Welcome to the new version of European Tribune. It's just a new layout, so everything should work as before - please report bugs here.

Paedophilia and the Edathy Case

by Katrin Thu Feb 20th, 2014 at 05:22:25 PM EST

Whenever a criminal case is widely reported, there are calls for new laws. These calls are justified with the argument that we must prevent another crime of that sort. Well, we can't. Laws get broken, even if they are ethically sound and well formulated. Even if you alter the law with each case of children being abused in order to produce child porn, you can't prevent all abuse. The proposals often are an emotional response, not a rational one, and I doubt that many people who express an opinion that the law must be altered know what exactly the law is.

Those who do often have an ulterior motive they rather don't talk about. There are ideas around that crime can be prevented with enough surveillance and by the right algorithms. Ultimately that is the rationale of the signature strikes: men who move around in a car with other men in Yemen most likely are terrorists. A man who buys pictures of naked children most likely will buy child porn too. Readers of leftist sites will call for violent protests.  

The most emotional reactions are triggered off by cases or allegations of child abuse and child porn as in the case of Edathy. The discussion of this case mixes so many different concepts that I no longer know what we are talking about, and I have tried to clarify some definitions (and the difference between sexual preference or desire and sexual behaviour) and norms.  

Paedophilia and child abuse

Paedophilia is a sexual orientation, and like all sexual orientations it is for life, not curable. It counts as a psychiatric disorder. Paedophiles are sexually attracted by pre-pubescent children. Their number is estimated at about 1% of the population. Fortunately not all paedophiles are attracted exclusively towards children, many desire adult sexual partners too. Attraction by children whose pubescence has already set in is often called paedophilia too, but more accurately is hebephilia and ephebophilia. Sexual orientation does not necessarily translate into behaviour: paedophile is not synonymous with child abuser. Many paedophiles are aware that living their sexuality would hurt children. Some of them seek therapeutic help. There they learn how to recognise "dangerous" situations and to avoid contact with children that could turn abusive. In order to protect children from sexual exploitation this should be supported. Participants have to overcome their fear, though, before they contact such projects. It does not help if paedophilia is used as a synonym for sexual acts with children. Only a small portion of sexual abuse of children is committed by paedophiles. Most cases are committed by persons who would prefer adults, but situatively seek sex with children. Warnings of the pervert stranger bring children in danger, because most perpetrators have a sex life with adults, know the child well, and exploit that relationship. One in four cases is committed by the child's stepfather, definitely a person who has sexual relationships with adults. Only 20% of the perpetrators (of known cases) are strangers.

Child porn and pictures of naked children

There are two categories of child porn in German law: Material showing sexual activities of children under 14 (§184b ): The production, dissemination, and possession are criminalised.
Material showing sexual activities of children between 14 and 18 (§ 184c Here the punishment is lighter, and there is a provision for juvenile producers.

It is not always clear what "activities" means, if it includes all pictures that focus on genitals. The only "grey area" that I can see, would be here. The English wikipedia shows the cover of the 2nd edition, without commenting why they didn't show the 1st. Well, here it is, still legal under German law, but how much longer until it will be banned?

Pictures of naked children without a sexual context are not in a grey area. They can be made, traded and possessed legally. Probably most parents possess a few, I certainly do. Now, in the discussion of the Edathy case, there are proposals to ban the trade and publication of these photos, making it illegal to show photos from holidays on the beach to grandparents and friends. To protect children? From what? I really would like to know where our resident proponents of revising these sections of the criminal code would draw the line between legal and illegal. It is perfectly probable that the photos Edathy purchased were exactly this sort. Sites peddling them find them on facebook or so. For the children on the photos it is definitely not a nice thing if their pictures are re-published in this way, but this re-publishing is already illegal as a violation of personality rights (not as child porn). This doesn't make the purchase or the possession illegal though.  

The search warrant against Edathy

The search warrant states that Edathy is suspected of legal behaviour and claims that 90% of the persons who show this legal behaviour show a "paedophile disposition". So what? That's not illegal either. And then they conclude "from criminalistic experience" that paedophiles show the illegal behaviour of possessing child porn. This is outrageous.

It is unconstitutional too, because there is no description of any criminal behaviour of the defendant:

Das Bundesverfassungsgericht

In einem Durchsuchungsbeschluss muss der Ermittlungsrichter ein dem Beschuldigten angelastetes Verhalten schildern, das die Voraussetzungen eines Strafgesetzes erfüllt. Die Schilderung braucht nicht so vollständig zu sein wie die Sachverhaltsdarstellung in einer Anklage oder einem Urteil. Es müssen aber ein Verhalten oder sonstige Umstände geschildert werden, die alle wesentlichen Merkmale des Straftatbestandes erfüllen.

(Translation: In a decision on a search warrant the investigating judge must describe the alleged behavior of the accused which complies with the requirements of a criminal law . The description need not be as Complete as the facts presented in an indictment or a judgment. However, a behavior or other circumstances must be described, that covers all the essential features of the offense.)

The argumentation abolishes fundamental rights of suspects, and this is only made acceptable because cases of child abuse and related crimes trigger off an emotional response, not a rational one. What if it had been a search warrant stating that people who distribute flyers against nuclear power can be expected to try violence or sabotage next? There really is no difference.

Thank you for this lucid and courageous diary.

Suspicion or accusation of paedophilia is probably the leading cause of witch hunts in liberal democracies. This, in itself, is reason enough to examine our prejudices and discuss the issue dispassionately.

I will have more to say when I have thought some more...

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Feb 21st, 2014 at 05:15:55 AM EST
You've convinced me regarding the Egathy case, but I'm skeptical about one thing you say, however.

Only a small portion of sexual abuse of children is committed by paedophiles. Most cases are committed by persons who would prefer adults, but situatively seek sex with children.

That doesn't seem like a credible statement to me. I can understand how some cases of sexual abuse may have occurred because the situation of the abuser prevented normal sexual activity with an adult that he or she would have preferred, but most?

It seems that the venues for such situational limitations in modern society is so small that it could hardly be possible to account for most cases of child sexual abuse. I have a hard time believing people who don't have an identifiable paedophile disposition of at least some degree are involved more than a tiny proportion of the cases.  

Who are we talking about here, for example? People too unattractive to find any adult sexual partners and too poor to employ a sex worker? Nuns living in a structured convent who are teachers or care providers to children too?  Other children?  I can't think of many more possibilities that would be so restrictive on personal sexual possibilities that abusing a child would ever seem like an alternative if one did not already have a proclivity for that.  

by santiago on Wed Feb 26th, 2014 at 06:24:07 PM EST
There is too much sanity lurking in your questions. It is misplaced here on this topic. :) Sexual child abuse, like rape, usually is not so much about sex as about domination.

The wikipedia article I linked to has some info in English on the different groups of perpetrators. Then there is the link to the article on a study which analysed cases of convicted child abusers in the court district of Stendal, in German. I am sorry that so many of my links are in German, and I couldn't translate much (or else I still wouldn't have finished the diary). I can sum up this one a bit, though, from the findings of the article that I took the picture on relationships between perpetrator and victim of: 20% of the perpetrators are strangers. In this group a significant (but unfortunately unspecified in the article) subset is mentally disabled/has an extremely low IQ: men who cannot have normal relationships with other adults, but are sexually attracted by them. They seek sex with children, who are intellectually their equals, as a substitute. This subset probably comes closest to the description you have in mind with your questions.  

80% of the cases are committed by persons who know the child well. They are close relations, who are in a position of power. The incest taboo is obviously working: stepfathers are more likely to sexually abuse children than biological fathers. A large portion of sexual abuse happens in dysfunctional families where a man batters and rapes wife and children. Nothing to do with paedophilia, this is violence against persons he treats as property. The motives of siblings, grandfathers and uncles fall into the same category: domination. Children are chosen as victims because they are helpless and cannot even judge the situation as wrong (many abusers tell their victims that all fathers/brothers/whatever do this to children, that it is normal). The satisfaction of the perpetrator is in the power relation. 42% of the perpetrators belong into this group, and I don't see paedophilia as a motivation here.

The last group (38%) are acquaintances of the child or its family. Neighbours, baby-sitters, teachers, priests belong here, too. Positions of power and trust. We can't be sure how many paedophiles seek these positions in order to find victims or how many perpetrators find themselves in these positions that they then exploit to exercise power over children without being particularly sexually attracted by them.  

So, plenty of motives for sexual abuse of children. Paedophilia is only one of them, and all evidence points at that it is the motivation for a minority of the cases. The focus on paedophilia does not help then.  The danger for children is in "exploitable power". That's for instance families with a violence problem. And that's teaching children that there are particular groups of people who can be trusted as a whole, like teachers or priests. Strategies to protect children are more likely to be successful if they come from the angle of "power" (and authority, trust) instead of "sex" (and body). That's why I insist so much on differentiating between paedophiles and child abusers.

by Katrin on Thu Feb 27th, 2014 at 08:41:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Some time ago I read an article by a psychologist who had worked with convicted sexual abusers in prison. He described it as them often being unaware of why they did what they did, seperating - and often hating - the abuser part of themselves. He saw the paedophile scaremongering as unhelpful because it contributed to the seperation and lack of self-understanding, which made the problems worse.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Thu Feb 27th, 2014 at 09:18:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
a study which analysed cases of convicted child abusers

No study based on convictions can be accurate.

Rape conviction rates are tiny. It's a given child rape conviction rates are far tinier, because most cases don't get to trial. Of those that do, it's far easier to secure a conviction when there's independent corroboration - for example, in a family - than it is to convict those in a position of authority.

The latter get dual protection. Not only is the abuser able to use a position of power to silence victims, but if accusations are made, the abuser can rely on higher political or religious authority to cover up the abuse.

This is exactly what happened in the Catholic church, in many of the UK's music schools, in the BBC, which seems to have been very good at protecting some of its entertainers, and is currently happening in Westminster, where serious questions based on written evidence - or sometimes the mysterious disappearance of written evidence - are being asked about important political names.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Feb 27th, 2014 at 09:20:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No study based on convictions can be accurate.

Sure. That's why I used expressions like "evidence points at" and so. There simply aren't studies with representative samples of all detected and undetected child abusers... The evidence we have still points in one direction. Do you doubt that the wish to dominate, not paedophile disposition, is the motivation in the majority of the cases? If so, may I ask what reasons you have for your doubts?

by Katrin on Thu Feb 27th, 2014 at 09:51:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you doubt that the wish to dominate, not paedophile disposition, is the motivation in the majority of the cases?

Adults are so powerful that if domination were the goal, sexual domination is redundant. It's simply unnecessary when it's so easy for adults to intimidate and manipulate children in other ways.

Besides, sexual dominance/submission orientations have been understood by psychology for well over a century. I'm not aware of any literature or research that suggests they're synonymous with paedophilia, or even that there's significant overlap. Are you?

Given that the dictionary definition of paedophilia is 'sexual attraction to children', it seems odd to suggest that sexual attraction to children isn't the point.

Paedophiles say as much themselves. The BBC published this history of paedophile organisation PIE.

The quotes make it clear that paedophiles feel the same attractions that adults feel, but with a focus on underage children instead of other adults.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Feb 27th, 2014 at 11:02:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But sexual dominance/submission orientations are also uncorrelated with adult rape.

So rape and child sexual abuse must require an additional ingredient distinct from sexual orientation.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Feb 27th, 2014 at 11:59:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes. And there are for instance heterosexual men raping men. It is not (at least not necessarily) related to sexual orientation.
by Katrin on Thu Feb 27th, 2014 at 12:25:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not disputing what paedophiles feel. I am not disputing that a subset of them commits acts of paedosexuality. I am disputing that all the perpetrators of paedosexuality are paedophiles, and there I am in accordance with all sources of scientific literature on the topic . The evidence we have has convinced me that only a minority of them are.

I don't know what the history of PIE is meant to prove on this point.

by Katrin on Thu Feb 27th, 2014 at 12:22:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Anecdotal evidence (probably statistics too but I'm too lazy to go looking for them) suggests that many (most?) perpetrators were themselves victims of paedophilia.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Thu Feb 27th, 2014 at 09:48:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not so easy, unfortunately. There is a clear link between growing up in a violent family and likelihood to use that learned behaviour later in life as a parent. Unsurprising. But with sexual abuse there is mixed evidence.

Who abuses children? - Resource sheet - Child Family Community Australia

Evidence indicating whether those who are sexually abused in childhood are more likely to sexually abuse in adulthood is mixed. In a US study comparing the developmental experiences of child sexual abusers and adult sexual abusers, 73% of the child sexual abusers in the sample had experienced child sexual abuse themselves (Simons, Wurtele, & Durham, 2008). However, in a longitudinal study in the United Kingdom, only 11.6% of a sample of 224 former male victims of child sexual abuse had subsequently committed a sexual offence toward a child (Salter et al., 2003).
by Katrin on Thu Feb 27th, 2014 at 10:21:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Interestingly, these two studies are not symmetrical, therefore not necessarily contradictory :
  • Of the US abusers who got caught (and could therefore be studied), a big majority had been abused
  • Of the UK victims who were detected, and subsequently kept track of, only a small minority committed abuses.

Being a child victim of sexual abuse messes you up. It's not necessarily about violence. Affection, protection and sex can become closely associated.  

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Thu Feb 27th, 2014 at 10:35:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]