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The tail end of a long dachshund

A long-standing ethics discussion

Dr Frans E J Gieles, February 2012


In May 2011, the Martijn Association decided to set up an Ethics Commission. Ethics is concerned with the question of what is good and what is bad; with values, norms and guidelines. On 1 February 2012 this commission issued a guideline to the members of Martijn. The guideline begins as follows:

"Those who love children don’t want to hurt them

There is desired and undesired intimacy. Everybody knows this. It has become increasingly clear how serious and enduring the effects of undesired intimacy can be. No matter how crazy one is about a child, this doesn’t make the child one’s property. The child is its own boss. But… maybe you can be a part of the child’s life.

The Martijn Association advises its members to respect the law and the following guidelines. In each situation in which you deal with children, act conscientiously – and be mindful of the following guidelines.

  • Voluntary contact: both must consent to any kind of contact.
  • Freedom: the child must be free to end the contact or to maintain it.
  • Harmony: act in harmony with the child’s development.
  • Openness: be open towards the parents, especially in the case of young children."

The guidelines are then elaborated further.

In this article…

… I aim to place these guidelines in a broader context, namely that of the debate which has taken place in the Netherlands – and far beyond its borders – since the 1990s. The commission does not come up with any revolutionary, new advice, but follows up on a long-standing discussion, like the tail end of a long dachshund.

It shows that, as long as people with paedophilic feelings are allowed to enter into serious discussion, far from ending up in ‘raunchy suggestions’ the end result is an actual ethical code – and a fairly strict one at that.

Where a group forms, so do group norms, leadership and participation in society. Where such a group is not allowed to exist, we see silent, lonely people. It is the latter who tend to radicalize in isolation and turn away from society.

Groups have formed and some still exist, but their number has declined drastically.

I must clarify that I myself have played a role in these group discussions. I have started up discussions, have taken the minutes and have often moderated the conversation. In doing so, I have attempted to build bridges between ‘the radicals, the moderates and the silent loners’, such as one finds in any group.

The conversation kicks off

In 1993 I broached ethics in an international forum, Ipce, which I will come back to. In 1995, as a participant in another international discussion group I posted an article in the form of ‘a letter of a nephew to his uncle’, in which the nephew complains about sexual contacts that have taken place between himself and the uncle. The content was based on what I had heard from several young persons in those days. A heated discussion followed. At first, I got a barrage of criticism from almost the entire group. Slowly, the criticism died out and here, too, the participants found agreement about a number of ethical norms.

The discussion in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands in 1996, I took the initiative to discuss these issues in a Platform which existed at the time, called NVSH LwgJORis. Here, too, consensus was reached. We formulated an ethical code.

In 1997, in the NVSH LwgJORis Newsletter, I published an article about this entitled "I was at the end of my wits". In it, I literally cited what some young people had told me or written to me or to others. No, this was no jubilant ‘agreement’ with the sexual contacts they had had. I will cite them once more:

  1. "I felt ambivalent: it was nice, and then again it wasn’t. I felt like something wrong was happening that I couldn’t stop.
  2. It went too fast; it was too early; it was way too much at once; I would rather have discovered this bit by bit at my own pace.
  3. I couldn’t talk about it to anyone, not at home and not with friends – boys or girls. No, it wasn’t an enjoyable little secret: it was a secret that weighed too heavily. It sat there between myself and my parents and my friends.
  4. I lost my spontaneity.
  5. I was so ashamed and felt guilty because after all, I had consented. Have I taken the initiative…? I thought you had! But if I did, you shouldn’t have given in.
  6. I don’t know what I am now. Sexual. I can’t make contacts very well. I have lost my self-confidence.
  7. Those fantasies keep coming back at night…
  8. Things are difficult at home. I can’t concentrate at school. I felt so rotten I started using drugs.
  9. I’m pretty angry with you. You’ve noticed, haven’t you, that I’ve been avoiding you for quite some time."

Next, I mention the ethical code established by the above-mentioned Platform. It is:

"The four criteria [and a postscript]

These criteria were developed in the course of the nineties during the NVSH Lwg JORis Platform discussions.

  1. In charge: children should always be in charge of their own sexuality, their relations with others and their own lives.
  2. Initiative: the initiation of sexuality should always originate with the child, even at a later stage of the relationship.
  3. Freedom: children should be free at any time to end a relationship with an adult (relationships of dependence in which sexuality plays a role obstruct them in this freedom). Love and attention should be unconditional. Sex should not be used as a form of blackmail.
  4. Openness: the child must not be saddled with a secret. How a child experiences sexuality depends, amongst other things, on each situation. It largely depends on the quality of the relationship and the support offered by (the) adult(s).

Postscript. Morality has an influence: openness about children experiencing sexuality is often not welcomed. Children are often obliged to experience sexuality in secret. For many young persons, homosexuality is a big taboo. This can lead to problems and insecurity. If the subculture around them is relaxed and strong enough, children can derive support from it."

Thus far the quote from NVSH LwgJORis and its Platform. I then carry on my article in the first voice:

"In my analysis, as an adult you can in principle guarantee the first three criteria, ensuring the child is In Charge, has the Initiative and has Freedom. However, the forth criterion, Openness, cannot be put into practice anymore, precisely because of current morality. […]
I arrive at the conclusion that at least one of the four criteria has, in this time and in this society, become an impossibility, so… well, what does that mean […]?"

"[…] I myself have decided that I will take the claims and experiences of the young persons cited above very seriously. I will take personal care that I, at least, cannot be the cause of any of the nine kinds of problem situations listed above. I think there is a real, predictable possibility that the young person’s experience after the event will be a negative one. Anticipating this, I do not want to run the risk of creating such experiences. This implies that I do not permit myself to have sexual contact with young persons."

I go on to describe a further two limits which I have set for myself … yes, precisely the ones now described in the guideline of the Ethics Commission:

"In my contacts with young people I impose two limits.

  • The first is that I reject distancing myself and not making any contact at all;
  • the second is that I reject sexual contact, as well as erotic contact meant to lead to sexual contact.

I place all other forms of contact within the limits of the acceptable, including contact experienced by one or both as pleasurable, for instance erotic contact without the aim of having actual sexual contact. I already wrote about this in my article and lecture "Cautious explorations of the border between desired and undesired intimacy."

My conclusion was not initially shared by all, but eventually it was broadly carried by the Platform and its participants, local discussion groups in the Netherlands.

Two psychiatrists also publicly expressed their agreement with the above-mentioned guidelines:

  • Gerard Roelofs, in ‘Not every paedophile is a pervert’ in Dagblad De Limburger, by Sjors van Beek and Jasper Groen, 8 August 1999:
    "He [= Roelofs] lists five conditions which he thinks a ‘healthy’ paedophile relationship should meet.
    • [1] There can be no coercion, and
    • [2] the child must be free to walk away at any moment.
    • [3] Thirdly, any sex should be on the child’s ‘psycho-sexual’ level. […] However, two other conditions will usually be a stumbling block for the current generation of paedophiles: in Roelofs’ view,
    • [4] the child’s parents must know about the relationship. Also,
    • [5] the child should be able to discuss it in his or her environment without meeting rejection."
  • Frank van Ree in: Intimate relationships between young people and adults  –Are there criteria for good contacts? In Koinos Magazine #24 (1999/4).
    Citing me, he adopts the four guidelines mentioned above. Before doing so, as a true-blue psychiatrist he analyses my list of nine complaints, which he recognises from his psychiatric practice.

The Martijn Association

In OK Magazine #89, June 2004, we read: "What we stand for", followed by four guidelines, viz:

  1. Consent […]
  2. Openness […]
  3. Freedom […]
  4. Harmony […]"

The text goes on to say that

" […] Martijn is […] against political terror and discrimination [… and] the dogma that children and young people are harmed by friendship and loving intimacy with older persons."

Followed further on by

"The Martijn Association advises everyone to observe the law".

This last point can be found back in the advice from the Ethics Commission. The commission does not mention "political terror" or "dogmas". It recognises that harm is possible, including as a result of the experience or reinterpretation after the fact of intimate contacts which at the time were desired. The commission does not speak of "political terror" but of "our democratic, constitutional state".

The international discussion

Ipce is

"a forum for people who are engaged in scholarly discussion about the understanding and emancipation of mutual relationships between children or adolescents and adults",

according to the start of the Mission Statement which opens the website and each Newsletter [*6].

Ipce has existed since 1987 – up to 1998 as a meeting of delegates from groups, and since 1998 as a forum of individuals. The participants are from numerous countries across the world. To a large extent they are academics.

Ipce started the discussion about ethics in 1993, again at my suggestion, in its Copenhagen meeting. Four subgroups formulated ethical norms which were then discussed in the plenary. The meeting came up with four questions for evaluating intimate relationships:

  1. [Freedom:]
    Were both parties able to say yes or no to the relationship?
  2. [Harmony:]
    Were the norms and values of both respected?
  3. [Openness:]
    Was the relationship characterized by open communication?
  4. [Support:]
    Could the relationship count on support from the social environment?

This was followed by eleven reflections or considerations, especially concerning the balance of power in the relationship.

Each participating group committed to a thorough internal debate about this. At the meetings in Amsterdam in 1994 and 1995, the ethics were again discussed. There turned out to be clear agreement. The ‘questions for consideration’ now became ‘guidelines’.

The discussion was continued in Rotterdam in 2002. In a preparatory article, "First do no harm", the consensus at the time was spelled out for participants:

‘First and foremost: do not do harm.’

  1. Self-determination on the part of the child
  2. The initiative is with the child
  3. Freedom of the child to end the contact
  4. Openness (also outside of the contact *) and
  5. contact in harmony with the child’s development.

* Note: this is not always possible."

The point on "Initiative" did not survive the discussion, because a contact or a relationship always involves a dynamic between two persons in which it is barely possible to distinguish who took the initiative. The previously asked exploratory question about ‘support from the child’s social environment’ was also dropped as a viable point, but for a different reason, namely that this is out of one’s control; however, it is of course to be taken into consideration.

Also proposed in Rotterdam in 2002, to general agreement, was a different mode of thinking, a paradigm shift: from ‘fighting against society for emancipation’ to ‘an open dialogue in and with society’. It is precisely this shift which I defend in May 2011 in my talk for the Martijn Association: move from fighting against to communicating with society.

The discussion about ethics returned during the meeting in Hamburg in 2004. Here it was recognised that openness towards parents and the environment [i.e.: openness about sexual contact] is practically impossible. Given that this guideline can no longer be adhered to, those who take it as an absolute condition (like I do) see any kind of sexuality, within a relationship or outside of one, as ethically irresponsible and therefore advise against it. On this note the meeting ended.

An element was added, now mentioned separately: Harmony, that is, agreement with the child’s or young person’s stage of development. There is clearly a difference between a five-year-old and a fifteen-year-old. The measure of practicable and desirable freedom will therefore also be different. Older adolescents sometimes explicitly want to have and keep secrets. This can be justifiable.

The result of the long discussion might now be summarized. I did this in translation in my 2004 article "Ethics and human rights in adult-child relationships – First and foremost do not do harm".

It offers four guidelines; in summary:

  1. Freedom of choice, with a distinction between friendship ties (an option) and relationships of dependence (not an option), as well as the two limits previously indicated: no complete distancing in relationships of dependence, but no complete intimacy either.
  2. The measure of openness, within the relationship and outside of it and possibly variable depending on age, but very much recommended, especially young children’s openness towards parents.
  3. Harmony with the child’s stage of development.
  4. Do not do harm; avoid the risk of saddling the child with a burden of guilt, shame and heavy secrets (which may form some time after the event).

The full Ipce discussion can be followed easily via the overview of published Newsletters, in which the consecutive meetings are marked in blue with a short description of what was discussed.

Group discussions

In view of the above, the advice of the Ethics Commission of the Martijn Association is not a new idea from a revolutionary commission; rather it is the tail end of a long dachshund; of discussions held worldwide for years. From these discussions it has transpired that, as long as people with paedophile feelings have an opportunity to have a serious discussion, far from leading to ‘raunchy suggestions’ it can lead to an actual ethical code, and even a fairly ‘strict’ one at that. It’s not what ‘the public’ and the association’s opponents had fancied its norms and values to be like.

Where a group comes into being, so do group norms, leadership, organization, roles and participation in the wider world outside of the group; in society. All groups strive for an internal balance. A balance is struck between ‘radicals, moderates and silient loners’ as are found in any group. As soon as a ‘radical’ speaks out, so does a ‘moderate’ and vice versa, until a consensus is reached. Norms are formulated and so are reflections; points to take into consideration. We even see this amongst the sometimes slightly greedy bankers, housing cooperatives and commercial entities. The Tabaksblat Commission with its codes is a good example of this. Groups are not evil and lawless by definition.


A group does need to be able to exist and organize. Where groups are not allowed to exist we find solitary, silent persons; it is precisely they who tend to develop radical attitudes and to turn away from society. Working groups and discussion groups on child-adult-relationships, intimacy and sexuality have been formed, but their number has decreased greatly. A few are still around; let’s cherish them. They are not dangerous; in fact, their ethics are fairly strict – on themselves.

In a nutshell:

  • accept your feelings,
  • control your behaviour;
  • do not isolate yourself,
  • participate in society.

It would also be better for society, then, if it allowed its citizens with paedophile feelings a space to exist. With regard to this, the commission’s advice ends as follows:

"People with paedophile feelings are helped by discussing them with one another, something which society also benefits by. These people too have a right to – and claim – ‘a place in the sun’ as well as the right to participate in discussions about values, norms and laws. If they can participate in society in this way, they will be more inclined to respect it and, as per the advice above, to live by what is socially acceptable."

Further reading

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