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Jewish World Review May 6, 2002/ 23 Iyar, 5762

Don Feder

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Pedophilia lobby lobs a grenade | The road to hell is paved with academic studies, speculation about the "actual consequences" of what society has always abhorred -- and books like Judith Levine's "Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex."

The apologia for pedophilia, published last week by the University of Minnesota Press (and publicized in a puff piece in USA Today), is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.

Levine tries to downplay her outrageous premise. "In my book, I deplore any kind of non-consensual sex between persons of any age," the author assures us. Well, give her a pat on the back for opposing rape.

"But teens deserve respect for their decisions, and they need from us the emotional and practical tools to make good decisions," the author writes.

If a 15-year-old girl decides to have sex with a man in his '30s, should her decision be respected? What "emotional and practical tools" do you give a 12-year-old to help him make the right decisions about allowing an adult to turn him into a toy?

Levine believes we are warping juvenile psyches by overemphasizing the dangers of Internet predators, the North American Man-Boy Love Association and those who prowl playgrounds with candy bars.

She thinks this interferes with the primary mission of sex educators -- teaching kids that whatever feels good by definition is good. It's important that adolescents are aware of all of their options -- premarital sex, gay sex and (the latest final frontier) "inter-generational sex."

Levine isn't alone. A 1998 article in a publication of the American Psychological Association claims that pedophilia often "does not cause intense harm on a pervasive basis."

He who frames the debate determines the outcome. Thus, the pedophile lobby disdains the phrase "child sexual abuse," preferring the nonjudgmental term "adult-child sex."

The word "abuse" implies pain and exploitation -- an individual with power, because of his position or physical size, forcing himself on one who's relatively helpless. More often than not, this is the reality of adult-child sex.

But, like sex out-of-wedlock or gay sex, adult-child sex is merely another choice to be made or rejected, an avenue to explore, those like Levine contend. We wouldn't want to prejudice the young or society against this option by associating it with force or harm.

Funny thing, though, in the scandal that's rocking the Catholic Church, men aren't coming forward to say, "Sure, as a teen-ager, I had sex with my parish priest and it was terrific. It gave me a firm foundation to build on -- helped with all of my future relationships."

Instead, even if force wasn't involved, victims speak of humiliation, trauma and sexual dysfunction.

Age of consent laws are based on a reasonable premise: 14-year-olds lack the maturity (wisdom and experience) to meaningfully consent to an act that could alter their lives -- impregnate them, give them a disease or take an emotional toll which will only surface years hence.

Lest you think I'm making a mountain out of an academic/literary mole hill, consider this: All of the storms that have shaken our culture in the past four decades have started as puffy clouds on the advocacy horizon.

In the '60s, freedom from censorship was about adults having access to books like "Lady Chatterly's Lover" in their local library.

Today, it's about full frontal nudity on cable TV, Internet sites that can't even be alluded to in a newspaper column and the computer-generated erotic images of children, recently protected by the Supreme Court.

Gay rights were initially sold as an effort to end police harassment and violence. Today, dissent will not be tolerated (witness the persecution of the Boy Scouts) and marriage, society's most fundamental institution, is under assault by those who would remake it to sanction a lifestyle.

Recently, the rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Monsignor Eugene Clark, gave a sermon relating the church's sex-abuse scandal to homosexuality in the priesthood and the nation's general moral decline. Clark called the United States "probably the most immoral country in the Western Hemisphere."

After the publication of Levine's book by a distinguished academic press, he'll get no argument from me.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate