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Pathfinders: Dirty Secrets

The post-Savile paedophilia purge is continuing to create headlines not seen in the UK since the year 2000, and this time without the poison stirring spoon of Rebekah Brooks and the News of the World.  Experience then showed that it didn’t take much to whip up a lynch mob, and lo and behold, vigilante groups are now operating on the streets of Britain. In September last year one such group, called Letzgo Hunting, lured a Leicester man into a meeting and then publicly branded him a paedophile, after which the man hanged himself. In October it was reported in Bristol that a disabled gardener, attempting to photograph youths attacking his plants, was denounced as a kiddy-fiddler and promptly battered and burned to death in the street. This is significant, as burning is what you do to witches. Significant also that the newspapers universally described him as ‘innocent’ of the charge of paedophilia, the implication being that the murder would have been excusable otherwise.

The wave of moral outrage has been further fuelled by the appalling case of singer Ian Watkins, who described his 13 child sex charges, including an attempt to rape a one year old baby, as ‘mega lolz’. Meanwhile one after another crumbling octogenarian is manhandled out of the grave and into the dock to answer charges committed half a century ago in a swinging sexist society that did everything to encourage such behaviour.

On the modern assumption that all men are potentially paedophiles, schools have turned into fortresses. The intended effect is that paedophiles no longer have easy access to children, but instead covert child sex trafficking has become big business. So too has online child porn, a fact not lost on many Filipino families who, it was reported last month, have been hiring out their children for online pay-per-view sex and rape sessions.

Last November an online sting involving a 10-year old Filipino girl called ‘Sweetie’, who supposedly engaged in sex acts with adults while online viewers paid a fee, helped to collar over 1,000 paedophiles around the world who flocked to the alluring Sweetie like moths to a flame. What was clever about this sting was that it was created in a Dutch computer laboratory. ‘Sweetie’ was a computer graphics construct, not a real child. What was stupid about the paedophiles is that they didn’t even try to cover their tracks, which makes one wonder how many smart paedophiles remain undiscovered. Watkins’ computer porn, for example, was so deeply hidden that the police had to call in GCHQ to decrypt it.

With the witch-hunting mania in full spate reason is cowed into reticence and constructive debate hardly seems likely. What should socialists say, if asked about this problem?

Paedophilia is defined as adult sexual attraction to prepubescent children up to the age of 11. Sex with a person under 16 in the UK is defined as statutory rape, for which the offender is placed on the sex offenders register. In the popular press this makes them a paedophile and a rapist by definition.

The problem with this is that the age of consent is an arbitrary line in the sand. A recent proposal to lower this to 15 had David Cameron running away in shivers, yet Europe-wide the statutory age varies from 13 in Spain and 14 in Italy and Germany through to 18 in Turkey (in 19th century Britain it was 12, in some American states 10, in Delaware 7).

Another problem is that capitalism has no qualms about sexualising childhood in order to sell products to young wage and pocket money earners. Remember the Peek-a-Boo Stripper Pole Dancing kit (age 6+) sold in Tesco’s toy section? And let’s not forget the push-up bra (age 7), the Playboy Bunny school merchandise or Bratz Hooker Babies (age 9), dolls made up as prostitutes with high heels and leather thongs.

Notwithstanding any of this, what society wants is not to accommodate or contain or neutralise or even understand paedophilia but to destroy it root and branch, as it once did (and still does elsewhere in the world) with homosexuality. Whether that’s possible, medically speaking, is an open question. The scientific research into paedophilia is not as extensive as public concern would seem to demand. Various causes are identified and various treatments proposed including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), hormone treatment, and physical castration. Such treatments are limited because much child abuse is not caused by sexual impulses but by other motivators such as anger or a desire to control. In addition, it is the opinion of some doctors that a cure has not been found because scientists aren’t really looking. In capitalist terms, the market isn’t there. Nobody wants to cure witches, as the disabled Bristol gardener found out.

Might there be paedophiles in socialism? At present the science can’t tell us. Paedophilia is a broad spectrum condition, with biological as well as social factors in play. Whether any of these biological factors have a genetic base remains unestablished, but even if they did, genetic factors never work alone but always interact with a particular set of social conditions.

What we can say with more confidence is that those many forms of sex and child abuse based on obsessions with power would find no nourishment in socialism because the structures of oppression, dominance and impotence would no longer exist.

Be that as it may, if a problem existed socialism would have to deal with it, and the first priority would be to protect children. Studies suggest that many paedophiles have no desire to hurt children but a minority do, and there seems little room for doubt that in socialism dangerous paedophiles would, like any dangerous and out of control individual, have to be kept under restraint for the common good, though not for the purpose of punishment but in order that a successful and humane treatment could be found. For the rest, there would have to be a democratic debate about what was acceptable sexual preference and what was unacceptable medical condition. It could have implications for civil liberties, freedom of movement, sexual licence, levels of supervision of children, equality status of individuals. We can’t say today how it would proceed or how it would turn out, but it would be an informed hunt for solutions, not an inflamed hunt for witches.