Engaging sexually with children is NOT taking them seriously

“Adults are generally not so vulnerable as children are—they have a wider perspective, much more power and general independence, and they are rarely as psychologically dependent as children are, and not in the same way.”
– Sarah Fitz-Claridge


From the archives: The original post was posted on 6th September, 2000

[IMPORTANT WARNING: Be aware, everyone, that a number of paedophiles have associated themselves with Taking Children Seriously over the years. It is not just Taking Children Seriously. Other parents’ sites have had the same problems. I thought that talking with our children about how paedophiles groom children would protect our children. I was wrong about that. Some of these people pursue their agenda at such a glacially slow pace that it pulls the wool over the child’s eyes until it is too late. Such abuse is devastatingly damaging, however covert the coercion. Be aware that paedophiles can be totally plausible (unlike those I wrote about in the post below), so do not discount this warning as unlikely to happen to your child. We must protect our children (including teens, not just younger children) from these people.]

“NAMBLA [The North American Man Boy Love Association] has never advocated rape or violence. The purpose of the group is for men to speak together to express their sexual and emotional desire for younger boys (mainly teens). Politically, this wish to end “age of consent” laws, which make it illegal to have sex with a child under 18 (or 16, or younger, depending on the state) and these laws are prosecuted more heavily in most states than armed robbrey, rape, even murder. They believe children have the right to decide what happens to their body, and if the child WANTS to have sex with whomever they please, this should not be illegal.”

I have in the past had lengthy correspondences with several leading NAMBLA people and have even met some of them in person. It seems they became interested in Taking Children Seriously after I wrote an editorial in Taking Children Seriously 10, followed by the article, Thoughts on the Legal Status of Children in Taking Children Seriously, in which I argued against age-based laws. They rapidly became angry with me when I posted my follow-up editorial Questionable Motives?, in which I considered the morality and the psychology of various types of adult sexual relationships with children.

While it is true that NAMBLA doesn’t advocate violence, that is not saying very much! That doesn’t make them Taking Children Seriously. And they aren’t. They have a clear agenda, and it has very little to do with children’s rights (let alone children’s welfare) and everything to do with themselves. Taking Children Seriously thoroughly opposes having any agenda for children, no matter how nice it sounds, not even that they should grow up to be happy. Having an agenda is not consistent with taking children seriously.

NAMBLA people say that theirs is a general children’s rights platform, but dig a millimetre beneath the surface and you can see that it is no such thing. They are a bunch of men who want to be able to have sex with boys. That is what it is about. Apart from that agenda they are nothing other than conventional men, perhaps kindly men in some sense, but conventionally coercive in every other sense nevertheless.

Talk to them from a Taking Children Seriously perspective, as I have, and you will not find that they actually take children seriously at all. They want children to be allowed to have sex. But if you push NAMBLA men on any other issue, their whole edifice of ‘respect for children’ crumbles: it is an empty shell. Ultimately, they are just like your average person in the street, except that they tack on a so-called liberalisation in this one sphere of life.

So, do they take seriously the extreme psychological danger to the young person of becoming embroiled in a sexual relationship with an adult friend, say? No! How do they react to the suggestion that Taking Children Seriously requires us to do better than conventional relationships, and not do things that are almost guaranteed to end in tears—tears of the young person? How do they react to the suggestion that having a sexual relationship with a young person whose parents are conventionally coercive, say (let alone worse), is risking causing grave psychological harm to that young person, and that if you actually care about a young person, the thing to do is to avoid like the plague getting into a sexual relationship? We all know that people are extremely irrational about sex. The young person may end up jumping out of the frying pan of his or her parents’ coercion and into the fire that is most sexual relationships in our society. When this relationship ends, the young person will be a complete mess psychologically, having burnt his or her bridges with his or her coercive parents in favour of Mr NAMBLA man. What do such people think of this logic? Not a lot.

How do they react to the suggestion which is perfectly obvious to all but the most wilfully blind to the logic of the situation, that the reason the young person is coming to them is very likely to be more to do with seeking an escape from his or her coercive parents than with seeking ways of having sex with an adult, and that therefore, the adult will be immorally taking advantage of the young person’s situation, and that he is not doing the young person any favours and probably a lot of harm?

Well, in my considerable experience, they do not react at all well.

These NAMBLA men I have met think that they can be kindly, sweet friends to their boys, and ‘guide’ (read “coerce”) them into adult life in all the usual coercive ways (for their own good, of course). But then, what of those boys who are boys no longer? Do they warn the boys clearly that once they are men, they won’t want them any more? No one gave me a straight answer even to that elementary question.

In all the many hours I spent discussing children and children’s rights and adult-child sexual relationships, on alt.sex.intergen and privately and in person even, I never found a single NAMBLA man who was remotely Taking Children Seriously. Not even close. In most cases, hideously far from Taking Children Seriously. Sure, some of them said good things in some areas, but as I said, dig a little deeper and you find the same old coercion as everywhere else. Except that it is much, much worse to be coercive when you are in a sexual relationship, because sex is so fraught with irrationality at this time in history.

And it is much worse still when it is an illegal relationship. How can you possibly think it prudent to engage in such illegal action? Whatever the rights and wrongs of the sexual relationship in itself, is it right to put a young person in the position of risking losing someone he or she loves, and in such a potentially horrendous manner too—serious criminal prosecution and the knowledge that you will be hated and despised by those with whom you are sharing your prison space? Can you imagine how your young friend will feel if the police get involved? Have these people thought how such a ghastly court case would affect the young person? That it might ruin their lives? So even if it were a perfectly moral course otherwise, the fact that it is a very serious criminal offence to which the general public react with witch hunts (it has been happening in England recently!) and extreme violence against paedophiles, that alone should make anyone realise that it is an altogether terrible idea. That it is wrong to take such a risk with your young friend’s psychological wellbeing.

You can’t just take the idea that it’s fine for men and boys to have sex if they consent and how dare Society stop these boys choosing to do that—and just tack it on to the existing legal structure in our culture with our hang-ups and expect everything to be all right. In particular, you can’t expect the children not to be harmed by it. None of the NAMBLA crowd ever took this on board as far as I could tell, and they were without exception anti-Taking Children Seriously once they realised that I wasn’t supporting their positively frightening (once you start thinking about what it all means, logically) agenda.

“I was wondering how a Taking Children Seriously parent would approach this. I have always supported NAMBLA because I do not believe they have any adgenda to legalize non-consensual sex.”

I put it to you that you are mistaken on both counts.

Let me put it this way. Just how consensual is the sex really, if the child knows that this is what the man wants, and that this may be the only way to get to spend much more time away from his coercive parents—the only way he has, perhaps, to get an adult’s full attention or kindness? That is not consent in the Taking Children Seriously sense! That is putting the child under great coercion. If a child is choosing what seems the preferable option because his only other option is the even worse shit from the parents, that is not consent, that is merely the semblance of consent! It is choosing the lesser of two evils—or what seems lesser because he is being deceived about how it is likely to play out. Deceived also about the price that the child is paying, or will pay when it all goes wrong—as sexual relationships typically do, whether adult or child.

How often do ADULT sexual relationships meet people’s expectations? How often do ADULTS live happily ever after together? Yet here are these adults holding out the implicit promise that everything will be wonderful. This is wilfully deceitful!

If the adult were being a true friend to the child, he would absolutely not engage sexually with the child, because he would be able to see that what the child is seeking is a haven from the parents, and that he is thus, by the logic of the situation, in a position of power over the child, and in that position it would be morally wrong for him to bring something even remotely as fraught with irrationality as sex with him into the child’s life.

If your only real choice is getting metaphorically buggered by your coercive parents or getting literally buggered by someone who seems less unpleasant than your parents, you might choose the latter too, mightn’t you? That is not consent in the Taking Children Seriously sense, even though it would be consent in a legal sense if it were two adults (at least here in England. It is still illegal in some parts of America, so-called ‘land of the free’).

“I believe children can consent because they can distiguish what they want,”

So do I, but I also believe that they, like adults, can be coerced, and deceived sometimes in the subtlest ways, and that, like adults, they can be terribly harmed by things that (rightly) fall short of the legal definition of violence.

I also believe that children, especially in present-day society but this will always be true, are exceptionally vulnerable in this respect. I believe that if you are having sex with a child at this time in history, it is highly likely that this is not consent and that it will harm that child badly. No Taking Children Seriously person would even think about taking such a grave risk of coercion. No matter how Taking Children Seriously you are, you are still going to be in a position of power over a child with whom you are in a relationship. We are trying to do better than conventional people do, not harm children worse than conventional parenting harms them and hide behind the morally empty ‘justification’ that if something doesn’t involve violence it can’t be harmful.

Children’s Vulnerability

Posted by Sarah Fitz-Claridge on 7th September, 2000, at 21:57:44 +0100

A poster replied:

“Could you say a bit more about this exceptional vulnerability? What I am curious about, in particular, is the apparent implication that individuals typically undergo an extraordinarily rapid transition from exceptional vulnerability to relatively little vulnerability. Is it indeed routine for sexual competence to be so strikingly accomplished through “key” years?”

I have no clear idea what you are asking in the final question there, but suspect that it might be answered in my Questionable Motives? piece. If not, please feel free to clarify your question.

Children have a much narrower perspective than adults, and depend for their happiness upon relationships which are not and cannot be equal.

It is absolutely not the case that they make a “rapid transition” as you suggest. On the contrary, the transition is very gradual indeed.

Might you be confusing the legal age of majority idea with the psychological and moral issues I am discussing?

In May, 2000, I discussed on this List hypothetical examples of a case of the child of a Taking Children Seriously parent becoming embroiled sexually with an adult. For example, this could conceivably happen (with exceptionally bad luck) if a hypothetical Young Polly were to become alienated from her mother because of coercive dynamics between them which her mother has not yet identified and dropped. Young Polly might, in a desperate attempt to find someone who will take her seriously by her own lights and be on her side, end up in a sexual relationship with an adult. In doing this, in a worst case scenario, she might burn any remaining bridges with her mother, be exploited and betrayed by that other adult, and end up a terrible mess. Adults are generally not so vulnerable—they have a wider perspective and are rarely as psychologically dependent as children are, and not in the same way.

See also:

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, 2000, ‘Having sex with children is not taking them seriously’, https://takingchildrenseriously.com/having-sex-with-children-is-not-taking-them-seriously/