On May 5, 2008, the BBC broadcast an edition of ‘Am I normal?’ on the subject of sex, presented by the media-friendly clinical psychologist Tanya Byron. It included an interview with a pedophile; an ‘out’ (but non-practising) girl-lover, who has been bravely campaigning for wider acceptance of child-love and for the abolition of age-of-consent laws as presently formulated. It was a good opportunity for him to present his case to a wide audience in the U.K. and beyond.
My first reaction to the way in which he was portrayed by the programme was very negative. Though I have seen dozens of these sorts of treatments of the subject of ‘paedophilia’ before, it never ceases to amaze me how one-sided and blinkered they can be. Byron announced before she went in to interview the pedophile that, despite her biases and prior assumptions, she was going to try to be ‘rational’. If that was really her intention, then she failed miserably. Her subject explained that he was attracted to girls from about seven to eleven years of age, and that if it were legal and if the girl was willing, he would act on this attraction. He did, however, rule out penetrative sex at that age. When asked what he would like to do, he mentioned masturbation and oral sex. Byron described all this as ’horrifying’.
Just in case emotion might have ’clouded’ her judgment (surely not!) she checked her interviewee’s opinions with a psychiatrist, who duly confirmed that he was talking nonsense and that the distinction between violent molestation and what he wanted to defend comes to nothing. So we can all breathe a sigh of relief– our prejudices are comfortably endorsed by ’science’.
Such was my initial reaction. But then I started to wonder. Suppose Byron had said she agreed with some of the points the pedophile was making or even just shown some sympathy with them. Would the programme still have been shown? I doubt it. It is daring enough that an ‘out’ child-lover is allowed to express his views on national TV. If this is going to be done, it is expected that the presenter will be required to knock his views down, as in this case. But for a pedophile to be able to speak at all on the BBC is something of an achievement. Byron mentioned that she spoke to him for about an hour and we saw only about ten minutes of this (no doubt heavily edited). But that we were able to hear him at all must, I think, be regarded as a very positive thing.