Leo, J. & Galvin, R.M. (1981, September 7). Cradle-to-grave intimacy: Some researchers openly argue that ‘everything goes’ for children. Time. Study sheds light on child sex rings. (1984, May 11). The Patriot Ledger. (from the New York Times News Service).
The cover of what is called a national bestseller, Show Me! features two tiny tots, both nude, one smiling suggestively, the other gazing pensively. The book is subtitled, "A Picture Book of Sex for Children and Parents, Photography and Captions by Will McBride, Explanatory Text by Dr. Helga Fleishcauer-Handt."
The authors of this Time article are disturbed by what they have found tucked away in other research or indirectly stated by feminists and children’s rights advocates. It is the idea that very young children should at least be allowed, if not encouraged, to practice a full sex life. Briefly stated, the argument is that children are sexual beings and have the need and the right to develop their skills early in life. Those who hold this position contradict the Freudian notion of a latency period (from about four years of age to puberty) as a prudish doctrine of a repressive society. The idea comes out differently from several specialists quoted.
Mary S. Calderone, head of the influential Sex Information and Education Council of the United States stated that children have a fundamental right "to know about sexuality and to be sexual."
John Money of Johns Hopkins University points out with others that even as infants, boys can have erections and girls may evidence lubricated vaginas. "It is almost certain that human beings, like the other primates, require a period of early sexual rehearsal play," he wrote in The Sciences magazine. Such "rehearsal play with adults affects them beneficially."
Anthropologist Richard Currier furthers the argument (in Human Behavior), "Western society has undergone a revolution in sexual values but has tried to apply it exclusively to adults, and this arbitrary restriction is not working."
A family therapist from Acton, Massachusetts, Larry Constantine carries the argument to a further extreme: "Children really are a disenfranchised minority. They should have the right to express themselves sexually, which means that they may or not have contact with people older than themselves." Apparently, for him, protection from child molesters would come from the ability liberated and educated children to say no.
Though forced to oppose adult-child sex publicly, some researchers are admitting they believe adult-child sex does not hurt a child. Norwegian psychologist, Thore Langfeldt, points to early sexual stimulation and infant masturbation by adults in some primitive cultures and says it "definitely does not seem to harm the child."
Wardell Pomeroy, who co-authored the Kinsey reports, claims that incest "can sometimes be beneficial" to children.
Frits Bernard, a Dutch psychologist who has written many articles and books on pedophilia claims that adult-child sex is innocent—that it is the fuss adults make over it and not the sex itself that harms children. He finds adult-child sex basically innocent; children involved in such activity he has studied "are no more neurotic than the average Dutchman."
Commentators on this subject like Floyd Martison, sociologist at Minnesota’s Gustavus Adolphus College, emphasize the quality of the adult-child relationship. "Intimate human relations are important and precious. I’d like to see as few restrictions placed on them as possible. Harvard Health Service psychologist, Douglas Powell adds, "I have not seen anyone harmed by this so long as it occurs in a relationship with somebody who really cares about the child."
Obviously, such opinions give comfort and encouragement to pedophiles. The Goleman article above refers to a study published in the official journal of the American Psychiatric Association. This study by a group led by Ann Wolbert Burgess of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing focused on the children’s point of view. It is based on two years of interviews with 62 children (49 boys, 17 girls) averaging 11 years of age and involved in eleven sex rings in the Northeast and Middle West from 1978 to 1981. Their length of involvement in the rings were from a few months to four years.
The fourteen adult leaders of these groups used the children sexually and sold pictures for profit.
The adult ring leaders, all of whom had legitimate roles in the children’s lives, included neighbors, a school bus driver, a coach, a scout leader, a grandfather, a teacher, and an apartment manager. In a typical sex ring, a 54-year-old man who had received a community award for "devoting 25 years to the youth of the community" as a baseball coach, was arrested by the federal agents for distributing child pornography.
Two years after the rings were discovered, the study found, about one in four of the children had made what appeared to be a healthy psychological adjustment.
Going back to the Time article, we read how pedophiles have welcomed opinions regarding the benefit of childhood sex. A leader of an organization of pedophiles, the Childhood Sensuality Circle, out of San Diego, Valida Davila says:
We believe children should begin sex at birth. It causes a lot of problems not to practice incest.
Militant homosexual, David Thorstad, claims to be fighting for "the rights of children to control their own bodies."
Only a few voices have been raised against what many would call assaults against childhood innocence. One of them is that of lesbian columnist, Nancy Walker:
Let Thorstad and his confreres at least say what the real issue is: that they want to [copulate with] children. Prepubescent children are not taboo because this is a sex-negative society, but because they can be physically hurt and may be psychologically injured as well by sexual intimacy with adults.
Child psychologist Leon Eisenberg (Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Boston) is one of the few responsible child experts to respond boldly and bluntly against ideas of child-adult sex:
Premature sexual behavior among children in this society almost always leads to psychological difficulties because you have a child acting out behavior for which he is not cognitively or emotionally ready. People who think small children are capable of making free decisions about sex with adults are full of crap.
Psychotherapist Sam Janus describes in The Death of Innocence how people who were seduced early in life "go through the motions of living and may seem all right, but they are damaged. I see these people year after year in therapy." UCLA psychiatrist Edward Ritvo, who has worked with children from difficult sex encounters agrees: "Childhood sexuality is like playing with a loaded gun."
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
- What are your feelings in reading this, and what troubles you most from the article?
- How is a pluralistic, secular society to set its sexual standards? Is there any common ground for a public sexual philosophy?
- How must family, schools, health agencies, and churches cooperate in protecting those who may be sexually abused?
- Is sexual abuse of children a public health issue in this society? What does that mean? What would be its implications for families, the media, health agencies, and churches?
- When and how can youth leaders deal with these issues?
- It would seem that we have come to a place where "private" adult freedoms must be legally and constitutionally limited to protect vulnerable children. Society has no greater responsibility than the protection of infants and children.
- Secular, pluralistic societies must return to a concept of the common good and to a common moral foundation. One of the principles of such a moral base should be that all the promotes full and whole maturity to manhood and womanhood is good, and anything that injures or hinder growth to adulthood is wrong.
- We have reached a point in our society where families, schools, businesses, churches and public agencies must cooperate for the good and welfare of young people. No single social system, nor alliance of two or three systems, can deal adequately with the crises among children and youth today.
- As Deborah Prothrow-Stith has asked our society to deal with violence as a public health issue, we would suggest that the sexual abuse of children is a public health issue. This means that parents and other adults, schools and churches, and especially the media, must be held accountable for the welfare of children.
- It must be admitted that there is no clear consensus regarding a public sexual philosophy and implied standards. It may be the welfare of children that will explode our extreme indulgences and help us find practical principles that work for the common good.
Dean Borgman cCYS