11 Jun 2021

On Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome (With Reference to the Case of Norman Douglas and Eric Wolton)

Norman Douglas by unknown photographer (1949) 
I have to admit, that whilst familiar with the idea of Stockholm syndrome - i.e., the (contested) condition in which hostages are said to develop a psychological bond with their captors during captivity [1] - it is only recently that I learnt of something similar said to occur within the world of illicit intergenerational relationships: child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome (or CSAAS as it is known in the literature).
Of course, as with Stockholm syndrome, CSAAS is not an officially recognised diagnostic term and many have challenged an idea which is used by some to explain the uncomfortable truth that not only do young people who have had sexual encounters with adults frequently fail to report incidents or later withdraw complaints of abuse - making prosecution of offenders difficult - but that many claim to have actively enjoyed their experiences and benefitted from the attachements formed with people often much older than themselves.   
In other words, rather than just accept what the children tell them, some social scientists working in the area of child sexual exploitation have developed a concept that allows them to morally condemn and legally prosecute the adult without blaming the child for their misperception and misunderstanding of events; their false consciousness, it is argued, is simply another aspect of their victimhood; a form of coping mechanism [2].
Now, as I don't have any real knowledge or experience in this field, I don't know what to think. On the one hand, I don't wish to defend the sexual abuse of minors. But, on the other hand, as a philosopher, I'm fully aware that different peoples in different times have understood intergenerational sex in radically different ways from us; the ancient Greeks providing a very obvious example. 
In other words, how cultures think about loving children is shaped by a wide range of beliefs, values, and social norms. Plato and friends regarded pederasty as a perfectly legitimate relationship between an adult male (the erastes) and an adolescent male (the eromenos) and it was characteristic of the Classical period in Greece [3].         
And, even in modern Europe until relatively recently, it was silently accepted that certain sophisticated older gentlemen - particularly of an artistic persuasion - often had a penchant for young boys and girls [4]. By way of example, let us consider the case of the now mostly forgotten British author Norman Douglas ...
Douglas was born in 1868. He died in 1952 of a drug overdose. 
In his day, he was highly respected and much loved as a popular novelist and writer of travel books. He was also widely known to be a pederast and accused on numerous occasions of what we would now term child sexual abuse. 
In November 1916, for example, British prosecutors charged Douglas with indecent assault on two boys; one aged twelve, the other only ten. Given bail, he fled the country and exiled himself in Italy. However, in May 1937, he was forced to flee Florence, fearing he was about to be arrested for raping a ten-year-old girl. 
Although reports of these cases appeared in the British press, Douglas's reputation remained relatively untarnished and, if anything, his outrageous behavior and outlaw status only increased his popularity with the public.    
His circle of friends and acquaintances - which included Joseph Conrad, D. H. Lawrence [5], Aldous Huxley, Graham Greene, and Oscar Levy (the German-Jewish intellectual who famously oversaw the first English translation of Nietzsche's work) - also turned a blind eye on his activity with children of both sexes, just as they seemingly accepted the sexual subculture that enabled a man like Douglas to indulge his tastes whilst always remaining one jump ahead of the law. 
Indeed, it was Levy who provided Douglas with refuge in Monte Carlo after he fled Florence and told him that not only was he unconcerned by the allegations against him, but that, in his view, the Italians ought - in recognition of his genius - to have provided him with an annual supply of virgins in the same way the Athenians once supplied the Minotaur [6].  
It was only after his death that criticism of Douglas's behaviour began to grow, although even in in 1952 Greene was prepared to publicly defend his friend and try to secure his posthumous reputation [7]. Today, as one commentator on the Douglas case writes, "it's impossible to imagine how such a notorious paedophile could be admired by so many people despite his sexual behaviour" [8].    
But this same commentator - the historian Rachel Hope Cleves - doesn't just leave things there; she explores the Douglas case at length and in depth, demonstrating how it can not only tell us much about sexuality in the late-19th and early-20th century, but perhaps also help us understand "present-day willingness to turn a blind eye to blatant sexual abusers, such as the American financier Jeffrey Epstein and the French writer Gabriel Matzneff" [9], though that's not really my point of concern here, as the first part of this post makes clear. 
What most interests me is this: what the case of Douglas and one young object of his affection, Eric Wolton, tells us about the phenomenon of CSAAS ...

Eric Wolton was a young Londoner whom Douglas first picked up in Crystal Palace, in 1910, when the former was twelve. Douglas took the boy - with parental consent - to Italy and, on their travels together, he tutored Wolton, helping him improve his reading and writing abilities, as was "in keeping with the pederastic model" [10]
Of course, in between lessons, Douglas expected sexual favours from the boy in return ... But what is perhaps most shocking, however, is that like many of the other children who had sexual relations with Douglas, Wolton later expressed nostalgia for their time together and gratitude for all that Douglas did for him as an educator and mentor. 
Indeed, as he got older these feelings only intensified and Wolton not only claimed that Douglas had saved him from a life of crime and set him on the path to personal and professional success, but, in the early 1950s, Wolton took his own children to visit Douglas shortly before the latter died: 
"His loyalty and affection for the writer were fairly typical of Douglas's past connections. Many of Douglas's boys remained on friendly terms with him throughout their adult lives, inviting the writer into their homes and introducing him to their wives and children." [11]
Is this evidence of child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome? 
Or is it that these men had genuinely positive feelings and happy memories about their relationships with Douglas? I don't know: as I said earlier, I'm not qualified to give an opinion on this either way. The fact is, however, there's "almost no evidence of children speaking out against Douglas either during their connections or afterwards, as adults" [12].
Ultimately, all we can say is that the past is a very (very) different world to the one we live in now ... In Douglas's day, as Cleves wryly notes, sex with children was seen as questionable but commonplace (and all too human); now, it's seen as terrible but exceptional (something that only monsters engage in).     
[1] Stockholm syndrome is a contested condition due to doubts about its legitimacy; it has never been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders due to the lack of a consistent body of academic research. If it does exist, then the syndrome is rare; according to data from the FBI, only about 5% of hostages show any signs of positive feeling or sympathy for their captors. The term was first used by the media in 1973 when four peope were held hostage during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. Not only did they defend their captors after being released, but they refused to testify against them in court.
[2] In a dialogue with Guy Hocquenghem and Jean Danet, Michel Foucault argued that when a child speaks of his "sexual relations, his affections, his tender feelings, or his contacts", we should learn to trust him and accept what he says. In other words, even if a child cannot legally give consent, they can be believed when articulating their own desires and they are perfectly capable of talking about themselves and their relations (particularly on the question of whether there was violence or coercion involved): "And to assume that a child is incapable of explaining what happened and incapable of giving his consent are two abuses that are intolerable, quite unacceptable."
      See: 'The Danger of Child Sexuality', trans. Alan Sheridan, in Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961-1984, ed. Sylvère Lotringer, (Semiotext(e), 1996), pp. 264-274. Lines quoted are on pp. 272-273. 
      For an earlier post that discusses Foucault's views on the question of paedophilia (with reference to the case of Gabriel Matzneff), click here  
[3] For a post in which I discuss the Ancent Greek love of boys and the benefits that a revival of pederasty as an institution might bring, click here.
[4] As one commentator writes: 
"It might feel natural to presume that the moral injunction against sex between adults and children is timeless. But today's extreme antipathy to paedophilia dates only to the 1980s, when contests over masculinity and homosexuality inspired an outburst of panic about child abuse. [...] Before the 1980s, attitudes towards sexual encounters between adults and children or youths - boys and girls - were far more ambiguous."
      - Rachel Hope Cleves, 'The Case of Norman Douglas', Aeon (9 April 2021): click here.  
[5] D. H. Lawrence had a long and complex (love-hate) relationship with Norman Douglas, whom he satirised in his novel Aaron's Rod (1922) and again in his Memoir of Maurice Magnus (1924). Interestingly, despite his loathing of the grand perverts as he called them, Lawrence doesn't mention Douglas's pederasty and seemed happy to enjoy his company in Italy, even if at some level the two men were natural enemies. See the section entitled 'Purgatory: Italy, 1919-1922', in Frances Wilson's new biography of Lawrence, Burning Man: The Ascent of D. H Lawrence, (Bloomsbury, 2021), pp. 147-275. She provides a fascinating account of the queer threesome formed by Lawrence, Douglas and Magnus and how it ultimately ended in acrimony, suicide, and an astonishing piece of writing.
[6] The fact is, pederasty had long had its defenders. To quote once more from the above essay by Cleves: 
"In the mid-19th century, a neo-Hellenist intellectual movement swept German and British universities. Scholars such as Karl Otfried Müller, Walter Pater and John Addington Symonds embraced ancient Greek history and philosophy as models for modern liberal politics and society. These neo-Hellenists placed pederasty at the centre of the Greek model, defining the pederastic relation as one 'by which an older man, moved to love by the visible beauty of a younger man, and desirous of winning immortality through that love, undertakes the younger man’s education in virtue and wisdom.' In this lofty vision, pederasty didn't entail a sexual relationship, but took place on a higher spiritual plane. In point of fact, both Pater and Symonds were sexually attracted to male youths. Their writings influenced Douglas and other pederasts who came of age in the late 19th century."
[7] Ultimatey, Greene and others failed in this attempt to secure the reputation and literary status of their friend Douglas. Cleves notes:
"If Douglas escaped condemnation during his lifetime, he couldn't escape the assault on his reputation following the intensification of anti-paedophilic sentiment after his death. The shift in public mores during the 1980s towards viewing paedophiles as monsters made it impossible to defend Douglas. He disappeared from literary memory, except as an example of historical villainy [...]" 
[8-12] Rachel Hope Cleves, op. cit
As well as the above essay, I would highly recommend the excellent book-length study by Cleves of Norman Douglas and his exploitation of children: Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality, (Chicago University Press, 2020).

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