1) Someone, of course, must have taken the photos they possessed. The Wonderland investigation has resulted in more than one trial. One man, Gary Salt, was jailed for 12 years in an earlier hearing in the UK. He had made images of himself in sexual encounters with three children and distributed them in the club. This was not a commercial operation run by mafia-type figures. As another club member is quoted as saying of him: "Gary was just doing what he believed in...We didn't see it as abuse. These were children who were involved in relationships." (The Daily Telegraph, 14 Feb, 2001, p4)
No such element of consensuality was at all obvious from the presentation of the story in the British press though. The headlines and text were peppered with descriptions such as "suffer", "abuse", "rape", "ordeal", and "victim" with very little evidence to justify such characterisations.
What the prosecution and the media picked on to justify their character assassination of the defendants was a small number of bondage pictures (out of 750,000 images said to have been seized in total plus 1,800 video clips). While such images were bound to cause alarm and undoubtedly justified investigation, it was by no means clear from extensive news reports that pain or distress had been inflicted in their making. Such suffering was implied at every opportunity, with words like "sadistic", "perverted" and "cruelty" bandied about, but the worst one senior officer in the case could come up with in terms of what had actually happened was to say some of the children looked frightened. But the same officer expressed himself equally appalled by pictures he had seen in which "the child appears to be happy while being abused" (Daily Mail 14 Feb p5).
The moral judgement that sex with children – whether they like it or not – is wrong appears to allow police, prosecutors and the media to feel justified in giving a grossly biased presentation of the facts. Just as in any war the first casualty is truth, the war against paedophiles is being waged on an "anything goes" basis, with any amount of exaggeration, distortion, and sometimes sheer fabrication permitted in order to blacken the name of the enemy.
A one particularly damaging form of such fabrication is the "snuff movie" theme, which keeps cropping up time and time again. In the Wonderland case reference was made to a boy identified from one or more confiscated images who is said to be missing and "presumed murdered by the paedophile gang". (Daily Mail 14 Feb p 4). What this conveniently damning presumption ignores is that thousands of youngsters deliberately make themselves scarce, not least gay teenagers who may have no great love of the police and may also experience rejection at home. (Over 100,000 children per year run away from home in the UK, according to the research project Still Running, directed by Prof Mike Stein of York University. Report by Cherry Norton in The Independent, 11 Nov 1999)
In a article for The Guardian newspaper, the sensationalist writer Nick Davies produced one of the worst examples of this genre in recent years, in a so-called "investigation" series titled "The most secret crime" in June 1998. This series followed an earlier one the previous year covering overlapping ground. Much play had been made in this earlier article of a pornographic video dubbed "the Bjorn Tape"; it was heavily implied that this was a "snuff" movie and that a young boy in it called Bjorn had been murdered. In the award-winning series the following year the Bjorn Tape is again mentioned, but the boy is this time referred to as being very much alive and apparently well! Needless to say, despite this greatest resurrection since Lazarus, readers were not reminded of Davies' earlier somewhat exaggerated report of the boy's death (O'Carroll; 2000).
2) One should also note the possibility of iatrogenic harm if children who willingly participate in sex are later told by therapists and others they have been victimised. If such children, as they grow towards adulthood, hear it being insisted that they have been damaged for life they may come to believe it. This effect did not show up in the Coxell study to which I refer below but that may be because the subjects, or a substantial proportion of them, grew up in the decades before the current intense problematisation of child-adult sexual contacts. But it has been copiously reported in relation to individual cases in which parents and others have reacted angrily and hysterically to their child's willing involvement with an adult that such reactions are the source of distress and psychological harm to the child rather than the sexual episode itself. (Nelson; West)
3) The findings of the Coxell team were based entirely on boys' consent to sex with an older person. Is it, in the popular expression "different for girls"? The Rind team's study clearly showed a far higher proportion of boys who reported having positive feelings (pleasure, enjoyment etc) about the sexual encounter(s) at the time. Whereas three out of every eight had felt positive about their experiences, this was true of only one of every 10 female experiences. (Two-thirds of the males and more than a quarter of the females retrospectively reported having neutral or positive reactions to the sexual experience at the time it occurred). This and other findings by Rind point very clearly to the fact that child sexual abuse, properly so described, is plainly no myth and that the problem impacts more on girls than on boys. It may even be true, as many feminists have long asserted, that some of the men (for it is principally men) who impose themselves on unwilling children (mainly girls) do so in part for reasons associated with power and control as well as sexual satisfaction. Some primate studies (Wrangham & Peterson) have suggested an evolutionary basis for such non-erotic uses of sexual behaviour by males against females, though the reasoning is contested (Thornhill et al).
It would be wrong to obscure or deny Rind's findings on gender difference. But it is also unhelpful to ignore the fact that some girls do experience their early sexual encounters with a grown-up positively, and in these cases we need to know whether consent is valid in the sense discussed above. In other words, if there was consent at the time, will the child be unharmed by the experience?
Anyone suspicious of the slant men may bring to research on this should note that a woman, Allie Kilpatrick, Professor of Social Work at the University of Georgia, has undertaken work in this area. Kilpatrick also makes it abundantly plain that she is not out to grant any seal of approval to adult-child sexual relations and is against her work being cited to that end: she rules out the permissibility of such relations for reasons similar to Finkelhor's (presumed inability of the child to give informed consent, plus unacceptably greater power of the adult). As such, her research can be regarded as impeccably well-motivated by those of a conservative cast of mind, but those same people should be warned that, unlike Finkelhor, she does not let her social orthodoxy impede her quest for objective data.
Kilpatrick studied the long-term effects of child and adolescent sexual experiences, based on a retrospective study of 501 women, including their sexual contacts with peers as well as older partners or assailants, ranging from close relatives (including the girl's father) to complete strangers. (Kilpatrick; 1992)
Her work discloses a remarkable absence of long-term harm to girls associated with partners more than five years older than themselves (including adults as well as older peers), in flat contradiction of the conventional wisdom.
"Within the definition of victimology currently employed by many researchers," she says (p115-6), "is the assumption that children who have sexual experiences with, or propositions from, persons who are five years or more older than they, are automatically victimised, and harm is done. The findings of this study repudiate such an assumption. Older partners are not found to be a significant factor in correlations with later adult functioning. Such simplistic linear assumptions must be seriously questioned. It is imperative that researchers not base their interpretations of data upon erroneous assumptions or moralistic beliefs".
Kilpatrick did however find that certain childhood sexual experiences were associated with impaired adult functioning -- those that were "forced, pressured or guilt-producing". Frequently, of course, it is adults who are in the strongest position to exert force or pressure against the child, especially in the case of father-daughter incest, and as for contacts that are "guilt-producing" it is the adult world in general that creates a social climate of sexual guilt: little children are truly innocent in the sense that they have not been socialised into a sense of bodily shame and modesty. What Kilpatrick is revealing here, though, is that there is nothing intrinsic in the fact of age difference that is bound to produce harmful effects, and that this applies to girls as well as boys.
4) Those whose dogmatic mantras include "children never lie about sex abuse" have proved themselves ruthlessly prone to putting words into children's mouths, interrogating allegedly abused children repeatedly and sharply, using leading questions until the bewildered youngsters – sometimes only toddlers – give the "right" answer (even being told they must be "dumb" if they can't "remember" the alleged incident). This has resulted in massive injustice in numerous cases, especially in the U.S. and most notoriously in the McMartin pre-school saga (Best; Eberle & Eberle; Goodyear-Smith). Likewise those who are forever asserting that "we must listen to the children" tend to be notoriously hard of hearing when it comes to children who show by their behaviour that they have sexual feelings and want to express them.
It is ironic that so many of the child-abuse industry practitioners who abuse their power over children by using these methods to tell youngsters what they are supposed to think and how they are supposed to behave, appear to be unaware of their own power. Or maybe they feel the end justifies the means.
Not that there is much honesty in spelling this out. On the contrary, the rhetoric of feminist-inspired abuse industry discourse typically represents "power" solely in terms of allegedly "patriarchal" institutions and male dominance. It is a discourse that hides the speaker, and the speaker's own power, leaving her "immune" to criticism and perhaps seen as "innocent" of any involvement in any negative effects of the discourse.
Feminist discourse on power is not the only culprit in this regard. Both "normalising", heterosexual-oriented psychotherapy and moralising, "family values" traditionalism have made copious use of the rhetoric of power and alleged abuse of power by paedophiles while deflecting attention from the mote in their own eye. The attack on day-care centres in the US to which I refer above is a case in point. Far from being feminist-inspired, the ideological basis for "discovering" widespread sexual abuse in such centres was highly conservative, day-care being seen as wrong in principle by those who felt mothers should stay at home to care for their children rather than going out to work. My concentration in this paper specifically on feminist analysis is because (a) issues of power and equality are central to such analysis and do need to be addressed; (b) the feminist discourse of power has been so pervasive as to influence the other forms of discourse to which I refer (even that of anti-feminists, though doubtless in ways not always consciously understood by the participants).