My attention has been drawn to a recent article on the Guardian website concerning the subject of paedophilia. Bravely penned by Jon Henley, it's a very informative piece that attempts to dispassionately explain the condition and put it into some sort of context.
I say bravely because it's a topic much loved by the tabloid press when they feel there might be some mileage in whipping up a storm by demonising someone or other. Typically they don't understand the term and feel no obligation to try and explain it. The term is often used far too widely to describe all sex offending against children, when in fact the definition is quite narrow.
According to wikipedia:-
As a medical diagnosis, paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in persons 16 years of age or older typically characterised by a primary or exclusive interest in prepubescent children (generally age 11 years or younger, though specific diagnosis criteria for the disorder extends the cut-off point for prepubescence to age 13).
Of course any person who acts upon these interests either by means of physical contact or the creation or possession of images is committing a criminal offence.
Paedophilia is regarded as a paraphilia that according to wikipedia "describes sexual arousal to objects, situations or individuals that are not part of normative stimulation. Paraphilia involves sexual arousal and gratification, involving a sexual behaviour that is atypical or extreme."
According to some sources there are as many as 549 paraphilias and there is no universal agreement that they are indeed disorders. Apparently, in the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-IV-TR) "a paraphilia is not diagnosable as a psychiatric disorder, unless it causes distress to the individual or harm to others."
This makes sense to me. I well recall a client who had a propensity for drinking his consenting partners blood. It was behaviour some found extremely unpleasant, but not a disorder or criminal act in my view. The infamous extreme BDSM 'Spanner' case continues to be problematic in terms of the boundaries between acceptable consenting sexual behaviour and the criminal law.
Of course at one time homosexuality was felt to be a deviance, then a disorder, then a paraphilia and currently a sexual preference. It was also at one time a criminal offence. I was interested to discover that another paraphilia, necrophilia, was not made a criminal offence until the Sexual Offences Act 2003, thus admirably demonstrating that our views of acceptable sexual behaviour is a continually changing one.
I must say that I had not appreciated that the long-defunct Paedophile Information Exchange had once been affiliated to the National Council for Civil Liberties and who in turn had given evidence to a House of Commons Select Committee in 1976 along the lines of:-
"Childhood sexual experiences, willingly engaged in with an adult, result in no identifiable damage....The real need is a change in the attitude which assumes that all cases of paedophilia result in lasting damage."
I find such a statement quite shocking even for 1976 and it again serves to highlight our changing attitudes over time. I'm sure it will send a shiver down any probation officers' back who has to deal with child sex offenders and their typically well-entrenched distorted thinking patterns. As the subsequent lively discussion shows, it raises loads of issues, not least the notion that informed consent can be given by minors.
Having been involved with sex offenders and people with extreme sexual preferences that significantly differ from my own, I have to say that I have difficulty in regarding any as 'disorders' 'per se' rather than just preferences on an admittedly extremely broad spectrum of sexual interests.
Just to clarify though, that is not the same as in any way condoning the commission of sexual offences. I remain completely dismissive of the notion that harm may not be caused to a victim of a sex crime - there is no possible way that a perpetrator can know for sure what effect their behaviour will have.
In reality the truth is that significant and long-lasting psychological harm will almost certainly be caused and all probation officers can cite examples where sexual abuse has had a devastating effect on a person's ability to cope and lead a normal and fulfilling life. This has always been the case and I can only assume that a contrary viewpoint could only have been fostered by manipulative perpetrators suffering from considerable distorted reasoning.
(Interestingly, only very recently in a BBC2 TV interview with Kirsty Wark, comedian Billy Connolly surprised many by saying that he still loved his father, despite years of sexual abuse. He cited the power of forgiveness as being 'immense'. It should be noted though that Billy's wife, Pamela Stephenson, qualified as a clinical psychologist and specialises in the field of human sexuality. I'm sure he would be the first to acknowledge the tremendous help it has been having ready access to such expertise in coming to terms with his childhood experiences.)
For the protection of us all, the default position must be that harm will be caused. As such the probation service remains at the forefront of challenging sex offenders and attempts at changing the behaviours that are potentially harmful to others.
As with all our sexual preferences, they arise from a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental influences and are firmly rooted at our core. In the final analysis, I acknowledge that potentially harmful sexual preferences will remain in most instances and that therefore perpetrators must either be encouraged not to act upon these, or be subject to such control and monitoring that any potential harm to others can be minimised.
As an aside, I guess this Guardian article must be viewed in the light of yet another consequence of the on-going Jimmy Savile revelations. Unwittingly he continues to posthumously facilitate discussion of some extremely sensitive matters hitherto regarded as taboo. I notice that this now includes necrophilia and this just may help explain part of his enthusiasm for acting as a volunteer hospital porter.
Following on from the initial Guardian article which has generated widespread consternation, academic Sarah Goode published this interesting piece in the Independent yesterday.