A problematic poster boy

Peter Tatchell’s troubled history makes him a questionable representative of public order

Artillery Row

Peter Tatchell, the well-known “LGBT” campaigner, has been used as the poster boy for the new Metropolitan Police initiative of “LGBT+ Community Liaison Officers”. Posting on Twitter, the Met announced that it “welcomes” Tatchell’s support for the scheme, which is set up to “build trust and confidence that will encourage more LGBT+ people to come forward to report sexual assaults”, amongst other crimes.

This new initiative was announced in response to campaigning undertaken by Tatchell. To choose Tatchell as the face of a campaign seeking to encourage reporting of sexual abuse is a strange choice, however, given that Tatchell himself has faced numerous accusations of excessive sympathy with adults who wish to have sex with children.

Tatchell hotly disputes such claims. Articles on his website often contain a header, which reads:

NOTE — My articles urging an age of consent of 14 are motivated solely by a desire to reduce the criminalisation of under-16s who have consenting relationships with other young people of similar ages. I do not support adults having sex with children … I hope this re-assures you.

Tatchell has often claimed that his statements regarding child sex have been grossly “misrepresented”. He has even crafted a “copy and paste” statement for use on Twitter, whenever an allegation against him emerges. It reads:

I oppose adults having sex with kids. My website petertatchell.net has said so for decades. I’ve helped child abuse victims fight for justice.

Read my ideas to STOP child sex abuse.

Read what I REALLY SAID on age of consent

He then provides links to various articles he has written.

Many might be tempted to end the discussion there. Here is a man repeatedly saying that he is against child sex abuse. Yet, as is so often the case, it is worth taking a closer look at the things Tatchell has said and written over the years on the issue of child sex.

The Guardian letter

In 1997, a Peter Tatchell from Buckingham Street, London SE1, wrote a letter to the Guardian. The wording of this letter is deeply troubling.

This line appears to dismiss the suffering of children harmed by adult predators

The letter begins, “Ros Coward thinks that it is ‘shocking’ that Gay Men’s Press has published a book, Dare to Speak, which challenges the assumption that all sex involving children and adults is abusive. I think it is courageous.” It continues by referencing “societies where consenting inter-generational sex is considered normal, beneficial and enjoyable by old and young alike”. The letter references a piece of work that considered the “Sambia tribe of Papua New Guinea where all young boys have sex with older warriors as part of their initiation into manhood. Far from being harmed … they grow up to be happy, well-adjusted husbands and fathers”. Tatchell goes on to say, “several of my friends gay and straight male and female had sex with adults from the ages of 9 to 14. None feel they were abused.”

This one line appears to dismiss the suffering of the many children who have been harmed by adult predators because, in his mind, he knows some friends who had sex with adults when they were children and don’t feel abused. He finishes off with what I believe is the most telling statement of all: “whilst it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful.”

I am particularly struck by the term “whilst it may be impossible to condone paedophilia”. In later years, Tatchell has said that this statement simply demonstrates that he doesn’t condone paedophilia.

In an interview years later with investigative journalist Gary Kavanagh, Tatchell claims that some points condemning paedophilia were omitted from the published version of the letter.

The interview with Lee

In 1997, Tatchell conducted an interview with and wrote an article on a boy named Lee, who stated that he had sex with older men.

Included in the article is a statement by Tatchell, which reads:

Lee is 14. He’s been having sex with boys since the age of eight, and with men since he was 12 …

He comes across as bright, articulate, sure of himself, and mature beyond his years. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting away with taking advantage of him.

Is Tatchell suggesting that a 12-year-old may be capable of deciding to have sex with adults?

Questionable connections with the Paedophile Information Exchange

In 1998, Tatchell wrote a glowing obituary in the Independent for Ian Dunn, a man who was one of the founders of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE). Tatchell denied any knowledge of Dunn’s involvement with PIE.

In 1986, Tatchell wrote an essay for a book entitled Betrayal of Youth (BOY). His essay, which he has always stated he received no payment for, was entitled Questioning Ages of Majority and Ages of Consent”. In his writing, he wondered whether the age of sexual consent was simply reinforcing a set of increasingly quaint, minority moral values left over from the Victorian era”.

Most concerning of all is that the book itself was commissioned by Warren Middleton, a pro-paedophile activist and Paedophile Information Exchange member. The chapter that directly followed Tatchell’s in the book was, shockingly, called: “Ways & Means: How to make paedophilia acceptable”.

Tatchell has denied any knowledge of Middleton’s involvement in pro-paedophilia activism and claims that he never knew of the other authors or chapter titles of the book until after it was published.

The Sex and Law Conference speech

In 2010, Tatchell gave a speech at the Sex and Law Conference in Sheffield. The title of the speech was: “An age of consent to 14?”

As we have already witnessed, Tatchell makes confusingly contradictory statements. He states, for example: Child sex abuse is wrong. Full stop. I do not, and never have, endorsed the sexual abuse of children by adults.” Yet, just a few lines later, he states: “If sex at 14 is consensual, and no one is hurt or complains, is criminalisation in the public interest?”

He proceeds to speak out in favour of “empowering teenagers … including the right to say yes to the sex they want”. He finishes the speech by saying, Despite what the puritans and sex-haters say, under-age sex is mostly consenting, safe and fun.”

The International School of Geneva interview

It is clear from this video from 2015 with the International School of Geneva that Tatchell’s views in this regard have not changed over time.

During the interview, he recounts a discussion with a friend, who was around the age of 50. He goes on to say: “He had sex with a young man when he was nine years old. He said it was his choice … he had no regrets about that sexual experience … My view is that’s his personal view … if he says that, who am I or you to dispute it?”

Tatchell suggests clearly that not all sex between adults and children is abusive

Once again, this gives the impression of dismissing or minimising child sex abuse, on the basis that he knows some adults who, with the power of hindsight, say they have no regrets.

He goes on to say, “Now I accept that most [emphasis added] sex involving young people is abusive and wrong. His view might be exceptional. But it’s not a view that should be dismissed and denied.” This is crucial. Tatchell again suggests clearly that not all sex between adults and children is abusive or wrong.

Nine-year-old children cannot consent to sex. That is the uncompromising legal and moral position in our society. According to Tatchell, however, “If an adult person looks back at an early sexual experience and says they consented to it … we should do the honest thing and accept their viewpoint.”

This is a highly dangerous narrative. Consent and capacity to consent can only be judged in the moment. To do otherwise would fly in the face of safeguarding. We deem children incapable of consenting to sex because they have not developed the capacity to understand fully the implications of their actions. It is utterly irrelevant if an adult, decades later, looks back with hindsight (possibly even having repressed some of the trauma they experienced) and says that they consented at the time. Does Tatchell believe that we should assume children consent unless they tell us otherwise years down the line?

The International Business Times article

In this 2015 article, Tatchell explicitly states that we should tackle child sex abuse by “encouraging young people to have a more open, positive attitude towards sexual matters”. Is that really what vulnerable children need to stay safe from sexual predators?

Shockingly, Tatchell appears to equate child safeguarding with child sex abuse. He states:

But by denying the under-16’s the right to consent to sex, it reinforces the idea that they have no right to make their own sexual choices. Isn’t this also what child sex abusers believe?

To compare the State preventing children under 16 from having sex, with the beliefs of child sex abusers, is abhorrent.

Tatchell finishes by offering up what he believes is a “useful sex and relationship education mantra”: “It’s my body. It’s my right to decide”. When it comes to protecting children from sexual abuse — children who are not developmentally capable of consenting to sex — how on earth can that possibly be the correct message?

It almost feels as if Tatchell has engaged in an exercise of splitting or dissociation. There is the evil “child sex abuse”, which should be condemned, and there is the empowering, consensual child sex. As we know, this is disingenuous. Children cannot consent to sex.

Only Tatchell himself knows how he truly feels about these matters. However, I suggest that we should continue questioning and challenging Tatchell on the statements he has made and continues to make.

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