Quotes from Malón's "Participating Victim"

Archives of Sexual Behavior

Malón, Agustín
Type of WorkQuotes


  1. This short version of the article, giving quotes and a minimum of references, is made for the modern reader who, regrettably, does not read long texts.
    De complete article is here:
    < https://www.ipce.info/library/journal-article/participating-victim-article >, including a .PDF version.
  2. The References are given in a separate file:
    < https://www.ipce.info/library/journal-article/participating-victim-references >


The study of erotic experiences between minors and adults reached its high-water mark in the last third of the 20th century, with the rise of the current child sexual abuse paradigm. During those years, especially in the Western world, the conceptualizing of these relationships as despicable acts was dramatically intensified, leading to the dehumanizing — and even demonizing — of adults involve.

The result has been that all of these experiences, without exception, are treated as serious criminal acts, with grave personal and legal implications (Malón, 2004).

Within this new framework, defining all of the minors involved as innocent victims without any responsibility for, or role in, what occurred has been essential

Here, the minor is not regarded simply

  • as the victim of a legally defined offence (legal criterion),
  • as being involved in an act which is morally condemned (moral criterion),
  • or even implicated in an experience which was personally unpleasant and/or painful,
  • or simply not wanted (personal criterion),
  • but rather as being enmeshed in a necessarily destructive and always determinant experience (mythic/existential criterion) with the potential to compromise the minor’s short- and long-term mental health (medical criterion) (Malón, 2009).

This revised social construction of the ‘‘child victim’’ has manifested itself in a rigid redefinition of:

  1. the child’s role in the initiation and repetition of the act;
  2. his or her experience of it; and
  3. its short and long term effects.
  • First, it was hypothesized that the child never initiates or freely participates in these relationships;
  • secondly, it was asserted that it was always a negative experience — sometimes dramatically so; and
  • lastly, the principal that all of these experiences were necessarily traumatic became generalized

This article is intended to be a more generalized and comprehensive examination of the evolution in the expert literature, principally in the second third of the 20th century, from the acknowledgement of the active, voluntary, and erotic participation of the child in some cases to a wide-ranging negation and redefinition of this participation.

This article is a study of the historical evolution of the perspectives on, and the treatment of, these sorts of cases, delving into the history of scientific knowledge about child sexuality and erotic experiences between children and adults with the ultimate objective of a better understanding of our current way of approaching these experiences from a cultural and historical point of view.

The Scientific Study of Child-Adult Erotic Experiences in the Second Third of the 20th Century

This article [....] will demonstrate that it was more common to devote greater attention to the willingness of some children in these experiences, something which continued to be present in later studies within the framework of the emerging child protection movement.

The existence of minors collaborating in these relationships was found in two types of works.

Constituting the first group was the clinical literature on incest.

The second group of works, already cited, is that of studies which are not limited to incest. In them, as previously noted, the active role played by some children is central.

In the following, an analysis is presented of the way in which these ‘‘participating victims,’’ as opposed to ‘‘casual’’ ones were described, where the former encompassed. This will be done by comparing those earlier studies with the early works of Finkelhor, a prominent proponent of the current victimological paradigm, which situates us within the forty years that elapsed between these two disparate views of some children’s voluntary participation in these experiences.

Expert Accounts of ‘‘Participating Victims’’

[Bender & Blau, 1937] concluded that many children could be active participants in these relationships, which according to these authors was in agreement with the latest contributions from the field of child psychiatry, which in turn ascribed to children great psychiatric complexity and which recognized the existence of predisposing sexual impulses in their personality. Many did not merit, they continued, that mantel of innocence with which moralists and social reformers had been wishing to invest them.

It was apparent that these children obtained some satisfaction from relationships which typically were not interrupted until they were discovered by third persons. This was what their emotional tranquility seemed to indicate.

Some accounted for their experiences with serenity, in some cases recalling their consent and desire to continue them. This reaction on the child’s part contrasted, they add, with the exaggerated and anxious responses of parents and other adults vis-à-vis the child and his/her future.

Years later, a large study of sexual delinquency in California was conducted (Bowman, 1953), part of which was published in an article entitled ‘‘A Study of Girl Sex Victims." Its primary objective was to account for the collaborative role played by some girls.

They catalogued 21 of them as casual victims, 44 as participants, and 8 as undetermined.

They found two general types of participating victims.

  • One group, to whom they devoted scarcely any attention at all, consisted of girls from very problematic familial and social contexts in which their inappropriate sexual conduct was more of a sign of emotional disturbance and general behavior.
  • A second group, which they analyze in detail, was described as the ‘‘typical participating victim,’’ in terms similar to Bender’s, as very attractive and appealing.

Taking these two studies as a foundation, and referring from time to time to the work of Kinsey, Landis, or De Francis, it will be discussed, as described by these authors, what the fundamental traits of participating victim seemed to be.

Six of these traits are discussed, which describe the child as

  • (A) an Erotic Being,
  • (B) Sexually Precocious,
  • (C) ‘‘Guilty,’’
  • (D) Against Society,
  • (E) Encounter-Seeking, and
  • (F) Absolved.

Later in this paper, the radical mutation of each of these traits into the corresponding victimological point of reference will be delineated, using the same letters for equivalent section headings, and focusing on the works of Finkelhor as a principal example of this new perspective.

A: The Child as an Erotic Being

Bender and Blau’s (1937) principal conclusion was the existence of child sexuality and a questioning of the presumed universality of the latency period. Many of the children exhibited marked erotic interests. And although that was interpreted as an inducement by the adult or apparently ‘‘de-eroticized’’ as a search for affection, in some seven cases this erotic predisposition continued to be demonstrated.

In the second third of the last century, Kinsey, whose work is recognized by those authors, was the first to defend the erotic dimension of boys and girls, and thus the legitimacy and even importance of expressing a condition intrinsic to human nature, and depended as much on individual sexuality as on experience.

This, in and of itself, was regarded by Kinsey not as a problem, but simply as another aspect of the spectrum of human sexual interaction, with which the naturalist was merely charged with making a record.

B: The Sexually Precocious Child

This recognition of the child as having erotic capacities and interests does not necessarily imply tolerance of these, much less promotion. This same concept of sexual precociousness implicitly points to what some may see as a problem of a disturbed sexual development. At that point, although some children defend their conduct, in others a return to socially acceptable normality takes place.

The final result of California sexual deviation study was, on the one hand, an inability for the girl to control her impulses and sexual curiosity and, on the other, a limited consciousness of guilt, which added up to an inclination to find attractive elements in the sexual experience, thus facilitating her participation.

To Kinsey this supposedly precocious expression of erotic interest and behavior was not a deviation but more of an expression of the inexhaustible diversity of human sexuality.

This erotic condition, problematized or not, progressively disappeared, at least as an ‘‘explanatory’’ variable, with the establishment of the current child-victim point of reference.

This emergent paradigm failed to address what some authors recognized from time to time in some cases was the erotic benefit that some children might derive from these experiences. This awareness is something which also occasionally occurred from the 1970s on, though always interpreted as a pleasure induced in the child against his or her will.

C: The ‘‘Guilty’’ Child

These first studies occurred in a historical period in which the child was regarded as more responsible for his or her actions, including those of an erotic nature; he or she could be regarded as a sexual delinquent even if the acts were with adult.

A certain responsibility on the victim’s part arose with the differentiation between moral and legal criteria:

There are two major types of victimization episodes:

  • those of actual assault by an offender who forces his sexual contacts on a victim without the latter’s consent, against his will or against his resistance; and
  • those episodes of mutual consent relations between coparticipants, in which the consent of the ‘‘weaker’’ party has no legal sanction.
  • The first type includes victims in fact as well as in law. These may be called accidental victims.
  • The second type consists of victims under the law but not in fact. They are participant victims.

It is in general the language employed and the rhetoric and tone of these texts, aside from the underlying theory, which suggests to the reader the possibility that the child might be partially responsible. Thus, the way in which experts interpret issues like blame, the minor’s silence, or his or her description in general will be central elements in getting to the bottom of this possible ‘‘culpability.’’

One of the ways in which the latter is suggested is by pointing out that it was not only the adult but the girl or boy who had also engaged in sexual conduct.

In all of these works, it is, therefore, suggested, explicitly or implicitly, that the child had something to do with what happened and could not be completely absolved of that role.

"For most of the remainder of the cases, sexual and other gratifications on the part of the child were sufficient to maintain the mutual character of the encounter over long periods of time and for many more separate contacts."

D: The Child Against the Society

In contrast to what happened towards the end of the century, we see in Bender and Blau’s text at least the possibility that the child, even in this arena, was the one who was acting against society. According to these authors, practically all such minors had advance, and often condemnable, knowledge about sexuality.
In this sense, it is relevant to observe how adults, perhaps including the authors themselves, were discomfited by the idea that children even had a sexuality, with all of its reproductive and hedonistic ends.

"At first the children often showed no guilt but this tended to develop as they were separated from their sex object and means of gratification, and as they were exposed to the opinion of parents and court officials. It occurred especially with the more intelligent children and seemed in part a reflection of adult censure and not to carry any conviction to the child."

In trying to account for the repetition of these experiences, considering that the adult’s presumed threats or authority were not always enough, researchers asked why the children didn’t just come out and tell people what had happened. Although the reasons contemplated by the authors were varied, and we often must read between the lines to extract them, they did not reject the idea that the children might conceal the event simply because that’s what they wished to do, because it was been
experienced positively, due to a fear that the parents would be angry and that they would accuse them of collaboration, or merely out of a desire to be loyal to their adult partner and not wanting anything bad to happen to him.

E: The Encounter-Seeking Child

Besides possible erotic enjoyment or the attainment of material benefits, a typical explanation for this participatory role has been the search for affection and attention, almost always stemming from a lack of attention within the family itself. This hypothesis would be the only one tolerated in the victimological paradigm, notwithstanding the fact that it would be utilized as an argument more along the lines that the child is always a victim who was looking for affection, but encountering only sex. This stood in stark contrast to the adult, who was always looking for sex, never affection. 

One conclusion applicable to these works is that in them the researchers understood that some of the children were seeking out these encounters. The important thing was not what the child’s motives were, but that the child not be absolved of his/her role as a seeker and/or maintainer of that relationship. This means that the child, interested in an encounter with an adult, whether out of genuine erotic interest or for some other reason, saw this as potentially beneficial to him or her.

The fact that the child got something out of these relationships, and that this benefit could be acknowledged by the researchers, turns out to be particularly representative of this perspective.

Whether what they got out of it would have been attention, affection, money or gifts, security, entertainment, a feeling of superiority or of ‘‘being older,’’ pleasure and excitement, curiosity, revenge, etc., is another matter. But to accept that some children derived benefits from these relationships and from their preservation, collaborating in them means attributing to children a degree of freedom that has been voided under the new paradigm.

F: The Absolved Child

The modern victimological discourse is characterized by a constant reproach of the experts of other epochs for the responsibility they attributed to the minors involve.

In this sense the figure of the ‘‘participating victim’’ was, as we shall see, rejected by those who regarded this as only serving to assign blame to the victim and avoid the responsibilities of the adult.

In talking about these boys and girls as little sexual delinquents, implying their ‘‘voluntary’’ prostitution, pointing out a marked and incorrigible erotic interest, highlighting their attractive, seductive, or manipulative personalities, their rebelliousness and antisocial behavior, as well as the attainment of various benefits, the texts reviewed here might suggest that many of the children should be regarded as the ones principally to blame.

But this reading, enslaved to a completely different moral and ideological framework, would be erroneous. In fact, the child might have been partially responsible, since it was not denied that he or she had a more or less active role in what occurred; but in the end, he or she would also be ‘‘absolved.’’ Apparently, the recognition of some participant children does not imply that all are initiators or ‘‘little perverts,’’ but neither are they ‘‘destroyed children’’

For one thing, it must be emphasized that, as much in Bender and Blau’s (1937) study as that of Weiss et al. (1955), the types of cases were not, nor did they claim to be, representative of the entire population of children who have these sorts of experiences. In both, what we have are studies of a qualitative nature.

In spite of frequently being described in terms of characteristics that suggest a certain responsibility for what occurred, and being regarded as having a ‘‘sexual behavior problem,’’ the girl was always absolved. The way to absolve these girls was to blame the parents who, fundamentally through an ambiguous, contradictory, and confusing education, especially in matters of sexuality, led the girl to resort to relationships with other adults as a means of overcoming conflict and differentiating herself as an individual.

In these older studies, apparently the recognition of the existence of some participating children and their collaborative role in some of these experiences did not lead to the authors’ tolerating the situations or excusing the adult involved; conversely, these children were not described as passive, vulnerable, and innocent victims who must be ‘‘rescued,’’ as they will be under the victimological and morally one-dimensional perspective of the last part of the 20th century.

The Decline and Redefinition of the ‘‘Participating Victim’’

The evolution of the ‘‘participating victim’’ in the modern victimological paradigm  will now be further analyzed.

Since the late 1970s, Finkelhor (1979, 1981, 1984, 1986) has been preeminent in formulating and propounding the hypotheses underlying the CSA model, and it is therefore appropriate that the focus be on his various publications, while concurrently considering [other] authors. 

This critical review will identify various aspects of the transition of the participating
victim into the innocent and nonparticipating victim, beginning with Finkelhor’s (1979) article: What’s Wrong with Sex Between Adults and Children? Ethics and the Problem of Sexual Abuse, in which he reviewed and questioned the three arguments most often used to condemn these experiences:

  1. the assertion that sex is intrinsically bad, which he felt was too categorical and increasingly called into question;
  2. thinking that it involves the precocious sexualization of the child, which is false because children are sexual beings; and
  3. regarding them as traumatic experiences, which would be more of an empirical than a moral argument, besides having been insufficiently demonstrated.

As an alternative, Finkelhor (1979) pointed to the absence of a true informed consent on the minor’s part [...] and the existing power differential. The child could theoretically ‘‘desire’’ the adult and have physically pleasurable experiences, but would not be able to authentically accede to these relations. Moreover, the child is a being subordinate to and dependent upon the adult, like a prisoner before his.

These reflections were of a time of a certain moral confusion in matters of sexuality, particularly with regard to the sexuality of children and adolescents. In this area, there were some authors appealing for greater sexual freedom for them or at least for the de-dramatization of the lion’s share of these experiences and a differentiation between what is abuse and what is not.

Priority was given to the continued advance of the process of sexual liberation, which they feared was being blocked by the increasing over-dramatization and exaggeration of these act.

Apparently, Finkelhor had no problem acknowledging that such cases existed; but the way they were handled would have to be modified substantially, given that they were already being overshadowed by an ever-rising tide of sexual abuse victims; alternatively, the nature and significance of their participation would have to be radically redefined.

"[T]here has been a long-standing concern with establishing how much the child participated in the sexual experience. We have tried to point out … that this is not a fruitful, and is in fact a destructive preoccupation in the field. Our data show the children to be the recipients of sexual actions, not the initiators, and also the victims of force and coercion. Only in a tiny minority of cases did the respondents say they had initiated the sexual activity. Ninety-eight percent of the girls and 91 percent of the boys said it was the older partner who started the sexual behavior."

Finkelhor does not explain this renunciation, limiting himself instead to developing the arguments by which the participating victim was eventually removed from expert knowledge;

  • [a] by concentrating on those cases in which the adult resorts to force or threats;
  • [b] by pointing to the lack of cases where the child initiates the interaction and minimizing those which he or she is interested in maintaining;
  • [c] and lastly, by toning down the minor’s consent to the point that it ceases to be such, always converting it into a trick, a purchase, or a false acquiescence. 

This new rhetoric, which negated the previous one, absolved the child of any role in, or responsibility for, what happened.

The new characteristics of the ever more attenuated figure of the participating victim now will be examined within the context of the same six traits used earlier.

A: From the Erotic Child to the Erotically Infantile Child

Finkelhor: ‘‘Children are sexual; the asexuality of childhood is a myth. Most children are curious about sex. They explore sexuality with one another. In fact, when adults shield children from sex, it probably does more harm than good’’.

The struggle against sexual abuse does not involve a rejection of legitimate erotic experiences between peers. This implies that child sexuality could remain legitimate among equals, but never with older person. 

To Finkelhor, as would be typical from then on, it [the latter] was basically an issue of involuntary pleasure, incited by the adult and never truly sought out and/or enjoyed by the child.

Preadolescent eroticism, highlighted in earlier works, has ceased to be a possible explanatory variable for some children’s interest in initiating and/or reprising these relationships, and at most will be converted into a ‘‘risk factor’’ which makes the erotically interested child more vulnerable to victimization.

B: From the Sexually Precocious Child to Traumatic Sexualization

The earlier erotically precocious, curious, provocative, hedonistic, or even moral-order-transgressing child basically disappeared in the new framework of abuse. The mere mention of these qualities were reviled by some as relics of an archaic era which, nevertheless, as Finkelhor, along with feminist authors, admitted, had not disappeared.

Apparently, the problem of sexual precociousness threatened what was the cornerstone of the emerging paradigm: the rigid rhetoric of the child victim and experts’ increasing refusal to attribute to the former any sort of responsibility for and/or active role.

But in the 1970s, [...] it is here that the erotically precocious child was transformed into the child victim of a traumatic sexualization.

To Finkelhor [...] child sexuality was not a problem but, rather, something positive, except when it involved children and persons who were significantly older.

A detailed analysis brings us to the conclusion that under Finkelhor these experiences with adults would make child sexuality far more problematized.

In effect, traumatic sexualization would be a process by which the child’s sexuality, in terms of attitudes and feelings, is oriented along the lines of inappropriate and dysfunctional development, resulting in harmful short and long term effects.

These experiences could generate problems in terms of confusion regarding sexual identity and orientation

It would, therefore, be more intensely traumatically sexualizing if:

  1. the child responds erotically versus when he does not do so;
  2. the child is seduced into participating as opposed to force or threats being employed; and,
  3. the child is older and more conscious of the sexual nature of the act.

The pathologization inherent in the sexual abuse paradigm brings about the conversion of early erotic initiation, formerly an essentially moral and educational issue, into a medical and psychiatric problem with significant consequences.

In Finkelhor’s speculations [...] all of the internal elements will disappear in order to focus solely on external causes, especially the effects of adult sexual stimulation. Thus, the child will never be erotically precocious in a genuine way or for reasons distinct from the sexual experience with the adult, but these experiences come to be an explanatory key to the minor’s entire present and future life, erotic and otherwise.

This may account for why Browne and Finkelhor’s speculations regarding ‘‘traumatic sexualization’’ occur within the framework of a theory of trauma.

Starting with the assumption that these experiences are traumatic, which they admit was something that has not been proven, they go on to posit various ‘‘traumatogenic’’ elements, among which traumatic sexualization would be the one most associated with the abuse experience; while other mechanisms — such as defenselessness, treachery, and stigmatization — might also come into play.

Finkelhor: ‘‘These dynamics, when present, alter the child’s cognitive and emotional orientation to the world, and create trauma by distorting a child’s self-concept, worldview, and affective capacities’.

A careful reading of this model does not prevent a critical reader from considering the possibility that the sexual experience with an adult would not have traumatic effects in those cases in which none of these four traumatic forces were present. However, at no time is this possibility acknowledged by Finkelhor.

As a conclusion to these first two points, it should be pointed out that a presumed erotic condition among prepubertal children, defended by Finkelhor, nevertheless is not considered to have even a minimal role in the beginning and/or continuing of
these relationships. This implicit de-eroticization of childhood within the scope of expert knowledge is probably the predictable consequence of the ideological premise which sustains it.

C: From the ‘‘Guilty’’ to the ‘‘Innocent’’ Child

The possibility that minors or even adolescents might willingly involve themselves in criminal sexual behavior with adults was progressively abandoned with the development in the later 20th century of a general concept of childhood innocence, especially that which relates to erotics.

In experiences with older persons, children axiomatically were described as weak and innocent parties who would never desire such a relationship; and if they did not avoid it or break it off, it was because they couldn’t or didn’t know how to do so. In
the rare cases in which the idea was entertained that they did it because they ‘‘wanted it,’’ that desire would have to have been the result of brainwashing or inducement, in order to avoid ever having to take it seriously. The experts systematically abandoned asking themselves why the child might be interested in such a relationship, what he or she might get out of it, and what led him/her to initiate or maintain it.

One possible explanation for this might be the reasonable logic by which the presence of coercion and force does render what occurred more serious; but it might also have a lot to do with prejudices that were simply too widespread.

It is urgently necessary [says Finkelhor] to convince society that the child never participates voluntarily, and that when such does appear to be the case, it is only under the trickery and deceit of the adult who is taking advantage of the child’s weakness. In place of the past question as to why some children participate and collaborate in these relationships, the question posed now is how some adults are able to overcome the child’s defenses, and how we can help the child to protect him/herself from these assaults.

The interest in decades past in accounting for the repetition of many of these experiences disappeared or was implicitly explained by the sole argument of coercion.

Many other authors also abandoned asking themselves why some children have multiple experiences while others do not or why some children maintain relationships with various individuals while others do not.

In this new paradigm, however, no weight whatsoever is given to this differentiation [between boys and girls] that Rind et al. (1998) and other have pointed out, and the rhetoric is intent on:

  1. minimizing the percentage of cases in which the child participates voluntarily;
  2. attaching little importance to the question of the ‘‘initiation’’ and diminishing the significance of the more typical situation in which the child shows an interest in maintaining and repeating the experience;
  3. emphasizing the traumatic effect of these experiences:
    ‘‘Moreover, boys were more likely than girls to cite interest and pleasure as reactions they had to experiences at the time. However, when we looked at long-term effects of the experience as measured by impact on sexual self-esteem, the boys seem to have been affected as much, if not more, than the girls’’ (Finkelhor)
  4. not accounting for the larger percentage of positive experiences among males; and,
  5. pointing out that, despite this, they still are abusive experiences because there was no true consent.

D: From the Child Against Society to Society Against the Child

In the West, the child has traditionally been regarded as a potential enemy of the state, an apprentice human being who must be tamed through discipline and punishment in order to convince him to submit to state morality and customs. This principal has mutated radically in our more recent history, where the child has come to be both the savior as well as the innocent victim of a society which is now described as the enemy of the child [...] and of the unspoiled human nature which the latter embodies.

Within this framework, and the more recent configuration of the child victim in the 20th century, the theme of childhood sexuality became a monolithic topic among most authors. It was accepted that children ‘‘did have a sexuality,’’ but very quickly, with few exceptions [...] that sexuality became ‘‘innocent.’’ Any trace of ‘‘eroticism,’’ ‘‘arousal,’’ ‘‘seduction,’’ or ‘‘desire’’ among preadolescent children was discarded.

Among experts, this principle reinforced the premise established in the 1970s that as far as sexual experiences with adults are concerned, children should think and feel as the rest of society does. What to the latter was abuse should be the same to them as well. And inversely: it was a given that, for the child, these relationships were always abusive, and if society failed to grasp that concept, it was showing itself to be insensitive to the suffering of children.

This rhetoric came out of the two social movements most interested in promoting sexual abuse as a social problem: American child protection groups and the feminist movement of the 1970s and 1980. These authors and theories had a profound influence on Finkelhor’s own work. 

Elements which might have conveyed that even in this area the child might be against society faded into obscurity. Now, the child was not exhibiting sexually rebellious and unusual attitudes or behaviors; feelings of guilt ceased to be regarded as hypocritical gestures to make adults happy or even as genuine repentance for having behaved wrongly, and their tendency to not tell about what happened was interpreted as a consequence of the submission to the adult’s domination, never as the child’s free and voluntary decision.

And, of course, the wicked and antisocial child disappeared from these accounts in order to make room for descriptions which were always kind to and forgiving of minors. The ‘‘bad or rebellious’’ child would be so only following the sexual experience and as a consequence of it; never prior to it and as a possible factor facilitating it. 

What is new is that here the guilt, related to telling or not telling about what happened, instead of being a normal and perhaps even desirable human experience, was intimately associated with the question of trauma.

But the most salient thing about all of these reflections is not so much what they say as what they do not say and, above all, what cannot be said.

Thus, for example, in the case of males, who as we have seen were statistically more inclined to initiate these experiences and/or experience them positively, there also seems to be a lesser tendency on their part to tell their parents or other adults what
had happened.

However, at no time do the reasons speculated by Finkelhor, for example, a masculine socialization [...] the stigma of homosexuality, or a fear of losing their [...] freedom [...], consider the possibility that the boy kept silent because he had wanted and/or enjoyed something which was probably not accepted by his elders or that he did not tell because he wanted the relationship to continue.

E: From the Seeking Child to the Sought-After Child

Given that cases in which the child appears to have initiated or facilitated these kinds of relationships are relegated to practical non-existence, the works analyzed here are of little use in understanding the phenomenon of the seeking child, as Finkelhor, especially, is not obliged to account for a reality which he considers
to be of scant significance. Past benefits which the child might have derived from these relationships are abandoned as irrelevant here.

The impression is that the child is always harmed by these relationships, never benefiting from them.

The odd occasions when Finkelhor does comment that some of the children might have consented in exchange for money or gifts are used not to see the child in some way as an active participant, but to render the adult even more perverted.

The girls who in Bender and Blau came voluntarily as a group to the adult’s home now turn out to have been victims of networks of exploitative ‘‘sex rings’’. 

The child’s needs for affection, attention and other, now will become ‘‘risk factors.’’

Finkelhor was one of the first authors interested in an in-depth study of these so-called risk factors which render some children more likely victims.

It is likely that this shift, by which these risk factors go from being the ‘‘causes’’ to the effects of the sexual abuse, will aid in the process by which the sexual experience per se will come to play an ever more prominent role in explaining human biographies. In narrative terms, the sexual abuse was converted into an ever more decisive ‘‘event’’ in people’s lives, thus relegating to a secondary level those elements which traditionally have explained sexual abuse or incest as a symptom of other family problems, or even as a way of preserving an unstable family system. This is what Finkelhor does, for example, with relationship problems between the parents themselves or between them and their children.

We must not lose sight of the fact that we are referring not to conclusions with an empirical basis, but rather to hypotheses which the author is using to explain the available data or invite future inquiries.

F: From the Absolved Child to the Child Who Is Above Suspicion?

In the final portion of the chapter devoted to risk factors, Finkelhor makes one last warning regarding the danger of blaming the victim:

Finkelhor: [...] " It’s important to emphasize that true causal responsibility for abuse lies with offenders. All the research suggests that it is offenders who initiate the sexual activity."

In historical terms, this recent preoccupation of the experts with absolving the child of all responsibility turns out to be quite striking.

It is likely that the ‘‘voluntary’’ aspect of these cases are minimized or ignored, and that the minors are not allowed to portray themselves in their own self-perceived terms. In the context of the de-eroticized and traumatically sexualized child, in the face of the socially uncomprehending child who is never seeking and who is only being perversely sought out, it seems reasonable to imagine that the genuinely participating child would have to hide or mask any willingness, or suffer the extreme stigma of his or her participation.

It is clear that Finkelhor’s objective [...] is to ‘‘save’’ children, not only physically and psychologically, but also morally. But sometimes good intentions lead to greater harm, and it does not seem beyond the realm of possibility that truly blaming participating minors is more of a reality now than ever, for now their transgression is not merely of a moral order but of a mythical or ideological one.

The radical and ideologically imposed negation of the participation, interest and erotic complicity of some children could be damaging for these children who, as Finkelhor noted, are erotic beings.

Angelides gives psychoanalytic reasons why this participation and erotic interest should be recognized, but perhaps it is better to simply recognize that children, as basically reasonable beings, would benefit far more from simple, realistic, rational, and calm acceptance and understanding.

Conclusion: The Rise of a Scientific Taboo

Finkelhor was announcing what became a staple of the current hegemonic view of this problem, already posited in his earlier works, to wit, a notable interest precisely in denying and deflecting any trace of the voluntary participation of some minors in these experiences. Thus has been established the almost antagonistic shift in the expert treatment of these types of cases between one historical epoch and another.

There might be other ways of establishing this transformation, for example via an analysis of the actual cases used by authors to illustrate their assertions. Whereas accounts of voluntary and positive participation were plentiful in Bender or Weiss, in Finkelhor we only find accounts of very negative experiences. Only one counter-example has been encountered [...]. But it is the exception that would prove the rule, resulting in it becoming more complicated for professionals and researchers to find out and study about these cases.

The almost total disappearance or radical transformation of the participating victim in the modern literature on the subject is explained by Finkelhor’s typical answer: accusing those authors of having erred in their observations, ascribing undue importance to the children’s apparent collaboration in what occurred, misrepresenting that participation, and, in short, falling once again into the grave error of ‘‘blaming the victim’.

In any event, this could be turned around to suggest that the current paradigm was able to oversimplify the problem in a different way: via the absolute denial of any participatory role on the children’s part and the consequent rejection of any hint of complicity in, interest in, or benefit from what happened.

There are many possible reasons which might account for this shift, but let us focus only on those hypotheses which are of special relevance to the goals of the present study:

Victimism and Victimology

The paradigm of child sexual abuse, as we know it today, forms part of a historical process, of which Finkelhor’s texts are an integral part, in which resorting to the culture of victimism by the social sciences became prominent, perhaps even preeminent.

The pseudo-science of victimology, which gave scientific prestige to this culture of victimism, imposed previously unknown ethical boundaries on sexuality, especially the sexuality of children, was given preferential treatment in terms of social science
funding, and mounted campaigns against both past and present researchers whose findings conflicted with this new dogma. The recent attacks on Kinsey for his data on orgasm in preadolescent boys are a good example.

Adversarial Logic

In this framework, a perspective is imposed which is based more on the tradition of Hammurabi [law] than that of Hippocrates [cure]. This adversarial model of

  • the innocent and the guilty,
  • offenders and those offended against,
  • victims and aggressors,

is today claimed to be the only appropriate one with regard to sexual experiences between children and adults, but which was not either present or employed in the past.

An adversarial model implies a confrontation that can only end in the annihilation of one’s opponent. In that context, talking about the child’s possible interested and collaborative role might presume, to many, the absolution of an adult who must be condemned at all cost, sometimes forgetting the well-being of the minor.

From the Qualitative to the Quantitative Study

Another possible factor is the current widespread use of the large-sample statistical model, as opposed to a qualitative one involving fewer cases. It is not that the large-number methodology explains the change in perspective; but perhaps it does
facilitate it.

Qualitative analys is also more typical in the literature on incest, does not allow for the making of generalizations; but it does reflect the great moral complexity and experiential diversity of human relationships.

By contrast, the larger survey, which is more widely-favored at the present time, facilitates a better generalization of its results but also allows one to omit any study of the less common cases, as well as tending to over-simplify the many shades of human experience.

Many works focused on consensual relationships have been questioned precisely for not being statistically representative, which is a misinterpretation of what their contribution to human knowledge actually consists.

The Public Use of a Private Act

Finkelhor’s work was part of a new strategy in which researchers contributed to sexual abuse being regarded as a public problem to be prevented and combated, and not as the private conduct or experiences of some individuals which should be handled by taking into account the particulars of each case.

The question of the participatory role of some children could be dealt with without the pressures of a hypersensitive social climate, but when it comes to ideological and political questions, in which the professional is faced not with an individual case but with a social struggle (Malón, 2004), any acknowledgment that some minors are not what everyone would believe could provoke not only a public outcry but an end to professional advancement.

The New Sexual Morality

Traditionally, everything that took place outside of the marital, reproductive, and heterosexual context was considered immoral and criminal.

At the present, the basic criteria are other than the participants’ consent to the sexual relationship and the absence of harm, and it is in this context that in the face of the absence of harm or obvious force the denial of any active or collaborative role on the children’s part acquires particular moral importance.

A Different Concept of Childhood

One final factor which has been with us implicitly throughout this historical review is the transformation of our idea of the child. The question of the existence of an erotic life during childhood and early adolescence is a particularly rich terrain for the configuration of the minor as an autonomous or a dependent being, strong or weak, rebellious or meek. Erotic ties to others, especially an adult, are signs of a withdrawal from and the dissolution of familial ties, and certainly one of the more powerful ones.

In this area at least, the 20th century has evolved in the direction of a more fragile and innocent conception of childhood, more passive and vulnerable, raising, for example, the age of consent. But seeing things from a historical point of view, it is rather paradoxical that the same century in which science has recognized childhood sexuality is the one which is most intensely denying it, at least as far as their experiences with adults are concerned.

These and many other factors — such as the change from a moral terminology (‘‘bad’’ boy) to a clinical one (‘‘traumatized’’ boy) — add up to what has been suggested in the preceding pages is the element most characteristic of this whole
process: the progressive idealization of this small sphere of knowledge under the influence of part of the feminist discourse and the rhetoric of power and child abuse.

It is here that Money’s (1988) commentary on victimology — as a faux-science more interested in how things should be than how they really are — acquires its full meaning.

The present work points out that the current perspective of expert knowledge in this area is in general that of the activist, not the naturalist.

To reiterate, to recognize and study the possible participation of the child, even if it
includes active collaboration or even initiation, in no way suggests that the child is responsible for what has happened.

But questioning what might be the evasion of any moral implications does not mean having to renounce studying the experiences of children where there is clearly voluntary participation from the child and a relationship that he feels is positive, as was demanded by the U.S. congressional ‘‘denunciation’’ of Rind et al. (1998), a political incursion into science which created a firestorm of controversy.

This does not necessarily mean, from this author’s point of view, that these relationships should be legitimized or legalized; there are many elements in this complex question that have not been addressed adequately beyond questionable dogmas of universal ‘‘trauma,’’ ‘‘innocence,’’ and ‘‘passivity’’ on the part of the minors involved. But the current ‘‘taboo’’ against the scientific study of these children and their experiences contributes nothing positive, but is instead a serious impediment to any appropriate understand in this area.

It appears that some scientists investigating sexual experiences between children and adults may have forgotten their obligation to situate themselves historically. This paper has endeavored to be a reminder of that obligation as well as an invitation to do so.