Paedophilia research riles and titillates the academy

Winchester academic finds no consensus on controversial study, writes Melanie Newman

September 10, 2009

An academic who studied paedophiles has described how she was castigated by hostile colleagues but encouraged by other academics who found her research "excitingly naughty".

Sarah Goode, senior lecturer in health and community studies at the University of Winchester, concludes that there is no clear consensus among academics on the harmfulness of adult sexual contact with children.

"What has been most fascinating to me has been, not the responses of paedophiles, but those of academics," said Dr Goode of her research, which spanned four years and resulted in a book, Understanding and Addressing Adult Sexual Attraction to Children, published this year by Routledge.

Social scientists tended to regard her studies with suspicion. "People refused to work with me and said things such as: 'You have no idea how naive you're being and the damage you could cause.'"

Colleagues also expressed "concerns" about the ethics of her research. She said that some of these doubts were "a covert expression of 'tabloidophobia' - a horror that the more aggressively anti-intellectual tabloid newspapers could come knocking and embarrass everyone".

A major national charity told Dr Goode that it could not be associated with her research because being seen exploring or trying to understand paedophiles would provoke the tabloids' ire and potentially reduce its funding.

The hostile academics tended to explain their stance from a child-protection perspective, focusing on the needs and experiences of the child. "They assumed there was a clear consensus on sexual harm and that no further insights were needed," Dr Goode said.

But in a second group of academics, she found no such consensus. "Within the arts and humanities in particular, there is a strong tradition of questioning and contesting such assumptions," she said.

Here the emphasis was on the experiences of the adult, using perspectives of sexual radicalism and challenging "heteronormative" premises.

"Within such a discourse, adult sexual contact with children is viewed as transgressive, playful and liberating," she added.

Dr Goode said she found this attitude "equally painful", but given that those whose primary motivation was children's wellbeing had turned away, she was forced to "throw myself on the goodwill of those who found such research excitingly naughty".

"One senior professor who was very helpful to me said: 'Don't you think Tom O'Carroll is a lovely man?'" she recalled.

Mr O'Carroll is the author of Paedophilia: The Radical Case (1980), which argues for adults' right to have sex with children.

"Two senior professors also commented (separately but in almost identical words) that women who breastfeed feel sexual, which is no different to being a paedophile," Dr Goode said.

"This is a widespread belief among the paedophile community. As a woman who has breastfed her children (unlike either of the professors), I know from direct experience what rubbish this is, but they naively continue to promulgate it because it serves the purpose of blurring distinctions and normalising the concept of adult sexual experience with children."


Kieran McCartan, senior lecturer in criminology and a sex-crime expert at the University of the West of England, said that academics in the fields of criminal psychology, criminology and related fields have been supportive of his research on paedophiles.

They tended to appreciate that paedophiles were not a homogeneous group, he added. "However, when I talked, formally and informally, to other colleagues, academic and non-academic, who were not involved in sexual abuse-orientated or criminology work, they could not understand why I would want to carry out research or try to understand paedophiles and society's reaction to them.

"They were often dismissive of paedophiles, seeing them as stereotypes, and offered harsh as well as unrealistic responses - much like the public."

In 2004, Richard Yuill, a doctoral student at the University of Glasgow, was accused of "playing into the hands" of paedophiles because his thesis described positive sexual experiences between children and adults. Glasgow decided not to publish it.

David Evans, social sciences lecturer in the same Glasgow department, whose research interests include all aspects of human sexuality, said that many aspects of his work "remain taboo in whole or part to social scientists".

"There are as many positive retrospective accounts by adults of their same-sex pre-'age of consent' sexual experiences as negative," he said. "It is encumbent upon sociologists to report on, analyse and seek to explain these accounts. However, the 'panic' responses within and outside the discipline largely silence and trivialise this work."

Richard Green, professor of psychiatry at Imperial College London, who has called for paedophilia to be removed from a list of mental disorders, told Times Higher Education: "In Sexual Science and the Law (1992), I wrote in a chapter on intergenerational sexuality that the experience for the younger person was not uniformly negative, based on a literature review.

"Bruce Rind et al reached a similar conclusion from a more sophisticated metaanalysis and all hell broke loose. Fortunately for me, no one read my book."

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