Misinterpretation of a Primary Prevention Effort

Child Abuse Accusations, 6(2), 96-107. (1994).

Underwager, Ralph, & Wakefield Hollida; Jan 01 1994

in: Issues In Child Abuse Accusations, 6(2), 96-107. (1994).


In 1990, Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield gave an interview to the editor of Paidika, The Journal of Paedophilia, a scholarly journal published in Holland. The interview was published in 1993. Since that time, statements from the interview have been taken out-of-context and misinterpreted as indicating that RU and HW approve of pedophilia and child sexual abuse. Here, they respond to these criticisms and accusations.


We do not believe sexual contact between an adult and a child is ever acceptable nor can it ever be positive. We wrote in our 1988 book, Accusations of Child Sexual Abuse,

  • "We do not agree that the effects of childhood sexual experiences with older partners are ever likely to be positive, as is sometimes claimed. Rather, the effects are apt to range from neutral to seriously damaging" (p. 352).

We have never accepted or condoned sexual acts between adults and children as positive or acceptable. RU has dealt with sexual abuse, victims, and perpetrators for over 40 years, since 1953, and never has approved or condoned a sexual offender's behaviors or said that sexual contact between an adult and a child can be positive.

We maintain this position despite reports in the literature that some individuals perceive their childhood sexual experiences with adults as positive

  • (Bernard, 1982;
  • Bunge, 1993;
  • Celano, 1992;
  • Coulborn-Faller, 1991;
  • Daugherty, 1986;
  • Kilpatrick, 1992;
  • Li, West, & Woodhouse, 1993;
  • Metcalfe, Oppenheimer, Dignon, & Palmer, 1990;
  • Nelson, 1982;
  • Okami, 1989, 1990;
  • Powell, & Chalkley, 1981;
  • Rush, 1980;
  • Sandfort, 1982, 1987, 1993;
  • Tsai, Feldman-Summers, & Edgar, 1979;
  • Vander Mey, 1988).

The most recent review article on the effects of sexual abuse reports a consistent finding that a substantial proportion of abuse victims show no symptoms. This can be interpreted to mean the experience is more neutral (Kendall-Tackett, Williams, & Finkelhor, 1993). However, even though there is significant scientific data suggesting otherwise, the theory we advance about the effect of adult-child sexual contact enables us to maintain it is always harmful, even if not recognized as such. This theoretical model is described more fully later.

The Paidika Interview

In fall, 1990 we went to Europe to give a series of seminars, workshops, and consultations on the most effective way to interview children so as to produce the most reliable information possible. We made presentations in both Holland [The Netherlands] and Germany at several universities, medical schools, and institutes.

In October, 1990, in Amsterdam, we gave an interview to the editor of Paidika, The Journal of Paedophilia, a scholarly journal published in Holland [The Netherlands]. This journal has an editorial board including some of the most prominent and widely respected sexologists in the world. When the recent criticism of our interview led to criticism of some of the academics on the editorial board, Dean Joseph Julian, San Francisco State University, thoroughly examined the journal and concluded that it

  • ". . . is a bona fide scholarly publication . . . Articles . . . are submitted by distinguished and highly regarded experts and refereed by their peers . . . involvement with the journal is in keeping with the academic enterprise" (Opatrny, 1993).

We agreed to this interview because we felt it was a rare opportunity to address individuals who claim that sexual contact between adults and children is acceptable behavior. We were aware of the different climate in the Netherlands as described by Bullough (1990):

  • ". . . The gay movement in the United States avoided the pedophiles like a plague, fearful that all homosexual persons would be labeled 'child molesters'. . . The one major exception to this generalization occurred in the Netherlands where the Netherlands Association for Sexual Reform, which agitated for gay [No: human rights- Ipce] rights, included a Committee on Pedophilia. The Committee sponsored four study conferences in Holland between 1970 and 1974, which homosexuals also attended, and the result has been to make research into pedophilia both more acceptable and somewhat easier to accomplish than it is in the United States. . . ." (p. 85).

Also, during the time we were there, the Dutch government, through the Netherlands Association for Sexual Reform, paid for the establishment of pedophile work groups where pedophiles could meet with each other and the children. 

  • [* This is not true: Not the government, only the Association did so - Ipce]

This was done on the basis of the idea that pedophiles are socially marginalized and one way to reduce any potential social harm is to assist in bringing them more into the mainstream of the society. The pedophile work groups continue to be active to this day (Joseph Geraci, personal communication, 2/11/94).

Misrepresentation of the Interview

Beginning with two articles (Lawrence, 1993a, 1993b) in an incest survivors network newsletter, there have been subsequent articles around the world claiming that in the interview given to Paidika we say

  • that adult-child sexual contacts are good,
  • that they are good for children,
  • that pedophilia is God's will,
  • that pedophilia should be decriminalized, and
  • that we approve of pedophilia.

Some have said that we are known pedophiles. Recently we have been told that the survivor's network says we advertise regularly in publications of NAMBLA and that we speak every year at the NAMBLA conventions saying that pedophilia is desirable. Our suggestion that the people in the Netherlands who believe adult-child sexual relationships can be positive ought to do longitudinal research has been interpreted as us advocating sexually abusing children for research.

People have written and called us from around the world to threaten, inquire, dump venom and anger on us, and label us the most reprehensible of villains. Articles that we know of have been in several survivors' network newsletters, in the Family Violence and Sexual Assault Bulletin, and in newspapers and magazines including the London Sunday Times, Dublin Irish Times, Toronto Now Magazine, Boston Globe, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and Christians and Society Today.

Every trial that we appear in now includes an attempt at impeachment by the adversary attorney using the Paidika interview and implying to the jury or judge that we approve of child molestation and guilt by association by linking us with those vile, reprehensible pedophiles.

How could this happen?

We were first publicly identified as the #1 enemy experts of the prosecutors in November, 1986, at a training conference in New Orleans put on by the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse (NCPCA) (Gordon, 1986, Personal Communication). We are perceived by the prosecutors and their supporting professionals as responsible for turning the country around and beginning the backlash against the noble effort to protect children (Summit, 1993).

Subsequently, the staff of the NCPCA has engaged in a systematic effort to destroy us by attacking our reputation with slander, libel, and defamatory falsehoods. This goal was clearly articulated by Ms. Patricia Toth, director of the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse, at a conference in Madison, Wisconsin in November, 1990 when she stated that her goal in making a presentation about Ralph Underwager was to destroy his reputation.

We have sued in Federal Court in six states. In Wisconsin, Judge Shabaz, has ruled that what they have done, as a fact and under the law, is defamatory. However, he also ruled that since they maintained they believed what they said was true, their behavior did not constitute malice under the law and therefore was not actionable. That judgment was upheld by the Seventh Circuit and we are now appealing the issue to the U. S. Supreme Court.

In one of the documents submitted to the court as part of the litigation Toth and her attorneys describe the purpose of the NCPCA efforts.

  • "Likewise, the more prepared prosecutors are for expert witnesses who make their living testifying only on behalf of child molesters (and essentially adopting theories attendant to their source of income) the less effective, and less commercially desirable, the expert will be for future alleged child molester defendants."

In March of 1991 we helped organize what later became the FMS Foundation by encouraging and supporting Pamela Freyd and others to begin a group to respond to the increasing claims by adults of recovered memories of childhood abuse.

The FMSF was started in spring of 1992. The National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse had an article dealing with the FMSF in their newsletter, Update (1992). In the article the NCPCA sees the FMSF as the real danger, allies itself with the incest survivors' network and Bass and Davis, co-authors of The Courage to Heal, and says

  • "Professionals who intervene in child sex abuse cases can expect to be subjected to the 'backlash' suggesting that children and now adults have been brainwashed into claiming abuse by parents and caretakers" (1992, p. 1).

The FMSF quickly gained a large membership and considerable media attention. In less than two years, over 13,000 families contacted the FMSF to report instances of claims of recovered repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse. In cooperation with the NCPCA, the incest survivors network began to attack the FMSF by attacking us for giving the Paidika interview.

The aim is guilt by association so the FMSF was presented as bad because we were on the Advisory Council and we were in favor of pedophilia. Bass and Davis, coauthors of The Courage to Heal, were responsible for sending out thousands of copies of the interview and the initial article from the incest survivors network newsletter. It is members of the incest survivors network who have initiated almost all of the articles attacking us, implied to authorities and journalists around the world that we are evil and wicked, and extended the attack to U. S. academics who are on the editorial board of Paidika. The NCPCA also distributes copies of the interview to attorneys and others.

The New Barbarians

The incest survivors' network includes mostly women, though some men also are identified with it, who have coalesced around the concept of recovered repressed memories of childhood abuse and the techniques to heal from it. The basic concept is the shift from an epistemology based on reason to feelings and intuition as the source of truth. If you have no memory but feel you were abused, then you were.

This is the antithesis of western civilization (Underwager, 1992) hence the group is essentially barbaric, uncivilized. Rudeness is characteristic of the barbarian also.

From the recommendations to confront parents during family holidays to insisting on abject confessions and tolerating no dissent or disagreement, the incest survivors' network is spectacularly rude.

I have personally had the experience of extending my hand in greeting and the person spit on my hand. In at least three instances that we are aware of, members of the group have refused to speak on the same program with us.

The use of language in a new, unaccepted, and dissembling fashion is also a characteristic of barbarians. With truth based on feeling and intuition, evidence for a proposition becomes pure assertion of authority and what is advanced as truth can be falsehood.

Spence (1993), in his presidential address at the American Psychological Association, analyzes the response of the incest survivors to Tavris' (1993) article mildly questioning the veracity of claims of recovered repressed memory. He states that in the survivors' responses the argument is oversimplified, reduced to extremes, and the middle ground is lost. Now Tavris is "clearly the Enemy" (p. 3).

The rhetorical voice takes over from the evidential voice and there is no reference to any data. Then, in contrast to normal science, where all data are public and subject to examination and rigorous questioning,

  • ". . . the abuse-believers take the position that only they have access to the truth . . . an adversarial relationship is immediately set up - Us against Them - but it often takes on a paranoid cast; the Enemy is motivated by other reasons than what they proclaim, and only those speaking for children's rights have a reason to be heard" (p. 7).

Walker (1993), as a feminist, warns against the radical feminist rhetoric which

  • ". . . label(s) patriarchal and bad everything that is modern/scientific, while declaring matriarchal (or natural) and good everything that is primitive/magical" (p. 68).

She is deeply concerned about the anti-scientific bias:

  • "Almost everything that we can claim to know with any certainty . . . has been learned through science and not by subjectivity, instinct, or insight" (p. 69).

She goes on to admonish women to

  • ". . . avoid . . . the trap of allowing subjectivity to substitute for hard knowledge, the kind of knowledge that can be consistently verified by all investigators" (p. 70).

When the interview with Paidika is misrepresented and distorted and our prior denial (Wakefield & Underwager, 1988) of any positive outcomes is ignored and the specific statements in the interview that show we disapprove of adult-child sexual contact are ignored in order to attack the FMSF, we have the suggestion at least of a new barbarism.

Matz (1993) specifically declares that the attack on our interview has the purpose of proving that the FMSF was founded to protect perpetrators.

  • "To what extent, if any, is FMSF an organization that defends child sexual abusers? Does it tell us anything of importance if we know that persons central to the founding of the organization . . . consider pedophilia to be a possibly responsible choice among various sexual behaviors?" (p. 23).

It is not as if the survivors' network is unaware that we do not approve of nor support pedophilia. RU spoke to Lana Lawrence at length and the first survivors' newsletter article, Lawrence (1993), included our statements that we have been on record since 1988 as maintaining there can be no positive outcomes and our disbelief in the claim that pedophiles love children. Knowing this but going on to claim something different is the "paranoid cast" described by Spence (1993). It is necessary for the survivors' network to distort our interview in order to support their fallacious claim that the FMSF has the goal of protecting child sexual abusers.

In normal human discourse, if there is a misunderstanding and one party misinterprets the other, who then corrects the misunderstanding and clarifies what was meant, that is accepted and the discourse goes on. In this instance, when the clarification is offered and the response is disbelief, rejection, and insistence upon the misinterpretation, it can only be the paranoid need to fill the world with villains.

The Context of the Interview

The setting for our interview, printed in Paidika, is that we had just printed an article (Krivacska, 1989) in the journal, Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, dealing with prevention programs. We solicited the article from Dr. Krivacska and it expressed our views. We supplied the actual art work and copy for the suggested prevention program aimed at perpetrators. We argued that the current prevention programs in the U.S. have a fatal flaw. They are aimed at the victim, not the active agent.

Then and now many experts called for methods of prevention other than those aimed at the child

  • (Finkelhor, 1986;
  • Gilbert, Duerr-Berrick, Le Prohn, & Nyman, 1989;
  • Tharinger, Krivacska, Laye-McDonough, Jamison, Vincent, & Hedlund, 1988;
  • Trudell, Whatley, & Whatley, 1988).

The indications were, and remain so to this day, that prevention programs were possibly increasing false accusations. Haugaard and Reppucci (1988) observed,

  • "No evidence, not even one published case example, indicates that primary prevention has ever been achieved" (p. 332).

We regarded this as a pressing need inasmuch as the prevention programs were producing disappointing outcomes and apparently were sometimes confusing and distressing to children. Prevention programs aimed at the potential child victim are built on problematic or nonexistent outcome data and suffer from an inadequate understanding of the causes of pedophilia. Cordelia Anderson (1993), creator of the touch continuum used in all victim oriented programs, now says it is oversimplified, does not work and is confusing to children.

The only prevention programs being presented are based on the concept of empowering children to resist molestation. This is highly problematical in that fundamentally it is impossible to empower a child sufficiently to overcome the power possessed by adults. These tactics can never be completely successful and may well never be successful in most instances of an adult molesting a child. No one, much less children, can be constantly and perfectly vigilant. Children will always be vulnerable to sexual molestation to the level of the frequency of adults willing to commit sexual abuse.

To reduce the frequency of sexual abuse of children we must find ways to intervene effectively in the lives of adults to prevent them from abusing children. The task of child sexual abuse prevention programs should be to eliminate the causes of child sexual abuse. Unfortunately, we know very little about the causes.

We proposed an active approach to sex offenders, potential sex offenders, and pedophiles themselves as likely to be the only effective primary prevention program. The Krivacska (1989) article includes samples of a media presentation to prevent child abuse before it happens. The suggested model ads include these statements, among others:

  • "Child molesters are respected members of the community. . . .
  • These people can be helped. If you feel sexual toward children seek help before it is too late. . . .
  • Sexual abuse takes place anytime a person is tricked, trapped, forced or bribed into a sexual act. . . .
  • Sexual abuse may include any type of sexual activity. It can range from forcible rape to gentle, but unwanted touching. Being unwillingly exposed to the genitals of another or forced to show one's own genitals to someone else is also a form of sexual abuse. . . .

These are hardly statements affirming pedophilia.

What We Actually Say in the Interview

Our Paidika interview is our effort to begin and create an ongoing discussion with pedophiles aimed at producing a primary prevention program and increasing the effectiveness of treatment. We did not pull our punches nor did we in any way approve of pedophilia.

We said pedophilia is learned behavior and that pedophiles are personally responsible for their choice (p. 3-4). The context on pages 3 and 4 makes it evident that RU is answering the question about individual responsibility for behavior, and not whether pedophilia is accepted or good. The question is whether it is ". . . responsible behavior for the individual."

Examination of every meaning for the preposition, "for," in the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary shows that the only proper understanding of the question is to see it as asking about individual responsibility. Pedophiles are individually and personally responsible for their choice. We affirmed their right to make the claim that they love the children and that love is part of God's will. But we then said,

  • "Now whether or not they can persuade other people they are right is another matter" (p. 4).

Affirming their right to make the claim is not saying we agree with it.

  • We said in the interview that we do not believe their claim that they love the children because they drop them at age 16 or so for a younger child (p. 4-5).
  • We said that what they claim is love is a penultimate expression and not the wholeness that God's will envisions (p. 8).
  • We said that they would likely have to go to jail if they did take responsibility for their behavior and speak out (p. 11).

The interviewer, Joseph Geraci, knows that we are opposed to pedophilia and asks us about it (p. 6).

We repeat what we said in our 1988 book. Our position is that sexual contact between an adult and a child can never be positive but can only be from neutral to destructive. This is clearly stated in the interview (p. 6). Nowhere do we say that we believe sexual contacts between adults and children can be positive.

We say there is freedom but we also say it is necessary to take the consequences of that freedom. While alluding to the Apostle Paul and his statements about freedom, we also say that he added the proviso that not everything works (p. 4). This answer shows that we do not see sexual contact between adults and children as acceptable.

To speak to the intellectual and political leadership of pedophiles in Europe could potentially lead to more effective primary prevention. Greater understanding of pedophilia would also assist in the treatment of sexual offenders. Therefore we maintain the interview was responsible professional behavior well within the rubrics of a proper scientific approach.

Based on 40 years of experience treating pedophiles and the research literature, we believe the primary problem in treating pedophilia is the universal minimization, rationalization, and denial pedophiles engage in (Langevin, 1988). Therefore our first emphasis in the interview is on taking personal responsibility for one's own choices and actions. This is an essential and basic element of any therapeutic approach-to support individual responsibility.

We say in the interview that if they believe pedophilia is good, they must take responsibility and say it clearly. Come out in the open. This is the same basic argument in gay pride rhetoric and efforts to gain social and political affirmation of homosexual partnerships. What we are saying is not endorsement of pedophilia but rather a challenge to pedophiles to stand up and take responsibility for their choices.

RU first preached that child sexual abuse is a perversion of God's love in a sermon for Holy Innocents Day in 1954, shortly after he had uncovered a 7-year-old child victim of incest in his parish school. He said the same thing in the Paidika interview. God's will is for wholeness and unity to exist between persons and our sexual life can be such an experience. On page 8 of the interview, we present a theological evaluation that sex is a way human beings try to avoid the ultimate issue and settle for sex as a penultimate answer.

Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1990) presents a stance that supports our interpretation of pedophilia. He maintains that pedophilia is non-affiliative, non-loving sex and represents a primitive, regressed agonal sexuality. This is why we do not think it can be positive in spite of the data that some persons report it to be positive. We think it is always counterfeit, always partial, always less than a full-orbed humanity. Therefore it can only have the effect of either delaying, distorting, or denying the fullness of the human ability to love.

Why Sexual Contact between an Adult and a Child Is Destructive

We are the only persons we know of who have advanced a theory that allows us to say that no sexual contact between adults and children can be positive. Others do not produce anything more than the claim of inequality of power between a child and an adult as the cause of negative outcomes. That is highly problematical and cannot accommodate the scientific data of what appears to be some positive outcomes

  • (Bernard, 1982;
  • Bunge, 1993;
  • Celano, 1992;
  • Coulborn-Faller, 1991;
  • Daugherty, 1986;
  • Kendall-Tackett, Williams, & Finkelhor, 1993;
  • Kilpatrick, 1992;
  • Li, West, & Woodhouse, 1993;
  • Metcalfe, Oppenheimer, Dignon, & Palmer, 1990;
  • Nelson, 1982;
  • Okami, 1989, 1990;
  • Powell, & Chalkley, 1981;
  • Rush, 1980;
  • Sandfort, 1982, 1987, 1993;
  • Tsai, Feldman-Summers, & Edgar, 1979;
  • Vander Mey, 1988)

since a portion of abuse victims later report that they perceive their experience as neutral or even positive.

These data constitute powerful scientific replication and it must be understood that significant proportions of persons actually abused later report their subjective experience to be neutral or positive rather than traumatic. These data falsify and disprove the radical feminist concept of sex as aggression and the power imbalance meaning all sexual acts are traumatic.

In fact, the repeated finding of some victims who perceive the abuse positively falsifies the claim that the damage abuse does is caused by the power discrepancy. The fact is that the discrepancy in power is present in every adult-child relationship. Therefore all such relationships must be destructive and if any one is not, the concept is falsified. The basic concept of the victim-oriented prevention programs is scientifically falsified.

In the interview, we offer the theory of human life being aimed at intimacy and closeness, love, and that sex is within that larger whole, that sex can serve the expression of wholeness and unity, that sex, however, is the first way human beings try to avoid the lessons of the Trinity, and that sex between a child and an adult is always a penultimate experience of genitalization and cannot ever be an experience of wholeness (p. 8).

At this point we can accommodate the fact that some individuals judge their childhood sexual experiences with adults to have been positive and still maintain that adult-child sexual contact is never positive. It is the case that stimulation of genital tissue is often experienced as positive. However, when sexuality is genitalized, the consequences are negative. This is the basic cause of all non-organic sexual dysfunction as Masters and Johnson (1970a, 1970b) have demonstrated. For a more full discussion of this issue see our most recent book, Return of the Furies (Wakefield & Underwager, 1994)

Unity, wholeness, and the full intimacy of love that includes the expression of human sexuality requires an equality across all facets of humanity. This includes all intellectual, abstract, cognitive, emotional, moral, and spiritual capacities. Achievements and abilities to symbolize and manipulate the world and navigate one's way through life must be at comparable levels.

The greater the discrepancy in maturity and equality, the greater the emphasis will be on sex as sex alone if it is brought into the relationship. If one party can only talk about imaginary tea parties and the other can discourse on the metaphysics of particle physics, any sexuality between them must be genitalized, agentic, and only penultimate. When the learning experience of genitalized sexuality leads to the development of this limited and partial comprehension, the impact upon the capacity for wholeness, unity, and love is limiting and negative. For this reason we maintain sexual contact between an adult and a child is always negative in its impact on both parties.

Evasion of Maturity

Later in the interview we conclude that a major problem with pedophiles is that they do not want to take the consequences of their actions and pay the price for their choices, which is very likely to be going to jail. We say that the major difficulty with pedophiles is that they want to keep doing what they do and not have the society around them exact a price. We say it is not reasonable to try that. We say there are real differences between the behavior of pedophiles and that of others and that pedophiles should point out what the differences are and why they believe their behavior is acceptable (p. 12).

Pedophiles have the right to seek openly to get their behavior decriminalized as the gays and lesbians have successfully accomplished. Nothing that we suggested for pedophiles has not already been done by gays and lesbians. The argument for both is that it is their love that justifies their behavior. Homosexuals who are religious have claimed to be created by God and they have sometimes claimed it is God's will for them, something we did not concede to the pedophiles. Both have asserted what they do is positive.

We may not agree with this but the pedophiles have the right to assert it. They have the right to make their assertions, attempt to convince others, and work towards decriminalization, as would any group. We believe it is necessary for the majority to be open to talking with any and all minorities and not close anybody off as not worth talking to, and trying to understand.

At no point do we recommend decriminalization for this country. RU was asked what they could do and we basically said they have to take the risk of being crucified. We do not think this is encouraging them. RU specifically says that it is not reasonable to seek decriminalization if the goal is to do what they want and have no price attached to it (p. 12).

Even minimal attention to the interview will show we are not endorsing pedophilia but rather saying that they have to make their claims about pedophilia openly. It has been said for over 2000 years. Now is the time, with proper scientific procedures, to get information that may give shape to an answer that can be based on some data rather than pure speculation.

Loving Children

Of course, pedophiles can claim that their relationship with children is to love them and that God's will is that we love one another. Who can dispute their right to make the claim? We do not accept their claim, as we make clear in the interview with Paidika, but they have the right to assert it.

  • Lord Byron wrote of the "gentle love" of the choir boy, John Eddlestone.
  • Lewis Carroll asserts his spirit toward children is "gently and lovingly."
  • Bradford's boy, named Alan, comes from the bath glowing "with love's pure light within."
  • Wraitslaw's sonnet contrasts the "divinest boy, and the dull ennui of a woman's kiss."
  • Barrie dedicates Peter Pan to the five boys of the Davies family.
  • Johnson's Eton Boating Song expresses the love of boys which finally led to his dismissal from Eton.

These, and many, many more, are a part of English literary history which includes the most loved and honored pedophile literature of any national heritage. It is strange that in a culture with that tradition, the statement that pedophiles can claim to love children should be presented as an extreme, reprehensible position.

In addition to English pedophile literature, as a classicist, RU is conversant with the ancient Greek defense of pedophilia that it is love of children. Some of the best and brightest of western intellects have defended pedophilia by claiming it is love of children. This has been the position of pedophiles for over 2,400 years.

From the earliest days of Athens, in the sixth century, B. C., pedophiles claimed their behavior with children was loving them and tutoring them. Socrates, Alcibiades, Plato, Aristophanes, Sophocles, Aristotle all claimed that love motivated pedophilia. The concept of Platonic love as an asexual affection is describing pedophilia. Buddhist monks in 10th century Japan developed the same set of attitudes and behaviors (Tannahill, 1982).

This defense of pedophilia is well known and is currently the rationale presented by contemporary pedophiles, including those to whom we spoke in the Netherlands. We assert that pedophiles have the right to make that claim if that is what they believe and choose. Is there any disputing that?

Anyone seriously interested in decreasing the frequency of child sexual abuse must understand that pedophilia is a constant feature of human existence. This means that what has been done in Western Civilization in response to pedophilia has not worked to eliminate it nor reduce the frequency of child molestation. Over 2,400 years of failure should be long enough to persuade most reasonable people that a new, different response should at least be tried. Also, a behavior pattern that persists over such a length of time and in the face of rather draconian oppression, must be taken seriously.

In our era it is science that can produce knowledge that may be contrary to folk wisdom but can lead to new suggested answers to old problems. Therefore we speak of the need to conduct research programs that can produce empirical facts that may bear on the question of loving children. In order for the research to be competently done, the intellectual stance must be to respect the data no matter what the outcomes.

If we hope to change the behavior of the adults, we must take seriously what their own subjective experience is. What is it that motivates an adult to approach a child sexually? The answer that pedophiles have given for over 2,400 years is that they love the children. That is what we must respond to. If we ignore that and simply brand them wicked, dirty old men, label their behavior monstrous, and punish them, we have not changed or altered their subjective experience at all. They still feel their love for children. Their emotional reality is the same as young lovers.

Everything else they know and see in our culture tells them that is good, exciting, desirable. Their identification with the Pepsi generation ads is their experience of love for children. When they talk only with each other, they can only get reinforced for this emotional involvement. For the pedophile, what is experienced is not wicked and evil but good and desirable. That is why it has continued for over 2,400 years no matter what the society has said and done.

It appears there is a continuum of loving children. Initially, there is no disagreement that loving children is both noble and proper. This is the love of children that is romanticized and idealized in our society. At some point along the continuum, however, some people cross a line and become sexually motivated and sexually involved with children. We need to understand this process, distinguish an acceptable level of contact, and encourage limits and controls that are clear and possible. We can no longer continue the policy of harshly and automatically punishing and labeling the pedophile as the most despicable of men.

All we have done is drive them underground so that we cannot identify them and we cannot do anything to prevent them from becoming sexually involved with children until after it has happened.

An editorial in the January 23, 1994 Miami Herald described

  • ". . . vile men . . . afire for young virgins and clean sexual partners. . . 400,000 child prostitutes . . . should be flayed into prosecuting officials, pimps, bar owners, and travel agents . . . men who slaver for sex with children" (p. 2C).

This is what we have done for 2,400 years and IT HAS NOT WORKED. We need a new response! Exaggerated, unsupported advocacy numbers (Gilbert, 1991) such as this do not help!

Research indicates that pedophiles are sexually active with far more children than at one time was thought. Abel, Becker, and Cunningham-Ratner (undated) indicate a single pedophile may abuse hundreds of children. A pedophile in Brisbane, Australia, was found to have abused over 2,500 boys (Wilson, 1981). Effective primary prevention programs that reduce the number of adults actively abusing children are likely to save hundreds of children from abuse for each adult who is positively affected. This is far more cost effective than dealing with possible victims.

More Effective Approaches

Anyone who is familiar with the professional literature on pedophilia knows that one of the major problems in attempting to respond is the denial and minimizing often encountered. No one willingly admits that his or her intentions and purposes are dishonorable. This is what led Abel (undated), in his study of pedophiles, to obtain promises of immunity for perpetrators from prosecution in an attempt to get more accurate information.

  • (Incidentally, that is far more accommodating, condoning, and approving of pedophilia than anything we said in the interview but no one has attacked Abel.)

The cause of the denial and minimization is the response of the broader society that harshly punishes openness and honesty. So long as we do nothing to challenge the subjective certainty of pedophiles that what drives them is love of children, we are simply in the position of the families of Romeo and Juliet, telling them they can't feel what they feel.

The failure to address the experience and claim of pedophiles that they are loving the children leaves them able to make the central claim of humanism:

  • "People are by nature good and virtuous. Surely loving is virtuous. But society is the great corrupter and it is from society that humans learn to be evil. So when the society says you can not love children, it is society that is the evil entity, not the pedophile."

We will not change the subjective reality of the pedophile by ignoring it or by refusing to consider that it might be a subjectively real experience of love for the pedophile. If we only punish a person who believes he or she is loving, we simply create martyrs. If it is accurate to say that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, the history of martyrdom of Christians may suggest that our current attitude toward pedophilia may actually create more pedophiles.

Another error in the approach that only condemns and punishes pedophilia is the assumption that the cause of the damage in adult-child sexual contact is the power discrepancy. The linkage of sex, aggression, and power in this conceptualization results in a cheapening of love, and destruction of intimacy and positive affections. This is what leads Kincaid, in a book that is a muted, indirect defense of pedophilia, to write this:

  • "Take the following two scenes enacted in a shopping mall, say, or on the street or in the park: in the first an adult is striking a screaming child repeatedly on the buttocks; in the second an adult is sitting with a child on a bench and they are hugging. Which scene is more common? Which makes us uneasy? Which do we judge to be normal? Which is more likely to run afoul of the law? A society, I believe, which honors hitting and suspects hugging is immoral; one which sees hitting as health and hugging as illness is mad; one which is aroused by hitting alone is psychotic and should be locked up."

It is hard to dispute the logic that favoring aggression more than love is foolish. To leave this position to the pedophiles is not going to lead to any decrease in the sexual exploitation of children. Indeed, the more the pedophile can point to an increasingly violent society where children kill children, schools are battlegrounds occupied by an alien police force, and the country is about to be bankrupted by the costs of prisons, the more likely the delight and satisfaction the pedophile can take in believing he is a good man doing a good thing in the face of an innately flawed society.

The issue is the nature of love. Here, if the approach to pedophiles is to be real, those addressing the pedophile must be able to experience positive regard, respect, and love for the individuals they relate to. No relationship that is based on a delusion of superiority, hate, revulsion, or vitriol could ever persuade pedophiles that their personal subjective experience of loving children must be abandoned or rejected.

If we accept uncritically the linkage of sex and aggression advocated by radical feminist thought and contained in the prevention programs aimed at the child victims, we have made it impossible for human beings to love one another, When the claim is that all sex is aggression and oppression, that every rapist rapes for all other men, that Lorena Bobbit attacked the weapon men use to assault women, we have removed any tenderness, gentleness, compassion, and intimacy from our sexuality and made it into warfare. This may be as destructive of our humanity as the error of pedophilia.

Pedophiles have the right to make the claim that they love children. However, they are personally responsible for their behavior and they must accept the consequences. They should be courageous and speak up, telling us what they believe to be true about themselves and children. It is our responsibility and our opportunity to listen to them, try to understand them, carry on a reasoned and balanced discussion, and seek to find ways for them to understand our concerns and our perceptions.

Even as pedophilia has been a constant in Western Civilization, so has been the conviction that we know what we know through our reason and not our emotions. In an earlier age of romanticism, James Wilson, founder of The Economist, responded to this same issue.

  • "There is no inconsiderable school of talkers and writers now-a-days who seem to forget that reason is given us to sit in judgment over the dictates of our feelings, and that it is not her part to play the advocate in support of every impulse which laudable affections may arouse in us."

The impulse to protect children must be tempered by a reasoned analysis of the possible dangers in what we attempt to do and a rational program to counter it.

Since this furor over our interview with Paidika arose, the American Psychological Association Monitor (January, 1994) ran two front-page articles reporting on the presentations made at the meeting of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. These are some of the statements found in the articles:

  • "Like many of her ATSA colleagues, Dr. Becker believes the fight against sex crimes is futile if society's only solution is prosecution and incarceration. She envisions a day when inappropriate sexual arousal is universally regarded as a disorder rather than an evil, so that those who suffer from it feel safer about seeking help" (p. 1).
  • "Prevention is worth pounds of penalties" (p. 1).
  • "So preventive treatment, rather than harsher criminal penalties, is the best way to protect the public. . . . That involves helping offenders explore the origins of their sexual compulsions-which usually involve their own victimization-and explore more appropriate alternatives" (p. 1).
  •  "Dr. Becker . . . avoids using shame-laced labels like 'pedophile' or 'sexual deviant.' Instead she helps them realize they are simply misusing their sexuality or suffering from a sexual behavior problem" (p. 32).

What we tried to do in our interview with Paidika is what is now recommended as the only effective way to approach the problem by almost all of the experts involved in treatment of sex offenders. We are within the mainstream of responsible scientific and clinical thought in the approach we took and the goal we sought in the interview. The basic stance of the 1989 article on a primary prevention program aimed at perpetrators also foreshadows the current thinking of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.

The prosecutors and incest survivors' network which has taken our statements out of context and misrepresented our words and position has demonstrated that their concern is not to assist in decreasing the frequency of sexual molestation but rather only to protect their own agenda and attack the FMS Foundation by personal attacks on us.

Any person who is serious about decreasing the frequency of child sexual abuse, after 2,400 years of failed effort, should join us in striving to get more knowledge, understanding, and honesty in relating to pedophilia.


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A Proposal: Primary Prevention Program for Child Sexual Abuse

A. The goal of the primary prevention program is to reduce the frequency of adult-child sexual contacts. With media material, video, movie, print we tell pedophiles we want to take their perceptions of their behavior seriously. We want to listen to them, try to understand what they are about and what they believe. Wherever possible we have conferences, meetings, programs where we listen to their claims and talk to them without immediately clapping people in prison. We treat them with respect as individuals and as persons with a good will.

B. We offer clear and empirically-supported understanding and description of intimate relationships. Where it is accurate, we draw distinctions between what we hold to be a full-orbed intimacy and what the pedophile has presented. This means we need to have done our homework and be able to show what distinctions are there. We support ongoing and credible research projects that produce solid data. This requires obtaining or creating funding sources and a focus for a unified research program.

  • 1. A first step may be to identify situational variables that may affect the decision to initiate sexual contact with a child. Avoidance of those situational variables can be taught and reinforced. Self-control techniques, such as those included in relapse prevention treatment programs for sex offenders, are likely to be effective here.
  • 2. The validity of the measurement and evaluation process of the prevention program must be addressed.
  • 3. The dependent variable to be used in the evaluation must be specified. At least at the beginning, it will of necessity be self-report procedures.

C. We develop a clearer understanding of what it means to love children and accept the pedophile's stated intent to love children without harming them.

D. We offer clear and empirically-supported delineation of the harm done to children by pedophiliac relationships. We support the view that a real love for children means there is no sexual contact between adults and children. We support a policy of celibacy for the pedophile. This means a supportive network of professionals, authorities, and others who offer social reinforcement for the maintenance of the celibate decision.

E. We support pedophiles who seek to learn how to have full intimacy with another adult person and encourage the development of such relationships. We do all we can to incorporate pedophiles into the broader society.

  • This paper was published in Issues In Child Abuse Accusations, 6(2), 96-107. (1994).
  • The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
  • The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.