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Which Way for Society?

Osborne’s case drives home one important point that should be a clear message to us all. And that point is very simply that how adults react and what adults say to interpret sexual acts may be much more influential, and much more crucial in the emotional and sexual development of the child than the actual sexual act in which he may have been involved. A punitive and draconian justice system that directly punishes a paedophile, indirectly scapegoats a boy who has been involved in a sexual relationship with an older man, violates this message and does so with an impact that severely damages both the man and the boy.

For the reality is that the boys have come to older men and will continue, for time immemorial, to come to them in order to have their sexual and emotional needs met. In a very real sense the boys are attempting to reaffirm their own identities, to obtain some measure of self esteem, and to fill the vacuum left by their home environments.

But in saying all this we are still begging the question of what approach society generally and the criminal justice system specifically should take towards sexual relationships between older and younger males. I have argued that a legal age of consent is an arbitrary point, a line drawn that has no basis in the physiological or psychological development of the child.

Furthermore, an age of consent in law does not prevent the sexual activity taking place and serves to perpetuate the myth that most, if not all, adults can and always do rationally consent to sexual relations. I would abolish any age of consent in sexual relations on the basis that in my opinion it is both unjust and unworkable, and I would also repeal all legislation relating to the age of consent in the field of sexuality specifically. Instead, offences would be considered on the basis of the use of violence, force, fraud or pressure rather than an arbitrary age limitation.

This would mean that the concept would be an arbitrary concept that would be applied variably according to the case that one was talking about. In practice the police would only investigate a paedophile relationship if there was a complaint by the child himself or by the parents or relatives or by anyone else concerned with the welfare of the child. The onus would be on the police to prove that force or fraud or trickery were used to obtain sexual relations with the child. The police would not be able to argue, as they do now, that a crime has been committed just because a physical relationship between a man and a boy or adolescent took place.

Obviously, there will still be with these new laws many cases where parents and other people violate children. But no law is going to protect children from the physical or psychological abuses of adults, and if we pretend that they will then we are fooling ourselves very badly indeed. Whether it be incest or paedophile relationships, the only approach that will have any effect is the removal of criminal sanctions from non-violent sexual activities, but at the same time providing the maximum social means for protecting the child. In concrete terms this would mean implementing the seven fundamental rights that children should have as expeditiously and as honestly as we can.

A small, lonely, obsessive and not very likeable man living in a middle-class suburb in Brisbane, Australia, has more significance than even he thought. For he has shown us that many thousands of young people in western countries feel sexually repressed, alienated from adult company, and emotionally bankrupt. This should make all of us reflect on those social conditions and family structures that have led young people to become alienated from adults.

Clarence Osborne’s life, pathetic as it might well have been, drives home some other fundamental lessons that we should all remember. Young boys are sexually active from a very early age and will pursue their sexuality whenever they can find an opportunity to do so; young males wish to give and receive affection in ways that we as a community have not clearly understood before; men who have relationships with boys often do so for benevolent reasons and assist those boys to cope with the business of growing up in an increasingly adult-orientated and impersonal world.

For too long we have concentrated on the darker side of sexual relationships between adults and children without looking at the reasons for these relationships — the bland condemnation of Greek love and the resulting draconian measures taken by a vengeful society destroy everything they touch. We may still morally and aesthetically disapprove of adult-child relationships and that is our undoubted right. But if we don’t heed the lesson that Clarence Osborne has taught us, then we will continuously reinforce bigotry and prejudice and we do so at the cost of further damaging our children’s welfare.