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‘Research has shown…’

On ideology and science

Dr. Frans Gieles, KOINOS Magazine # 60, 2008 # 4. 

This article has been adapted from a lecture held by the author at the annual Ipce meeting and later held at the annual meeting of the Martijn Association. See also  (click on Newsletter E24). Reactions and suggestions can be mailed to  .
For references: see below. 

Relatively little research has been carried out into the ways in which intergenerational contacts are experienced. That which we ‘know’ about (sexual) relations between young persons and older persons mainly consists of interpretations of studies carried out among ‘abuse victims’. Those who get different finding – simply by asking questions and listening to people – are seen as having been taken in by the ‘cognitive mistakes’ paedophiles make. All this does not amount to critiques of scientific method, but to ideology.

Over the years, a number of interesting studies have been carried out in Germany. They tell us something about a little known reality behind the common conceptions about intergenerational relationships. 

A famous study is Rüdiger Lautmann's from 1994 (further information at the bottom of this article). Lautmann extensively interviewed sixty men with paedophile feelings and contacts. These men did not live in prisons or clinics: they were free citizens who had responded to his appeal. Lautmann discerned between ‘true paedophiles’, those who report being attracted to children, including sexually, and ‘offenders’. He restricted his research to the first group.

Sexual scripts

Those who, prior to carrying out any research among this group, would talk in terms of ‘fixation’ or ‘psychiatric perversion’, will not come away any the wiser. The question should be: what does this preference mean to the people who have it? Lautmann, in interviewing his subjects, became convinced of the existence of voluntary, mutual love relationships that do not call for any form of intervention. He learnt from his respondents that sexual contacts are not what is essential to them: it is ‘natural’ contacts they want, being close to a child. This mainly goes for the boy lovers; the girl lovers primarily report aesthetic motives. 

What respondents identified as ‘attractive’ about children is barely different from what is found in different types of sexuality. Sexuality and the genitals are not central at all to the experience. Where prepubescent children are involved, this aspect is wholly absent; centre stage is claimed by the experience of being in touch with the child and the fascinating dynamic of growing up. Lautmann's respondents avoid explicit sexuality. They approach children as subjects, not as objects. From his material, Lautmann derives sixteen ‘sexual scripts’ which children can adhere to. Indeed, sexual scripts: sexuality is a natural aspect of children's lives. It is not the result of a developmental disorder, a trauma or something to that effect – it just exists.

In a more recent publication, in 2004, Michael Griesemer describes the change in thinking about paedophilia, which he says occurred in 1987 as far as Germany goes. Previously, ‘the problem of paedophilia’ was approached in a humanistic way. Since then, medico-psychiatric and forensic approaches have been emphasized: the issue was framed as ‘punishable sex’. A witch-hunt directed at people with ‘certain disorders’ ensued. This change in thinking materialized in the mass media, but also among professionals. Both began to use the term ‘child sexual abuse’, an ineffectual term because it is laden with prejudice. According to Griesemer, the change in thinking and vocabulary is not based on sound research. It is an axiom, a position that does not require any evidence.

Griesemer is clearly annoyed by the methodological mistakes he has encountered in research reports, especially those published since 1987. He finds definitions and distinctions to be lacking; everyone is a ‘victim’ and a ‘child’, without any specification of age. All types of sexual contact have been lumped together as ‘sexual abuse’. The rape of a five-year-old girl by her neighbour thus ends up in the same category as homoerotic play between a boy of fifteen and a man. All nuances are eliminated.

Griesemer also sketches the consequences of this change in thinking. One result is that harm is always assumed and so does not need to be proved on a case-by-case basis. Children are branded as ‘victims with a trauma’ ahead of any research. Positive feelings and testimonies are practically ruled out.


Still more recent, from 2006, is a study by Horst Vogt. This scholar used questionnaires and tests to collect a large amount of data about 72 persons with paedophile feelings. These were not prison or clinical populations either. Vogt collected the same data among a heterosexual control group so he could compare both groups. The German approach is evident here: thorough, very sound, extensive and characterized by a very precise use of language. 

Vogt himself coins two new terms, which I shall translate as ‘promoting well-being’ and ‘promoting illness’. For this is the information he is after: to what extent do people with paedophile feelings feel either well or ill? In measuring this, Vogt stresses what I translate as ‘competence’, that is, ‘being able to cope with the challenges of life’. He also pays special attention to the experience of stress and feelings of isolation or their absence. 

Further, he looks extensively at the self-image of his subjects. He finds that they do experience more stress than the average person. But in comparing them with the control group, he finds no further factors that set them apart, at least no mental or perceptive disorders. In other words, they move and quack like ordinary human beings.

Vogt distinguishes between two groups of people with paedophile feelings. One group has a negative self-image, a socially isolated way of life, a low self-esteem, lots of stress, little well-being and many inner conflicts. Another group has a positive self-image, and although they experience stress, the people in this group consider themselves to be competent. They experience no inner conflicts and have no issues with their sexuality – their issue is with society.

Vogt sees paedophilia as a primary sexual orientation – and not the consequence of a morbid fear of women – which is normally formed during childhood. The indications are that this orientation cannot be changed.

Vogt calls the present trend of demonizing and pathologizing paedophilia plainly harmful and counterproductive. It leads to stigmatization, exclusion and isolation. He argues for de-pathologizing the phenomenon. He considers more empirical research to be necessary, although objective research is tricky due to social, legal and ethical restrictions. Sometimes research is impossible, sometimes publication is impossible, and sometimes an author is not allowed to lead a peaceful life after having published a study.


This line of science is all very well, but there is a problem. This type of research is not being read and it is not accepted. Lautmann, by having taken his respondents seriously, is said to have encapsulated their ‘cognitive errors’ nicely. Lautmann has been taken for a ride, the argument goes; something paedophiles as a whole are thought to excel at. When discussing Griesemer, the conclusion is that we were simply quite mistaken before 1987. Only then did we collectively see the light, among other things because of fine scientific research. Or so the reasoning goes. Vogt is said to paint his subjects in a far too positive light and to be blind to ‘the little victims’. He only pays attention to ‘the offenders’, and their well-being takes precedence over that of the victims.

My take is: this is not a critique of scientific method. What we are dealing with here is ideology, a system of notions never called into question and believed a priori to be true. It is a collection of ideas people also subscribe to emotionally and for which they find corroboration in society over and over again. Even the best scientific research cannot change anything about that. Ideology is found in the mind, but to a large degree it also resides in the heart and in society.

My question is: 

What can be done against such ideologies?

The studies mentioned in this article 

Rüdiger Lautmann, Die Lust am Kind, Portrait des Pädophilen, Ingrid Klein Verlag, Hamburg 1994. 
Michael M. Griesemer, Ausmaß und Auswirkungen massenmedialer Desinformation. Zum Stand der Wissenschaften über sexuellen Kindesmissbrauch - am Beispiel einer tragischen klinischen Entwicklungsabweichung. Arbeitsgemeinschaft Humane Sexualität e.V., Gießen, 2004.
Horst Vogt, Pädophilie; Leipziger Studie zur gesellschaftlichen und psychischen Situation pädophiler Männer. Pabst Science Publishers, Lengerich, 2006.

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