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paedophilia symptoms


Sexual relationships between adults and children are not new. Across the ancient world, there are clear examples of what would now be referred to as paedophilic relationships, particularly involving young boys. In Greece such relationships were seen as contributing to the boy’s education; in Rome, the relationship may have been more focused on the pleasure of the man.

Refl ecting this, perhaps, such relationships were not permitted with free-born boys in later Roman times. In other countries also, there were clear examples of such practices: for example, among the warrior Samurai in Japan and other warrior groups in Africa. In the West, the subsequent rise of Christianity placed an emphasis on heterosexual relationships within marriage, and medieval legislation prohibited against homosexual and incestuous relationships. However, in most European countries there was no minimum age for marriage – suitability being judged on the basis of reaching physical maturity: and even this requirement was often neglected. The most infl uential legal text of the seventeenth century in England, written by Sir Edward Coke, noted that the marriage of girls of less than 12 years of age was frequent and normal. During the Renaissance (approximating to the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries), although homosexuality was still offi cially illegal, there was a liberalization, and a return to the acceptance of manboy relationships, at least among some social groups: evident through the work of European artists such as Michelangelo, Parmigianino, and the poet and dramatist Christopher Marlow. Against this background, many were reluctant to admit to problems of child sexual abuse in contexts such as the family. Pioneering work by physicians such as Ambroise Tardieu in the mid-nineteenth century, for example, which described the prevalence of a variety of child abuse, including battered child syndrome and infanticide as well as incest, was largely ignored by his fellow physicians. More important, at least in the UK, was the work of the journalist and social reformer William Stead who wrote a series of articles decrying the conditions of child prostitution in London, which aroused great public outcry and led feminist groups to become involved in the issue. The pressure from feminist and other philanthropic groups in the US and the UK pushed the age of consent to sexual relations upwards, such that at the beginning of the twentieth century a survey of 50 countries by Hirschfi eld found that the age of consent was 12 in f i fteen countries, 13 in seven, 14 in fi ve, 15 in four, and 16 in fi ve. Since then, the age of consent has increased in many countries, rising from 14 to 16 years as late as 2008 inCanada. Attitudes towards paedophilia across the world have also shifted markedly from the laissezfaire mood of say, the Renaissance period or even the late nineteenth century. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, attitudes toward paedophile behaviour have become markedly stronger and more negative – with the exception perhaps of the more sexually accepting 1960s – and have been described by some as a moral panic. However, such mores are by no means universal. An infamous case was brought against seven men living on the Pitcairn islands in 2004, for example, claiming they had engaged in paedophile behaviours, fi nding six guilty of repeatedly over many years raping girls as young as 12 or 13. What brought the attention of the world to this case was the strong support given to the perpetrators by the society in which the events had occurred, the earlier collusion of many of the victims of the abuse, and the revelation that such behaviour had occurred over several generations of men. In a male-dominated society, this type of behaviour had apparently become an acceptable norm. Together, these various data show that what we term paedophilia is a socially constructed act, the defi nition of which is time and culturally dependent.

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