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Summaries and Quotes, translated from

An Actual Political Debate

Introduction to a NVSH* symposium  Youth, Sex and Moral Laws,
April 15, 2000, Haarlem, The Netherlands

* The NVSH is the Dutch Association for Sexual Reform.

Summary of the first half of the presentation

In The Netherlands, a debate concerning morality laws has been going on since 1970. A Commission leaded by Professor Melai was installed and produced several interim reports. A lot of Dutch organizations gave their reactions, among which the NVSH in 1978. In 1980, the Final report was published. Again, many Dutch organizations reacted, among which NVSH and the Dutch Gay organization NVIH-COC in 1984. 

In the 90s, Dutch laws have been changed. Among those changes was an article of law that said that sexual contacts between 12-to-16-year-old youth and older persons only could be prosecuted if the young one (or her or his parents or guard) made an official complaint. A scientific institute, the Verwey-Jonker Instituut, has been asked to evaluate those changes, especially the article about the complaint. The institute reported in 1998. In 1999, new proposals were published by the Dutch government. Again, organizations reacted, as did NVSH in 2000. 

The Dutch government proposed to change the laws, to set more limits and higher convictions, and to change the article about the complaint into an article in which is said that the prosecutor has to listen to the young ones concerned. 

The NVSH reaction of 2000

This reaction was based upon The Universal Sexual Human Rights, as accepted by the Fourteenth World Congress of Sexology, 23-27 August 1999, Hong Kong. Basic concepts of the NVSH reaction were youth (including young people under the age of 18), their right to development, and their rights to control and arrange their sexual life themselves. The proposed principles were: protection where needed, freedom where possible. NVSH reacted against the idea of the Minister that laws and punishment can ensure protection. Rather, openness and sexual education should be a better policy. NVSH criticizes that the government does not define "youth" and does not make difference between a tiny 3-year-old little girl and a sturdy 15-year-old boy. Also, scientific justification for the assertions on which the proposals are based is generally lacking. 


During the last decennia, it has become clear that corporal and sexual abuse of women and children, in particular within the family, exist on a far greater scale than they were supposed to before that time. More openness and a better care for the victims of such abuse have made clear that in this regard our society has to do with a problem that is both serious and hard to manage - a problem that evidently exists for a long time already, but was concealed or denied in the past.

In my opinion, however, the attention to this kind of mistreatment also lead to over-reaction and misinterpretation in several aspects. 

By trying to mark out and recognize possible victims of sexual abuse, lists have been compiled with behavioural signs that are supposed to be caused by such abuse. However, a more sober view may learn that those signs can be seen in nearly anyone's behaviour. Thus, the usefulness of such lists has to be doubted. 

Also, methods of interrogation have become common practice, having a suggestive influence on the person being interviewed to such an extent that one can be quite sure a lot of people now have aquired problems they did not have before being interrogated.

It was in this very period that a split of people started to exist between:

those that in their work continually meet problematic cases and are therefore utterly suspicious against anyone who says it's not always a problem, and

those that kept claiming - and some of them quite naive indeed - it isn't all that bad after all.

Society has clearly chosen for the first group. People were shocked to discover that so much abuse takes place, more often than not within family settings, and not exclusively in the lower classes. To cope with this embarrassing fact, society needed scapegoats. 

Such a scapegoat was easily found: the pedophile or pedosexual, previously called child abuser, and pederast before that. This is not a new phenomenon, but its current intensiveness is remarkable to say the least, and seriously hinders a good discussion on this issue. 

Sex is not always sex

When discussing sexual contacts between younger people and adults, we must consider different interpretations of the concept of sexuality. 

I want to quote from an interview with developmental psychologist Jany Rademakers, published by Martijn van Kerkhof in the magazine 0-25 of October 1999:

"The fact that I impute sexuality to children, does not mean that adults might bolt with it. On the contrary, they are not allowed to have sexual contacts with children. Not only the possible harm is the reason. Children and adults give a so greatly different meaning to sexuality, that both worlds must remain separated.
Children among each other - that's another story. Then, it depends on the context. As long as a younger and an older child play sexual games, usually there is no problem. However, if force or manipulation are at hand, we have to be attentive. Particularly if it goes on for a long time, it might have - just like pestering - traumatic effects."

I do admire Jany Rademakers, who has performed very important and pioneering work in the field of research and publication concerning sexuality and sexual development of children and youths. Quite rightly, in 1999 she received the Van Emde Boas - Van Ussel price for that work. Nevertheless, I want to remark that she has fallen into a pitfall by writing the words quoted here - a pitfall not seen by many people and which forms a source of a tremendous confusion of tongues. To demonstrate this, I will re-read the quoted text, replacing the word sexuality by musicality:

"The fact that I impute musicality to children, does not mean that adults might bolt with it. On the contrary, they are not allowed to have musical contacts with children. Not only the possible harm is the reason. Children and adults give a so greatly different meaning to music, that both worlds must remain separated.
Children among each other - that's another story. Then, it depends on the context. As long as a younger and an older child play musical games, usually there is no problem. However, if force or manipulation are at hand, we have to be attentive. Particularly if it goes on for a long time, it might have - just like pestering - traumatic effects."

Some parts of the text are still reasonable: adults should not bolt with it when children are involved, and force or manipulation should be avoided. But someone reading the second text in a magazine for musicologists would be quite astonished, or probably laugh out loud.

Of course, musicality is not the same as sexuality. But it is also true that children's sexual experience and what adults usually label 'sexuality' are not the same thing - as Rademakers herself correctly observes. 

Two other quotes from the article mentioned here make clear that Rademakers - at least in this interview - uses the same word to label two quite different things. The start of the article reads:

"Unquestionably, children have sexual feelings. People refuse to believe this. But the three basic elements of sexuality - gender, intimacy, and having a body - appear to be of great importance in children's lives."

OK, this is clear. But later she says:

"Roughly speaking, young people get about 14 years to try out everything. At the low ages, we see that the age of first sexual activity has become lower and lower."

Mark the phrase "... the age of first sexual activity ...". Strictly speaking, Rademakers makes a difference between sexual feelings (in the first quote) and sexual activity (in the second quote). It seems to me, however, that the word sexual itself is used for two quite different things here as well. In fact it's quite normal for children of all ages to express their feelings (thus, also their sexual feelings) in their activities, often in a playful way, and I don't have the impression that Rademakers thinks that's wrong.

It's not that I want to attack Rademakers as a person, but I use this example to demonstrate how a persistent confusion of tongues can greatly hinder the discussion, even among experts.


Whoever associates sexuality with penetration, swift orgasms and blindly following one's own urges, will find it a horror to indulge such passions on children - and rightly so.

Whoever, contrarily, thinks in terms of co-experiencing children's natural erotic curiosity, where the children involved make a voyage of physical discovery in their own pace and on their own initiative, talks about quite a different subject.

I want to quote a Newsletter of the NVSH National Workgroup on Youth-Adult Relationships, intimacy & sexuality, a group that discussed ethics in erotic contacts with children. There, I read a concise statement which exactly says what is the crucial point:

"It's OK to have children's sex with an adult, but it's wrong to have adults' sex with a child."

Myths and facts

Then, there are statistical and numerical data. All writers involved, including governmental publicists, scientists and news reporters, use numbers to fund their opinions. Regrettably, I have reasons to doubt if all those data are valid. I merely give two examples.

(1) Recidivism

[...] Recently, a leading politician said in a TV show that is has been proven that sexual delinquents know a recidivism rate of 90%. Thus, he pleaded for laws that would not allow them to return to society, at least not without a severe control of their behaviour.

Is this a fact or a myth?

In 1998, two Canadian psychologists, Hanson en Bussière, have performed a meta-analysis of 61 published research reports in this field.*

[* See the literature list below, including Gieles' explanation of their research.]

The authors concluded that the recidivism rate for sexual offenders in general is 13.4% and for offenders with minors 12.7%. Note that the average recidivism rate for all offenders is 36.3%. 

This is quite different from what the politician said. [...] It is a difference of a factor seven. That's high.

(2) Sexual experiences in childhood

It is widely believed that sexual experiences in childhood would always be harmful, that such harm as a rule is intense and pertinent, and equally serious for both sexes. Moreover, the results from research with clinical and judicial samples regarding this subject, would be valid for the general polulation.

All of these opinions, however, prove to be debatable, if not untenable. 

Sexual experiences in childhood appear to be more often neutral or positive than negative. There appears to be a significant difference between boys and girls in this aspect. The correlation between sexual experiences in childhood and later well-being is very low; other factors have far more influence. The main factor is not the sexual contact as such, but how the subject experienced it. In particular, the freedom of choice is crucial. Additionally, data stemming from problematic cases do not give correct information about all cases. 

Of course, it is a problem if someone feels harm caused by unpleasant experiences in childhood, but the things I said above place this problem in a broader perspective. 

My sources are the 1981 report on meta-analytical research by Constantine, and more recent publications by Rind, Bauserman & Tromovitch.*

[* See the literature list below]

These meta-analyses deserve to be much more widely known and to be taken more seriously then they currently are. Note, that these reports do not present the results of data gathered from a single group of respondents chosen by the researcher, but give a profound statistical analysis of all known relevant scientific reports.

Literature - as far as available in English

Kerkhof, Martijn P.N. van,  Jany Rademakers about children's  sexuality: 'Sexual Experience Makes Youths More  Liberal' - translated from  0-25, oktober 1999

KOINOS, Youthful Sexual Experience and Well-being, Important Conference in Rotterdam, in: Koinos Magazine #21 (1999/1) 

An Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Based on Nonclinical Samples,
Bruce Rind, Robert Bauserman & Philip Tromovitch. Presentatie, op 18 December 1998, Paul's Church, Rotterdam.

About Recidivism,
Dr. Frans E.J. Gieles, 1999. A review of the next meta-analysis of Hanson & Bussière:

Predicting Relapse: A meta-Analysis of Sexual Offender Recidivism Studies,
R. Karl Hanson & Monique T. Bussière, Department of the Solicitor General of Canada.
In: Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1998, Vol. 66, No. 2.

The effects of early sexual experiences. A review and synthesis of research,
L.L. Constantine, in: Children and sex, L.L. Constantine & F.M. Martinson (ed.). Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1981.


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