Fifty years in sex research, 1961 -
The child sex abuse hysteria of the 1980s serves as a reference point for a far-
Flawed from the beginning, images of sexual actors and events have remained so because America’s use of them has traditionally been for entertainment and for the advancement of particularistic political agendas, rather than for the empirically based rational and humane guidance of public policy and personal conduct.
Fundamental to the 1980s hysteria over youth-
To be effective, stereotypes have to be composed of elements socially familiar, and of components used frequently enough so as to appear as divine truth or common sense. It is no surprise, therefore, to find that the images of the 1980s had a long and often honorable history. The clichéd child molester (like the saving hero) has roots in ancient cultures, but the victim concept with which we are familiar is of more recent construction.
Over time the images have maintained considerable consistency, no matter what the issue. This is due to the restricted range of meanings provided by the culture for the specific uses. The intents underlying these images are to dissuade and to punish; to do either, actors who are assigned these characterizations have to be heavily stigmatized.
The effort to do this requires considerable energy and commitment. Significant cultural resources (especially economic and political ones) are mobilized and maintained on a broad scale by individuals and institutions interested in establishing uniform belief and obedience over inquiry and variance. This is made easier and more palatable by configuring issues and actors as entertainment. Social issues are raised and presented—and evaluated—on theatrical terms.
Certain images change in appeal or usefulness, especially those of villainy and victimage.
Ideas, like images, also rise and fall in popularity depending on wider cultural
contexts of support, criticism, or disinterest. Democracy, a whole larger than the
sum of its parts emerging from a conglomeration of self-
The variety of motives, affect, and conduct that bring youth and non-
Children’s sexualities appears to be the next fertile field from which to sprout professional careers. In a paternalistic and authoritarian culture, the study of these desires and behaviors calls for little change in personal and social concepts of the investigator and expert, and can allow for the easy continuation of nearly all the present systems of authority and control which now outline and anchor definitions of “the child.” As it has for over a century, interests of discipline and domestication promise to determine and dominate official information.
So too with investigations of that 19th century zombie, “the pedophile.” A science
in the context of a culture still struggling with a “heterosexual-
Commitment to the work continues.