Re-submission: Constructing Paedophile Identities: culturally-mediated identity-construction of and among adults sexually attracted to children

Lead Research Organisation: University of Winchester
Department Name: Humanities and Social Sciences

Abstract

This is an exploratory study of a highly contentious and controversial area. The aim of the study is both to produce theory on how paedophiles construct their identities and also to contribute to a more effective policy response to the public health crisis of child sexual abuse. The study starts from the premise that current cultural understandings of 'paedophilia' and 'paedophiles' are mediated primarily, not through dry professional medico-legal discourse, but through popular media including websites, blogs, news items and films. These media provide the framework by which individuals communicate with one another about what sexual attraction to children means, what is and what should be done about it. In contemporary society, the first move most people will make if they want to find out about something is to google it. Typing in 'paedophile' (or 'pedophile') into any search engine shows Wikipedia as one of the most popular search-results. The articles in Wikipedia are linked to external websites: browsing these links will take the searcher, usually directly, to popular pro-paedophile websites such as www.puellula.com. Such websites are the primary means by which adults sexually attracted to children - self-styled 'paedophiles', 'child-lovers' or 'minor-attracted adults' (MAA) - communicate with each another and their online community their individual experiences, desires, views and beliefs. Textual analysis of the material on these sites allows clearer understanding of pro-paedophile discourses.
To enhance understanding of the relationship between discourse, experience, identity and community, this study also makes use of anonymous, confidential qualitative data obtained from online questionnaires (together with the Project Information Sheet to read prior to completion), advertised among the 'paedophile community' and posted online at a secure website. This study would not succeed without the active support of members of the 'paedophile community'; implications of this are discussed in the Case for Support. Questionnaires are completed and emailed to the researcher. Data from 17 respondents has already been received and it is expected to complete data-collection (up to 50 respnses) by the end of this year. Analysis (and follow-up of specific issues if required) will be completed by Spring 2008, while individual chapters on methodology and findings are being prepared and written up.
Analysis of the online and questionnaire material situates the micro-level psychosocial aspects of individual accounts within the macro-level structural context of political, legislative and policy-based frameworks (such as the turn to child protection and human rights discourses and the topical debate on 'lost childhood') as well as broader cultural discourses, for example on child sexuality. Psychoanalytic processes (denial, splitting, projection) are also seen as relevant, both in understanding community responses and in making sense of the ways in which a person is able to hold the discredited and stigmatised identity of 'paedophile'. The study suggests that adults sexually attracted to children may struggle with depression and actively seek to make sense of their experiences within the supportive environment of the online 'paedophile community', which provides both information and, significantly, advice. Within this community are those who argue for and those who argue strongly against any form of sexual contact with children. This study highlights these conflicting ways of 'being a paedophile' (eg 'contact' versus 'non-contact').
In brief, this study uses analysis of popular culture and pro-paedophile websites alongside qualitative data from self-identified paedophiles to explore the inter-relationship between discourses, community and identity. It is intended to contribute to policy by suggesting more culturally-aware child protection messages which are sensitive to discourses and debates within the online paedophile community.
 
Title Documentary: The Truth About Paedophiles 
Description The film director / producer Steve Humphries, from Testimony Films, Bristol, got in touch with me about my research (I think after reading the Guardian article by Jon Henley). With Rudolph Herzog, film director, he decided to create a film exploring the everyday reality of paedophilia and child sexual abuse, drawing on my research findings. This has been commissioned by Channel 4 and is due to be shown on primetime television in November this year. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact The film has not yet been shown but I very much hope that it will be a catalyst helping to bring about a paradigm shift in the cultural discourse on adult sexual attraction to children, and will encourage the move towards treating this attraction as requiring a public health / harm reduction model. My hope is that this film will help us to have a more mature and effective response to recognising adult sexual attraction to children and acting to prevent child sexual abuse. 
 
Description The aim of my research was both to produce theory on how paedophiles construct their identities and also to contribute to a more effective policy response to the public health crisis of child sexual abuse.
The context of my research is that: (A) there is an unknown population of (predominantly) men (possibly 1 or 2% of the total adult male population) who experience exclusive or primary sexual attraction to children; (B) that there is a broader spectrum of men (possibly up to 20%) who are capable of some degree of sexual arousal towards children; (C) that adult sexual contact with children harms children; and (D) that the child protection methodology we currently have does not work effectively.
My main finding is that some men who are sexually attracted to children make the choice not to act on that attraction. They construct a self-identity which both includes their sexual attraction and a framework of sexual restraint. This is typically a deeply hidden and stigmatised identity even though it does not involve any offending or harmful behaviour. However, there is potential for this self-identity (of the 'non-contact' or 'virtuous' paedophile) to be used positively as a role model for other paedophiles, and thus reduce sexual offending.
The implications of this finding are (1) if we create a culture in which young people first discovering that they have this sexual attraction can speak out and ask for help, then we can support them with positive role models, strategies and skills to last the rest of their lives, preventing child sexual abuse from occurring; (2) we need to make it more normal for people to recognise that adult sexual attraction to children is an everyday part of life, so that we can respond to it effectively by understanding that paedophilia is not a crime but acting on sexual attraction to children is.
This view (that paedophiles are numerous, ordinary people who struggle with moral choices just like the rest of us) is a paradigm shift which many practitioners and policy-makers have difficulty accepting, but when we begin to understand that there are people out there who have decades of experience in feeling sexual attraction to children and choosing not to act on it, then we can learn from them about ways to keep children safer. This is beginning to happen, for example in the US, Germany and the Netherlands. We need to move policy forward in Britain now.
Exploitation Route There is a specialist child protection charity, called Stop It Now!, which uses a public health model to encourage all individuals and communities to work together actively to protect children. This is an effective model which does not rely on the notion that 'the paedophile' is 'other' than we are. Stop It Now! USA has endorsed and incorporated my findings in their work. I continue to hope that Stop It Now! UK and Ireland, and other charities such as the NSPCC, will begin to utilise these insights and adapt their publicity material and policies to move away from the rhetoric of 'stranger danger' towards a more mature understanding that, if up to 20% of all men are capable of sexual arousal towards children, then we need child protection strategies that address everyone and that focus on the behaviour not perceived labels.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy

 
Description My findings continue to be used to challenge current ineffective child protection practice. They require a paradigm shift and this is slowly taking place in policy and media circles as well as by individuals most affected. E.g. unsolicited feedback by email from members of the public to say how my work has given them hope and encouragement in dealing with sexual attraction to children in themselves, a relative or their clients (around 20+ responses, international). Findings incorporated into policy development by Stop It Now! USA (specialist child protection charity), as detailed by the Director of this charity. Invited to share findings at police conference 2009. Invited to contribute to roundtable discussion on reducing child sexual abuse, hosted by NSPCC and chaired by Helena Kennedy, QC, 2013. Findings have contributed to a Guardian article, 'Paedophilia: Bringing dark desires to light', January 2013 (and the heated Twitter and blog response that resulted), and have inspired and shaped a documentary, The Truth About Paedophiles, to be shown at 9pm on Channel 4, November 2014.
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description NSPCC policy roundtable discussion on primary prevention of child sexual abuse
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description 'Adult sexual attraction to children in the psychosocial and political field: from the clinic to popular culture' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation keynote/invited speaker
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I was invited to give the talk at a seminar on Psychoanalysis and the Social Political Field: From the Clinic to Cultural Productions, at the University of East London Psychosocial Studies Department. It was a lively and enjoyable session with questions and discussion afterwards.

I made contacts with colleagues at different institutions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description 'Kinsey 60 years on: discourses on sex, children and paedophiles' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact I was invited to give a talk for the London Medical Sociology Group, King's College London. There was a good discussion which continued over drinks and a meal afterwards.

A number of colleagues asked for further details of my research and provided insights to help me develop my thinking.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description 'Paedophiles: beyond the headlines' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact I invited my colleagues to a departmental research seminar to discuss my research methodology and findings. It helped them understand my work and they expressed a lot of interest in what I was doing.

It helped colleagues in my department (which was predominantly social care studies) to become more aware of inter-disciplinary issues such as cultural studies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description 'Protecting children: research and policy' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation poster presentation
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact I gave a poster presentation summarising my research to the Research and Knowledge Transfer Day at the University of Winchester. People came up and asked questions.

I think people had their thinking challenged and shifted. People did engage with the concepts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description 'Safeguarding in schools: understanding adult sexual attraction to children' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact I was invited to give a guest lecture for undergraduate students studying Childhood Studies in the Faculty of Education at the University of Winchester. The students listened politely, took notes and asked questions afterwards.

I was keen to undertake more teaching for education and social care / social work students, to help them think more carefully about child protection. Sadly, this did not happen.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Guardian newspaper article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was contacted by Jon Henley, journalist for The Guardian (I think maybe because of a Times Higher Education Supplement article about my research) and was (slightly incorrectly) quoted discussing my research in an article, 'Paedophilia: bringing dark desires to light'. The article trended at number 4 on the Guardian website.

There was considerable interest in the article, with a lot of discussion on Twitter and on blogs including the blogs of Tom Watson MP and Tim Stanley and Damien Thompson of The Telegraph. I was name-checked by Rush Limbaugh (the most listened to radio talk show in America). Subsequently, I have had contact from three film-makers (from the US, Australia and Britain) and from media including South African radio, Radio 5, the BBC and BBC Scotland and was invited to be interviewed on Newsnight (I declined).
The other notable impact which seemed to be causally related was that my university closed my email account without warning and shortly afterwards told me, unexpectedly, that my research fellowship was terminated. They also contacted The Guardian to say I did not work for them (the article had said correctly that I had been a senior lecturer there). The article was then altered to say I was an honorary research fellow there (see URL).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jan/03/paedophilia-bringing-dark-desires-light
 
Description Independent Voices article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was invited to submit a piece for Independent Voices, which I did.

The article attracted around 40 comments posted online. I also engaged in responding to some of the comments in order to put across my point more clearly. The article demonstrated again the amount of work which still needs doing to move public awareness and policy forward.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/how-can-we-prevent-child-abuse-if-we-dont-understand-pae...
 
Description Oxford Bibliographies in Childhood Studies 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact I was invited to author an article on paedophilia for Oxford Bibliographies. I declined.


I apologise and regret that I felt I had to decline so many excellent opportunities to disseminate the important findings of my publicly-funded research. Although I am a persistent and committed researcher, by this point (Spring 2013) I just felt humiliated and defeated by what I experienced as the public disowning of myself and my research by my university. For example, I was told by one journalist that when they rang the university to speak to me, they were told by the university that I did not work there and they had no contact details for me (in the end, the journalist tracked me down through my publisher). This attitude later changed slightly but around this time I was also dealing with a suicide attempt by a close relative and I no longer had the strength to challenge the university's behaviour towards me.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Planned national conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation workshop facilitator
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In late 2012 / early 2013, my colleagues and I at the university were in the early stages of planning a national conference for practitioners and policy-makers, to disseminate the findings of my research and to stimulate debate on the best approaches to address paedophilia and improve child protection. I was leading this process, in my role as director of the Research and Policy Centre for the Study of Wellbeing in Communities.

The VC of the university, without consultation with anyone in the Research and Policy Centre (as far as I am aware), closed the Centre and decided not to renew my research fellowship. The reason given was that I was the only person doing any significant work in the Centre. I quote: 'In considering whether to renew your fellowship the University reviewed the activity of the Research and Policy Centre. Apart from your own work the Centre appears to be largely dormant and will be making no contribution to the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework [because they would not include my two monographs]. We therefore intend closing down the Centre and in the circumstances do not feel it appropriate to renew your visiting [actually, honorary] fellowship.'
So that was the end of the planned conference and the end of my academic and research career. I wonder if you feel that AHRC got its money's worth? I hope that someone at AHRC is actually going to read this stuff! Please think about how much more I could have done to disseminate my research and help to improve child protection. I really hope someone at AHRC picks this up and does something about it. I hope you choose to ask some questions about this.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Radio broadcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was invited to participate in a radio discussion on Resonance 104.4 FM (London and on Resonance website), to discuss paedophilia and virtue. The discussion was lively and enjoyable and the presenters said afterwards it was one of the best shows in the series.

I think it helped to get the message out there.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://thethreadradio.org/?page_id=565
 
Description Times Higher article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact I was interviewed about my research by Melanie Newman, journalist for The Times Higher Education Supplement. This resulted in a prominent article. Online, it attracted over 200 posted comments (no longer shown on the link). I notice that links to this article have also been tweeted and posted on blogs, Facebook accounts etc, suggesting continuing interest.

I was invited to speak at various seminars etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
URL http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/408084.article