Turning point

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By: Dr. Frits Bernard

In der Rarität
liegt der Wert

Until long after World War II all sexual relationships with minors - under 21 - were punishable. During the War (1940-1945) an age of consent didn't even exist, meaning homosexual contacts were forbidden without exception. Eventually the age of consent became 18 and later still 16. Sexual conduct with children over 12 was penalized as punishable after complaint. Soon this rule was abolished again. 16 is considered as a reasonable age now and for certain contacts the limit is 18. What will be the age of consent in the twenty-first century?. Will there be a uniform age of consent for the whole European Union at last? It might be expected.

The following cannot be more than exemplary. A limited number of striking developments and quotations are mentioned marking the course of history. In hindsight, some thoughts and assertions now seem astounding mainly because they came from officials. The conclusions are no less striking.

During the twentieth century emancipation and integration of those with manifest paedophile feelings developed capriciously. I've elaborated on that topic in my essay The Paedophile Emancipation Movement in the Netherlands (in: Dares to speak, Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Boy-Love, edited by Joseph Geraci, GMP Publishers Ltd, Swaffham, England, 1997).

Emancipation (lat. emancipatio) in Roman law meant liberation from the pater familias. Later, emancipation was used in the sense of deliverance or becoming free and of equalization in a broader meaning, for example emancipation of slavery.

Integration means to be included in an entity. Also to belong in essence to an entity. All things considered people with paedophile feelings in general should be able to fit in, to integrate.

The emancipatory movement of paedophiles took a slow start in the fifties of the last century. The first step was the start of the Enclave-Kring (also publishing firm) in The Hague. The short-story Vervolgde Minderheid (Persecuted Minority, ed.), written in 1958, signified a clear turning point, a crucial moment. The term minority was used for the first time in context with people with paedophile feelings. A whole new point of view arose and the words sexual minority were coined. Those with paedophile feelings were placed in a greater entity to create a process of identification (not being alone). To strengthen the feeling of belonging together.

What I call the syndrome of paedophile loneliness, in extreme cases possibly leading to monophobia (an abnormal fear of being alone) and suicide, is often recognised. The syndrome (Gr. a running together) consists of a complex of symptoms mostly occurring simultaneously, together forming the syndrome. Reading books, novels and stories about paedophile relationships might be of great support and can even prove to be lifesaving. Such case studies are described in literature.

Vervolgde Minderheid has made a connection with the future. The pointe at the end of the book was a clear prediction: ...if they would make themselves known at a certain moment in time they might become a body and be of influence... (first edition 1960, page 163). An early reference to the paedophilia working-groups evolving later on in the Netherlands and far beyond.

The important second step taking place around 1969 within the scope of the NVSH (the Dutch Society for Sexual Reformation, ed.) would have been impossible without the first one. The first coming out at a larger scale took place in Breda in 1972.

A first attempt at starting a centre for paedophiles within the COC (Dutch society for gay people, ed.) in 1962 only just failed. It was too early, the time wasn't right.

The short-story was published in several editions, countries and languages. The importance of the book lay in marking the turning point and prediction. The French edition (1992) contains a wide survey of history (annotations) as an appendix.

Since the first publication of the book, now nearly fifty years ago, the term sexual minority has come to stay and has been used in a broader sense. However this is changing rapidly.

We live in times of quick revolutions. Opinions changed and people with paedophile feelings met with rough weather again. Globalisation takes a negative course. A third attempt will be made, sooner of later though. For nothing is forever. Consensual paedophile relationships should as much as possible be depenalized to halt the prevailing, persistent hysteria.

I quote the official report of the Speijer commission (Dutch parliamentary session, Second Chamber 1969-1970, concerning the proposition of a bill to repeal section 248bis of the Dutch Penal Code, concerning sexual abuse of minors, ed.): 'A lack of contacts and initiation chances can hold a minor in some sort of vacuum for a long time. The need for self-recognition is utterly pressing here'.

More openness and more contact opportunities will not only help the young homosexual cope with development problems but can also contain positive aspects for the heterosexual youth. American psychiatrist Sullivan in his work strongly emphasizes the need for close relationships in the preadolescent stage. He considers it highly desirable for these relationships to be of great intimacy.

Not all members of this commission, established by the Gezondheidsraad (informs Dutch government and parliament about scientific development in public health issues, ed.), will agree of course. But still.

Ten years after the final report of the Adviescommissie Zedelijkheidswetgeving (Advisory Commission on Laws concerning Morality, ed.) (Stafbureau Voorlichting Ministerie van Justitie, Staatsdrukkerij, Den Haag, 1980). Prof. A.L. Melai LLM, chairman, stated: 'The question is not whether a criminal judge should deprive youths of the experience of their sexuality, but whether he should guarantee their rights to experience their feelings'.

The Dutch Penal Code was altered. Sexual conduct with an under 12 will always be punishable (prosecutable ex officio). Punishability after complaint was introduced in sexual conduct with a minor between 12 and 16. Such acts were only penalized if the concerned minor himself complained, his parents or guardians, or the Raad voor de Kinderbescherming (Dutch Child Welfare Council, ed.). This was progressive and unique. The right direction had been chosen. The Dutch Penal Code however has once more been altered and again 16 is the age limit.

The report of the commission Speijer en the Melai report receded to the background but remain part of after-fifties history.

That happened over 35 and 25 years ago. Let us return to the here-and-now. Sexual minority is still a current topic. Even more current actually in times of repression and oppression, criminalisation, medicalisation en demonisation. Therefore: permanent vulnerability.

And what about the measure many airlines nowadays take concerning male passengers? According to new directives they're no longer allowed to be seated next to unaccompanied minors. Did anyone ever consider the negative influence this might have on children? Doesn't this spawn a general fear of adults? Isn't the rule overtaking itself? It's a measure against men in general, certainly not invented by men.

Children now grow up in a hostile environment. The experience of an essential part of their sexuality is denied to them. We must worry about the developing generation! Children also are part of a larger minority of those permanently vulnerable.
Hard work remains to be done concerning emancipation using well balanced and especially active strategies. Campaigning should be considered once more. Remaining alert and taking opportunities is the motto.

We Shall Overcome! the banner still states.

This survey clearly shows how strange developments in sexualibus have been in the twentieth century. The age of consent has been clouded in magic, as if the only thing sacred. The final conclusion therefore should be that society doesn't know how to handle the issue and farther than ever removed from a final solution. If there will ever be one.

Justitiam quo vadis?

Sullivan H.S.: The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry, New York, 1953.
Bernard, F. : Controverse, OK magazine, issue 92, Amsterdam, July 2005 (see also: www.martijn.org).

10 December 2005

source: Article 'Turning point' by Dr. Frits Bernard; OK Magazine, no. 94; June 2006