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[Library: Books, general]      Ipce Newsletter E 13, June 2002

Burning a Book Before It's Printed

Levine, Judith,
Harmful for Minors, The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex,

$25.95 Cloth/jacket ISBN 0-8166-4006-8; May 2002  

Harmful to Minors will make a much needed and significant intervention into discussions of children's sexuality, adult fears and irrationality about the same, and about the moral, political, and public health risks of failing to come to grips with this culture's anxiety and ignorance about children's erotic desires and needs. This work is extraordinarily informed and wittily incisiveóin addition to academics and professionals, our hope is that this book will engage adult and perhaps teen readers, and be reassuring to parents.  

Burning a Book Before Itís Printed

By Eloquence, Apr 7th, 2002

<  >
(with long thread of reactions) 

It is easy and comfortable to believe that we live in enlightened times, that scientific and rational thought have illuminated all parts of our culture. But every now and then we are reminded that there are subjects that we are not supposed to talk about, even think about. One of these subjects is child sexuality, as is demonstrated by the reaction to the book Harmful to Minors by Judith Levine. Even one month before its publication, it has been widely denounced as "evil" by people who have never read the book -- because it argues that children and juveniles should be allowed to have satisfying sex lives. A stunning tale of shutting up those who dare to ask the wrong questions.

"In America today, it is nearly impossible to publish a book that says children and teen-agers can have sexual pleasure and be safe too," writes Judith Levine in the introduction to Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex ( The book, on which she has been working since the mid-1990s, was rejected by one publisher after the next, its content called "radioactive" by one of them. The University of Minnesota Press accepted the manuscript a year ago -- a decision it now almost certainly regrets.

The UMNP description of the book reads as follows:  

A radical, refreshing, and long overdue reassessment of how we think and act about children's and teens' sexuality.

Sex is a wonderful, crucial part of growing up, and children and teens can enjoy the pleasures of the body and be safe, too. In this important and controversial book, Judith Levine makes this argument and goes further, asserting that America's attempts to protect children from sex are worse than ineffectual. It is the assumption of danger and the exclusive focus on protection-what Levine terms "the sexual politics of fear"-that are themselves harmful to minors.

Through interviews with young people and their parents, stories drawn from today's headlines, visits to classrooms and clinics, and a look back at the ways sex among children and teenagers has been viewed throughout history, Judith Levine debunks some of the dominant myths of our society. She examines and challenges widespread anxieties (pedophilia, stranger kidnapping, Internet pornography) and sacred cows (abstinence-based sex education, statutory rape laws). Levine investigates the policies and practices that affect kids' sex lives-censorship, psychology, sex and AIDS education, family, criminal, and reproductive law, and the journalism that begs for "solutions" while inciting more fear.  

Harmful to Minors offers fresh alternatives to fear and silence, describing sex-positive approaches that are ethically based and focus on common sense. Levine provides optimistic, though realistic, prescriptions for how we might do better in guiding children toward loving well-that is, safely, pleasurably, and with respect for others and themselves. 

The book has been endorsed by Dr. Jocelyn Elders, who wrote the foreword, and by authors Robie Harris, James Kincaid, and Debbie Nathan. But a misleading interview with the author in late March quickly triggered a national wave of protests against the book, mostly coming from religious fundamentalists. The article by Mark O'Keefe (Newhouse News Service, published in the Star Tribune) titled "Some in mainstream contend certain cases of adult-minor sex should be acceptable" discusses recent scientific studies of adult-child sexual interaction. One of these studies is the controversial meta-analysis by psychologists Bruce Rind and Michael Bauserman that found that negative effects of adult-child sexual contact "were neither pervasive nor typically intense, and that men reacted much less negatively than women." [..]Their study has been subject of loud scientific and political controversy (so much that the US House of Representatives eventually unanimously passed a resolution condemning the study).

The study is cited by Judith Levine in her book, which is described in the article as follows:  

A soon-to-be-released book, "Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex," is being advertised by its publisher, University of Minnesota Press, as challenging widespread anxieties about pedophilia.

In an interview, the book's author, journalist Judith Levine, praised the Rind study as evidence that "doesn't line up with the ideology that it's always harmful for kids to have sexual relationships with adults."

She said the pedophilia among Roman Catholic priests is complicated to analyze, because it's almost always secret, considered forbidden and involves an authority figure.

She added, however, that, "yes, conceivably, absolutely" a boy's sexual experience with a priest could be positive.

"When I was a minor, I had sex with an adult," she said. "He was one of my first lovers. My heart was broken, but my heart was broken by a lot of boys, too. I'd say on balance that it was a perfectly good experience."

Even with the little information provided here, it is already obvious that this is a gross mischaracterization. From the UMN press release, it is clear that Levine's book discusses much more than just pedophilia. Her statement about a relationship between a boy and a priest is abridged, and it is unclear to which question she responded. Levine's last statement could come out of a completely different context, e.g. statutory rape laws (how old was she when she had sex with an adult?).

Based on this almost propagandistic mischaracterization, a media campaign against the book quickly followed. One of its main spokespersons is Robert Knight of the religious fundamentalist propaganda organization "Concerned Women for America", which is also anti-homosexual, anti-evolution and anti-abortion. Two days after the Star Tribune story, CFI released the following statement:  

Reject Academic Cover for Child Molesters, CFI Says

Knight Urges University of Minnesota to Fire Officials Responsible for Book Advocating Adult-Child Sex

Washington, D.C. - "Child molesters are getting a big boost toward legitimacy with the University of Minnesota Press' publication of a book advocating sex with children," said Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women for America's Culture and Family Institute. "Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex is every child molester's dream--and every parent's nightmare."

"Joycelyn Elders, who was Bill Clinton's surgeon general, wrote the foreword for this evil tome," Knight says. "Not content to advocate for adults teaching children to masturbate, she is giving cover for adults having sex with kids--so long as the kids give their consent. Everybody except for the molesters and their apologists knows that children cannot give meaningful consent to sex. Everybody knows that children are coerced into giving 'consent,' and that the damage can last a lifetime. The author of this book, Judith Levine, is Exhibit A. She was molested as a child and now advocates it for other children.

"Accused molesters have already misused a 1998 study published by the American Psychological Association to justify their perversion; now they will be citing this hideous book to excuse their crimes against children.

"If the Regents of the University of Minnesota do not act quickly to fire those responsible, the people of Minnesota and their elected representatives should move quickly to replace them," Knight said.

One should also note the small notice at the bottom of the press release:

Knight, a former media fellow at the Hoover Institution, wrote and directed The Children of Table 34, a documentary about Alfred C. Kinsey's use of children in sex experiments, and is the author of The Age of Consent: The Rise of Relativism and the Corruption of Popular Culture (Spence Publishing).  

The Children of Table 34 is a professional, expensively produced "documentary" that has been used to discredit Alfred Kinsey's groundbreaking and unique work on human sexuality -- because some of his data on child sexuality came from a pedophile's personal records. As a propaganda expert, Knight was the right man for the job of destroying another book that advocated a positive attitude towards children's sexuality.

He managed to get his message, which was based on a misrepresentation in another article, into the international Associated Press wire news service, from where it was then broadcasted to millions of homes, over websites like MSNBC, ABCNews, CNN and others. The AP story quotes Knight as saying that "the action is so grievous and so irresponsible that I felt they relinquished their right to academic freedom." He calls the book "very evil", although he admits he hasn't read it. He also claims that "this book will aid and abet child molesters because it gives a pseudo-scientific rationale that can be used by a defense attorney."

ABCNews, in their expanded version of the AP story, at least allows Levine to make her case:  

Levine says her quote was misconstrued and that she does not approve sex between authority figures such as parents, priests and teachers and the minors in their charge. However, she argues that teenagers should be given more credit for the choices they make when they become involved in relationships with adults.


Levine endorses the Netherlands' approach to age-of-consent laws. In 1990, the Dutch parliament made sex between adults and children ages 12 to 16 legal as long as there was mutual consent. The child or the child's parents can bring charges if they believe the minor was coerced into sex.

Levine believes the Dutch law is a "good model" for the United States because it recognizes children as sexual beings who can determine their future while not ignoring the fact that they are weaker than adults and still need legal protection. U.S. consent laws, she says, mistakenly put all minors under one category without recognizing their ability to pursue relationships.

"Legally designating a class of people categorically unable to consent to sexual relations is not the best way to protect children, particularly when 'children' include everyone from birth to eighteen," Levine writes. "Criminal law, which must draw unambiguous lines, is not the proper place to adjudicate family conflicts over youngsters' sexuality. If such laws are to exist, however, they must do what [social psychologist Lynn M.] Phillips suggests about sexual and romantic education: balance the subjective experience and the rights of young people against the responsibility and prerogative of adults to look after their best interests, to 'know better.'"


"The hysteria surrounding my book is precisely what my book is about," Levine said. "There are some real dangers [facing children] in the world, of course. But we need to look at them realistically and separate the real ones from the exaggerated ones."

Elsewhere, Levine also clearly states that she doesn't think children below the age of 12 can have positive sexual experiences with adults. "I deplore rape, sexual abuse of children and any way that a person is forced to have sex against their will," Levine says. "I am a feminist, and I am glad that our legal system has laws against rape. For anybody to say I promote child abuse is absurd."

Of course, given the emotions already invoked by calling Levine a pedophile-defender, her rebuttal was not enough. State Rep. Tim Pawlenty, majority leader of the Minnesota House and Republican candidate for governor, called for the stop of the book's release, according to the Star Tribune:  

"In recent weeks, the headlines have been filled with the stories of victims sexually abused as children," he said in a prepared statement. "This kind of disgusting victimization of children is intolerable, and the state should have no part in it."

Pawlenty said Wednesday night that he has not read the book but became upset after reading articles about its content.


"We deserve to know why the name of one of our most respected institutions is being associated with this endorsement of child molestation," Pawlenty said.

While the UMN has so far mostly defended its release of the book, it had reportedly received more than 200 mostly negative responses by early April, and has now announced to review its publishing guidelines. While the press release still defends the book, it sends a chilling message to all those wishing to inititiate rational discourse of children's sexuality.

What we have here is a classical case of an attempt to kill a book before it is even released. Apparently the rationale of current statutory rape laws, which has put many juveniles in prison for consensual sex, as well as for sexual abstinency education, a major cause of teen pregnancies, is so weak that anyone arguing against it must be singled out and completely discredited in a well-funded ad hominem campaign.

Some of Levine's previous writings are interesting to gauge where the author is standing. For example, in Shooting the Messenger: Why Censorship Won't Stop Violence, she argues against using the media as a scapegoat for school violence as was done in the aftermath of the Columbine shootings. In A Question of Abuse (Mother Jones 1996) she tells the tale of a young boy who was treated -- and psychologically destroyed -- for being a "sex offender" at the age of 9. She describes the "children who molest" scare, which I have already discussed in my Right to Pleasure article. To understand the child sexual abuse scare, the book Making Monsters: False Memory, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria ( is an absolute must.

If you want to protest the smear campaign against Levine's book, you can contact the University of Minnesota Press to show your support:  

You can contact the University of Minnesota Press to show your support:
University of Minnesota Press
111 Third Avenue South, Suite 290
Minneapolis, MN 55401
Phone: 612-627-1970
Fax: 612-627-1980

You can also contact the Minneapolis Star Tribune:  

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Editorial Department,
425 Portland Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55488
Phone: 612-673-4823, Fax: 612-673-4359

 Of course, pre-ordering the book will probably send the strongest message.

The attempted suppression of Levine's book raises another question: How many books about controversial subjects never find a publisher? What is the value of free speech if nobody is willing to make your speech heard? Hopefully, the Internet and books published through print-on-demand will eventually make it possible for non-technical authors to reach large audiences effectively.

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[Library: Books, general]       Ipce Newsletter E 13, June 2002