Launch of Loudoun





-Mark Solms

what is paedophilia

As I write this article, I worry about what you will think of me. Saying anything remotely sympathetic about paedophilia is bound to invite grave suspicions. Even academic interest in the topic is cause for concern; why is he interested in that? The only acceptable attitude to paedophilia seems to be outright condemnation. All you need to know is that it is bad. Very bad.

The Jimmy Savile affair has sharpened attitudes. It has also shown how insidious and pervasive the sexual abuse of children is, and how brazen it can be. Apparently child sexual abuse can occur under the noses of television producers, in front of cameras on national television, without anyone noticing. Or did they turn a blind eye? Sexual crimes against children seem to occur everywhere, even in places considered sanctuaries of family values: children's programmes, Top of the Pops, hospital wards, care homes, churches. It seems that no child is safe from the predatory reach of the paedophile.

Public reaction is hardly surprising: perpetrators must be exposed, vilified, punished, removed from society; everything possible must be done to protect children from them. Those who tolerate them or fail to recognise them are also guilty; heads must roll.

Surely the best way to tackle so serious a scourge like any other major public health scare is to commission an expert study of it, so that we can design and implement safeguards based on the best scientific evidence. Yet, as I have said, anyone who takes this approach to paedophilia provokes suspicion. How can they be so objective and neutral and calm? Are they perhaps harbouring perverse tendencies themselves?

The inevitable outcome is that few medical scientists want their professional reputations associated with this topic. Those who do work on it are relatively unknown, and keep themselves to themselves. Frequently they are constrained further by issues of doctor-patient confidentiality. As a result, ignorance of paedophilia is almost as widespread as the crime itself. Pitifully few members of the public (and the journalists who inform them) are capable of answering such simple questions as: what is paedophilia? What causes it? How is it treated? Is it curable?

The same applies to more complex questions such as: why are most paedophiles male or are they? Does consensual sex with a 15-year-old count as paedophilia? Are people who download child abuse images likely to perform actual paedophilic acts? If breastfeeding arouses erotic sensations in a mother, is she a paedophile? What is the tipping point between normal and perverse pleasure in children? Is this a moral or a medical distinction? If it is a medical one, should the carrier of the disease be morally blamed? What if perpetrators were themselves the victims of childhood sexual abuse, as they almost always are? And if they are, do they have a choice as to what they become?

The answers to these questions are under-reported and patchy, and also unreliable and capable of enormous misunderstanding. News stories about paedophiles are frequently followed by sweeping moral panics which lack a sense of rational judgment based on objective evidence and sound debate. Instead, fear and loathing dominate the social landscape, sometimes generating false suspicions and accusations directed at innocent individuals veritable witch-hunts with tragic consequences. Why is this so? And what can we do about it?

We now embark on a brave experiment. To try to rectify the current situation a new charity, the Loudoun Trust, has been formed, bringing together specialist academics and practitioners. It will compile a database of reliable information on the causes, mechanisms and meanings of sexual crimes against children, and is committed to making this information accessible. Initiated by friends and associates of the legendary Observer editor, the late David Astor, and formally launched at the House of Lords, the trust believes that the public interest is best served by evidence-based information on this difficult subject.



-Mark Solms



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