Age and innocence

December 17, 2004

While Richard Yuill's thesis ("Fury over PhD for child-sex research", December 3) appears to be based on sound empirical research, the reactions of his detractors exhibit irrational indignation that anyone should have the audacity to produce evidence that might challenge sacred cows of the abuse industry.

The term "paedophilia" used to be applied strictly to sexual relationships involving prepubescent children and mature adults. It has now been expanded to include relationships between sexually developed teenagers below the legal age of consent and their adult partners. The absurdity of this elastic definition can be seen in the fact that the ages of consent are in some countries set below the UK's 16 years, so a person can be labelled a paedophile by "experts" in one country but not in another.

And before 2000, when the UK lowered the homosexual age of consent from 18 to 16 years, gay men who were sexually attracted to male youths of 16 and 17 ceased being "paedophiles", while their heterosexual counterparts never had been so classified.

Intergenerational sexual relationships are as old as mankind, and like any other form of sexual orientation have positive and negative aspects. They can be exploitive or mutually life-enhancing. Researchers have frequently shown that most psychological damage is inflicted on the younger partner in such relationships not by sexual intimacy but rather by the trauma of legal intervention. It would be interesting to know how many of Yuill's respondent "victims" who reported "negative feelings" fall into this category.

Adrian Marlowe
The Hague, Netherlands

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