I remember one Autumn day helping a friend put together a trampoline he and his wife had bought his daughter as a sixth birthday present. This girl, as we inserted tubes, hooked springs into position and tensed the fabric, bounced and leapt around us on the lawn, rehearsing the cartwheels and somersaults she imagined herself doing on the trampoline once we’d done putting it together.
Eventually we finished the job. Her father helped her clamber up over the edge of the frame. She tried to stand up, but the elasticity and instability of the surface was something she’d never experienced before, nothing like that which we’d all take for granted when learning to walk and run.
So she got down on all fours and instead spent the next half hour moving around the trampoline’s surface on her hands and knees, occasionally rising up into a crouch and testing her courage by throwing herself against the trampoline’s springiness in a tentative dive…
I’ve just re-read the essay I wrote for Tom O’Carroll’s blog at Heretic TOC on the subject of Consent (“The staircase has not one step but many”), and I’ve noticed something that I’ve missed out that I’d like to address.
In July, at roughly the same time as I was preparing the above-mentioned essay, the Australian tabloid-style television program ’60 minutes’ conducted an interview with Tom O’Carroll, ostensibly on the subject of the so-called ‘Westminster Paedophile Scandal’ (Tom’s account of this interview and an unedited audio recording of it can be found here).
Suffice it to say that, when Tom wouldn’t play to the program’s script, Ross Coulthart, the program’s presenter used all his lawyerly guile and chicanery to try get something, anything, salacious out of Tom, brazenly lying to him about the cameras being switched off in order to lure Tom into saying something that, with suitable editing, could titillate his program’s prurient audience into indignation.
After the program’s broadcast there was a brief surge of outrage, and amidst the intellectual flotsam afloat on this surge was a perfunctory paragraph of bile in something that calls itself The Steeple Times (which boasts that it contains ‘Wit and Wisdom in Equal Measure’. A true statement since this publication seems equally devoid of both).
The readers’ comments in agreement with The Steeple Times’s predictable, knee-jerk stance amount to little more than barrages of insults and threats of violence, including those of Matthew Steeples, the web-mag’s proprietor:
“Many paedophiles rape small babies as young as three months old, so how does he explain away that they have sexual urges at that age?? This man is truly a hideous monster and should be carefully monitored … Personally, if it was up to me to decide his punishment, I would remove his [EDITED FOR LEGAL REASONS].” – Deb W
“You have a very sick and twisted take on this subject. I am appalled by your views actually.” – Matthew Steeples
In fact Steeples appends all pro-child-sexuality comments, no matter how polite or well-argued, with the following disclaimer:
“[EDITOR’S NOTE: PUBLISHED ONLY TO SHOW HOW EXTREME AND VILE THE VIEWS OF SUCH PEOPLE TRULY ARE]”
One lucky contributor, Pupil X, even gets:
“[EDITOR’S NOTE: CERTAINLY THE WORST AND MOST VILE COMMENT EVER RECEIVED BY THE STEEPLE TIMES. PUBLISHED ONLY TO SHOW HOW EXTREME AND DISGUSTING THE MINDSETS OF SUCH PEOPLE TRULY ARE]”
The first comment to this ‘article’ is from a John Guilbert Mariani:
“The issue is not just consent on the part of the child…. it is INFORMED consent. What child would have the capacity to be informed of the full range of sexual information, ie, STDs, sexual addiction, sexual persuasion tactics, sexual grooming, emotional bonding, separation trauma and physical injury? Tom O’Carroll is a delusional predator.”
I’d like to examine some of the unexamined thinking behind this comment as it touches on the omission I mentioned at the start of this essay.
“The issue is not just consent on the part of the child…. it is INFORMED consent”
Note that the commenter starts by preemptively shifting the debate away from ‘Consent’ to ‘Informed Consent’. In doing so he tacitly acknowledges that a child is capable of:
1. wishing to engage in sensual intimacy with an adult,
2. expressing, withholding or withdrawing their assent to engaging in such intimacy.
I’ll refer to this as ‘simple consent’ in order to distinguish it from ‘informed consent’; it is consent on the level of “I like that, carry on/I don’t like that, stop”. He goes on to write:
“What child would have the capacity to be informed of the full range of sexual information […]?”
The answer to this question is, of course, ‘no child’.
However if one took this question and substituted the word ‘adult’ for ‘child’ the answer would be the same since no adult has the capacity to be informed of the full range of information in any field of human activity or study either.
If this were the criteria for ‘informed consent’ then adults would be as incapable of giving it as he suggests children are: I studied mitosis and meiosis at school and have irretrievably forgotten what little I understood of it at the time. Do I need to take a crash course in genetics in case I get lucky down at the disco and some lady suggests a quick fumble round the back of the speaker stacks?
The writer when he talks about a ‘full range of […] information’ probably means something like ‘what an average adult is expected to know’ or ‘a working knowledge’. But the fact that his language has so readily drifted towards an extreme position reveals how eager he is to crush any possible legitimacy for child-adult sensual interactions.
I’ll now briefly look at the list of those things which he claims a child should know about in order to be able to give ‘informed consent’ (my own analysis of what information is required for ‘informed consent’ is to be found in the aforementioned article “The staircase has not one step but many“).
(It should be noted that he doesn’t include ‘social stigma’ in his list – demonstrably the most harmful and destructive danger associated with child-adult intimacy.)
The fact that he’s included this but not ‘pregnancy’ suggests his comment is at least informed by a clear conceptual distinction between paedophilia and hebephilia.
However, since STDs are for the most part transmitted through penetration, it also suggests that he is being somewhat ‘fuck-minded’ – imagining that paedophiles want to do with children what he, presumably a teleiophile, wants to do with other adults.
For reasons that are really quite obvious penetration plays little or no part in ethical, consensual paedophilia – if you love a child and care for him/her you’re hardly going to get any pleasure from causing them pain and distress. Moreover if they show signs of not being happy with what is going on they have effectively withdrawn their consent and you stop. It really is that simple.
This is an interesting one. First of all this needs defining. Is it merely “an interest in sex that has become socially inconvenient”? Presumably if the addiction were purely to pleasurable sexual sensations then all children would be at risk of sex addiction anyway since all children (indeed all humans) have the means of giving themselves such pleasurable sensations. If the addiction has an interpersonal element – i.e. a little girl enjoys the love and attention that a man gives her as well as the intimacy – then one should maybe ask why that child isn’t getting love and attention from her parents, and if the relationship is, as far as the child is concerned, a solution to a problem of emotional neglect, rather than a problem in itself.
If the adult is caring and loves the child, one should also ask what harm there is in their relationship, other than the damage that society’s stigma burdens such relationships with.
It is interesting that he includes this in his list of dangers associated with intimacy rather than a list of its benefits. I suspect he believes that children shouldn’t bond emotionally with anyone other than parents and immediate family – an attitude enforced in our WEIRD societies and which I believe is both damaging to society, to children’s welfare and the the communities they live in.
See my post: “‘Video – first heartbreak’. Love, Tears and Parenthood” – to see how cavalier parents really are about this. Generally when a child is separated from his/her adult lover it’s done forcibly by parents, the police and Society. A good way of avoiding “separation trauma” would be simply to allow such relationships, when they are conducted ethically, to continue.
The inclusion of this in this list is something of a concealed Straw Man.
The point of Mr Mariani’s list is to show that children are not capable of giving informed consent. But if we’re considering the possibilities of ‘physical injury’ the interaction has already gone way beyond any point where any element of consent is involved, be it ‘simple consent’ or ‘informed consent’. In a healthy relationship ‘simple consent’ is enough to protect the child from physical injury – if an adult, or other child, starts to do something that the child suspects is going to hurt him or her she’ll say ‘stop’ or ‘that hurts’. If that doesn’t stop the person then the scenario is no longer relevant to a discussion on consent, but rather one on rape and assault.
‘Informed consent’ without ‘simple consent’ is as meaningless as a summit without a mountain beneath it.
Trampolining is a human being defying and playing with gravity, turning its constraints into an extraordinary means of liberation. When my friend’s daughter got onto the trampoline for that first time all she had was an unconscious knowledge which she’d gradually gathered from her first infancy: learning to raise her head, starting to grasp concepts such as ‘up’ and ‘down’, sitting up, feeling the weight of an object in her hand and the loss of weight when she dropped it, trying to keep her balance when trying to stand on her feet…
This was her learning about Gravity. The kind of knowledge one gathers through our hard-won struggles, negotiations, triumphs and failures with the various challenges and opportunities Life and the Universe throw at us.
So when she approached the trampoline she already had a knowledge, a relationship, with Gravity. Maybe she’d also seen competitive trampolinist perform their miracles in some display in real life or on television, and dreamed of doing the same things.
But when, for the first time, she clambered onto the trampoline no one (except maybe herself) was expecting her, the next minute, to be doing double-back somersaults or Barani flips. We all knew that she’d have to start tentatively, explore the new sensations, learn to cope with the basic challenges of the new surface and simply learn through play.
To do this she did not require anything more than what she already knew, other than enthusiasm and a little courage. She would learn whatever she needed to learn through the usual way: play, trial and error.
The most insidious piece of unexamined thinking behind John Guilbert Mariani’s comment is that one requires a full knowledge of an activity before one can engage in even its most tentative, playful first steps. As in trampolining, the knowledge is gained through doing it, maybe being helped out by someone who knows more about it than you do.
Mariani’s comment envisages a child who is giving informed consent to the full range of possible sexual activities between two humans: as if when a paedophile and a child find themselves attracted to one another the immediate next step requires the child to be intellectually prepared to work her way through the Karma Sutra, or reenact De Sade’s ‘120 Days of Sodom’.
That this assumption should underly Mariani’s thinking is really not surprising. I’ve already referred to the problem of ‘fuck-minded’ thinking in teleiophiles – in which all intimacy has penetration and orgasm as its goal. Nor, given the lack of information on paedophilia, is there any reason why he should have ever had to think otherwise.
Before my friend allowed his daughter on the trampoline should he have sat down with her and talked her through the dangers of trampolining: sprains, fractures, concussions, spinal injuries, sports addiction, over-excitement, squabbles over sharing it with potential, future siblings, the traumas of the trampoline maybe breaking and her not being able to use it, the stresses and strains of the professional trampolinist’s life..?
After such a talk any enthusiasm she may have had would have undoubtedly been well dampened. Maybe that’s the real point of Mariani’s list: that the thought of sensual intimacy with an adult be made to seem so off-putting and so dangerous that no sensible child would wish to engage in it anyway, even in its mildest forms?
Or was my friend right to have trusted his daughter’s judgment, her knowledge of her own capacities and limitations, her natural sense of caution? Was he right to allow his child to take that risk, to venture forth into a new and challenging experience?
Mariani’s position is very much an argumentum a pessimo – an argument based on a worst-case scenario.
This is not surprising since this is the only way of thinking permitted in the popular discourse around paedophila. One senses that his ideas of a child-adult intimate encounter are based on the stories he’s read in scandal mags, the court pages of newspapers and the products of the unhinged hysteria that the UK and USA are currently undergoing.
The debate he wishes to have is whether the law should permit a man to manipulate a child of, say, seven, whom he cares nothing for, into being a receptacle for his penis and sperm.
However this scenario is as close to being a true reflection of paedophilic love as would be my conception of teleiophilic love if my only knowledge of it were derived from the salacious reports of infidelity in gossip mags, divorce cases and the crimes of Ted Bundy.
If I propose shifting the debate to a consideration of an ab optimo scenario it isn’t because that by doing so I am more likely to reach the conclusions I hope for. It is because all ethical paedophiles dream of the ab optimo, not the ab pessimo, scenario for their relationship with their loved ones. Paedophiles who positively prefer to be manipulating and coercing children are thankfully as rare (probably ‘rarer’) than teleiophiles who have similar dark inclinations towards their fellow adults.
No, the real debate is not whether a man can fuck a seven year-old child in a casual and manipulative encounter (indeed as far as I’m concerned there is no debate to had on that question) but whether a seven year-old girl can ask an adult whom she knows well, whom she likes and trusts and who she finds attractive, to, say, stroke her bottom.
Currently, in the UK, both acts are equally illegal and would land the man in court, and even something as mild as stroking a child’s bottom could result in a jail sentence, and a life-sentence on the registry.
Does the girl need to know about
“STDs, sexual addiction, sexual persuasion tactics, sexual grooming, emotional bonding, separation trauma and physical injury“
for her to consent to this? If not what does she need to know be able to give Informed Consent to this? That her adult friend is someone who cares about her and is responsive to her wishes and needs? That, just like I hope every good teleiophile is, he is someone whose greatest pleasure comes from seeing his loved one happy and the thought that he might be the source of that happiness? That if she is unhappy with anything that is happening she can stop doing it, or tell the man to stop doing it and he will do so?
For that is what paedophilia really is: a friendly and trusted adult, accompanying a child on its first, tentative, playful forays into pleasure, desire and love.
And my friend’s little girl?
Despite her hesitant start and her lack of knowledge of gravitational theory she slowly gained confidence. After a few months she started to go to the local trampoline club and by the age of thirteen was considered good enough to be entered into local and regional trampolining competitions.