I’d hardly be the first to observe that when a small child falls and scrapes her knee, nine times out of ten she looks to her parent before deciding that it hurts. If the parent doesn’t signal alarm, the child will go back to whatever game she was playing.

Some people think something similar can be said about being sexually diddled with. If, in response to the child’s report, the parent shrugs if off, or better yet, tells the child how lucky she is to have attracted this attention, it’s highly questionable whether any harm has been done. Only if the parent registers horror might the child then be scarred, perhaps for life.

I have no opinion on this analysis, except to say that I do think sexual diddling is in at least some measure theory-laden. That doesn’t justify it, nor does it excuse it, but  it does invite the question of why it needs to be justified or excused.

That said, I’m less tenuous about what counts as statutory rape. It’s called statutory for a reason, namely that but for her age it wouldn’t be rape. What age is that? That changes, across time and jurisdiction, with the alacrity of the weather. So, not unlike any number of other criminal offences, statutory rape is a political concept.

Some people argue that what’s wrong with diddling and/or statutory rape is the absence of consent. I agree. But it’s the absence of the consent of the child’s or minor’s ‘owner‘. It’s a violation of his or her property rights.

No, that can’t be right, because if it were there’d be nothing wrong with diddling one’s own child. Or with consensual incest. Or at least non-reproductive consensual incest. So obviously the proprietorship account needs to be supplemented. But with what? For that I turn to my moral betters.  

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy

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3 replies

  1. It’s ironic that the laws of some countries specifically refer to “interference” with natural development as the reason why diddling a child is a crime. I would think that the opposite is the case: parents go through a lot of effort to “inhibit” children’s natural sexual curiosity and sex play, so diddling interferes with such anti-sex training. I’m not promoting, defending or excusing diddling either, but the logic underlying laws against diddling is clearly confused.


  2. “I would think that the opposite is the case: parents go through a lot of effort to “inhibit” children’s natural sexual curiosity and sex play, so diddling interferes with such anti-sex training.” — along the lines of Michel Foucault’s interesting “Repressive Hypothesis” (Part II, The History of Sexuality, Volume I).

    Roughly, the Repressive Hypothesis holds that the Victorian era priggish attempts to control sexuality actually exposed behaviours such as “children’s natural sexual sexual curiosity and sex play.” So exposed, these behaviours became the objects of analysis and treatment. Some excerpts,

    “It was essential that the state know what was happening with its citizens’ sex, and the use they made of it, but also that each individual be capable of controlling the use he made of it. Between the state and the individual, sex became an issue, and a public issue no less; a whole web of discourses, special knowledges, analyses, and injunctions settled upon it.

    The situation was similar in the case of children’s sex. It is often said that the classical period consigned it to an obscurity from which it scarcely emerged before the ‘Three Essays’ or ‘Little Hans’. It is true that a longstanding ‘freedom’ of language between children and adults, or pupils and teachers, may have disappeared. No seventeenth-century pedagogue would have advised his disciple, as did Erasmus in his ‘Dialogues’, on the choice of a good prostitute. And the boisterous laughter that accompanied the precocious sexuality of children for so long — and in all social classes, it seems — was gradually stifled.” (26-27)

    “Take the secondary schools of the eighteenth century, for example. On the whole, one can have the impression that sex was hardly spoken of at all in these institutions. But one has only to glance at the architectural layout, the rules of discipline, and their whole internal organisation: the question of sex was a constant preoccupation. The builders considered it explicitly. The organisers took it permanently into account. All who held a measure of authority were placed in a state of perpetual alert, which the fixtures, the precautions taken, the interplay of punishments and responsibilities, never ceased to reiterate. The space for classes, the shape of the tables, the planning of recreation lessons, the distribution of the dormitories (with or without partitions, with or without curtains), the rules for monitoring bedtime and sleep periods — all this referred, in the most prolix manner, to the sexuality of children.” (27, bottom -28)

    “Speaking about children’s sex, inducing educators, physicians, administrators, and parents to speak of it, or speaking to them about it, causing children themselves to talk about it, and enclosing them in a web of discourses which sometimes addresses them, sometimes speaks about them, or impose canonical bits of knowledge on them, or use them as a basis for constructing a science that is beyond their grasp — all this together enables us to link an intensification of the interventions of power to a multiplication of discourse. The sex of children and adolescents has become, since the eighteenth century, an important area of contention around which innumerable institutional devices and discursive strategies have been deployed.” (30)

    “One could mention many other centers which in the eighteenth or nineteenth century began to produce discourses on sex … criminal justice, too, which had long been concerned with sexuality, particularly in the form of ‘heinous crimes’ and crimes against nature, but which, toward the middle of the nineteenth century broadened its jurisdiction to include petty offences, minor indecencies, insignificant perversions; and lastly, all those social controls, cropping up at the end of the last century, which screened the sexuality of couples, parents and children, dangerous and endangered adolescents — undertaking to protect, separate, and forewarn, signalling perils everywhere, awakening people’s attention, calling for diagnosis, piling up reports, organizing therapies. These sites radiated discourses aimed at sex, intensifying people’s awareness of it as a constant danger, and in this turn created a further incentive to talk about it.” (30-31)


  3. If anyone is interested: My exploration of the conceptual territory underpinning ‘children’, particularly concerning the emancipation and enfranchisement of children, might be useful for working through the “proprietorship account”. Be forewarned this article is about a 10 minute read. (And the bit most relevant to Viminitz’s begins about a third of the way down.)


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