Feature

United Kingdom: Pedophilia wasn’t always so reviled

It may sound shocking today, but in the 1970s, even pedophiles were demanding their rights.

Sam Leith
Evening Standard

It may sound shocking today, said Sam Leith, but in the 1970s, even pedophiles were demanding their rights. Harriet Harman, the deputy head of the Labor Party, is now being widely denounced for having worked for the National Council of Civil Liberties back when it was affiliated with Pedophile Information Exchange, a pro-sex-with-children group. We’re all acting as if PIE’s activities were “so unthinkable, so self-evidently wicked,” that any decent person would have refused to be associated with them. PIE, however, was not “some covert criminal organization,” but a real advocacy group that published periodicals and received public money. The context here is the 1970s, when so many social norms were being challenged—mostly for the good. Civil rights groups were challenging the status quo that had marginalized women, gays, children, racial minorities, and other groups. Pedophiles asked to be liberated, too, amid all the challenges to conventional morality at the time. Of course, sex with children ended up being one area where conventional morality had it right all along. But that was strangely far from obvious then. As uncomfortable as it may be to admit, “our morals are culturally conditioned.”

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