Keywords: research, Sandfort

Youths not always victims in man-boy sex, survey reveals

The International Journal of Human Relations. Volume 14 (1) pp. 8-9 October, 1984

Sandfort, Theodorus, & Finkelhor David
Issue1, October 1984
Pagination8 & 9
Type of WorkDiscussion

Are children always traumatized by pedophiles?

Part of the report of a forum: Sandfort & Finkelhor

A recent survey reveals that some youngsters actually enjoy sex with adults and do not feel stigmatized. 

Theodorus G. M. Sandfort, lecturer in psychology at the State University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, interviewed 25 boys ranging in age from 10 to 16. 

The boys complained of some negative aspects of their sexual episodes -- primarily their family's and friends' reaction. But most regarded their experience as "predominantly positive," Sandfort reports. 

"The sexual contacts were found to have had no negative influence upon the boys' sense of general well-being, nor did the boys perceive ... a misuse of authority by the adult." 

The wishes and desires of the youths were a "fundamental" consideration of their older partners, Sandfort added. 

The professor warns against always labeling adults in such couplings as offenders and children as victims: 

"Pedophiliac relationships may best be viewed by the researcher initially as simply another variety of human relationship," he writes in the May, 1984 issue of the Journal of Sex Research. 

Sandfort's survey was initially published in the Netherlands in 1981, but received scant attention in this country despite public furor over the issue. 

David Finkelhor, head of the University of New Hampshire's family violence research program, is a leading proponent of the view that children are "victims" in adult-child sexual encounters. He argues that obscurity is deserved because Sandfort 's research sample is "unrepresentative." He also questions whether the boys were "honest" with the inter viewer. 

"These children were selected by a group of sensitive and intellectual pedophiles. They were unusual," he insists. 

Finkelhor also says the Dutch professor's work does not alter the "moral perspective" of the issue. 

"There were probably slaves who loved being slaves and were not hurt by it, but society determined that the institution was a violation of fundamental ethical standards and abolished it." 

Finkelhor claims that his research shows that "most kids react negatively" to sexual contact with adults. 

"I'm of the opinion that there is such a fundamental asymmetry of power [In such a relationship] that kids have no real power of consent. I find it offensive that adults continue behavior with a child with knowledge of such power imbalance." 

But Finkelhor's spirited critique of Sandfort suggests more of a concern for morality than for pure science. His arguments fail to distinguish betweenthe true intrinsic harm that sex with adults has on a child and that which results from a particular culture's intolerance.

"It is empirically hard to disentangle the two," Finkelhor admits.

Meanwhile, Sandfort appeals to his scientific brethren for a fresh look at the treatment of pedophiles and a closer examination of laws prohibiting adult-child sexual contact: 

"Provisions which provide extra protection to children should not interfere with their rights of sexual self-determination, and this should include the right to accept as well as to refuse the sexual initiative of an adult." 

Given the current level of debate on this issue and the cold shoulder Sandfort 's work is receiving in the U.S., such an approach is clearly not around the corner.