|The tail end of a
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:
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:
Next, I mention the ethical code established by the above-mentioned Platform. It is:
Thus far the quote from NVSH LwgJORis and its Platform. I then carry on my article in the first voice:
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:
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:
The Martijn Association
In OK Magazine #89, June 2004, we read: "What we stand for", followed by four guidelines, viz:
The text goes on to say that
Followed further on by
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 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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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: