"In America today, it is nearly impossible to publish a book that says children
and teen-agers can have sexual pleasure and be safe too," writes Judith Levine
in the introduction to Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children
From Sex (Amazon.com). The
book, on which she has been working since the mid-1990s, was rejected by one
publisher after the next, its content called "radioactive" by one of them. The
University of Minnesota Press accepted
the manuscript a year ago -- a decision it now almost certainly regrets.
description of the book reads as follows:
A radical, refreshing, and long overdue reassessment of how we think and act
about children's and teens' sexuality.
Sex is a wonderful, crucial part of growing up, and children and teens can enjoy
the pleasures of the body and be safe, too. In this important and controversial
book, Judith Levine makes this argument and goes further, asserting that
America's attempts to protect children from sex are worse than ineffectual. It
is the assumption of danger and the exclusive focus on protection-what Levine
terms "the sexual politics of fear"-that are themselves harmful to minors.
Through interviews with young people and their parents, stories drawn from
today's headlines, visits to classrooms and clinics, and a look back at the
ways sex among children and teenagers has been viewed throughout history,
Judith Levine debunks some of the dominant myths of our society. She examines
and challenges widespread anxieties (pedophilia, stranger kidnapping, Internet
pornography) and sacred cows (abstinence-based sex education, statutory rape
laws). Levine investigates the policies and practices that affect kids' sex
lives-censorship, psychology, sex and AIDS education, family, criminal, and
reproductive law, and the journalism that begs for "solutions" while inciting
Harmful to Minors offers fresh alternatives to fear and silence,
describing sex-positive approaches that are ethically based and focus on common
sense. Levine provides optimistic, though realistic, prescriptions for how we
might do better in guiding children toward loving well-that is, safely,
pleasurably, and with respect for others and themselves.
The book has been endorsed by Dr. Jocelyn Elders, who wrote the foreword, and by
authors Robie Harris, James Kincaid, and Debbie Nathan. But a misleading interview with the author in late March quickly triggered a national wave of protests
against the book, mostly coming from religious fundamentalists. The article by
Mark O'Keefe (Newhouse News Service, published in the Star Tribune)
titled "Some in
mainstream contend certain cases of adult-minor sex should be acceptable"
discusses recent scientific studies of adult-child sexual interaction. One of these studies is the controversial meta-analysis by psychologists Bruce Rind and
Michael Bauserman that found that negative effects of adult-child sexual
contact "were neither pervasive nor typically intense, and that men reacted
much less negatively than women." (Much of Rind and
Bauserman's work is documented here.) Their study has been subject of loud
scientific and political controversy (so much that the US House of
Representatives eventually unanimously passed a resolution condemning the
The study is cited by Judith Levine in her book, which is described in the
article as follows:
A soon-to-be-released book, "Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting
Children From Sex," is being advertised by its publisher, University of
Minnesota Press, as challenging widespread anxieties about pedophilia.
In an interview, the book's author, journalist Judith Levine, praised the Rind
study as evidence that "doesn't line up with the ideology that it's always
harmful for kids to have sexual relationships with adults."
She said the pedophilia among Roman Catholic priests is complicated to analyze,
because it's almost always secret, considered forbidden and involves an
She added, however, that, "yes, conceivably, absolutely" a boy's sexual
experience with a priest could be positive.
"When I was a minor, I had sex with an adult," she said. "He was one of my first
lovers. My heart was broken, but my heart was broken by a lot of boys, too. I'd
say on balance that it was a perfectly good experience."
Even with the little information provided here, it is already obvious that
this is a gross mischaracterization. From the UMN press release, it is clear
that Levine's book discusses much more than just pedophilia. Her statement about a relationship between a boy
and a priest is abridged, and it is unclear to which question she responded. Levine's last
statement could come out of a completely different context, e.g. statutory rape
laws (how old was she when she had sex with an adult?).
Based on this almost propagandistic mischaracterization, a media campaign
against the book quickly followed. One of its main spokespersons is Robert
Knight of the religious fundamentalist propaganda organization "Concerned Women for America", which is also
anti-homosexual, anti-evolution and anti-abortion. Two days after the Star
Tribune story, CFI released the following statement:
Reject Academic Cover for Child Molesters, CFI Says
Knight Urges University of Minnesota to Fire Officials Responsible for Book
Advocating Adult-Child Sex
Washington, D.C. - "Child molesters are getting a big boost toward legitimacy
with the University of Minnesota Press' publication of a book advocating sex
with children," said Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women for America's
Culture and Family Institute. "Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting
Children from Sex is every child molester's dream--and every parent's
"Joycelyn Elders, who was Bill Clinton's surgeon general, wrote the foreword for
this evil tome," Knight says. "Not content to advocate for adults teaching
children to masturbate, she is giving cover for adults having sex with kids--so
long as the kids give their consent. Everybody except for the molesters and
their apologists knows that children cannot give meaningful consent to sex.
Everybody knows that children are coerced into giving 'consent,' and that the
damage can last a lifetime. The author of this book, Judith Levine, is Exhibit
A. She was molested as a child and now advocates it for other children.
"Accused molesters have already misused a 1998 study published by the American
Psychological Association to justify their perversion; now they will be citing
this hideous book to excuse their crimes against children.
"If the Regents of the University of Minnesota do not act quickly to fire those
responsible, the people of Minnesota and their elected representatives should
move quickly to replace them," Knight said.
One should also note the small notice at the bottom of the press release:
Knight, a former media fellow at the Hoover Institution, wrote and
directed The Children of Table 34, a documentary about Alfred C.
Kinsey's use of children in sex experiments, and is the author of The Age of
Consent: The Rise of Relativism and the Corruption of Popular Culture
The Children of Table 34 is a professional, expensively produced
"documentary" that has been used to discredit Alfred Kinsey's groundbreaking
and unique work on human sexuality -- because some of his data on child
sexuality came from a pedophile's personal records. As a propaganda expert,
Knight was the right man for the job of destroying another book that advocated
a positive attitude towards children's sexuality.
He managed to get his message, which was based on a misrepresentation in another
article, into the international Associated Press wire news service, from where
it was then broadcasted to millions of homes, over websites like MSNBC,
ABCNews, CNN and others. The AP story quotes Knight as saying that "the action
is so grievous and so irresponsible that I felt they relinquished their right
to academic freedom." He calls the book "very evil", although he admits he
hasn't read it. He also claims that "this book will aid and abet child
molesters because it gives a pseudo-scientific rationale that can be used by a
ABCNews, in their expanded version of the AP story, at least
allows Levine to make her case:
Levine says her quote was misconstrued and that she does not approve sex between
authority figures such as parents, priests and teachers and the minors in their
charge. However, she argues that teenagers should be given more credit for the
choices they make when they become involved in relationships with adults.
Levine endorses the Netherlands' approach to age-of-consent laws. In 1990, the
Dutch parliament made sex between adults and children ages 12 to 16 legal as
long as there was mutual consent. The child or the child's parents can bring
charges if they believe the minor was coerced into sex.
Levine believes the Dutch law is a "good model" for the United States because it
recognizes children as sexual beings who can determine their future while not
ignoring the fact that they are weaker than adults and still need legal
protection. U.S. consent laws, she says, mistakenly put all minors under one
category without recognizing their ability to pursue relationships.
"Legally designating a class of people categorically unable to consent to sexual
relations is not the best way to protect children, particularly when 'children'
include everyone from birth to eighteen," Levine writes. "Criminal law, which
must draw unambiguous lines, is not the proper place to adjudicate family
conflicts over youngsters' sexuality. If such laws are to exist, however, they
must do what [social psychologist Lynn M.] Phillips suggests about sexual and
romantic education: balance the subjective experience and the rights of young
people against the responsibility and prerogative of adults to look after their
best interests, to 'know better.'"
"The hysteria surrounding my book is precisely what my book is about," Levine
said. "There are some real dangers [facing children] in the world, of course.
But we need to look at them realistically and separate the real ones from the
Elsewhere, Levine also clearly states that she doesn't think children below the
age of 12 can have positive sexual experiences with adults. "I deplore rape,
sexual abuse of children and any way that a person is forced to have sex
against their will," Levine says. "I am a feminist, and I am glad that our
legal system has laws against rape. For anybody to say I promote child abuse is
Of course, given the emotions already invoked by calling Levine a
pedophile-defender, her rebuttal was not enough. State Rep. Tim Pawlenty,
majority leader of the Minnesota House and Republican candidate for governor,
called for the stop of the book's release, according to the Star
"In recent weeks, the headlines have been filled with the stories of victims
sexually abused as children," he said in a prepared statement. "This kind of
disgusting victimization of children is intolerable, and the state should have
no part in it."
Pawlenty said Wednesday night that he has not read the book but became upset
after reading articles about its content.
"We deserve to know why the name of one of our most respected institutions is
being associated with this endorsement of child molestation," Pawlenty said.
While the UMN has so far mostly defended its release of the book, it had reportedly
received more than 200 mostly negative responses by early April, and has now
announced to review its publishing guidelines. While the press release still defends
the book, it sends a chilling message to all those wishing to inititiate
rational discourse of children's sexuality.
What we have here is a classical case of an attempt to kill a book before it is
even released. Apparently the rationale of current statutory rape laws, which
has put many juveniles in prison for consensual sex, as well as for sexual
abstinency education, a major cause of teen pregnancies, is so weak that anyone arguing against it must be singled
out and completely discredited in a well-funded ad hominem campaign.
Some of Levine's previous writings are interesting to gauge where the author is
standing. For example, in Shooting the
Messenger: Why Censorship Won't Stop Violence, she argues against using the
media as a scapegoat for school violence as was done in the aftermath of the
Columbine shootings. In A Question of
Abuse (Mother Jones 1996) she tells the tale of a young boy who was
treated -- and psychologically destroyed -- for being a "sex offender" at the
age of 9. She describes the "children who molest" scare, which I have already
discussed in my Right to Pleasure
article. To understand the child sexual abuse scare, the book Making
Monsters: False Memory, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria (Amazon.com) is an absolute must.
If you want to protest the smear campaign against Levine's book, you can contact the University of Minnesota Press to show your support:
University of Minnesota Press
111 Third Avenue South, Suite 290
Minneapolis, MN 55401
You can also contact the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Minneapolis Star Tribune
425 Portland Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55488
Of course, pre-ordering the book will probably send the strongest message.
The attempted suppression of Levine's book raises another question: How many
books about controversial subjects never find a publisher? What is the value of
free speech if nobody is willing to make your speech heard? Hopefully, the
Internet and books published through print-on-demand will eventually make it
possible for non-technical authors to reach large audiences effectively.
Book on children
and sex finds harsh critics (Star Tribune)
Advocating Adult-Child Sex Draws Howls of Protest (Fox News)
Child sex book
scandal triggers review of U of M publishing arm (Star Tribune)
Critics say book encourages pedophilia (USA Today)
book on children's sexuality causes furor (AP story on CNN), Book on kids' sexuality
causes furor (AP story on MSNBC), Furor
Over Youth Sex Book (AP story on CBS)
Erik Möller 2002, public domain content. If you enjoyed this
article, buy me a text-ad on Kuro5hin (email me for details).