A confession: distaste for Virtuous Pedophiles (VP) has hitherto deterred me from undertaking a thorough scrutiny of their website. I thought I knew quite enough about them, thank you very much, from their media coverage, plus exchanges with co-founders Nick Devin and Ethan Edwards on Sexnet and here on Heretic TOC.
Their input of comments to last week’s blog, Humble or haughty, nasty is naughty, however, meant I would finally have to get down and dirty, scouring their lair from attic to basement in order to make a properly informed response. That is why I have taken a bit of time over the job and is also one reason why, having made that effort, I feel it is worth featuring this undertaking as a follow-up blog. Another is the growing salience of VP in public discourse. I believe this means there will be sufficient general interest to justify showcasing the result.
Having said that, I had better issue a trigger warning. Please understand that what follows will be longer and less humorous than usual, without any particular structure leading you through from one paragraph to the next. I will simply be responding, first to Nick’s points then to Ethan’s. As such, the text itself, as opposed to inherent interest in VP, is so dull it may send you into a coma. There is more than you might expect, at the start, on research by Dr James Cantor. You have been warned!
RESPONSE TO NICK
“Dr. Cantor’s scientific findings…appear to be generally accepted by other scientists, including Mike Bailey who we both trust. His work has also been confirmed by other researchers. Check out the resource section of our web site for some recent studies.”
What Mike Bailey and I both accept, along with others who have been taking an interest, is that James Cantor is a scientist of some repute and that his findings are interesting.
It is not true, though, that all of these findings are generally accepted. Cantor, for instance, has concluded from his own research and that of others, that paedophilia is a sexual orientation. I think he is right, and increasingly this seems to be the consensus, but the position is nevertheless contested. In one of the sources (“Are paedophiles’ brains wired differently?”) listed on your website resource section, he is quoted thus:
“Paedophilia is something that we are essentially born with, does not appear to change over time and it’s as core to our being as any other sexual orientation is.”
But Dr Paul Fedoroff is quoted in the same article as an expert with a very different view who thinks paedophiles can be “cured”. As you know, he and his colleagues (lead author Müller K.) published a claim to this effect in a peer-reviewed journal. His paper is listed on your website. Mike Bailey rebutted it, and Fedoroff et al. rebutted the rebuttal.
How are non-scientists like you or I supposed to know whom to believe? As responsible people, I don’t think it makes sense just to latch onto the first scientist who comes along who seems to know his stuff. We need to think about the evidence for ourselves, just as a lay jury must think about the evidence-based claims made in court by an expert witness (or possibly by competing experts on opposite sides).
Having said that, I have never personally disputed any of Cantor’s findings or claimed to have grounds upon which to do so. That may surprise you. It may even surprise Cantor, because his own reaction to my sceptical questions has always been one on knee-jerk hostility towards anybody coming from an “advocacy” position. He simply has no interest in patiently addressing such questions when it is easier just to hurl abuse.
Please understand that what I have disputed (but only through questions, not assertions) has never been Cantor’s findings but rather his interpretation of those findings. For instance, he wrote a paper about the “deficiency” in paedophiles’ brains of white matter.
There is a huge presumption in that word deficiency. It suggests that something is wrong. But it ain’t necessarily so. A post mortem examination of Einstein’s brain showed (or so it was reported in Neuroscience Letters in 1996) he had a smaller brain than average for an adult male: 1.2kg as opposed to average 1.4kg. Does that mean he had a “deficiency” of brain power? Clearly not. Even when brain size is different on average between two entire classes of person (men’s brains are on average larger than women’s), it is unwise to leap to conclusions about superior functionality based on size alone.
Indeed, even where brain differences have been associated with a dysfunction, such as lack of social skills of people with Asperger’s, that brain style may also go along with exceptionally high cognitive functioning: there are plenty of geeks around with Asperger’s, and they make a huge contribution to the advancement of science, engineering, etc.
Cantor is well aware of the dangers of assuming inferiority based just on evidence of difference. He must be. He is gay. He knows there are research findings showing that gay men have subtly different physical development at the foetus stage, which is associated with disproportionately high left-handedness (as with paedophiles!), a different ratio between the length of one finger to another, etc. But he does not leap to the conclusion that gay people are inferior; nor should he.
That is exactly what he does with paedophiles though. He uses the word “deficiency” in relation to paedophiles’ brains and then, talking about brain development of the foetus, he speculates:
“A possible cause may be maternal stress or malnourishment.”
“The more we can zero in on exactly what’s going on and when it’s happening, the greater chance of being able to prevent it from developing in the first place.”
Who could argue against such sympathetic common sense? Who would not wish to eliminate maternal stress or malnourishment?
Well fine, let’s do research on that.
But note the unexamined assumption that paedophilia is caused by an undesirable condition, and the scientist’s job is to find a way to eliminate it.
If Cantor is really being objectively sympathetic and humane, why doesn’t he apply the same logic to the gay population, given that they too are the product of in utero developmental anomalies? If he is really clever, he might be able to stop people being “born gay”, including any future Cantor clones! I doubt he will be applying for research grants along those lines though.
And here is another dodgy assumption, in the very same short passage from your own cited resources. He claims it is as though paedophiles have cross-wiring in the brain. And, on this basis:
“It’s as if, in these people, when they perceive a child, it’s triggering the sexual instincts instead of triggering the nurturing instincts.”
The assumption here is that when the sexual instinct is turned on, the nurturing side is switched off. What Cantor does not seem to have considered, or does not wish to examine, in the possibility that for paedophiles (or for those of us who love kids as opposed to raping them) erotic and nurturing feelings towards children are not in opposition to each other. As with many mothers, they go together. In male paedophiles such feelings could well arise from a slight feminisation of the brain in utero.
As for what I think of Cantor’s findings, as opposed to his interpretations of them, I have often entertained sceptical thoughts but I have never had strong enough evidence to contest them, or not until recently.
For instance, Cantor reported that paedophiles tend to have a significantly lower IQ than average, based on forensic sampling. It would have been easy to rubbish such work on the basis that most paedophiles in the community are likely to be more intelligent than those who get caught committing offences. In fact, though, Cantor’s research is quite sophisticated and takes this possibility into account. Rather than making a weak criticism of his IQ claim on Sexnet or elsewhere, I have held my tongue.
Recently, though, I see there is a new forensic study which comes up with completely different findings, showing paedophiles’ IQ is normal:
Azizian, A. et al., 2015. A summary at the Paraphilia Research website begins “This new study joins previous research in finding that pedophiles have normal IQ.” A separate link to the previous research in question is extensively referenced. I have yet to read and assess all this, but we are talking about peer-reviewed studies.
One further point about research, before I move on. You proudly point to your resources section, which includes academic papers. I would point out, though, that it is a rather loaded selection, notably excluding work showing lack of harm associated with adult-child sexual contacts (notably the Rind et al. 1998 meta-analysis) or with positive outcomes.
Moving on from Cantor, and from research, you write:
>You are wrong when you say that I don’t criticize sex offender treatment programs.
I did not quite say that, but I accept that I inadvertently implied it. My apologies for that.
>Mike Bailey knows why I posted the link to the article [i.e. the Vice News piece discussed last time] because he, Ethan and I had private correspondence about it before I posted it. I was intrigued by the quote that was attributed to you because it sounded like you regretted not taking the path that VP has taken. Given your hostility toward us, that surprised me.
I do not doubt any of this. What I find harder to accept is that you had no further motivation, of a less charitable kind. You use the media, at every opportunity, to badmouth “pro-contacters”. Why would your approach be any different when trying to influence people on Sexnet?
>It never occurred to me that you would be so offended by the fact that someone from our group said mean things about you in the article. Like Ethan, I would have thought that you would be accustomed to this, and that you would not be so thin skinned.
That’s a bit like punching a woman in the face when you see her, then excusing yourself by saying, “I know your husband often beats you up, so I guess you are used to it and won’t mind me hitting you as well.”
It also ignores what I said in this latest blog:
“I have no trouble living with Brett’s disapproval but being branded “pro-contact” is another matter entirely because it slyly misrepresents those of us who would like to see cultural changes and legal reforms leading to the possibility of sexual self-determination for all.”
Let me emphasise those first words: “I have no trouble living with Brett’s disapproval”. You are right to say one becomes inured to “mean things” that are said. If I were to lose sleep over insults on Twitter, or get desperately upset over routine tabloid vilification, I wouldn’t last long as a heretic.
The general rule, I think, is that bad-mouthing from those who are either ignorant, or just hired guns, is pretty much like water off a duck’s back in terms of personal impact. It can be much more wounding to hear unwelcome “home truths” from a close friend, or anybody one respects.
Or, indeed, from anyone whose views are likely to be respected by others because they appear to have some special knowledge. That would include scientists such as Cantor, and also you and Ethan (and Todd and Brett) because you are insiders to the experience of being MAPs. When you are nakedly hostile it is thus likely to influence a lot of people; also, your lack of solidarity with your fellow MAPs feels deeply treacherous.
I am sure you are aware of this. So the fact that you twist the knife at every opportunity does you no credit. It merely confirms you as vicious rather than virtuous.
I have no power in this matter though. Neither do any of us here so far as I can tell. All I can do is implore you not to abuse your own influence in the world. You can make your case on behalf of the non-offending paedophile quite effectively without resorting to incredibly offensive (especially to anyone less inured than me, and that will include most of the Kind community) anti “pro-contacter” propaganda.
You can simply choose to speak for yourselves and for other non-offenders, a category which I would think includes many of us heretics here, especially these days. Oh, and by the way, as long as you, Ethan and others go under pseudonyms we only have your word for it that you are non-offenders. Not that I am saying you ought to give your real names, nor am I accusing you. Just saying. As for your forum members, there will surely be former offenders among them who are now sincerely trying to stay “virtuous”, but not all will necessarily succeed.
While I am at it on the matter of pseudonyms, I would add another matter that should give the media some grounds for wondering just how kosher you are: VP has no constitution. You and Ethan are answerable to no one in the way you run it. You say you have “members” but there appears to be no democratic structure. You cannot be voted off the executive. This is perhaps not a great problem at the moment, especially as you do not seem to be asking anyone for money. Of course, a similar criticism could be made of Heretic TOC. However, like other personal blogs, this one is openly focused on my personal views and those of others I choose to host – usually fellow heretics but sometimes not, as in the present case. An organisation such as VP, by contrast, which aims to help distressed paedophiles (though curiously this is not listed in your official aims, which are very restricted and tucked away as FAQ Q5) arguably should be more accountable.
If VP continues as at present, successfully attracting publicity and further “members”, it will become increasingly difficult to monitor and moderate interactions on the forum on a purely volunteer basis, which will in any case have its downside in terms of quality control – as we have seen when Brett has been let loose.
If you feel the need to present a distinctive VP brand, I don’t think we heretics could have any objection to your doing so in a slightly different way. If you are going to set yourself apart, let it be from those who abduct, rape and murder kids, or who trick and exploit them: people who do real harm.
Nor would I object to you saying you do not think kids can consent, and that present laws should remain. That is certainly an arguable case and I have no quarrel at all with you saying you subscribe to it. Where I think most of us here would part company with you is when you collude with the tabloids and others in vilifying those of us who take a different position. That is just plain wrong, as wrong as the KKK used to be in attacking “dirty n……s” who “lust after our womenfolk” and seek “miscegenation”.
So please, I politely implore you, just stop it now!
RESPONSE TO ETHAN
Attempting to justify use of the term “pro-contact”, Ethan wrote:
>As you note, I see the possible confusion with using “pro-contact”, but I don’t see any strong evidence that Brett or Todd or the public at large are interpreting this as being in favor of adult sexual contact with kids today.
As Dissident wrote earlier today, it is a safe assumption that many will take it that way.
>”They are sufficiently repelled by pedophiles who confidently conclude that it’s only societal attitudes and laws that keep adult-child sex from being OK — even if they do obey the laws.”
But don’t expect Kind folk here to be happy with your efforts to reinforce how “repellent” we are. As Stephen6000 implied with his short sceptical question, you are going out of your way to reinforce prejudice based on whipped up emotions, not facts.
>“we have irreconcilable purists on our own side”
There are people whose views I respect who perhaps take an even dimmer view than I do of dealings with mainstream media such as Vice News, and who likewise might see no point in any sort of negotiation with VP over language such as “pro-contact” versus “pro-choice”, or whatever. Is that being a “purist”? Perhaps “realist” might be an expression more favoured by some.
>Todd and Brett rightly point out that even a few loud voices can stain those of us with moderate views.
Neither Todd nor Brett sound moderate to me, I have to say. Their denunciation of “pro-contacters” is rabid in its ferocity, and the VP website is likewise fiercely partisan.
Yes, I’ve taken a potshot or two myself against you guys, notably in my last blog, but only because there are limits to turning the other cheek. None of this antagonism would have started without VP setting out deliberately, right from the outset, to aim at making yourselves look good at Kind expense. It’s all there, quite clearly on your website, in your public pronouncements and even in your name: you are “virtuous” and lose no opportunity to define yourself against the “selfishness”, “self-serving rationalisations”, etc of the despised Other i.e. anyone with a different view to you, no matter how principled and indeed moderate it may be.
While our views are indeed a long way from the mainstream I don’t think we can be accused of extremism in our methods, which have always been peaceful, democratic and inclusive, which is why you are allowed to participate on this forum. We are reasonable, and as Mike Bailey says, principled. There is nothing immoderate about that.
We give no cause for you to talk in public about us in the extraordinarily hateful way you do, making us out to be all but sub-human, just as the worst of the tabloid media do. And then you, and more especially Nick, have the gall to claim we are being hateful. The hypocrisy is so naked and extreme it beggars belief that you can expect to be taken seriously.
>But the trends seem to be against you. “Holding your ground” seems like very much of a rearguard action.
Yes, it is. As you rightly point out, we have been losing ground for decades, since long before VP came along: victim feminism and “respectable” gay politics have steadily gained ground at our expense in mass culture. This does not, however, mean we are wrong or should give up. The early Christians had to fight for centuries before the tide turned in their favour.
Where I think we are holding our own and have some prospect of doing better in the near future is in the extent to which we MAPs begin to see ourselves as Kind rather than Virtuous. Bear in mind, it is not just Heretic TOC versus VP: other websites, such as those listed in the Blogroll here, offer good information and thoughtful analysis, with Consenting Humans as a recent very impressive addition. Dissident has given other examples earlier today.
There are also organisations which do not support the “heretical” perspective seen here but which are truly moderate where VP is not: notably B4U-ACT in the US, which I see has its annual workshop coming up in April, and FUMA, its fledgling UK equivalent, as mentioned in Heretic TOC last time.
>Meanwhile, 1,300 people have been inspired to sign up with Virtuous Pedophiles in the last 2.5 years. I don’t think there is any group where pro-legalization opinions are welcome (see how precise I’m being?) that has attracted members in anything like those numbers.
As we have seen from Samuel, there are grounds for scepticism over the meaning of these numbers. Also, it is not comparing like with like because Heretic TOC has not offered membership. This site scores hundreds of hits every day (over 500 yesterday). If we were to go down the membership route it is entirely possible we would get as many sign-ups as VP, and with much less chance of people leaving through disillusion over the fact that you offer help (well, you offer your forum) that may not be experienced as all that helpful.
About your forum, you say:
“A forum provides a community to reduce isolation and desperation. The Virtuous Pedophiles forum provides a place where pedophiles can discuss living with their attraction, but with the shared understanding that sexual activity with children is wrong and that we are not trying to make it more acceptable.”
I find myself wondering exactly what this discussion amounts to, and whether many or most forum participants end up feeling they have been helped. Nick referred on Sexnet to data I have supposedly ignored. Trawling the VP website in response to this accusation, though, I do not see anything that fits the bill, except perhaps for the “First Words” section of “Who We Are”. This showcases “…the initial messages we have received…. Reading them will give a flavor of our diversity, the themes that come up over and over again…”
These messages are interesting, and worthy of study, but they are indeed first words, which tell us why the writers came to VP in the first place. But they tell us nothing of how these people feel about VP after they have been around for a while, or why they leave if they do – perhaps because Brett has trashed their posts or they have not found the sense of community they had hoped for, or any real sense of how they can live with their paedophilia.
I may be wrong about this. Perhaps there is a lot of satisfaction. If so, VP would do well to ask members for their thoughts after they have spent some time on the forum, and when they leave, or go silent. Is there, indeed, any formal procedure for leaving? People register, but do they de-register? If not, then as time goes by your “membership” is going to be increasingly inflated by lost souls looking for a way out, a bit like the Hotel California:
“Relax,” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!”
Much better than just VP’s own survey, though, would be to encourage formal independent research for a peer-reviewed journal article. My call for this on Sexnet has so far gone without a positive response.