Child abuse and paedophilia: an open letter

Recently, there has been some interest and controversy about my very early work on child sex abuse and paedophilia. I feel it is now necessary to provide a brief statement of background and regret.

 In the 1960s and early 1970s I conducted sociological research on homosexuality, as the laws around homosexuality were changing in the UK (published as Sexual Stigma, 1975; The Making of the Modern Homosexual, 1981).

 When I arrived at the University of Essex in 1975, I gained a government-funded SSRC research grant to undertake a sociological study of a wider range of sexual variations (1976-1979).  With a colleague, we interviewed and documented around 50 life stories of transvestites, sex workers, the sexually dysfunctional, sadomasochists, people with low sex desire, fetishists, paedophiles and others. The goal was to investigate the social organisation of experiences that had hitherto largely been seen as purely psychological and clinical.  It was pioneering work, and the main book publications to flow from this were Documents of Life, 1983 and Telling Sexual Stories in 1995.

 Paedophilia was one small subset of research within this much wider project.  I joined the Paedophile Information Exchange in order to facilitate my research contacts, interviewed some of its members, and gained access to letters. Using this data I analysed the workings of this group in a number of articles and public presentations at the time. These early papers from the 1970’s are of some historical interest, but given the changes in the wider world, I believe their conclusions are no longer tenable. I am saddened to think they might have been used to justify child abuse.

 By 1982, my research interests had moved on to the emerging pandemic of HIV and AIDS. I have not directly studied pedophilia since the early 1980s. I retired in 2006.

 Given the upsetting nature of this material, I have now removed it from my web site (which had aimed to provide a comprehensive sense of my changing work). I would never want any of my work to be used as a rationale for doing ‘bad things’ – and I regard all coercive, abusive, violent and exploitative sexuality as a ‘bad thing’. I am sorry if my early work has impacted anyone negatively this way, or if it has encouraged this. My current retirement work  (which started with Intimate Citizenship, 2003) is concerned with the development of a human ethics of sexualities that stresses care, empathy, dignity, fairness and human flourishing.

 My former University has also investigated this issue and concluded this academic work did not express support for pedophilia, and was conducted in a way that was consistent with the University’s Charter, which gives” academic staff freedom within the law to put forward controversial and unpopular opinions without placing themselves in jeopardy”.

 I hope this clarifies the past and present situation.

 Ken Plummer

July 26th 2014

About kenplummer

For over 40 years I worried about things sociological; now I have time to stand and stare.

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