Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

NCCL, the Paedophile Information Exchange, and the French Debate on the Age of Consent.

with 14 comments


French Debate on Sexuality and Age of Consent.

Patricia Hewitt has issued this statement.

NCCL in the 1970s, along with many others, was naive and wrong to accept PIE’s claim to be a ‘campaigning and counselling organisation’ that ‘does not promote unlawful acts’. As general secretary then, I take responsibility for the mistakes we made. I got it wrong on PIE and I apologise for having done so. I should have urged the executive committee to take stronger measures to protect NCCL’s integrity from the activities of PIE members and sympathisers and I deeply regret not having done so. In particular, Tom O’Carroll should never have been allowed to join the gay rights sub-committee.

The proposal to reduce the age of consent was not mine – it was the policy of the organisation and its executive committee at that time. I do not support reducing the age of consent or legalising incest.

I note some of the comments about Harriet Harman and her role. Harriet did not join the NCCL staff until 1978. She was one of two legal officers, neither of whom was a member of the executive committee.

There is absolutely no doubt that hysteria is being deliberately stirred up on this issue.

Some  points are essential to add.

  • Gay comrades were amongst the first who first brought the attention to the wider left of the danger that PIE represented. I recall this extremely well – given the gravity of the PIE threat. The issue was not, as Spiked on Line asserts, that “ a key role of any civil liberties group worth its name is to defend the rights of association of the most loathed sections of society, to ensure that even the profoundly unpopular enjoy the same liberties, most importantly freedom of speech, as the respectable and the right-on.” It was that PIE members were engaged in the acts it defended.

It is important to bear in mind that this was not just a British issue.

The below, from a petition defending paedophiles to the debate between Michael Foucault and  Guy Hocquenghem (well-known writer and gay activist) will perhaps help us recall what was happening in France at the same time.

French petition against age of consent laws

Le Monde of  January 26, 1977:

We received the following communication:

On January 27, 28, and 29, Bernard Dejager, Jean-Claude Gallien, and Jean Burckardt will by tried before the cour d’assises des Yvelines for lascivious acts with a minor of less than 15 years of age. Arrested in autumn of 1973, it is for more than three years now that they remain in remand. Only Bernard Dejager has recently benefited from the presumption of innocence. Such a long time in remand to investigate a simple `vice’ affair, where the children have not been victims of the slightest violence, but have to the contrary testified before the examining magistrates that they consented — although the law at present denies them their right to consent — such a long time in remand we do consider scandalous in itself.

Today they risk to be sentenced to a long prison term either for having had sexual relations with minors, boys as well as girls, or for having encouraged and taken photographs of their sexual plays. We believe that there is an incongruity between the designation as a `crime’ which serves to legitimize such a severity, and the facts themselves; even more so between the antiquated law and the reality of every day life in a society which tends to know about the sexuality of children and adolescents (thirteen-year-olds are given the pill, for doing what?).

French law contradicts itself if it recognises a capacity for judgement in thirteen and fourteen year olds, so as to be able to try and sentence them, but denies them the same capability with respect to their emotional and sexual life. Three years for caresses and kisses are enough. We would not understand if on January the 29th, Dejager, Gallien, and Burckardt would not be freed.

This has been signed by:

Louis Aragon,
Francis Ponge,
Roland Barthes,
Simone de Beauvoir,
Judith Belladona
docteur Michel Bon,psychosociologue Bertrand Boulin,
Jean-Louis Bory,
Franois Chatelet,
Patrice Chéreau,
Jean-Pierre Colin,
Michel Cressole,
Gilles et Fanny Deleuze,
Bernard Dort,
Franoise d’Eaubonne,
docteur Maurice Erne,
psychiatre Jean-Pierre Faye,
docteur Pierrette Garrou,
psychiatre Philippe Gavi,
docteur Pierre-Edmond Gay,
psychanalyste docteur Claire Gellman, psychologue,
docteur Robert Gellman,
psychiatre André Glucksmann,
Félix Guattari,
Daniel Gurin,
Pierre Guyotat,
Pierre Hahn,
Jean-Luc Henning,
Christian Hennion,
Jacques Henric,
Guy Hocquenghem,
docteur Bernard Kouchner,
Franoise Laborie,
Madeleine Lak,
Jack Lang,
Georges Lapassade,
Raymond Lepoutre,
Michel Leyris,
Jean-François Lyotard,
Dionys Mascolo,
Gabriel Matzneff,
Catherine Millet,
Vincent Montail,
Docteur Bernard Muldworf,
psychiatre Négrepont,
Marc Pierret,
Anne Querrien,
Grisldis Ral,
Franois Régnault,
Claude et Olivier Revault d’Allonnes,
Christiane Rochefort,
Gilles Sandier,
Pierre Samuel,
Jean-Paul Sartre,
René Schérer,
Philippe Sollers,
Gérard Soulier,
Victoria Therame,
Marie Thonon,
Catherine Valabrgue,
docteur Gérard Valls,
psychiatre Hélène Védrines,
Jean-Marie Vincent,
Jean-Michel Wilheim,
Danielle Sallenave,
Alain Cuny.

“A similar letter, but much more prone to controversy , was published in the newspaper Libération in 1979, in support of Gerard R., accused of sexual crimes against children and then awaiting trial for eighteen months. The letter reports that Gerard R. lives with girls 6 to 12 years ”which flourished air shows to everyone, including their parents, they find happiness in him.”

The assertion was that a girl of 6 years could give informed consent to sex with an adult and she would be fulfilled was signed by 63 people , including Pascal Bruckner , Georges Moustaki and Christiane Rochefort . 

This letter was then reproduced in the newspaper L’Express 7 March 2001  . Apart Christiane Rochefort, it was not reported that the signatories of the 1977 letter has also signed the 1979 one.”

It is essential that we recognise the complexity and the muddled thinking of the position of people on these subjects.

This was an important debate  (1978, broadcast on France-Culture – radio).

It was published under the name of La Loi de la Pudeur.

MICHEL FOUCAULT: All three of us agreed to take part in this broadcast (it was agreed in principle several months ago) for the following reason. Things had evolved on such a wide front, in such an overwhelming and at first sight apparently irreversible way, that many of us began to hope that the legal regime imposed on the sexual practices of our contemporaries would at last be relaxed and broken up. This regime is not as old as all that, since the penal code of 1810 (1) said very little about sexuality, as if sexuality was not the business of the law; and it was only during the 19th century and above all in the 20th, at the time of Petain or of the Mirguet amendment (1960) (2), that legislation on sexuality increasingly became oppressive. But, over the last ten years or so, a movement in public opinion and sexual morals has been discernible in favor of reconsidering this legal regime. A Commission for the Reform of Penal Law was even set up, whose task it was to revise a number of fundamental articles in the penal code. And this commission has actually admitted, I must say with great seriousness, not only the possibility, but the need to change most of the articles in our present legislation concerning sexual behavior. This commission, which has now been sitting for several months, considered this reform of the sexual legislation last May and June. I believe that the proposals it expected to make were what may be called liberal.

However, it would seem that for several months now, a movement in the opposite direction has begun to emerge. It is a disturbing movement – firstly, because it is not only occuring in France. Take, for example, what is happening in the United States, with Anita Bryant’s campaign against homosexuals, which has almost gone so far as to call for murder. It’s a phenomenon observable in France. But in France we see it through a number of particular, specific facts, which we shall talk about later (Jean Danet and Guy Hocquenghem will certainly provide examples), but ones that seem to show that in both police and legal practice we are returning to tougher and stricter positions. And this movement, observable in police and legal practice, is unfortunately very often supported by press campaigns, or by a system of information carried out in the press. It is therefore in this situation, that of an overall movement tending to liberalism, followed by a phenomenon of reaction, of slowing down, perhaps even the beginning of a reverse process, that we are holding our discussion this evening.


GUY HOCQUENGHEM. ………These new arguments are essentially about childhood, that is to say, about the exploitation of popular sentiment and its spontaneous horror of anything that links sex with the child.us in an article in the Nouvel Observeateur begins with a few remarks to the effect that “pornography involving children is the ultimate American nightmare and no doubt the most terrible in a country fertile in scandals.” When someone says that child pornography is the most terrible of present scandals, one cannot but be struck by the disproportion between this – child pornography, which is not even prostitution – and everything that is happening in the world today- what the black population has to put up with in the United States, for instance. This whole campaign about pornography, about prostitution, about all those social phenomena – which are in any case controversial – only leads to one fundamental presupposition: ‘it’s worse when children are consenting and worse still if it is neither pornographic nor paid for’, etc. In other words, the entire criminalizing context serves only to bring out the kernel of the accusation: you want to make love with consenting children. It serves only to stress the traditional prohibition and to stress in a new way, with new arguments, the traditional prohibition against sexual relations without violence, without money, without any form of prostitution, that may take place between adults and minors.

MICHEL FOUCAULT………what is emerging – and indeed why I believe it was important to speak about the problem of children – what is emerging is a new penal system, a new legislative system, whose function is not so much to punish offenses against these general laws concerning decency, as to protect populations and parts of populations regarded as particularly vulnerable. In other words, the legislator will not justify the measures that he is proposing by saying: the universal decency of mankind must be defended. What he will say is: there are people for whom others’ sexuality may become a permanent danger. In this catagory, of course, are children, who may find themselves at the mercy of an adult sexuality that is alien to them and may well be harmful to them. Hence there is a legislation that appeals to this notion of a vulnerable population, a “high-risk population,”as they say, and to a whole body of psychiatric and psychological knowledge imbibed from psychoanalysis – it doesn’t really matter whether the psychoanalysis is good or bad – and this will give the psychiatrists the right to intervene twice. Firstly, in general terms, to say: yes, of course, children do have a sexuality, we can’t go back to those old notions about children being pure and not knowing what sexuality is. But we psychologists or psychoanalysts or psychiatrists, or teachers, we know perfectly well that children’s sexuality is a specific sexuality, with its own forms, its own periods of maturation, its own highpoints, its specific drives, and its own latency periods, too. This sexuality of the child is a territory with its own geography that the adult must not enter. It is virgin territory, sexual territory, of course, but territory that must preserve its virginity. The adult will therefore intervene as guarantor of that specificity of child sexuality in order to protect it. And, on the other hand, in each particular case, he will say: this is an instance of an adult bringing his own sexuality into the child’s sexuality. It could be that the child, with his own sexuality, may have desired that adult, he may even have consented, he may even have made the first moves. We may even agree that it was he who seduced the adult; but we specialists with our psychological knowledge know perfectly well that even the seducing child runs a risk, in every case, of being damaged and traumatized by the fact that he or she has had sexual dealings with an adult. Consequently, the child must be ‘protected from his own desires’, even when his desires turn him towards an adult. The psychiatrist is the one who will be able to say: I can predict that a trauma of this importance will occured as a result of this or that type of sexual relation. It is therefore within the new legislative framework – basically intended to protect certain vulnerable sections of the population with the establishment of a new medical power – that a conception of sexuality and above all of the relations between child and adult sexuality will be based; and it is one that is extremely questionable.

MICHEL FOUCAULT: I’m certainly not going to sum up everything that has been said. I think Hocquenghem has shown very clearly what was developing in relation to the strata of the population that had to be “protected.” On the other hand, there is childhood, which by its very nature is in danger and must be protected against every possible danger, and therefore any possible act or attack. Then, on the other hand, there are dangerous individuals, who are generally adults of course, so that sexuality, in the new system that is being set up, will take on quite a different appearance from the one it used to have. In the past, laws prohibited a number of acts, indeed acts so numerous one was never quite sure what they were, but, nevertheless, it was acts that the law concerned itself with. Certain forms of behavior were condemned. Now what we are defining and, therefore, what will be found by the intervention of the law, the judge, and the doctor, are dangerous individuals. We’re going to have a society of dangers, with, on the one side, those who are in danger, and on the other, those who are dangerous. And sexuality will no longer be a kind of behavior hedged in by precise prohibitions, but a kind of roaming danger, a sort of omnipresent phantom, a phantom that will be played out between men and women, children and adults, and possibly between adults themselves, etc. Sexuality will become a threat in all social relations, in all relations between members of different age groups, in all relations between individuals. It is on this shadow, this phantom, this fear that the authorities would try to get a grip through an apparently generous and, at least general, legislation and through a series of particular interventions that would probably be made by the legal institutions, with the support of the medical institutions. And what we will have there is a new regime for the supervision of sexuality; in the second half of the 20th century it may well be decriminalized, but only to appear in the form of a danger, a universal danger, and this represents a considerable change. I would say that the danger lay there.

A summary of these ideas states,

 ” Ils défendent ainsi l’idée d’une autonomie de l’enfant et de ses désirs, s’opposant ainsi à la désignation de pédophilie de tout rapport affectif et érotique entre un mineur (notion juridique, et non biologique) et une personne majeure. En outre, ils soulignent la difficulté pour la loi (générale par nature) d’établir une limite d’âge (Foucault cite ainsi un juge, qui affirmait qu’« après tout, il y a des filles de dix-huit ans qui sont pratiquement obligées de faire l’amour avec leur père ou leur beau-père ; elles ont beau avoir dix-huit ans, c’est un système de contrainte qui est intolérable. “

They defend the idea of a child’s autonomy and its desires, and opposed the label of paedophile for all loving and sexual relations between and adult and a minor (a legal and not biological designation). ……


Written by Andrew Coates

February 28, 2014 at 1:14 pm

14 Responses

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  1. The “muddled” thinking, on display, is by those joining the anti paedophile witch-hunt engendered by the Mail etc. and, I suspect, in many cases furiously rowing from when they held much better positions on the subject 30 years ago.

    Of course this is to be expected from New Labour scum like Patricia Hewitt, but is all too common now amongst exTrotskyists, or even those who pretend they go through the motions of being a communist now.

    I recall clearly a discussion of the age of consent (when I was about that age) and the overwhelming consensus of young socialists in that room was in favour of a radical lowering or no age of consent and the abolition of laws restricting incest (although I recall some vehemently disagreeing).

    Of course opponents will categorise such as being in favour of rape (and sexual abuse) and, in particular with the latter, putting daughters more at danger from their fathers.

    I completely disagree – there always needs to be informed consent and nor can that be deemed to be given under coercion, through emotional abuse, as an expectation, etc.

    I thought the following Spartacist article on this good and I agree with them on – “The only guideline for any sexual relationship should be that of effective consent—that is, mutual understanding by the parties involved—regardless of age, gender or sexual preference. Granted, making the most basic determinations, e.g., whether anything really happened and whether it was consensual, can sometimes be tricky.” http://www.icl-fi.org/english/wv/1030/sexoffenders.html

    For those who still secretly hold correct positions – stand and fight, or die a thousand deaths, like a dog.

  2. Not for the first time, I find MICHEL FOUCAULT virtually incomprehensible: would some please provide a precis of what, exactly, he’s arguing here?

    Jim Denham

    February 28, 2014 at 2:53 pm

  3. The key bits Jim are the sentences, ” It could be that the child, with his own sexuality, may have desired that adult, he may even have consented, he may even have made the first moves. We may even agree that it was he who seduced the adult; but we specialists with our psychological knowledge know perfectly well that even the seducing child runs a risk, in every case, of being damaged and traumatized by the fact that he or she has had sexual dealings with an adult. Consequently, the child must be ‘protected from his own desires’, even when his desires turn him towards an adult. ”

    “to the strata of the population that had to be “protected”.”

    “It is therefore within the new legislative framework – basically intended to protect certain vulnerable sections of the population with the establishment of a new medical power – that a conception of sexuality and above all of the relations between child and adult sexuality will be based; and it is one that is extremely questionable.”

    Note inverted commas around “protected” and the conclusion with the word “questionable”.

    Note “opposed the label of paedophile for all loving and sexual relations between and adult and a minor (a legal and not biological designation). ……”

    Hocquenghem, was very well known on the French left (a former JCR/LCR activists who became a Mao-Spontex, a rare Trotskyist who flirted with Maoism) and was a founder of the Front homosexuel d’action révolutionnaire (FHAR).

    He said at one point some very disturbing things that I’ve kept to myself till today, about very young boys.

    Andrew Coates

    February 28, 2014 at 5:11 pm

  4. Southpaw, we now know you are……another Ian Donovan!

    Incidentally, the gay activist who first informed us lot about the danger of PIE was very close to the Sparts at one point – he knew full well that crap they were coming out with even in the late 70s.

    Andrew Coates

    February 28, 2014 at 5:15 pm

  5. Self-serving twaddle from Foucault. I know you know alot about this sort of stuff Andrew, but isn’t it the case that Foucault wants to claim that it is the ‘medicalisation’ of the human condition that causes all the problems? How much respondibility does a 6-year old bear for a sexual relationship? I don’t know. Are six year olds capable of thinking sexually or is that just a dirty old man’s fantasy? Southpawpunch wants to argue that it is all a question of letting the young uns do what they want; but, we know that battered women often refuse to prosecute their abusive partners because of emotional pressure, how much greater it would be in the case of sexual relations between a fully grown person and a child. Should the laws against incest be abolished. Thre are good reasons for discouraging incest. Procreation between close kin leads to birth abnormalities, as shown in those societies were counsin marriage is the norm, but perhaps this strikes at the heart of the problem. How much power/control should the stae have over the ordinary person life and morals. Hard one to answer.

    Sue R

    February 28, 2014 at 8:40 pm

  6. Aah the seventies! A fun time to be a leftie, but there was an awful lot of old crap out there at that time. It’s wonderfully embarrassing to reread it, sometimes.

    As for the paedophilia/age of consent thing – we live in a society which grants adults power over children. Given that fact, which isn’t going to change in the foreseeable future, society needs safeguards in place to stop adults abusing that power for their own gratification to the detriment of children. The age of consent may be a blunt instrument, and the law should not be involved in relations between consenting minors, but the central problem remains: how can predatory adults be prevented from abusing the power over children which society grants them?

    And Foucault – to use Chris Morris’s priceless phrase: he’s talking nonce sense.


    February 28, 2014 at 10:37 pm

  7. Thanks for the Foucault précis, Andrew: I always thought he was an asshole: now I know for sure.

    Jim Denham

    March 1, 2014 at 4:23 am

  8. Digging up this old bollocks from the seventies is just another way to distract from the ongoing failure to prosecute the real villains. Operation Fermbridge, the investigation into Elm Tree guesthouse, the “senior tory grandee” (anyone who’s in the least bit interested knows who he is), there’s a very long list.

    Instead of dealing with the things that might genuinely threaten the cosy secrets of part of the establlishment, we get this crap, and prosecutions of DJs who might have slept with a 15 year old in the seventies, or might not.
    Jimmy Saville didn’t get away with it because he had a TV show. He spent Christmas at Chequers, he knew the royals and senior politicians, he was a very influential and powerful man. THATS why he was never prosecuted, not because he was a celebrity.

    Paul J

    March 1, 2014 at 4:35 am

  9. Strange as it seems it is Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990) – I am re-reading this what with all the ‘intersectionality’ stuff around – which originally pointed out the contradictions in Foucault’s position.

    On the one hand Foucault thought that sexuality was always played out through “power”, in this case “medicalising” children’s sexuality (which he refers to in the broadcast).

    On the other hand, as can be seen in the same France Culture debate, Foucault believed in some kind of pre-medical liberated playful sexuality.

    This contradiction is summarised in Wikipedia,

    Foucault’s “proclamation of a blissful identity “prior” to cultural inscription contradicts his work in The History of Sexuality, in which he posits that the idea of a “real” or “true” or “originary” sexual identity is an illusion, in other words that “sex” is not the solution to the repressive system of power but part of that system itself.”


    To me there are further questions about Foucualt’s views on sex that come from Didier Eribon’s Michel Foucault, 1926-1984, Flammarion, 1989.

    For those who wish to know more this summarises the background: http://www.herveguibert.net/index.php?2013/02/15/181-foucault-et-herve-guibert-le-compagnon-dagonie

    As for the rest, I agree with criticisms of the argument in favour of what Sue points out is very often a “dirty old man’s fantasy”.

    Andrew Coates

    March 1, 2014 at 11:31 am

  10. Among the many problem with southpawpunch’s contribution is the acceptance that the state would protect victims who didn’t give informed consent. Tell that to the many women who have lost rape cases in the British courts. The recent SWP debacle shows that even left groups can’t deal with those issues well. Therefore an age of consent is necessary to provide protection to the most vulnerable. And those teenagers expressing themselves may not be all they seem. I was abused at ages 9 and 11 and started consensual sex at 15. I thought I was expressing myself and following my desires. In hindsight I see it was directly related to the abuse and my non-existent self respect that led me to give myself out cheaply to anyone who showed me a little affection. I have no truck with left wing paedophiles.


    March 1, 2014 at 12:42 pm

  11. Susan has rightly reminded us that this is not about playing with ideas and theories.

    Andrew Coates

    March 1, 2014 at 1:00 pm

  12. It’s unfortunate that the term paedophile is mis-used. Not that I would expect much from the Guardian but today they state “The literal meaning of “paedophile” should be someone who loves children, but few would say it is love that drives such a person. A paedophile does not love children; he abuses them.” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/28/paedophilia-generation-mail-nccl

    A paedophile is “an adult or older adolescent who experiences a sexual attraction to prepubescent children” (some may say ‘underage children’ but then whose underage?- age of consent is 13 in Spain, 20 in Tunisia).

    The definition does not say “and acts on this attraction”. I take that people should not be locked up just for what they think, especially when no one determines themselves whether they are attracted to the same sex, other sex, older partners, children etc.

    I haven’t said I am favour of abolishing the age of consent. Radically lowering it sounds better (although maybe should be abolished).

    It’s an interesting point that Sandra makes – (wrong) acceptance that the state would protect victims who didn’t give informed consent – but then by that argument maybe a whole host of things should be made illegal to give the state a tool to use if such actions did lead to abuse. It’s not the way I would go.

  13. Perhaps you would care to suggest who exactly would protect people from being victims of sexual crime other than the state (police, social agencies)?

    Or prosecute offenders (courts) ?

    An inner-party tribunal, is that what you have in mind, for example?

    Andrew Coates

    March 1, 2014 at 5:36 pm

  14. No, that’s not the point I’m making. I’m not saying alleged murderers, for example, should not be brought forward than other to bourgeois courts (rather than let go, put on trial by vigilantes etc) but I also don;t think such courts act ‘correctly’ i.e. some crimes aren’t ‘crimes’ (e.g. extraction of surplus value), some ‘crimes’ aren’t crimes (e.g. secondary picketing) and there is no confidence that those undertaking crime are dealt with equitably.

    From the suggestions above, maybe buying more than 6 pints for someone should be a crime in case they do something in a drunken state and the person facililtating that drunkeness should be held to account as well as the drunk. Maybe that should be ‘one pint’ just in case that pushes them into some behaviour? It’s not the way a socialist would argue.

    And on the last point – yes, the SWP acted correctly in not inviting the cops into a revolutionary organisation but they also handled it badly as well.

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