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My comments 

on: “Social interactions among paedophiles”, By Pierre Tremblay, School of Criminology
University of Montreal, 2001

Robin Sharpe, 2003


What conditions allow paedophiles to overcome their social isolation? Tremblay states this as his “substantive goal”. This question contains implicit assumptions which he does not deal with in his paper. For example, it could be argued that social isolates are more dangerous and unpredictable than those having the social and moral support of similar minded people that they can discuss their interests. The great crimes, the serial killers of children like Clifford Olson and John Wayne Gacy, were all committed by isolates having nowhere to turn to for support and counsel. 

Under the rubric of “Age of consent” offenders Tremblay conveniently avoids having to deal with the differences between 

pedophiles, attracted to prepubescent children and 
ephebephiles attracted to older children up to eighteen. 

This lack of distinction muddies and compromises his subsequent analysis. 

Until recent decades important distinctions were popularly made between the two. 

Have ephebephiles traditionally been social isolates in that men engaging in sex with adolescent boys were stigmatized or persecuted by their communities? 
Leaving aside the Middle East, Asia and Southern Europe, what about the lower and working classes in English speaking countries? 

Just as they did not share the middle class concern over masturbation, man/boy affairs as long as they were discrete and voluntary attracted little outrage. Age of consent often applied only to girls. The question of social isolation of ephebephiles did not arise. Men seeking out small prepubertal children were condemned then as now. 

Any social isolation experienced by ephebophiles is a fairly recent phenomena resulting from the stigmatization and proactive persecution of all boylovers by moral crusaders. This has put them in the same category as pedophiles, and has strengthened the so-called pedophile movement. 

Seen in this context the question of what conditions “allow” ephebephiles at least to overcome their social isolation places them with other groups who have been labeled deviates such as heretics and dissidents, which in many respects they have recently become. Persecution and labeling them as deviates has provided the motive for Age of consent offenders to seek each other out, organize and engage in propaganda. Tremblay both acknowledges this and then conveniently ignores this in the case of Nambla.  

Generally these efforts to overcome social isolation have been confined to Western Europe and the English speaking world because that is where the persecution has been most organized and intense. The mere knowledge of the existence of organizations such as Nambla and PIE, even if only through negative messages, has informed those attracted to minors that they are not alone. This, more than the content of their messages, has enabled boylovers to see themselves more positively. The development of the Internet a dozen or so years after the emergence of these organizations enabled mass participation and self proselytization and learning in a novel way.  

Tremblay raises the question of whether the upsurge of “sensitivity” about Age of consent offences could occur without an actual increase in their prevalence. One should keep in mind that an actual increase, which is impossible to prove, is critical for his theories. I assume he means an increase beyond simple legal reclassification of acts. 

We might ask if the heightened “sensitivity” about witchcraft in the Fifteenth Century and masturbation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries were a result of an actual increase in witchcraft and masturbation. We have the recent example in the U.S. and U.K. where concern about crime has been increasing at a time of declining crime rates. 

We might also ask under what conditions, and there are many possible reasons, can we be fairly confident about a direct relationship between perception and reality. For Tremblay to even raise the question in a supposedly scholarly article without mentioning compounding issues, like for example child pornography which can be argued both ways, weakens his case. For example sexual permissiveness and pornography in particular have been blamed, although child pornography has also been used to explain decreases in child sexual assault. 

Has there been an increase in Age of consent offences? Beyond the widely recognized problem of reporting offences there is the question of recognizing offences. Behaviour seen as harmless is unlikely to be considered an offence regardless of how laws might be interpreted. The expectation that life is `rough and tumble’ and involves `give and take’, and that `boys will be boys’, and that you don’t go running to mummy or the cops at every chance, was much more prevalent in the past. 

The trivial has become magnified into the traumatic in a world where personal judgement defers to self interested experts. Tremblay’s “increase” may be more a factor of the growth of victimological theories than any actual change. 

There has almost certainly been an increase in perceived Age of consent offences. However it is much easier to argue that there has been an increase in suffering, of both “victims” and “offenders”, due to Age of consent offences than there has been an increase in their prevalence. 

Trivialization of non coercive Age of consent offences is probably a more humane and civilized way of dealing with them than present approaches, such as mandatory reporting requirements. However given the growing limitations on freedom of expression this view is unacceptable in most forums. 

Pool of Motivated Adults 

Having established in his own mind an increase in Age of consent offences Tremblay proceeds to speculate how/why more men are acting out their illicit sexual preferences and why more youngsters are willing or available to participate. 

For adults he draws upon a “motivational insight” that where individual (material) success is the ultimate measure of self worth people will turn to crime to achieve it. Calvinistic criminality? 

Modern culture, and this is supposedly new, also emphasizes the moral ideal of being true to oneself, to fulfill oneself. Presumably this includes a duty to act out Age of consent offences, if so inclined, leading to an increase. 

This culture of authenticity is also used to explain the current moral and legal crusade against the sexual exploitation of youngsters as a violation of their being able to be true to themselves. Stronger cultural emphasis on authenticity and sincerity, he claims, leads to a higher rate of Age of consent offenders in affluent countries, and the more affluent social classes who are more exposed to this self fulfillment ethic. To me this patently untrue. 

Poor countries and lower socio/economic classes are more generationally integrated and thus more pragmatic and tolerant despite official morality. The significance and consequences of “deviance” for both boys and men are much less. 

Pool of Suitable Targets 

Tremblay, obeisant to legal/clinical pejorative terminology refers to the youngsters involved as “targets”. Age of consent offences depend on the “opportunities” they offer to potential predators. 

Opportunity is quantitatively defined as the amount of time adults and juveniles are free to interact intimately in the absence of appropriate supervision. This might be termed the chaperone assumption. Because in traditional societies kids start working at an earlier age he assumes that poor societies should have higher rates of Age of consent offences. 

(I don’t know how relevant early assumption of reproductive roles are as this is often a cultural matter.) 

Given that most work done by youngsters in poor countries involves family enterprises; agriculture, small businesses and craft industries this seems questionable. It could apply to street occupations such as vending but these are often supervised by the street culture. It would seem more likely that kids who are not working, such as street kids, and those with no economic role in supporting their families may be involved in Age of consent offences including prostitution. 

Tremblay claims that in affluent countries the time spent by teenagers under no parental supervision has increased dramatically. He sees this as creating opportunities for Age of consent offences. 

However more and more of the time of teens and boys is organized and formally supervised by other adults. Informal sports and games have been replaced by practices and leagues. Roaming and camping have given way to organized supervised hikes. Kids are simply no longer trusted or felt safe on their own. Of course this may be seen as creating opportunities for predatory coaches, mentors and leaders. 

Opportunities for informal intergenerational mingling have declined. There are now very few neighbourhood garages and other small businesses and institutions where casual intergenerational relationships can develop. In recent decades we have seen a generation gap develop based on economic and social changes and fueled by pedophobia. 

The “opportunity” approach however ignores the bigger question of what influences kids in what they do with whatever free unsupervised time they have. They are not passive agents. Their likelihood and willingness to engage in Age of consent offences will be far more affected by their peer’s values and attitudes than any time or place based opportunity. Youth culture is not immune to the influence of the present pedophobic panic and gender politics, and is probably more adverse to Age of consent offence activity than previously. 

While Tremblay can find anecdotal statements to back up his contentions his supply side analysis is based on very dubious assumptions, highly selective observations, and questionable reasoning. 

Tremblay’s speculations are hardly constructive research in that he failed to define some testable hypotheses pertinent to his claims. Conclusions are contained in his assumptions. It is a strained analysis where he claims an increase with only a very abstract historical analysis when there is an abundance of material he could have referred to respecting what are Age of consent offences extant at the times. Even if an increase in Age of consent offences could be shown there are many possible and plausible explanations of why. 

Tremblay has been very selective in the theories he has chosen. He is quite clever at times. While Tremblay’s paper has little to offer beyond its descriptions it does contain ideas which could be mined to rationalize oppressive policies such as further criminalization of Internet culture. We know laws are made in factual vacuums. 

The Offenders 

Tremblay interviewed a series of Age of consent offenders, mostly in prison, who appear to have little in common beyond their offences. They do not constitute a scientific or statistically representative sample and he does not make that claim and admits that they are atypical. He uses his interviews with his subjects to gain insights and provide anecdotal evidence to support his conjectures. 

According to personal contacts the reliability and motivations of some are questionable. One of his subjects who I have met had a few inaccurate and unflattering things to say about me. Tremblay is not unsympathetic to his subjects and quotes several at length which provide some understanding of their involvement, but he stays within conventional criminal justice system assumptions. 

What may be disturbing to some boylovers, and those who simply value freedom of expression and association, is his contention that Internet forums increase Age of consent offences. 

Pedophiles he suggests “acquire the commitment to act out” as a result of “their exposure to favourable definitions of paedophilia – advocacy.” (“Commitment to act out” almost suggests an epiphany.) This conforms to and affirms one of the definitions of child pornography in Canadian law which prohibits material that “advocates or counsels”. It is also part of the theory of cognitive distortions used by forensic psychiatrists. 

Tremblay goes on to refer to a theory that “individuals acquire the motivation to ‘offend’ only through personal contacts.” Tremblay claims , “Internet technology currently provides the organized means for social isolates to overcome natural, legal and social barriers.” 

If that is accepted and the “protection of children” overrides all other considerations, which seems to be the new wisdom, then it is simple common sense to prohibit any means which allow actual and potential Age of consent offenders from communicating with each other. This is what is frightening about Tremblay’s article. 

Tremblay seems to strive to produce arguments that would serve the police and prosecutors. I can only speculate on what effect on policies, if any, his paper will have. The fact that it is a tenuous and shoddy, if occasionally clever piece of work, is irrelevant.

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