by their parents. Rightly or wrongly, mom – usually mom not dad – has gone rooting through pockets, and bedroom drawers. If a youngster has kept a diary, chances have always been it would be read by a parent from time to time, especially if the child insisted its contents were secret. Nothing new in that.



What we are seeing now is an increased level of parental anxiety to such an extent that it is finding political expression, with the force of legislation deployed to systematically invade children's private lives. COPPA, The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act in the US is a prime example. This measure, which is not yet operational and which is rightly being resisted by the broadly anti-censorship online community, would require that any website or online service directed to children should obtain parental consent before collecting information from children under the age of 13. […] What it looks like to me is not protection of their privacy but invasion of it – the language of the law is an Orwellian inversion of the truth.

The threat of COPPA is that it would extend parental control over their children in the one area where they have enjoyed a small measure of personal freedom and privacy in recent years, thanks to the relative lack of net-headedness and technical savvy of many parents. Kids have to some extent been left alone in their bedrooms, able to explore the cyber world with a freedom no longer available to them in the physical world of their immediate environment. […]

Concerned, loving parents have been sold the myth that it's a big bad world out there, with weird strangers out to get their kids and do unspeakable things. But real horrors are exceedingly rare and the most truly abusive acts against children, including murder, take place in the home, perpetrated by parents – "family values" are only as good as the family that holds them. So what we are getting, in the name of protecting children first from "stranger danger" and now from the Wild Wild Web, is constant surveillance and control over all children, such that they have no space to be themselves. They have no private life, no way of standing a little apart from their adult controllers in ways that enable them to develop as autonomous individuals. […]

Read more about the overprotection of children


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[Newsletter E 10]