Political Conservatism and the Pedophilia Stigma

Political Conservatism and the Pedophilia Stigma

A Chapter by Anonymous Coward

A look into the conservative historical origins and oppressive political function of the stigma against pedophilia.

Progressive Hypocrisy: The Conservative Historical Genesis and Contemporary Function of the Stigma Against Pedophilia

Today, the stigma against pedophilia is taken for granted as a necessary precaution against the grave harms caused by adult-child sexual interactions. Just like proscriptions against murder and assault protect the vulnerable from unfair abuse, it is thought, the adult prohibition of sexual contact with children serves to prevent the latter from undergoing traumatic distress. However, while the pedophilia stigma’s current iteration relies on the concern for children’s welfare, its origins are much more sinister. Historically, the stigma has had a conservative, oppressive function, having roles in bolstering the institution of marriage, misogyny, racism, and classism. While the common wisdom insists that adult-child sexual interactions are traumatic, this view does not hold up to scientific scrutiny. Additionally, in the present day, despite the stigma's ostensible concern for children, it causes enormous suffering for children and adults alike. Given that the stigma is evidently oppressive and is merely justified by unscientific, ideological claptrap, support for it, particularly by self-proclaimed “progressives,” is ethically unjustifiable and utterly hypocritical. 

Since its inception, the stigma against pedophilia has always been fundamentally rooted in the attempt to preserve the institution of marriage. As SUNY politics, economics, and law professor Carolyn Cocca observes in Jailbait: The Politics of Statutory Rape laws in the United States, though England “codified its [first] statutory rape law in the Statute of Westminster of 1275,” which stated that “The King prohibiteth that none do ravish . . . any Maiden within age.” “Colonial American statutory rape law basically imported this language”; “[t]he idea behind such laws” in early American history, she notes, “was less about the ability or lack thereof to consent to such activity on the part of the female, and more about protecting white females and their premarital chastity--a commodity--as property” (pp. 10-11, bold added). “At first in the United States, the crime was one of strict liability and allowed no defenses if the prosecution could prove that sexual activity occurred with an unmarried underage female” (p. 11, bold added). This focus on marriage has persisted in modern times and was among the stigma’s central themes during the 1990s, when conservatives raised economic and moralistic concerns about the increasing rate of children born out of wedlock and requiring welfare assistance: 

Just one year after the statistics [regarding teen mothers and their adult partners] appeared, the newly Republican-controlled Congress was debating welfare reform. . . . The first line of the PRWORA [Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act] is “Marriage is the foundation of a successful society.” Shortly thereafter, it says, “The increase in the number of children receiving public assistance is closely related to the increase in births to unmarried women.”

As Cocca continues, 

Here, directly stated, is a cultural concern that had been underlying contestations over the meaning of statutory rape since the eighteenth century when female chastity was a commodity with which to bargain for a spouse . . . . the number of people in poverty is [implied to be] caused solely by unmarried females giving birth.” (p. 26, bold added)

The stigma’s historical origins and fundamental priorities are clear. Initially, rather than a concern for children’s cognitive capacity to offer informed consent to sexual acts with adults, the principal aim was the maintenance of oppressive norms in service of marriage’s legitimation. Moreover, in its recent history it has continued to promote marriage in an attempt to curb sexual activity between unmarried adults and minors. Finally, even in the present day, given that there exists a “marital exemption which allow[s] those under the age of consent and married to be free from prosecution,” this “show[s] that the laws ha[ve] little to do with one’s age and everything to do with one’s marital status” (Ibid., p. 20, bold added). Indeed, ‘[s]tatutory rape laws purport to be about protecting those under a certain age from sexual intercourse” (pp. 27-28), but it is clear that this is merely an ideological mystification that obscures the stigma’s true function, which is the preservation and legitimation of marriage. 

Being rooted in marriage, the stigma against pedophilia naturally also has misogynistic origins. Aside from its role in treating female virginity as a commodity, early 20th century supporters of the stigma focused their concerns on regulating young female sexuality rather than addressing their unequal pay: 

Unmarried female sexuality was viewed as being akin to prostitution, as young urban women who dated were often “treated” to dinner, dancing, or a movie and then had sex with their dates . . . . Reformers felt that this was one step removed from a female being overtly given money for sex. . . . They focused more on the moral than on the economic component--the concern was with young women having sex in exchange for commodities they could not purchase, rather than with the fact that young women earned such unequal and meager wages that they could not purchase goods or entertainment for themselves.” (Ibid., pp. 12-13, bold added)

Additionally, because of the stigma “families began to use laws to try to control their “incorrigible” and “delinquent” daughters” (p. 16). Further, while seemingly lost on sex-negative feminists, feminist sex radicals (or pro-sex feminists) recognized the stigma’s blantaly sexist underpinnings: 

sex radicals were concerned that [statutory rape laws’] patriarchal and proscriptive roots punished potentially consensual unmarried sex, painted young people and particularly young females as a monolithic group unable to make decisions about their own bodies, and sent a message that nonmarital sex and female sexual agency in and of themselves were wrong and harmful. (p. 20, bold added)

While the “official” justification for the stigma against pedophilia relates to children’s wellbeing, it is evident that sexist sentiments against women have generated and sustained it throughout its history. Similarly to how the stigma functions to legitimate marriage, it has also served to strictly regulate female sexuality, a concern that initially trumped women’s economic emancipation. “Females, in other words, were seen as “special property in need of special protection”” (Ibid., p. 10). Indeed, the stigma is intrinsically misogynistic.

Another indication of the stigma’s conservative, oppressive nature is its racist origins. As noted above, early statutory rape laws were intended to specifically preserve white female virginity:

[These laws], in practice, only applied to white females. Black females were generally formally enslaved, and for a variety of political, economic, social, and cultural reasons their sexuality was not deemed to be in need of legal protection. This manifested itself in several myths about the “natural” state of black female sexuality as being the opposite of the “natural” state of white female sexuality. While the latter were “chaste [and] pure” and on a “moral pedestal,” the black female was promiscuous, impure, and lascivious.” (Ibid., p. 11, bold added)

 As a consequence, black women had no legal recourse when sexually assaulted by white men: “if raped by a white man, black women could scarcely make a legal claim: The laws described black women as property and as not deserving of the same legal rights as whites” (p. 13). This racist narrative of black women as sexual degenerates retained its political correctness decades after the Civil War, even into the 1890s: 

A representative from Kentucky noted, “We see at once what a terrible weapon for evil the elevating of the age of consent would be when placed in the hands of a lecherous, sensual, negro woman, who for the sake of blackmail or revenge would not hesitate to bring criminal action even though she had been a prostitute since her eleventh year! (p. 15, bold added)

Just like the stigma against pedophilia works to preserve marriage and control female sexuality as opposed to protecting children, its historical roots are thoroughly racist and have nothing to do with children’s wellbeing. Underlying the stigma has been the sense that nonwhite sexuality, which is thought to be unhindered by the strict morality of white society, is inferior and thus undeserving of legitimacy or protection under the law. Hence, as Cocca observes, “In the 1800s statutory rape laws were focused on preserving the chastity of white females for marriage, but black and Native American women were not so safeguarded” (p. 28). The stigma’s racist origins are undeniable. 

In addition to the stigma against pedophilia’s misogynistic and racist functions, it has additionally had classist features. During the Progressive Era, when feminists and conservative men jointly established juvenile courts to deal with misbehaving youth, feminist “reformers had begun to discover that many working-class females were willing participants in sexual activity and sought to “rehabilitate” those instincts through reformatories and maternity homes”; those sent to such rehabilitation facilities, as Cocca points out, “were far more often than not poor and of immigrant descent or status.” “. . . classed notions about female sexuality appeared to triumph over the desire to protect young women from harm” (p. 16, bold added). This blatantly exemplifies the stigma’s prioritizing of oppressive purposes over its stated intention of defending children from harmful sexual predators. Clearly, it was merely an acculturating mechanism that functioned to impose particular, strict sexual norms upon sectors of society that did not assimilate to the dominant customs, which curtailed their sexual fulfillment. These traditionalist, classist ideas about youth sexuality continue to underlie the stigma. 

Not only does the stigma against pedophilia fulfill a variety of oppressive functions, but its ostensible goal of protecting children against grievous psychological trauma is scientifically baseless. In other words, there is no reliable scientific evidence that adult-child sexual interactions per se are necessarily, or even generally harmful. In a meta-analysis of 59 studies, Temple University psychologist Bruce Rind and colleagues failed to find support for the popular belief that these interactions are traumatic: 

Many lay persons and professionals believe that child sexual abuse (CSA) causes intense harm, regardless of gender, pervasively in the general population. The authors examined this belief by reviewing 59 studies based on college samples. Meta-analyses revealed that students with CSA were, on average, slightly less well adjusted than controls. However, this poorer adjustment could not be attributed to CSA because family environment (FE) was consistently confounded with CSA, FE explained considerably more adjustment variance than CSA, and CSA-adjustment relations generally became nonsignificant when studies controlled for FE. Self-reported reactions to and effects from CSA indicated that negative effects were neither pervasive nor typically intense. Basic beliefs about CSA in the general population were not supported. (bold added)

Basically, though this analysis did demonstrate statistically significant effects relating to mental health, the data indicated that these effects were due to factors besides sexual interactions with adults as children, a finding that was supported by participants’ self-reports. While certain cross-sectional and case studies have shown that, in some instances, these interactions can be harmful for children, their findings are not as powerful or generalizable as this meta-analysis. Since Rind et al.’s powerful study failed to support popular ideas regarding the harmful effects of adult-child sexual interactions, this means that these claims are unscientific and fly in the face of the available evidence. Simply put, the stigma’s stated goal of protecting children is a specious, ideological mystification of its true oppressive functions. 

Given the stigma against pedophilia’s thoroughly oppressive elements, it is unsurprising that it causes considerable suffering for children, as well as adults. (For further elaboration on this point, refer to my essay on the topic.) Indeed, virtually all of the harm associated with adult-child sexual interactions is ultimately attributable to the stigma rather than these actions themselves, which are not intrinsically damaging. 

The stigma against pedophilia, and by extension those against hebe- and ephebophilia, is unquestionably oppressive. Given its historical genesis, it is evident that its fundamental purpose is to preserve marriage and legitimate it as a dominant institution. This entails the strict regulation of people’s sexuality, hindering their maximal sexual fulfillment. Historically, its role as sexual regulator has been largely applied to women, and white women in particular. It thus has its origins in misogynistic, as well as racist sentiments regarding nonwhite sexuality that persist to the present day. Additionally, it is rooted in similar classist sexual ideals. Not only is the idea that adult-sexual interactions are harmful to children a scientifically baseless myth, but the stigma against these interactions is instead the sole cause of the harm associated with them. The ineluctable conclusion here is that self-proclaimed “progressives” who support the stigma are not only ethically unjustified, but also blatantly and profoundly hypocritical in doing so. The stigma is clearly and thoroughly a conservative machination, and its ostensible concern for children is just as much a mystification for its true, oppressive functions as the “spread democracy and freedom” deception serves to obscure the actual, imperialistic purposes of American foreign policy. Supporters of the stigma against pedophilia who call themselves “progressive” are utterly misguided. Ironically, they are instead fauxgressives who, in their support, violate the very principles of equality, peace, and harmony that they mistakenly believe they are fighting for.

© 2021 Anonymous Coward

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