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4. Discussion about Ethics

Paper for the 17th Ipce Meeting, 2004
By Frans Gieles


Several years ago, in Copenhagen (1993) and Amsterdam (1994), we discussed ethics. We developed four principles or guidelines. We took up the thread in Berlin (2001) and in Rotterdam (2002).

To refresh our memories:

These four guidelines or principles followed by a "PS" were, in a short,  recently (i.e. after the discussion in Rotterdam 2002) revised version:

1. Self-determination:
Children must always have it in his or her own power to regulate their own intimacy, their relationships with others and their own lives.

2. Initiative:
Even in a later stage of the relationship, it is always the children who make the choice to initiate intimacy.

3. Freedom:
At any moment within the relationship with an adult, children must have the freedom to withdraw from the relationship. Love and dedication must be unconditional.

4. Openness:
The child should not have to carry unreasonable secrets. One has to take into consideration how the child lives with its own sexuality. This openness depends a great deal on the quality of the relationship, and the support from the adult(s).

The local mores and customs also play a role, as openness about children's intimate lives is not always appreciated. Children often must have any intimacy in secret. Homosexuality, for example, is for many youngsters a big taboo. This can bring many problems and insecurity. If the sub-culture in which they live is relaxed and strong enough, then children can find support in that environment

These four principles were seen as good in certain situations, but generally too limited and partly contradictory. The principles speak about avoiding a bad situation, but have no positive goal or fundamental expression of what is good. The principle of openness, especially, was seen as a debatable one.  

The idea in Berlin, 2001, was to maintain the four principles, but regard them as thoughts, not as rules, and to put them into a broader frame and add more thoughts as a frame around the principles. The Ipce Meeting in Rotterdam, 2002, has done this.

Using this approach, I have taken parts of the text of the report of that meeting and changed it from a report into a statement -- a proposal for an Ipce Statement. Tom gave a long lecture in Berlin, 2001. His ideas are embedded in the next text. 

I propose to add two sentences to that text. They are here below given as [added >] blue text [< added]. The reason is that two other organizations, the Association Martijn and C-Logo have decided recently to take over 'our' guidelines, but in a somewhat different wording and order: 

"In relation to this physical intimacy, MARTIJN Association proposes four guidelines, namely:

1. Consent of both child and adult.

2. Openness towards the parents of the child.

3. Freedom for the child to withdraw from the relationship at any moment.

4. Harmony with the child's development."

By adding guidelines 2 and 4, we are more in harmony with those other organizations.

About ethics

The guidelines we give here are ideals to strive for. They are meant as global guidelines or principles. Nobody can give exact rules for every situation. The guidelines provide concepts to have in mind and to take into consideration. One should, however, still make a case-by-case judgment. The guidelines are more or less tied to an actual culture and era, hence not eternal. Ethics change in the course of time, in the course of the discourse. 

Ethics are not plucked from the air. For us, there are two ethical sources:

human rights and

reasonable thinking.  

Our ethics

Society has its rules and ethics about mutual relationships and intimacy between children or adolescents and adults. Keep your distance is the rule; fear of sexuality is its basis. In our vision, this is not ethical. But we are also part of this society.  

This double position, criticizing the society of which we are a part, results not only in our handing out sharp criticism, but also in formulating ethical principles that are acceptable to the same society.  

The guidelines

Freedom of choice

In any intergenerational relationship or contact, both partners, the adult as well as the young person, should have it in their power to regulate their own lives, their relationships and the grade of intimacy. 

Each partner has the right to self-determination and the responsibility to acknowledge this right in the other. Therefore, both partners in open communication will at any moment choose the grade of intimacy. 

In friendship relationships or contacts, both partners have the freedom to withdraw from the relationship at any moment. Love and dedication are unconditional; they bind partners who are free and independent.

In dependency relationships or contacts, (such as parent-child or teacher-pupil) love and dedication should also be unconditional, but freedom to withdraw does not exist in practice. So, extra attention should be given to the right to self-determination and the responsibility of both partners. Here, the grade of intimacy has two limits: complete distance is not possible nor wanted, complete intimacy will interfere with the dependency: complete intimacy asks for complete freedom, which does not exist in dependency relationships, thus complete intimacy is not possible in these relationships.

The grade of openness

Openness is a typical western value; many other cultures have the value to respect and maintain secrets. Openness within a relationship is a good value. [Added >] Openness to the parents is strongly recommended. [< Added]

Openness to others is a good value as long as they respect one's right to self-determination. So, openness to others may be good, but it is not always necessary and not always possible. For example, intimacy between males is still a great taboo, as, for instance, in most schoolyards. Or, in many families, the very existence of any form of an intimate life of a young person is a taboo.

Many young people prefer consciously to have their own secrets. They make their own choices and do not want to be protected. ‘Don’t treat me as a child’, they say. It is their right to have this freedom. The freedom to say no and the freedom to say yes. There is also a right of privacy.

The other side of the coin is that young people should not have to carry too heavy or unreasonable secrets. One has to take into consideration how the young person lives and how his environment may react. 

Do no harm

[Added >] This includes acting in harmony with the development of the child. [< Added]

Harm can come from feelings of shame and dirtiness, learned from society. Harm can come from a society that uses power or violence to force the end of a relationship. One should consider this risk, as well as the risk of blackmail. The adult as well as the young person is vulnerable in this society nowadays. Thus: do no harm nor take the risk.

Discussion during the Meeting

This is a proposal for an Ipce statement, written by a member and discussed in the group. As is said in the section above:

Because Ipce is a forum, there is not 'one and only true Ipce opinion': a forum allows a collection of opinions. Important opinions are collected on the web site in the chapter "Statements". These are not "Ipce Statements" in the meaning of: 'Ipce has voted about these texts', but only in the meaning of 'These statements, made by members, are felt as being shared by most other members'. Ipce does not vote about statements, except its Mission Statement. 

"The earlier versions of our guidelines were more or less defensive," said a member. "This text is better and I can live with it. NAMBLA has had its position papers. These were very detailed and a bit legalistic. Such a statement is better: it is not the end of discussion or a law for ever. It is the state of mind we have now, the discussion can go on." 

"Indeed," said another. "In Berlin and Rotterdam, we had long discussions, and this paper is still more or less subjective. The crucial point is the openness. Nowadays this is almost impossible. Many parents will forbid the relationship. If one views openness as a conditio sine qua non, intimacy is impossible or unethical - and a lot of members and others, like Martijn and CLogo, agree with this view, as Frans does. Others want to protect the relationship against such bans. However, if a relationship is secret but suddenly comes to the light and suddenly ends, this is also a disaster for all people concerned. Thus, taking openness as a condition is also protecting a relationship against this disaster. 

Freedom and rights are OK, but with freedom and rights comes also responsibility - I mean for both the adult and the child. See the word "both" in the proposed text. If the young person wants to have secrets, as most teenagers do, this is also his or her right. In heterosexual relationships between teenagers, the same problem comes up. Openness can be important for pregnancy prevention. The doctors have the same problem: should they inform the parents, or accede to the wish for secrecy of the young ones? 

For whom is this text written? For people with pedophilic feelings, and for the public. Some do not want to discuss the issue with the public. Others, Ipce members, Martijn and CLogo, explicitly want this and choose a text that might be a good point to start the discussion, thus a text that is acceptable, for example, to parents." 

"This discussion," remarks a member, "has two levels. One is: will we make and present such a text? The other is: what will the content of that text be? Several members agree with making such a text. We want to offer our actual ideas to others; we need a starting point for the discussion. Our earlier texts on ethics have been adopted, for example, by some Dutch psychiatrists. NAMBLA has had long position papers. Martijn and CLogo, inspired by us, opted for four short statements. That will work better. 

It would be important in an introduction, to explain the intention of this text: not as a series of legalistic rules, but as a set of ideas proposed in a discussion. Maybe it presents more an ideal than reality. The recommendation is "Take into your consideration ..."

It might be good to present examples: practical and realistic situation and an advise for such kind of situations. The New York Times Magazine has a column "The Ethicists" that regularly present moral dilemmas, situations introduced by the readers.

It might also be good to publish this statement in the Ipce Newsletter and to ask all members to agree or otherwise to react. In doing so, we really are a forum for exchange of thoughts.

Without a vote, the Meeting agreed with the placing of the proposed text, maybe in a next version, as a statement in the Newsletter and asking for reactions.

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