Sexual rights for youngsters and the fight for their self-determination in the Netherlands since the 1950s

Gert Hekma

In the slipstream of the sexual revolution, a pedophile movement developed in the Netherlands since the late 1950s that separated itself from the homophile movement. Its main leaders were psychologist Frits Bernard and senator Ed Brongersma. Its main successes were in the 1970s when police officers, psychiatrists and politicians supported claims of self-determination for all, including young people and journalists gave these demands serious attention. The sexual revolution saw a strong critique of authority be it in the family, psychiatry, justice, education or church also from inside these institutions. A main focus was the will to change oppressive structures of the past and create (sexual) freedom for all including for youth. Feminists and gay activists denounced the family because of its patriarchal and homophobic character. But part of the sexism feminists attacked from the 1980s on was the sexual abuse of girls by fathers (replacing the topic of physical abuse of children by parents) that was soon extended to all sexual abuse of minors by adults. The idea of children who should be empowered to determine their own sexual lifes, was transformed into a perspective that sexuality was a risk and danger for young people. From the late 1990s on ("Dutroux"), the pedophile became the pivotal monster that endangered the sexual innocence of children. Risk prevention replaced self-determination. The control of the nuclear family on "their" children became more strict again and the idea of young people's sexual self-determination got totally lost.

The homosexual rights movement has never made a big issue of age issues before the sexual revolution. The main German examples are Magnus Hirschfeld’s organization Wissenschaftlich-humanitäre Komitee (1897) and Brand’s journal and group Der Eigene (1898). Hirschfeld concluded in his Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes (1914) from his rich data that 45 percent of homosexual men had a preference for adolescents and 5 percent for prepuberal boys. Der Eigene made lad love one of its main themes. After the Second World War we see a different image of the object of desire in homosexual men: it becomes a masculine young man. In the meantime two things had changed. First, the idea of desire being attraction between opposite poles had changed and now the idea was that it could only happen between similar poles. Equality replaced inequality in theories of desire. In the past husband and wife were the main examples of the such contrasts and in the homosexual scene it was queen and trade, so effeminate queer and straight guy (sailor, soldier, construction worker), man and boy, or butch and femme. Such same-sexual relations often were financially unequal as well: general practice was sex worker with client. For homosexuals of past times, gender and sexual inversion often run parallel. Second, and following the first change, homosexual men and lesbian women changed their gender identity. They went from gender-inverted identifications (queen, butch) to normal ones: they became simply male and female. Their desire now took to equality: gay with gay, lesbian with lesbian. They were only different in bed and not in their gender behavior and they looked for similar, not different partners. A new generation could no longer understand why their forebears had cultivated opposite gender behavior while they liked their own gender, and neither why they wanted to have sex with heterosexuals, alternately oppressors or people who had no real interest in homosexual sex.

This system of inequality crumbled and it put an end to sexual border traffic (gay men coveting straight men and the reverse) but also to intergenerational relations. Certainly since the sexual revolution sexual equality became the new norm. Homophiles and pedophiles parted ways in those pivotal years also due to this new ideology. This paper relates the subsequent developments of this separation of homosexuals who loved age-mates and adolescents with a focus on The Netherlands.

This country has seen some major changes in sexual politics. Being part of the French empire from 1810-1813, it got the liberal French (criminal) laws in 1811 and kept to these till 1886. So the nation went from a general condemnation of sodomy – so all non-marital coital sex – to laws that only defended rape, public indecency, adultery of wives and bringing minors under 21 years into prostitution. All other acts were overnight free from persecution although it took police and courts some time to adapt to the new system. The new Dutch criminal law of 1886 kept to the French system but now included an age of sexual consent (as the French had introduced themselves) at 16 years and articles against ‘flyers’ with obscene material. At the closure of the liberal age of the 19th century, Christian parties came forward in many states and soon got a majority in Dutch parliament profiting from the extension of the vote. Since 1900, the Netherlands got its in/famous pillarized system that divided the country in 4 main and some smaller groups - Christians (protestants and catholics) and seculars (liberals and socialists) - in terms of political and social life with the different pillars having their own institutions (parties, journals, schools, hospitals, sport clubs et cetera). In parliament, the Christians marked their rise to power by creating new sex law articles on abortion, contraceptives, porn, forbidding pimping and homosexual relations (m/f) of an adult with a minor under 21 years, This last article 248bis was to prevent seduction of youngsters into homosexuality with the idea that queers had to recruit because they did not reproduce their unwanted particularities. It went against the idea that homosexuality was an innate condition as Hirschfeld and his Dutch followers Arnold Aletrino, Lucien von Römer and Jacob Schorer believed. In 1912, the introduction of this article 248bis led to the foundation of a Dutch chapter of Hirschfeld’s WHK: the NWHK. World-wide this was the second national movement for homosexual rights. Abolition of the article was its main aim. Schorer, the leader, would write irregular annual reviews, articles for journals, lobby, answer letters of gays and lesbians, create contacts between them, collect a large library on homosexual themes and distribute among certain professions (medical doctors, lawyers, clergymen and students of those disciplines) informative leaflets on homosexuality with the NWHK’s points of view of legal and medical issues.

The new law and the Christian political majority made the Netherlands into a sexually conservative country. Article 248bis meant that pedophilia and homosexuality were seen as being connected because homosexual desires awakened through pedophile contacts. It took time to impose a Christianity-based puritanical morality in the country. The German occupation may have been a major trauma for the Dutch, it meant little for sexual politics. The Germans may have introduced their own, stricter legislation and forbidden all homosexual contacts but courts mainly have used it to condemn minors who were innocent according to the Dutch law. After the war, in 1946 the NWHK was succeeded by the COC (Center for Recreation and Culture) of a new generation of activists. Its heterosexual companion had been since 1886 the family planning organization NMB (Neo-Mathusian League) that transformed in 1946 to NVSH (Dutch Society for Sexual Reform; the name taken from the prewar World League of Sexual Reform – associations that don’t exist in modern times). In terms of sex laws and medical theorizing, the 1950s were the worst time for homosexuals in terms of legal persecutions and medical therapies such as castration (as in the UK, Gerrmany, France). Due to the restrictive sexual politics, these also were bad time for heterosexuals in particular women who were still expected to remain virgins until marriage. But the same 1950s saw also the first openings in this conservative morality. Psychiatrists and clergymen who became involved in social work started to listen to their clients and to believers and changed their approach from straightforward rejection to understanding their miseries. They became more tolerant on homosexuals, unmarried couples and contraceptives (that should rather be a question of the believers’ own conscience than a sin) and voiced these opinions on the radio and the new medium TV.

The change of opinion in the two more conservative pillars on sexual questions meant that the majority of the Dutch became more understanding. But it went much further. Due to its conservative morality, the Netherland witnessed a later demographic transition and the country had seen a birth wave after the Second World War meaning there were many more youngsters in the 1960s – and they became adult at a moment of quick economic growth. Moreover, the small but radical group Provo (abbreviation of provocateur) radicalized politics. It was in favor of free public transportation (white bikes), squatting as a solution to housing shortage, in favor of ecological solutions and against polluting cars, legalization of drugs, more sexual freedoms for women including contraceptives such as the new pill and abolition of the anti-gay law. All these issues, voiced in the 1960s by a small minority, would become symbols of Dutch tolerance in the next generation. The Provo’s went even further and, being against monogamy and polygamy, proposed a general amoral promiscuity as one member stated in the first issue of their new journal of the same name. Leader Roel van Duyn wrote not about Reich or Marcuse but on the marquis de Sade. Youngsters were inspired by Provo and left en masse the Christian pillars for Marxism. Churches faced secularization from the inside while they moreover suffered from a strong outflow.

A main point of this political breakthrough was opposition against authority. The tyrannical traditions of the past were disputed and resisted: youngsters against parents, daughters against fathers and sexism, gays and lesbians against homophobia, and all against power in churches, politics, schools, universities, psychiatry, the arts and so on. Provo wanted policemen to stop being bullies and to become nice social workers. Many protested against dictatorial regimes in Spain, Greece and Portugal (but few against Soviet tyrannies), against colonialism and NATO colonial wars, against the Vietnam war and nuclear energy. But the remarkable thing was that many people from inside the institutions joined the struggle against authority or stepped out. Priests and monks left church and monasteries, anti-psychiatrists changed asylums from the inside, teachers joined their pupils and professors their students in the fight for democracy and wrote red books of information on the school system including topics of drugs, sex, abortion. Traditionally conservative parties and journals made a sea change in opinion. The rebellion of youth against authority proved very successful.

The struggle against the authority of an older generation went smoothly together with a fight for sexual freedoms. Girls didn’t want to remain virgins until marriage, gays and lesbians to be called sick, sinful and criminal. All over the country people wanted to act upon their sexual desires. Authors wrote subversive and sexually radical novels and used three letter words. The TV entered most Dutch households and showed a message of liberation from old (sexual) restraints. In 1968, sex and porn journals (Candy, Chick, Suck) entered the market and had immediate success. Many small journals specialized in sex and relation ads and sold so well that regular journals soon took over this niche market. The chair of the NVSH voiced the demands of the radicalizing minority in the annual presidential lecture of 1967: the country should get rid of all laws that impeded sexual liberties. Laws on homosexuality, porn, prostitution, divorce, abortion should be abolished or adapted and unmarried women (also girls) should get access to contraceptives. She also wanted to change the gender and sexual dichotomy meaning men should discover their feminine and women their masculine side; and homosexuals their straight and heterosexuals their gay interests. She wanted to realize this program in 2000 but the legal changes were achieved within ten years while the sex and gender dichotomy got only more deeply engrained in Dutch society.

These changes affected all sexual minorities, first of all gays and lesbians. Homosexuality had been a sin, a crime and a disease and stopped being so around 1970. Homosexuals moved from their closets into the streets and came out. Their sex lives moved from public toilets, parks and one-hour hotels to dark rooms, sauna’s and bedrooms in their own apartments. The NVSH succumbed from its success and also because of internal conflicts between those who wanted revolution versus reform and lost most of its 200.000 members of the late 1960s. Groups that hoped to profit from the sexual climate got their own place in the NVSH, namely transsexuals and transvestites, exhibitionists, sadomasochists and pedophiles. These alliances could not stop the drain out of the NVSH.

My focus here is on the pedophiles. They had started to organize in 1960 when Frits Bernard began the publishing house Enclave where he published two of his novels Vervolgde Minderheid (Persecuted Minority) and Costa Brava, both translated into English. Enclave also became a pedophile support group. Ed Brongersma had been a state senator for the Dutch Labor Party, but lost his position in 1950 being condemned for having sex with a 16-year old lad under 248bis. Both men worked for the COC and were co-editors of its journal Vriendschap (Friendship) using pseudonyms as most people in the organization did before 1965, Bernard as Victor Servatius and Brongersma as O. Brunoz. In 1960, the latter published under his pseudonym a book on pedophilia with the COC and Bernard published a French translation in 1964. In 1963, his party chose Brongersma again in the senate. The COC changed its tactics in the 1960s, wanting to become respectable and took distance from lad, drag and leather aficionados. Bernard and Brongersma lost their position in the COC journal and they kept for some years silent on the issue. Bernard had published some more novels and some of his own academic work in Enclave in the early sixties but the group stopped functioning in the late sixties and only restarted in 1983. Soon the NVSH would take over the work on pedophilia and be the main supporter of pedophile rights.

The lobby against 248bis would remain a part of Brongersma’s work for the COC and being a senator and a lawyer he used his expertise to helped remove the article from the law. It was an easy victory as most parties except the most orthodox Protestant parties supported decriminalization. The radicalism of the sexual revolution spread out into politics. The main argument against the law was however not pedophilia but that young gay people between 16 and 21 years were not allowed to visit the COC or other disco’s and were liable to prosecution when they slept with a slightly older partner of the same sex. Young people were able to decide for themselves what they wanted to sexually, ran the argument, and they should be empowered to do so. Self-determination against authority was a wide-spread idea in those years of the sexual revolution and some wondered why such a high age of consent at 16 still remained in the books.

The first serious publications on pedophilia after the initial activities of Enclave would come from a surprising corner. The forensic psychiatrist Michiel Zeegers wrote a booklet for the NVSH on Vice in The Netherlands (1967). It was intended to create humane understanding for sex criminals in their social context and to stress the limitations of sex laws. From his experience, Zeegers stated that men who were condemned for sex with minors were rarely pedophiles or homosexuals, but rather the feeble minded, elderly men without occupations or fathers who due to difficult circumstances like losing their wife came to these acts. They had little idea about sexuality because of persisting taboos. Seduction by the minors was not uncommon.

After the famous talk show host Willem Duys had spoken with a mother about the rape of her 4 year old daughter on May 7, 1971, he declared he should have killed the rapist with his own hands - had it been his child. Many Dutch showed agreement with this example of ‘civil courage’, but the NVSH was concerned about his hate language. They made a book on the issue Sex with children (Bernard et al 1972). It contained articles of both Bernard and Brongersma, journalist Peter van Eeten of the leading liberal journal NRC and psychiatrist Wijnand Sengers who had successfully proposed the depathologisation of homosexuality with his booklet Simply the same? (1968) and his dissertation Homosexuality as complaint (1969, meaning it should only be treated as patients had complaints, not because it was inherently a disease). Sengers confessed in his article that he had accepted social and scholarly prejudices in both cases without questioning them but because attitudes towards sexuality had changed he had taken a better look. He suggested a similar strategy as with gay emancipation: information, self-acceptance and –organization, research into children’s sexual experience and making sex with a child a crime of complaint, meaning persecution would only take place when there was a complaint (29). Bernard had placed a call in the NVSH monthly to receive stories of assumed victims. In the ten cases he discussed this description did not fit at all. They mainly concerned young guys who had had sex with an older man and had enjoyed the relation, always in sexual and often intellectual terms of an education that they did not receive at home. Some had taken the initiative such as a woman who told an exciting story about her sex with an ‘uncle’ in his garden house. Van Eeten remarked that the abolition of article 248bis had been motivated by the interest youngsters had ‘to have early on the freedom to experiment and gather sexual experiences’ but why putting a limit at 16 years? Children might have sexual feelings but their expression remained forbidden (96-97). The book ended with five interviews of pedophiles, four of them with a preference for boys. This preponderance of homosexuality in the pedophile debate would remain the same in the years to come, probably because heterosexual pedophiles rather found partners in the private world of families – incest being the heterosexual version.

In 1971, a working group pedophilia was created in the NVSH that got official status in 1973, next to similar clubs for transsexuals and transvestites, sadomasochists and exhibitionists. On its first international conference in 1972, Bernard (1974) held a survey among 50 pedophile men. In this group of activists, half had been condemned for sex with minors. Except for two bisexuals all were interested in boys, especially those in their early puberty (9-15years). The sex mainly consisted of mutual masturbation and much less of penetration such as anal or coital sex. 90% of the respondents had no desire to change sexual preference. A peak reached the group with a conference in March 1977 in Amsterdam. Speakers were the chair of the NVSH, a sociologist, a criminologist and Brongersma and also an understanding superintendent of the Rotterdam vice squad and active member of the Pacifist-Socialist Party Bouwe Kalma (Zwerus 1977). Here it was rather the police than the pedophile who created the problems and present police officers confirmed so. In their profession there existed a great lack of knowledge that necessitated more information (the radical movement Provo had spread the idea that policemen better be social workers with sweets and plasters than bullies, that prevention was better than persecution). In his peroration the chair of the meeting quoted a letter of a 14-year old boy who had a relation with a man of 23. It was a criticism of the point of view of forensic psychiatrist and ministerial advisor S. van der Kwast who had argued against pedophilia that young kids had all chance to satisfy their sexual needs with peers. The boy:

‘I rather court with adults than with kids my age, with my lover. I have a very nice relation with my friend John. It should be terrible for me if we were not allowed to have contact any longer because of that stupid law. I should like it when you would not write any more such non-sense but rather help to change the law. I not only like it to have sex with him but also to be with him when we have no sex and to discuss everything. You adults create the problems, not we. My parents know nothing of our relation and don’t need to.’ (Zwerus 1977: 109)

The same year the NVSH published a little volume edited by Füss and Goslinga ….. and my little friend loves me. 23 stories from real life (1977). Here also first a request in Sextant that gathered many and mostly positive responses. These were stories of youngsters among themselves, sometimes incestuous, with adult men and one of a girl with her female teacher, most quite recent and a few from a faraway past. Few writers looked back on the events with resentment and most of these Sextant-readers had good or even excellent memories. Much depended on the response of partner and social environment: if they had negative attitudes, the experience was unpleasant. But that was a conclusion that the editors left to the reader.

NCGV and pedophilia

Since 1973, Sengers was chair of a committee of the influential National Centre for Public Mental Health (NCGV) that published a report on Pedophilia and society (1976). According to the committee, the problem of pedophile contacts was mainly located in the social context and the most serious problems originated in the involvement of the police – an often used argument in those years. Municipal Health Care (GGZ) had to reflect how she could contribute to the integration of pedophilia. The committee put forward the same arguments as had been done in the case of homosexuality. Pedophilia was not a disease and pedophiles did not feel sick, healing was impossible except, perhaps, helping the client to abstain from engaging in sexual contacts. Therapy was expensive with few results in terms of a cure. Depathologization and decriminalization were preferred. In that period of the sexual revolution, there existed strong criticism of marriage and nuclear family that were regarded as traditional and sex-negative institutions, for feminists a bonfire of women’s and for gays and lesbians of homosexual oppression – a reason why the COC up into the 1990s was not in favor of same-sex marriage.

The message of the committee was explained by its member Rouweler-Wuts in Pedophiles, in contact or conflict with society? (1976) The book was intended to refute prejudices on pedophiles and to give information for social workers, parents and educators. In the preface, sociologist and ex-member of the COC-board of directors Cees Straver positively remarked on modern education that familiarized children from an early age on with ‘the naked body, with erections, with sexual play’. This study on pedophiles was, according to him, a starting point of research that should dig deeper and ask the question ‘under what conditions affective and sexual relations with adults would stimulate the child in its development, or aggravate its dependence.’

On October 28, 1978 leading journalist Koos Postema interviewed in Een groot uur u (Your finest hour), a popular and taboo-breaking late-night talkshow, Brongersma, protestant radio clergyman Alje Klamer and NVSH collaborator Hannie Boidin. Brongersma told how beautiful pedophile contacts could be for both partners, Klamer empathized with the pedophile and Boidin underlined that children had sexual feeling that parents rather denied (see TV program Andere Tijden, Other times, March 19, 2011). The heydays for pedophilia were in these times around 1980 but soon the tide would turn.

Changing the criminal law?

The Melai-committee worked since long on reform proposals for the sex laws and came with an interim report in 1980. On the issue of sex with minors, it wanted generally to keep to the existing law, also the age of consent at 16 year. This report meant a turn in the debate. First, it was remarkable that in these times that the legal profession still mainly consisted of males, most members of the committee were female (7 op 12) including feminists (criminologist Dessaur, better known as the lesbian essayist and novelist Andreas Burnier, and Jeanne Doomen who wrote on rape). Children might have sexual feelings but there was no reason to allow adults to act upon these because they could easily use their sway. In an attachment, a protest against the age of consent proposal was added. It was signed Coornhert League (a law reform collective), NVSH, Humanist Union and radio clergyman Klamer. They argued that the article made no difference between desired and undesired contacts, that criminalization could have undesirable consequences for the child as with police examinations and that the article would be applied arbitrarily. The section child and youth psychiatry of the Dutch Society for Psychiatry opposed this letter because it defended the interests of the pedophile rather than of the child and negated those of the parents. The mentioned coalition subsequently sent its letter again now with many more signatories: leading Dutch psychiatrists, some psychologists, the University of Amsterdam faculty of education, well-known philosophers, law and crime specialists, social organizations (sex education, abortion, family planning, gay and feminist), some parents and most secular political parties. It was a broad coalition of left and liberal in the Netherlands.

Intellectuals of all pillars created a committee and contributed to a volume of the overarching Dutch Conversation Center (NGC). Sex legislation in crossfire (1983) had a message of sexual freedom and self-determination. No women participated. They had been searched but not found which was slightly amazing after all women who participated in the government’s commission. It was a response to the report Melai. A humanist turned against the idea of morality (the Dutch sex law was called morality law) because all legislation concerned moral questions. Two Jesuits opposed special laws because they thought it unjust to put the sexual apart. Labor MP H.J. Roethof was against patronizing of the government with such laws. The retired, catholic chief prosecutor J.J. Abspoel (1983) considered it to be an unproven assumption that sexual contacts for youngster under 16 years were always harmful. He also rejected the argument that children had no insights regarding sexuality. In fact, they often had these and moreover, with this argument, sexual acts should be forbidden to many adults. He found it unnecessary that parents played a role in the criminal procedure. Youngsters older than 12 years should have responsibility in such important cases that concerned themselves. Another author gave a strong plea for sexual freedom – legislation should be based not in principles of morality but of freedom. There was no reason to forbid sexual variations unless they caused harm or impaired the liberty of others. A free society should allow space for minorities. The professor of the sociology of religion G. Dekker claimed that in a multiform society sex law could be at most pragmatic. Christian-democrat MP G.C. van Dam opposed patronizing by the government but proposed respect for the ‘gift of love connected to sex’, one of the few more conventional perspectives in the volume. Conclusions were that (private) morality rather than (public) law had priority in the field of sexuality, that the proposed pragmatic approach meant that ‘one should not criminally forbid in the field of sexuality, because it will not work’. The NGC-committee mentioned as its points of difference of opinion the questions whether a sexual morality could determine criminal law, whether groups in the population could realize ways of life confirming their own insights (apparently they referred to the pillars) and finally how objections of women against pornography should be dealt with. The proposed text of law – that the committee proposed notwithstanding the critique of the principle of a sex law – had as a main change in comparison to Melai’s suggestions a lowering of the age of sexual consent from 16 to 12 years. The penalty for rape was halved.

Children victims?

An important question regarded the potential victims. Around 1980 The Netherlands still lived in the shadow of the sexual revolution when people had starkly opposed the anti-sexual attitudes of church and state but also of disciplines such as psychiatry. Children who were the object of pedophiles were rather seen as victims of a puritanical education rather than of the sexual contacts, not unlike pedophiles would be themselves. Parents were the culprits of sexual repression. The contribution of youngsters was not only passive but they participated actively to the sexual contact: often they took themselves the initiative. Monique Möller, mother and teacher, wrote on this theme Pedofiele relaties (1983). The title indicated that the book did not regard single contacts. Most pedophiles were no monsters who abused children but the relations were often equivalent. The adult might have more often the initiative and more ascendancy because of experience, children were no passive partners and had instruments of power that they actually used such as staying away or appealing to the law. They were less dependent on the pedophile than on their parents - legally, economically, physically and emotionally. Penetration was rare in these sexual relations. Speaking openly on sexuality was an advantage – parents and schools rarely did so. Some children with a free education knew what they did and this often happened with the full acceptance of the parents, sometimes in cases of pre-pubertal youngsters. The book offered very positive opinions of parents and children on pedophile contacts. The author quoted a criminologist on his beloved with whom he had a relation in his youth: ‘without that man I had gone to hell’ (12). Pedophilia was, however, no panacea for all problems of children because sometimes something could go wrong. But that happened as well in relations with parents and she pointed out that 120 children died annually in The Netherland due to abuse in the nuclear family (nowadays they say 12 per year). Pedophile relations might have negative consequences such as jealousy between parents and beloved and she also mentioned the harm that was caused by police examinations. The book offered a nuance of the myths that existed on pedophilia in the Netherlands: boys didn’t become gay because of it; penetration was rare; most often there was no harm; the pedophile was no stranger, was not only lust directed and not mentally disturbed.

Möller mainly based her book on research done by Theo Sandfort on sexual contacts of children with adults. He published on this issue in his MA, articles and books. In his dissertation Het belang van de ervaring (The meaning of experience, 1988) he concluded that voluntary sexual contacts of youngsters before they turned 16 years with adults had in general a positive influence on their later sexual life– they learned from these relations and were content with them. They were less afraid for sex and liked lust better. The opposite was true for involuntary contacts. Youngsters with such experiences got mental and sexual problems. Sandfort had interviewed for his research 283 young adults.


The studies of Sandfort came while the climate was changing. As the volume of the NGC indicated, the voice of women was too little listened to. And women would start to speak up. In the 1980s the topic of sexual violence was put on the political agenda. In 1983, liberal state-secretary Annelien Kappeyne van de Coppello published the Provisory Report Regarding the Policy to Combat Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls. Psychologist Nel Draijer (1988), along with others, started research. She focused on sexual abuse of girls inside the family and concluded that it often happened – one sixth of her respondents had been a victim – with negative consequences for their mental well-being (a conclusion that Han Israëls contested in 2001). The topic had been preceded by the issue of physical abuse of children by parents and now got this a gendered focus of male adult and female child.

From father-daughter incest it would soon become the pedosexual stranger – adult men with children of both genders. In 1987, the town of Oude Pekela was the location of the first scandal that created a national moral panic on pedophilia. Some sixty children should have been abused by men in clown-costumes who should have abducted the school kids during the lunch break to farms where porn-film should have been made. For weeks it was prime time news with the parties diametrically opposed. Two doctors, husband and wife, and a liberal state senator who was child psychiatrist supported the villagers who strongly believed in facts that the police could not discover. They reproached authorities to be lax. Town and observers remain divided on the issue. One of Holland’s main theater directors, Gerardjan Rijnders, made in his film Oude Tongen (1994) fun with the panic but the villagers from the Northern part of the country saw such presentations as arrogance of Westerners (a critical history is Rossen 1989, Kleijwegt 2011 offers an oposite view).

Making fun with such panic was soon out of question. There were always more scandals, some serious but many unfounded like Oude Pekela, in 1988 child care center ‘Bolderkar’, in 1996 of police commissioner Lancée who should have abused his daughter, about basements under a school in Emmererfscheidenveen where pupils should have collectively abused. No proof of abuse and not even of a basement was found (NRC 7/13/2000). Since 1984, USA politicians put pressure on the Netherlands to fight harder against pedophilia and child porn (the country was seen as one of the main producers and transit markets of porn). First, this accusation was dismissed as vile American puritanism (the conservative Reagan years just had started in 1981) but soon Dutch specialists like vice police officers and psychologists supported the American complaints. Later, the gay movement also made a turn in particular 1994 when the ILGA – with the COC as a member that proposed a compromise – threw out pedophile groups such as the Dutch Martijn. The ILGA succumbed under the pressure of the USA and the Clinton government. In 2001 Martijn was no longer welcome on the national Dutch gay parade Pink Sathurday. The Dutch Police Association(NPB) threatened to retract if the pedophiles were allowed to join and the gays made a choice for the police and against the pedophiles (Gay Krant 7/7/2001). In this always more hostile climate Brongerma published the Dutch translation of his two-volume main work Jongensliefde. Seks en erotiek tussen jongens en mannen (1987/1993) that appeared before as Loving Boys (1986/1990) - already then learned but dated studies.

Law change

Notwithstanding a changing climate, a remarkable law change was enacted in 1991 regarding sex with minors: article 247 became a crime of complaint. Prosecution of sexual acts of an adult with a minor between 12 and 16 years could only take place with a complaint of child, parents or child custody. Christian-Democrat-minister Hirsch Ballin in a right-liberal cabinet was responsible for this and other changes in the law. In article 242 rape had been more broadly defined as carnal intercourse with a female, it now became gender-neutral sexual penetration and it was made a crime also inside marriage. The introduction of the possibility of complaint was the result of a remarkable correction. Carnal intercourse with 12 to 16-years old girls had been an offense of complaint that offered the traditional escape of marriage of victim and perpetrator but this was not the case with indecency with youngsters under 16 years. In parliament, this legal discrepancy was removed and both offenses were only prosecuted on complaint. The definition of article 245 was also broadened from carnal intercourse with a girl between 12 and 16 years to the gender-neutral sexual penetration so including homosexual cases (Schuijer 1993; Moerings en Swier 1997). Indecency with youngsters only remained for a short period an offense of complaint. In 2002 this exigency was removed and nearly nobody could at that time understand sex with minors under 16 years had ever been permitted.

The affair Dutroux and its consequences

Since the late 1990s demonization became the norm. Politics and police quickly learned their lessons. The definitive reversal of opinion on pedophilia came in 1996 with the Belgian Dutroux-scandal and the Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Stockholm. The theme now came high on the political agenda in a very negative way. On September, 23d of that year Brongersma appeared on the main political program on TV but there was no longer the 1970s understanding for him. Boosted by organizations such as the catholic Terre des Hommes and Childright Worldwide the focus was now on child abuse in prostitution and much less elsewhere in the economy where it is much more common – sex work was seen as a much worse evil and a better tear jerker. Mentioned foundations systematically exaggerate numbers on minors in the sex industry. In 1998 they came with an estimate of 900 boy prostitutes under 16 years in Amsterdam alone– a higher assessment than any researcher had given for the total group (Gurp en Timman 1998; Hekma 2000 came to maximally 1000 professional mainly 16+ male sex workers for all of the Netherlands). The popular weekly Panorama started an hate campaign against child porn and pedophilia and other paper and visual media followed (Christian TV EO, largest newspaper right-wing Telegraaf and the Dutch Penthouse). The popular Spartacus Gay Guide made in Holland (that should point the way to “boy” prostitution and thus to child abuse), gay bordello’s in Rotterdam, gay bookshop Vrolijk in Amsterdam, Brongersma and Sandfort came under attack and angry people threw stones through windows (Spaink 1998). After Brongersma’s voluntary death in 1998 two debates developed. The first was on his euthanasia that was not because of unnecessary physical suffering, the Dutch legal requirement for this kind of dying, but because of serious mental suffering due these hate campaigns. The second was on his collection that was seized by the police after his death. The vice squad wanted to destroy his collection of child porn and use his correspondence to arrest ‘child abusers’. As an official committee had defined his collection as unscientific, it was not deemed necessary to preserve it. Other experts vented another opinion and finally most of the material was saved and is now kept behind closed doors because of its importance for scholarly research.

Schnabel (1999), sociologist and main advisor for the government on social issues, had been part of the first committee. He wrote a major opinion piece on pedophilia and child pornography for the leading liberal daily NRC about another case, the seizure of such material on a photo-exhibition Attack! of the major cultural Holland Festival. According to him it had become unimaginable that Freud and Kinsey had voiced so few moral concerns about sexual contacts with children. Now we had become aware of the objections against such relations and the consequences of such indecencies as indicated by the work of Nel Draijer (that concerned not pedophilia but incest). This was ‘a flagrant violation of the integrity of the child and [..] a depreciation of the child as autonomous person’. If a child made itself a choice for sex, the adult was not allowed to engage with it because such sex was always abuse. He threw the topic of child love on the dump of history and child porn was impermissible according to him. His perspective was freedom of sexual contact under the condition that it was democratic, egalitarian, equivalent and symmetrical and engaged in ‘by two equal and socially similar partners in lasting freedom’ (Hekma 2006 on the rise of the ideology of equality). Although he saw a change from an external taboo to a self-designed morality (from Fremd- to Selbstzwang), he himself partook actively in a system of forbidding and stretched it even by not only regarding the possession of but also the looking at child porn as abuse – ten years later indeed made a crime. The court deemed however that the prosecuted material was not child porn. Former minister of Justice Sorgdrager (2003) saw as reasons not to condemn that the case concerned a prestigious festival, the picture of the nude man with a hard-on was of the father with his naked son on his arm and it was made by the mother. Parenthood apparently guaranteed innocence.

In 1998 Frits Abrahams visited a meeting on pedophilia in the Rotterdam Paulus church of Visser, a clergyman and a strong defender of child lovers. Abrahams described it as the final act of understanding of pedophilia in Dutch history – the end of the discussion (NRC 12/21/1998). Positive attention would indeed become rare. In 1999, Green-Left senator and senior gay activist Bob van Schijndel came under attack because he was board member of the Foundation World Gay Center with two men who had been condemned for the sale of child porn (Parool 10/9/1999; Nieuwe Revu 10/13/1999). He swiftly retracted from the organization and also from the debate, as other GL party members did. In 2000, they still defended pedophiles but soon the mood changed and nowadays the party actively participates in the anti-pedophile movement. All political parties from right to left and liberal demanded stricter measures. Populist Henk Bres began a national petition to forbid Martijn. Especially in the second term of Hirsch Ballin (2007-2010) many new measure were taken: higher penalties, more specialized police, broader definitions of crimes from real to virtual material and from possessing to only looking at child porn. Any illustration of a nude child is forbidden and art forms no exception. Condemned pedophiles are not permitted to travel to countries that are known for child prostitution and they can be followed until 8 years after they left prison. The website indicates, following a European regulation, that adults are not allowed to touch minors under 16 in the areas with underwear and this prohibition extends to youngsters themselves. A sexist measure because it creates a difference between the genders and according to science journalist Heleen Crul (NRC 12/30/2011) an unrealistic rule because how to nurture children without touching them on those places? Ages of sexual consent moved upwards: for all sexual relation from 12 to 16 years in 2002 and for paid sex from 16 to 18 years and soon probably to 21 years. Children are earlier on sexually active but sexual self-determination comes apparently later if we are to believe law-makers.

The pedophile voice silenced

Critical voices were barely heard any longer. Well-known anti-psychiatrist Frank van Ree wrote Pedofilie, een controversiële kwestie (2001) but it was no controversy anymore and the book received no attention. Little notice was also given to pedophiles who were murdered or targets of popular violence (AD 9/20/2003, 11/29/2010 and 8/31/2012). In 2006, the founding of ‘pedoparty’ Party for Mutual Love, Freedom and Diversity was meant to turn the tide. The board members of Martijn took the initiative with a broad political program to regain sympathy (Uittenbogaard & Jonge 2009) but it went the opposite way. In the highly regarded national talk show Pauw & Witteman the main question the experienced interviewers asked the founders whether they had ever sex with minors. They were literally put in the corner that they were not able to leave. They annulled the party in 2010 and a count forbade Martijn in 2012, a higher court reversed that decision in 2013 and the Supreme Court outlawed Martijn again in 2014. One board member was not allowed to continue his studies in education because he should not be able to keep his hands of the kids, the second was condemned for the possession of child porn and the best known moved from Leyden where his windows were already thrown in many times to more provincial Hengelo where the locals demonstrated in front of his new home and the vicinity demanded his departure.

In 2009, the swimming teacher Benno L. who had had sex with mentally handicapped girls and made pictures of them was for a change a major straight case that came to public attention. In the same year, the Dutch version of pedophile priests became belatedly a scandal – again mainly men with boys. The outrage went on for years with hundreds of (often old and dead) perpetrators and victims. It led to a book of journalist Joep Dohmen of liberal daily NRC (2011) and an official report of former Minister of Education Deetman (2012), with always a lot of publicity and many men who had suffered life-long from the abuse including a boy who suffered from the voyeurism of a priest who had looked at him while masturbating. The priest had later become the main conservative bishop of the Netherlands. The possibility that the suffering was caused not by the ‘abuse’ but by the anxiety of the men that they could have become gay by the relation was not discussed: not homosexual through seduction but suffering from abuse because of homophobia? Most ‘abuse’ took place just around the time (late 1970s) the gay movement successfully brought its message to the streets and the media making homosexuality generally known – but apparently not stripping it from its abject status.

In December 2010, the case of Robert M. who had sex with toddlers created a new peak in the debate. This scandal dominated the media for some days. Suddenly other cases of soccer trainers and of child porn producers came in the floodlight of the press attention. In provincial Westkapelle an older orthodox protestant man had sexual contacts with some 100 adolescent males. Although prosecution made it a major concern and demanded the dupes to come forward, the ‘conservative’ villagers were not impressed and few of the ‘victims’ pressed charges – to the great surprise of the media (NRC 3/1 en 5/5/2012).

The demonization of pedophilia has become so enormous that some people – even creators of the moral panic – wondered whether they had not gone too far. Area bans led pedophiles to roam the country without finding a place to live. The question is whether they can still live outside prisons (NRC 9/27/2010). English sociologist Sarah Goode (2010) who is opposed to pedosex remarks that pedophiles are no monsters but rather a neighbor or uncle. They live in our midst. Probation officers adapted a Canadian model that pedophiles who have left prison get support of volunteers who bring them back into society and help them abstain from sex with youngsters (Volkskrant 7/23/2011). Roderik Muit created a website and organizes groups where people can discuss together about their pedophile feelings with the intention that they will not act upon those desires. He is in favor of an early coming out of pedophiles to prevent criminal careers.

The ups and downs of a question

My query regarded the Werdegang of pedophilia in the Netherlands. Before 1960, it was silenced, the word unknown and pedosexual contacts were never fully accepted. The 1970s in the aftermath of the sexual revolution formed a short period when it was the subject of a lively and often understanding debate. After 1980, the downfall began with several media hypes such Oude Pekela, affair Dutroux, ‘pedoparty’ and the case of Robert M. The organization Martijn was forbidden in 2014. MPs find it unimaginable such an association can carry on and has the freedom to defend ‘child abuse’. The present-day general opinion in politics, media and society is that such a ‘pedoclub is heinous’ – this is how the NRC (4/3/13) summarized it.

Why demonization? Old and new ideas on pedophilia compared

The discussed material shows the following ideas on pedophilia that I will compare with present-day perspectives. Four points show a radical turn in the views on sexual contacts with minors. That change allowed the demonization of pedophilia.

In the first place opinions changed on sexual relations between minors and adults. Studies done in the aftermath of the sexual revolution such as by Sandfort (1987) indicated that they were not harmful under the condition that there was no force being used or no dependence relation as in the family and that the youth knew what they were engaging in. A meta-analysis later confirmed these results (Rind et al 1998). Negative responses from the environment such as parents or police rather created harm, as belief went in those days, and police officers agreed with that view. Nowadays public opinion insists that all physical contacts of and with youth under 16 years are per se damaging as indicated with the underwear rule.

A second transformation regards the idea of sexual self-determination. The ideal of the sexual revolution was autonomy and that was not the case for women and gays and neither for youngsters. Abspoel (1983) believed in it and others stressed that the state should be no censor in such cases. Institutions such as parenthood, church, psychiatry, school inhibited the maturation of youth and that should be finished. Pedophiles could play a positive role in the development of responsibility and in sexual education: in and outside bed. Nowadays children are seen as immature and innocent and they should be kept in this ‘blessed’ state. The result was an age of consent that went down and up from 21 and 16 to 12 and back up again to 16 and 18 years. In an always better protected world children should be sheltered against sexual ’dangers’ that they often desire. Sexuality of youngsters has not become part of the struggle for ‘human [adult] rights’ except in terms of protection and risk avoidance. Youth are not acknowledged as autonomous beings and the least in their sexuality. Feminists started to make a case against paternal abuse of daughters. In the meantime the anxiety has been displaced to the more rare ‘stranger-danger’, mainly a myth but it created its own reality.

In the third place the sexual revolution was a struggle of generations where parents stood opposite children. Authority of church, politics and science faced harsh criticism of a younger generation and that included parenthood, nuclear family and marriage. Relations were inverted and space was created for social and sexual alternatives such as communes, cohabitation or pedophilia. Nowadays the disciplining of children is done not harshly but softly. The exertion of parental power has become more effective with the use of emotion and empathy instead of authority and power. State support for education has grown with social, health, financial and legal measures. Because there are less children, investment in them has grown, the valuable and emotional involvement of the family has increased. Nuclear families rely less on the larger family or the neighborhood and this made relations inside them more intense. Internal dependency grew and the nuclear family became an incestuous hotbed in the words of Foucault (1976: 143). When it comes to self-determination of children in these nests, parents pull the strings with emotional strategies.

The fourth point regards the ideal of equality. For most time the norm in sexual relations was inequality as between husband and wife, queer and trade, butch and femme, sex worker and client but that radically changed with the sexual revolution. Pedophilia was from the beginning an anomaly: it found space as a result of greater freedoms in the slipstream of sexual reform and gay emancipation but at the same time in contradistinction with the new ideal of equality. What Schnabel said with so many words on sexual freedom – only valid in equivalent, symmetrical, democratic, equal relations – was not the norm but became an always more compulsory ideal. Pedophilia is not the only victim of this transition. The same is true for traditional heterosexual relations, prostitution, bestiality or sadomasochism that run the risk to strand on this new ideal.

Sexual citizenship for youngsters

It was evident for devotees of the sexual revolution that 16-minus youth had sex with and among themselves and with adults. Children are curious, go searching and end up finding. Preparing them for their sexual citizenship seems to be a better solution than keep them innocent and forbid them behaviors that most adults desire and consider worth pursuing. A total prohibition on sexual contacts with a high age of consent is preposterous. Prosecution of abuse – maybe difficult to assess – is more urgent than of freely chosen sexual contacts between mature people whether they are minor or adult. Youngsters know always better about sexuality through media, internet, earlier puberty. The question of pedophilia like the one on ‘over/sexualization’ of girls puts the finger on a sore spot: Western societies do not know how to deal with children’s sexuality and continue to insist on their innocence. With blind zeal presumed risks are cleared away that do not stop dangers and neither promote pleasures. Protection against sex wins out from erotic self-determination.

Many young people know what they want and like and are able to determine so before they turn 16. Here is a task for educators to guide and prepare them. The government should by way of schooling promote erotic knowledge and self-consciousness by providing sexual citizenship lessons – good for youngsters themselves and for their future public relations. This happens too little and raises the question who is guilty of this situation. Instead of sexual self-determination the focus is put on protection of young people against their own sexual wishes and those of third parties.

Equality is good for politics – human beings are equivalent - but not for sexuality. Most erotic relations are, different from what Schnabel or Giddens (1992) believe, unequal and not democratic or symmetrical in terms of gender (heterosexuality), age, race, class, education or beauty. Inequality is the rule is sexual lives looking at economic, cultural, social or erotic capital which can be highly exciting as with BDSM. The ideal of equality clashes with that other norm of diversity: why should equality be more acceptable in sexual relations than inequality?

Equivalence certainly does not exist between educators and children. This is broadly accepted although it breeds because of power differences, privacy and secrecy many dangers – violence, abuse, indoctrination, unfreedom. Parents have obligations regarding but also exclusive rights on their children – surely with sexual socialization. Educators enforce gender and sexual norms upon youth and keep them apart from strangers who might shed a different light on these issues. That concerns for sure young people who show non-normative behavior. Relations with third parties will be more equal than those with parents because children have more possibilities to exert power with strangers. A general misunderstanding is that parents always have good and pedophiles bad intentions. It should be worthwhile to harness children’s right beyond the idea that they have to be protected against sexual chances. Parents have a central role in the continuation of straight norms of which moral panics are part and parcel. Since the sexual revolution the paternal position and heteronormativity are strengthened. The nuclear family, so demonized in the 1960s for its sexism and homophobia, is nowadays again seen as a safe haven in an heartless world. Looked upon from this side, the pedophile embodies the ultimate danger. He imperils straight norms of coupling, monogamy, average sex, reproduction and age hierarchies and marks the disproportional power that is assigned to parents. He is the whipping-boy of a perverse system that preaches sexual liberalism but that embodies fear for sex. It does not promise any good for youth.


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