What really is wrong with pedophilia?

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Philosophers tend to neglect pedophilia even though it raises fundamental questions about the justification of actions of adults toward children. The neglect appears in part to be a result of the radically negative attitudes towards pedophilia in our society. These attitudes are perhaps the final bastion of Puritan sexual ethics. But in part, the neglect might also be accounted for by the assumption that the standard arguments against pedophilia are persuasive. These are, first, the argument that since children cannot validly consent to sex, sex with children is a violation of their rights.

I believe that there are serious questions about both of these arguments. The case for a causal connection between a child's sex with an adult and psychological harm is at best inconclusive. Those not negatively affected often remain invisible to clinical observation. Moreover, much of the harm from pedophilia arises from the negative social reaction to it, and to the extent that the harm arises from the social reaction, it provides only a limited argument against pedophilia. For harm arising from negative attitudes does nothing to show that the negative attitudes themselves are justified. Moreover, if the harm from pedophilia depends on a negative social reaction alone, it provides an argument against pedophilia only when it cannot be successfully concealed from public view.

Since there have been a number of recent extensive reviews of the psychological literature regarding the harmfulness of child-adult sex putting these claims into question, I shall focus in this paper on the argument from consent. I shall argue that the inability of a child to consent in a full sense to sexual interactions is not sufficient to rule out pedophilia. However, I shall attempt to show that if we take the argument from consent one step further and consider the issue in the light of the child's retrospective consent as an adult to the early encounter, the argument points to a fundamental constraint on any child-adult sex.

source: Paper 'What really is wrong with pedophilia?' by Robert Ehman; www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40441281?uid=3738736&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21104824250247; Public Affairs Quarterly, Volume 12, Number 2; April 2000