Sexual intimacy of adults with children is most certainly one of the areas of public discussion in which there is the least degree of tolerance. Any kind of sexual contact with children is outlawed by the written and unwritten rules of society. Paedohilia, the platonic idea of sexual attraction towards children, is immediately linked to paedohile abuse, the immediate real action undertaken by an offender overcome by his urges. The high degree of insensitivity towards the subject matter has resulted in a more general blurring of distinctions and nuances towards sexual abuse of children in general.
Public opinion is greatly intolerant of any kind of child-abuser, in the Western world at least, and consequently has orchestrated more involvement by the state on that area. The following paragraphs will compare two of such movements and their legal results, i. e. laws, by contrasting the way the sexual abuse of children is criminalised in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The contrast will be then placed into the larger context of the present discussion at the European and global level.
We will start off with the Netherlands, a country well known for its liberal attitude towards pornography and prostitution and neighbour to Belgium, a country that has been stigmatised by its peadohilia concentration in high levels of politics. The high level of media reach and influence in the Netherlands (compared to less developed countries) has certainly led to a growing public awareness that has in turn called for tighter legal controls on sexual abusers.
As of present, the commission of a sexual act in contravention of a social-ethical standard contrary to morality, thus the lewdness of an act, with children under the age of 16 is punishable. Abuses committed on children below the age of 12 may be prosecuted without the complaint of any member of the victim while the prosecution of abuses committed on children between 12 and 15 must be preceded by a formal complaint by either the victim or his/her legal representative.
This complaint procedure has come under fire recently, for although it professes to allow children to experiment and develop sexually while protecting them from sexual abuse, it provides great hindrances as to the prosecution of sex-traffickers and sex tourists, who rest safely behind the wall of fear created by the difficulty and insecurity of young prostitutes to come forward. With regard to child pornography, the Netherlands possesses a maximum sentence of 4 years for its distribution.
In order to fall under such a criminal category, the material must involve an image or video of a child obivously younger than 16 who is involved in a sexual act. There is some unclarity as to how far the material must be harmful to the person involved in it to be able to classify it as such, nevertheless, having determined the former, merely the possesion for solely personal gratification of such material is enough to land in jail.
In addition, international pressure has had the effect that Dutch authorities are re-contemplating and discussing a possible raise of the age limit for child pornography, thus the legal age for children to be able to perform in poronographic productions, from 16 to 18.
In general, one could say that paedohile abusers are coldly hated, loathed and feared by Dutch society – swimming pools are being designed around the country that maintain to be paedophile-proof and after Internet agencies provide information to residents of a community as to the presence of released sexual offenders, they are sporadically openly assaulted and chased away from those communities. This public disgust and aggression is scientifically backed and reinforced by expert psychologist s reports on the uncurability of child-molesters.
This momentum has led to political voices among the Dutch population becoming loud and demanding life-long incarceration or hospitalization of such social mutants. Directly linked to such an extreme isolation of active paedophiles is the notion of providing criminals with a certificate of good behaviour. Under this certificate, employers have the right to exclude convicted persons from certain jobs for up to eight years, although an increase to 20 years is becoming more and more probable under current legislationary processes.
The spaces in, and chances within, society left for child molesters are being drastically reduced, stigmatisation and ostracism are the result of a growing sexual taboo. The situation in the UK is at large similar to that in the Netherlands. Here too, growing public awareness has predicated an upsurge in the prosecution of child molesters and creation of social attitudes leading to the persecution of released sexual abusers. Surrounding this, the laws created undergo the distinction between females in specific and children in general.
Two prohibitive laws concerning unlawful sexual intercourse with girls, those under 13 (life imprisonment) and those under 16 (two years), have been established in the UK, creating an overlap that is mostly used to the disadvantage of the offender. Gross indecendy with or towards a male or female child under the age of 14, thus covering all other acts besides the blatant sexual penetration, is equally prohibited and carries a maximum sentence of two years as well.
Remarkable clause with respect to such offences in the English legal system is the so-called Young Man s Defence, in which a young male cannot be found guilty for the above mentioned offence of sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 16, should he be between the ages of 18-24 and provided he can maintain to have believed the girl was above 16. Pornography is similarly criminalised as in the Netherlands, with view to the harm principle, and is punishable not only in the production and distribution process, but also for the possesion, of it.
As in the Netherlands, English media coverage and interest groups fuel the growing fire on sexual offenders and create strong labels. Thus, sexual offenders in violation of sexual abuse laws in the UK are required to notify the local police of their presence in the vicinity and give them the necessary information. Public access to such information is less easily granted than in the Netherlands; the police in the UK follow a general policy of confidentiality in which personal information about sex offenders is only rendered accessible if harm can be prevented by doing so.
Stepping out of the context of concrete laws we find thus a vast array of measures being taken against child molesters. However, little consensus on the specific point to attack in the combat against these paedohiles has been reached and there exists a multitude of theoretical underpinings, symbolic of the country s political attitude, guiding these efforts across the developed European countries such as Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and Belgium.
For example in the Netherlands and Norway, the government sees its role much more in the area of using its power to educate, seemingly enlighten, their citizens, rather than in providing funds to swifter security measures as it is done in England. Primary prevention is a cornerstone in the Dutch and Norwegian policies, however the actual implementation of concrete policies and creation of institutions is a purely Nowegian follow-up. Clearly, governments across Europe are not really sure and stand on quite shaky legs when it comes to deciding on how to combat sexual abuse with children.
Some favour more post-traumatic services, others believe in social-engineering methods of moral community creation and social responsibility for anybody above 18, while some others encourage the funding of child-protection services, health and welfare. This whole jumble of strategies is further complicated by the very subject matter, a highly sensitive twisting and intertwining of the roles, actions and effects of sex and children in our society. Most governments thus can be critisized for not being able to formulate a coherent child sexual abuse policy amidst the vast array of popular forces and movements.
Vision is lacking and perhaps too many armchair observations as to the root of the problem are being made. More investment should be granted to research teams happy to provide hard evidence and governments should certainly co-ordinate and try to unify all parties involved in policy formation across borders. Above all, preventive measures are the area into which energy should be diverted for improvement since punitive action questionably helps anybody.
By the same token, another area of interest might be the decriminalissation of sexual abuse of children- the positive sanctioning of abusers through rehabilitation centers and the realisation of governments, those in power, that rather than just being a crime to be punished and prevented, child abuse is a problem that is created by gross imperfections in the overall system exposed children are in that is structured by the family, support systems and the typical irrelevant policy instruments of short sighted authorities.
Misgivings aside, child sexual abuse is a world wide phenomenon that requires more attention. Globalisation seems to be following the trend of favouring the powerful and strong while marginalising the weak and thus must be treated with great care in that field. The media must equally ask itself whether or not through the transmission of the increasing numbers of child sexual abuses it is not in fact indirectly harming those they profess to serve by sexualizing them.
As with drugs, international co-operation is required to combat this evil and put an end to it all, however governments are still reluctant to rely on foreign help. Child sexual abuse thus appears to be one more of the many problems modern society still faces and is struggling to eradicate. The pitfalls are many and enforceable solutions are few.