PANIC: CHANGING CONCEPTS OF THE CHILD MOLESTER IN MODERN AMERICA. Philip
Jenkins. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1998. 302 pp.,
ON PARADE: VOLUME 1: THE MONSTER IN THE MEDIA; VOLUME 2: THE POPULAR IMAGERY OF
MORAL HYSTERIA. David Sonenschein. San Antonio, Texas: D. Sonenschein, 1998. 562
pp., $40 institutions, $36 individuals
plus $5 S/H; PO Box 15744, San Antonio, TX 78212
Journal of Homosexuality,
Volume 42, Number 4, 2002, pp. 185-192.
… excludes what was self-evident to the Greeks: the “Eros paidikos,” the
pedagogical Eros .... Whoever lives this youth-love… may experience all the
happiness and blessing proper to every love. But these are such subtle things,
in which right and wrong stand on the knife’s edge, that here a community
cannot take over the responsibility and run against a law ….
December 1948 [i]
editorial characterizing sexual relationships between adults and adolescents as
on a knife-edge is telling. In acknowledging the value of Eros paidikos
while observing the gay community cannot go against the law, one of the world’s
longest-running and most influential homosexual magazines [ii]
reflected a deep ambivalence to the idea of adults having sex with those under
the age of consent.
the 50 years since this was written, this ambivalence has become opposition.
Today, those who advocate for a right of adults and minor youth to have sex find
themselves outside the margins of what most of the Western gay and lesbian
community considers acceptable, even as it has included bisexuals,
sadomasochists and gender-variant individuals.
to this exclusion has been the moral right, which early on linked homosexual
rights with harm to children. Beginning with Anita Bryant's "Save Our
Children" campaign in 1977, through the sensational child sex-abuse
scandals of the 1980s, gays and lesbians have drawn an increasingly firmer line
against sexual relationships with young people.
two books help explain why. They examine child-sex scandals in North America,
how they come about and their effects. They are focused through the prism of
popular culture, but from there their approaches diverge. Jenkins, a professor
at Pennsylvania State University, looks at the civil liberties costs of
ill-conceived legislation passed during sexual panics. Sonenschein, a former
Kinsey researcher, details how society constructs images of pedophiles, children
and the adults who protect them.
Periods of panic
charts a conventional course in describing how claimsmakers who advocate greater
censure of adult-child sex have used—and been used by—the news media. He
breaks no new ground in reporting how social workers, police and the mental
health establishment formulated exaggerated claims in order to advance budgetary
describes three major child-sex panics in the last 100 years. He shows how
beliefs have shifted profoundly and repeatedly between a relative lack of
concern and panic, and says the reversals mean they are irrational. The result
at random violence [against children] is transformed into a largely symbolic
crusade against the nonviolent and thus squanders resources on the mildly
deviant" (p. 9).
performs a valuable service in drawing parallels between new laws which resulted
from the latest child-sex panic and their antecedents, such as the
now-discredited sex psychopath laws. The far reaching new measures were enacted
in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Despite their breadth, they have had little
the other hand, his is a broad-brush approach, superficial and at times
inaccurate. For example, he implies the first federal child-pornography law
prohibited mere possession, when in fact this provision was enacted later (p.
145). This may have been due to his reliance on inaccurate secondary sources
such as the popular press for legal citations.
book's biggest flaw is that it does not fully illuminate new laws' civil
liberties costs, which go well beyond the groups they target. This may be seen
in Jenkins' discussion of the sexually violent predator statutes.
effect in more than 16 states and under consideration in more than 20 others,
they require civil commitment, potentially for life, for anyone who may commit a
vague array of non-violent sexual behavior, including, in most states, "any
criminal act [found] to have been sexually motivated" (Lieb & Matson,
statutes and mechanisms used to implement them generally exclude incest but are
weighted against homosexuals, a fact not discussed by Jenkins.
mental health agencies use actuarial scoring systems to determine predator
status. The most popular system is the Rapid Risk Assessment for Sexual Offense
Recidivism (RRASOR), published in 1997. (Hanson, 1997; Doren, 1999). RRASOR and
its authors' successor, Static-99, use risk-predictor variables to determine
whether subjects might have illicit sex.
risk-predictor variables have numerical scores for acts believed to reflect the
subject's core beliefs. The state's evaluator uses data taken from police
reports and other unverified sources to determine true or false answers for each
risk predictor. While the risk predictors apply to anyone, male homosexuals are
exposed to more of them than any other group.
the 10 risk-predictors in Static-99, four include homosexual male conduct or
status—"any male victims", "single", "any stranger
victims", and "any unrelated victims". What had been relatively
common conduct among homosexual males may now earn the older partner
classification as a sexual predator. For example, an unmarried man who had sex
with a 17-year-old youth he had recently met would be assigned points for each
of these variables and placed in the second-highest risk group. A charge for a
earlier offense, such as publicly soliciting an adult for sex, would put him in
the highest risk group. (Hanson, 1999).
that actuarial systems for predicting criminal sexual behavior are in their
infancy, unproven and subject to a high false-positive rate, and do not comport
with recent Supreme Court decisions determining the evidentiary reliability of
scientific theory and technique (Donaldson, 2000), state mental health agencies—eager
for instruments with which to meet statutory requirements a predator have a
diagnosable mental abnormality—have implemented them.
is this requirement for a diagnosable abnormality that raises another civil
liberties concern unmentioned by Jenkins: lifetime commitments may be applied to
others than potential predators.
the predator laws, the accused does not have to be diagnosed with a DSM-IV
defined mental illness, but merely found to have a "mental
abnormality" or "personality disorder", terms which the Supreme
Court decision upholding the laws, Kansas v. Hendricks, allows state legislatures to define. Legal
commentators have noted Hendricks opened the door to labeling as
predators any other group that may be potentially harmful, such as juvenile
delinquents, habitual drunk drivers and drug users (Falk, 1999; Isaac, 1998;
predator laws represent only one type of legislation passed in the wake of the
1970s-1980s child-sex panic. Others include lifetime registration, which forced
hundreds of gay men to register as sex offenders for conduct no longer illegal
(Small 1999), community notification of individuals labeled sex offenders, and
laws prohibiting the possession of images of sexual children even if the
"children" are fictitious (Greenhouse, 2001). Considering his civil
liberties focus, it is a shame Jenkins does not analyze these laws' full
problem is Jenkins at times does a disservice to the historical record, whose
tapestry can be subtler than his discussion allows.
example, when discussing how the right
used the threat of harm to children as an argument against homosexual rights, he
observes that the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) was
"deeply unpopular" with lesbian groups and that among mainstream gay
sympathy rapidly [gave] way to deep hostility. ... because acknowledging any
commonality of goals was likely to attract the 'molester' label for all
homosexuals defending hard-won political rights and public
respectability" (p. 162).
does not mention that in the early 1980s some lesbians and minor youth defended
not only NAMBLA‘s participation in the political process but also the
desirability of sexual relationships between minors and adults (Kelly, 1979;
Anonymous, 1979/80; Lotringer & Moffett, 1980). Neither does he acknowledge
that today many gay and lesbian activists reject respectability and some have
called for a dialogue with those who advocate relationships between adults and
underage males (Rofes, 1998).
textual sloppiness compounds these flaws. On occasion he provides an account of
statistical claimsmaking that does not make it clear who is doing the claiming
and he cites Web documents without providing their addresses. He concludes
demographic changes account for the shifts in how child sex abuse has been
viewed, but does not mention Joel Best's argument against a demographic
hypothesis (Best, 1990).
doing research would best be served by using Moral
Panic as a Baedeker for further exploration rather than relying on it as
comprehensive or accurate. These criticisms notwithstanding, Jenkins provides an
informative and valuable account of how the latest anti-child sex laws have
fixed the sexual deviance / paraphilia model more firmly in our society, to the
detriment of children and adults.
Constructing the child molester
focuses on three principal actors—pedophiles, children and adult protectors—in
the symbolic crusade mentioned by Jenkins. His premise is we base social
relations upon imagery, using symbols
and dubbed by their makers [which are] accompanied by standard, agreed upon
and rigidly enforced texts that demand severe punishment for violation along
with the elimination of criticism…." (v. II pp. 9-10).
Sonenschein focuses on American twentieth-century popular culture, he covers a
great deal of historical ground. His may be the most detailed examination ever
of the construction of child molester. For this reason alone, it is an important
notes homosexuals have been just one in a long list of child threatening
figures. He shows what had been a homosexual threat to youth became in the late
1970s a pedophile threat as the moral right shifted its energies to easier
Sonenschein observes gays and lesbians were among the first to protest the
child-sex panic originating with Anita Bryant’s campaign, he does not point
out how those analyses—e.g. by Gayle Rubin (1978, 1984) and Pat Califia (1980)—turned
out to be the high-water mark in critical assessment, or how, by the end of the
1980s, the gay community's ambivalence as seen in Der
Kreis had become hostility.
editorial against Eros paidikos came about halfway through its life and
coincided with one of the U.S. child-sex panics described by Jenkins. It marked
a change in how the North American homosexual-rights movement, still in its
infancy, viewed sex with young people.
Kennedy's study shows Der Kreis had
earlier published numerous short stories and poetry about men and youths in
sexual relationships, including drawings of pubescent boys.[iii]
Indeed, pederast themes had been present in gay publications since the beginning
of the modern-day struggle for homosexual rights.
world’s first homosexual publication, the German journal Der
Eigene (The Self-Owner), regularly extolled pedagogical eros (Oosterhuis
& Kennedy, 1991). Sonenschein cites Friedrich Kröhnke as showing many
homosexual activists in 1930s Germany were pederasts. The editor of Der Kreis quoted at the outset of this review reacted against Eros
paidikos precisely because it had been an acceptable topic for discourse among
homosexuals and lesbians.
to the early 1980s, gay / lesbian publications in North America and Europe
echoed this heritage. Widely read and/or critically regarded newspapers and
magazines such as The Advocate (San
Mateo, California), Gay Community News
(Boston), The Body Politic (Toronto), Gay
News (London), Gai Pied (Paris)—all but the first no longer published—went
beyond child-sex scandals to explore ethical and cultural issues around youth
and adults in relationships. Nowadays only a few publications such as The
Guide (Boston) and Anarchy (Columbia,
MO) critically cover political issues relating to adult-child sex. Eros paidikos
has faded into obscurity.[iv]
Jenkins and Sonenschein conclude the laws arising from child-sex panics are
based on ideology more than science and do more harm than good. They try to step
outside the Western proscription against children as sexual to illuminate how
and why this ideology succeeded. The two books are a worthwhile complement for
anyone seeking a more informed view of the cultural forces at work around these
Mark McHarry, BA*
McHarry is a consultant in the high-tech industry. He has written articles and
reviews on gay and civil liberties topics for Alternative
Press Review, Bay Area Reporter, Gay Community News, PAN,
and Z Magazine, among others. He is
grateful to Hubert Kennedy and Clair Norman for their help with this manuscript.
(1979, December / 1980, January). A Militant Young Dyke's Feminist Perspective
on the Age of Consent Question. Gay Youth
Community News 1/5. In Tsang (p. 128).
(1996, October 18). Kansas Law on Sexual Offenders Unconstitutional, APA
Comments. Psychiatric News.
(1990). Threatened Children: Rhetoric and
Concern about Child-Victims (p. 160). Chicago: University of Chicago.
P. (1980, October 30). Man/Boy Love and the Lesbian/Gay Movement. The
Advocate. In Tsang (p. 133).
G. (1998, June 3-6). Perverted Justice. San
K. (1999, February 27). Does treatment for predators work? (San Luis Obispo,
T. S. (2000, April 14). Continuing Antics in the Prediction of Sex Offense
D. (1999, February). The Accuracy of Sex Offender Recidivism Risk Assessments.
Paper presented at the XXIV International Congress on Law and Mental Health,
Toronto. In Hanson & Thornton (1999).
(1999). Sex Offenders, Mental Illness and Criminal Responsibility: The
Constitutional Boundaries of Civil Commitment after Kansas v. Hendricks. American
Journal of Law & Medicine. Volume 25, Number 1: 117-47.
L. (2001, January 23). Supreme Court Roundup; Justices to Weigh Issue of Child
Pornography and Computer-Generated Images. The
New York Times.
K. (1997, April). The Development of a Brief Actuarial Risk Scale for Sexual
K. & Thornton, D. (1999). Static 99: Improving Actuarial Risk Assessments
for Sex Offenders.
K. (1998). Kansas v. Hendricks: A
Perilous Step Forward in the Fight Against Child Molestation. Houston
Law Review. Volume 35: 1295-1331, p. 1317.
v. Hendricks, 117
S.Ct. 2072, 138 L.Ed.2d 501 (1997)
B. (1979, March 3). Speaking Out on "Women / Girl Love"—or, Lesbians
Do "Do" It. Gay
H. (1999). The Ideal Gay Man: The Story of
Der Kreis. New York: The Haworth Press; co-published simultaneously in Journal
of Homosexuality, Volume 38, Numbers 1/2.
& Matson, S. (1998). Sexual Predator Commitment Laws in the United States:
1998 Update. Olympia, Washington: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.
S. & Moffett, M. (1980, Summer). Loving Men. Semiotext(e) Special, Intervention Series #2.
In Tsang (p. 14).
H. (Ed.) & Kennedy, H. (Translator). (1991). Homosexuality and Male Bonding in Pre-Nazi Germany: The Youth Movement,
the Gay Movement, and Male Bonding Before Hitler's Rise: Original Transcripts
from Der Eigene, the First Gay Journal
in the World (pp 2-7, 121). New York: The Haworth Press, 1991; also
published as Journal of Homosexuality,
Volume 22, Numbers 1/2.
J. (1997, June 24). High Court:
Pedophiles Can Be Held After Prison. Chicago
E. (1998, November 13). Building a Movement for Sexual Freedom During a Moment
of Sex Panic. Address to the Second Annual Summit to Resist Attacks on Gay Men's
Sexual Civil Liberties, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
G. (1978, February). Sexual Politics, the New Right, and the Sexual Fringe. Leaping
Lesbian. 2/2. In Tsang (p. 108).
G. (1984). Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of
Sexuality, in Vance, C.S., (Ed.), Pleasure
and Danger—Exploring Female Sexuality. Boston: Routledge & K. Paul;
reprinted in Abelove, H., et al, (Eds.). (1993). The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. New York: Routledge.
J. A. (1999). Who Are the People In Your Neighborhood? Due Process, Public
Protection, and Sex Offender Notification Laws. 1466 New York University Law Review. Volume 74:1451, pp. 1465-1467.
D. (Ed.) (1981). The Age Taboo: Gay Male
Sexuality, Power and Consent. Boston: Alyson Publications, 1981.
Quoted in Kennedy (1999), p. 187.
Kennedy (1999), p. 1
By 1965, the editor had completed his distancing of Der
Kreis—and homosexuality—from boy-love. (Kennedy, p. 202).
"Pedagogical Eros" is no longer visible in the North American gay
/ lesbian press. There were no reviews of Dutch jurist and man/boy-love
proponent Edward Brongersma's two-volume work Loving
Boys (Elmhurst, NY: Global Academic Publishers, 1990), and scant
attention to Joseph Geraci's anthology from the defunct Paidika
magazine, Dares To Speak: Historical
And Contemporary Perspectives On Boy-Love (London:
Gay Men's Press, 1997).
NAMBLA is covered only rarely and then as a topic of controversy, such as in
XY magazine's interview with
spokesperson Bill Andriette (Michael Lowenthal, "The Boy-Lover Next
Number 6, February / March, 1997).
XY is aimed at a young readership and has covered age-of-consent issues
critically. It is telling that aside from XY,
in the 1990s the only less judgmental looks by the news media at sexual
relationships between adults and minors came from non-gay sources—e.g., Vanity Fair (Jesse Kornbluth, "Exeter's Passion Play," December, 1992), The
New Republic (Hanna Rosin, "Washington Diarist: Chickenhawk",
May 8, 1995) and
the Associated Press (Lisa Lipman, "UMASS professor advocates
pederasty," November 26, 2000).
2002 The Haworth Press,
Journal of Homosexuality,
Volume 42, Number 4, 2002, pp. 185-192.
Republished with permission.
Article copies available from The Haworth Document
Delivery Service: 1-800-haworth. E-mail