on 14 December 2011
Amazon's print-on-demand service has produced this comparative rarity. It is a study of minor-attracted persons (MAPs) which did not set out from the start to bolster British society's preconceptions of this much maligned group, but rather to let them speak and then to draw tentative conclusions about their sexual orientation and its implications. Depending on one's viewpoint, this was either to let them condemn themselves or as a useful contribution of evidence to a debate obscured by emotive claims.
Drawing upon questionnaires and in-depth face-to-face interviews with 77 members of the 1970s Paedophile Information Exchange (a UK pre-internet attempt at creating a MAP community), the authors present their results in a straightforward manner. At the time of publishing in 1983 it was a little easier to find `out' MAPs, as society was arguably more open to non-mainstream sexual practices than it is today. An aim was to avoid the biases present in some previous studies which examined only MAPs who were in custody or undergoing clinical treatment.
Results were interesting and mostly failed to reinforce prevalent assumptions about the background, personality, fantasies and practices of minor-attracted persons. Few claimed childhood sexual experiences with an adult; psychological and personality scores were within normal parameters; and their social skills were well-developed. Of most interest are the numerous case studies, which summarise interviews with cooperative MAPs. A number describe ongoing relationships with children (mainly boys) and it is interesting to note that today the authors would be forced to notify the police if told of illegal actions such as these. This would violate the trust placed in the researchers and destroy the integrity of the project. No doubt some would regard that as both inevitable and good, but the present level of ignorance and prejudice about these people amongst the public, politicians and the criminal justice system means that this kind of study is needed more than ever.
Naturally, one must take care to be aware that MAPs, like all of us, can be deceptive and self-serving and it is to the authors' credit that they have taken this into consideration. However, it is striking that all of the interviewees stressed the vital importance of love and care in their relationship with a child, and that any kind of force or pressure is utterly unacceptable. Another study a little later than this one (see Sandfort, T., Boys on their contact with men: A study of sexually expressed friendships, New York: Global Academic Publishers, 1987) interviewed children who were sexually involved with adult males, and the results conformed strongly with the claims of mutual enjoyment from the men in this study.
It is only in the conclusions that the authors display some failure of nerve. They concur with contemporaneous studies which found no consistent evidence of harm from non-coercive sexual contacts between child and adult. However, they cite Finkelhor's weak argument that, despite this lack of harm, the power imbalance between child and adult means that any lightening of the law's load might allow an adult to take advantage of this, giving as examples teacher-student and similar relationships. Given that adults such as parents or social workers routinely use their superior power to force children to do many things they don't want to do, and that the power imbalance in Western society is now very much in favour of the child, this argument appears to have little validity.
More positively, the final paragraphs urge the authorities to reduce their interventions and to use `discretion and compassion' when they regard intervention as necessary. Gazing upon the dismal landscape of ruined lives of adults and children caused by unhelpful or vindictive prosecutions, it is deeply sad that our society has failed to move in this more positive direction.
Further useful reading on this topic can be found in Li, C.K., `Adult sexual experiences with children,' in Li, C.K., West, D.J., & Woodhouse, T.P., Children's sexual encounters with adults, London; Duckworth, 1990a, pp. 139-316.