Hollida Wakefield and Ralph Underwager
Padika Magazine (AKA: The Journal of Paedophlia) - June 1991
Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love. . . . Paedophiles can make the assertion that the pursuit of intimacy and love is what they choose. With boldness they can say, "I believe this is in fact part of God's will. --Dr. Ralph Underwager
The following interview was conducted in Amsterdam in June 1991 by Joseph Geraci "Paidika's" Editor-in-Chief. Both Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield had strong ties to the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. An organization which accused therapist of implanting false memories into their clients and survivors of incest of making up stories.
Dr. Ralph Underwager earned his masters of Divinity from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, and his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, and has been, since 1974, Director of the Institute for Psychological Therapies in Northfield, Minnesota. Besides being a staff psychologist in a clinic, Dr. Underwager has also been a pastor at Lutheran churches in Iowa and Minnesota. He is a member of the National Council for Children's Rights, the American Psychological Association, the Lutheran Academy for Scholarship, and the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, among others.
Hollida Wakefield received her M.A., from the University of Maryland, where she also completed the course work for her Ph.D. She has worked as an elementary school teacher, a college psychology instructor, and since 1976 as a staff psychologist at the Institute of Psychological Therapies. Her memberships include the National Council for Children's Rights, the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, and the American College of Forensic Psychology. She and Dr. Underwager are married.
Ms. Wakefield and Dr. Underwager are the publishers of the journal, "Issues in Child Abuse Accusations." They co-edited the volumes: "Accusations of Child Sexual Abuse" and "The Real World of Child Interrogations." They have written numerous articles on the interrogation of children, the role of the psychologist in assessing child abuse cases, the evaluation of child witnesses, and the manipulation of the child abuse system. They regularly appear as expert witnesses and give training sessions to jurists, psychologists, and laymen.
PAIDIKA: Could you describe your views on paedophilia, from your prospective as psychologists in the U. S.?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: Our main idea about paedophilia is that it's learned behavior. We don't think it's inborn, genetic, or hormonal. Like homosexuality, we believe it's learned at a young age and that the person has the subjective reality that they've always been this way.
There's an absence of anything in the research to show that paedophilia is anything other than learned. Such things as sexual orientation are an interaction. There may well be more of a propensity among some people to be affected by learning of various types. At the American Psychological Association's 1989 annual conference, we went to a presentation on homosexuality. The research was reviewed and the bottom line was that nothing biological had been established.
RALPH UNDERWAGER: We've been heavily involved in dealing with issues of child sexual abuse for a number of years. We've also been involved for a number of years in providing therapy for a variety of sexual dysfunctions, dysphorias, and paraphilias.
To our knowledge, there has not been any convincing research that suggests there is a hormonal component, a hormonal involvement to sexual orientation. There's also nothing we know of that suggests there's a genetic component. As psychologists, we're more persuaded that behavior patterns are learned, rather than influenced by genes. We're also aware that the Minnesota twins studies are demonstrating a significant genetic component to some behavior, though I don't think they have come up with any data about paedophilia.
PAIDIKA: Is heterosexuality for you also learned behavior?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: Yes.
RALPH UNDERWAGER: Yes.
PAIDIKA: What do you mean when you say sexual orientation is learned behavior; where do you go from there?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: It means that a person has more freedom. There is an element of choice for someone not happy with whatever their sexual life is. They can learn to improve it. If it's a sexual dysfunction, somebody who's a premature ejaculator or impotent for example, they can learn something different. If a homosexual did not want to be homosexual, really wanted to be a heterosexual, there would be techniques that would have a decent chance of allowing that person to change. I'm not saying the person should want to change. I'm only saying that there is an element of choice. A person can determine their own sexual direction, and there are many behavioral techniques available that would allow the person to change.
RALPH UNDERWAGER: The theory of learned behavior permits individuals to take personal responsibility for their own behavior. We find it difficult when people try to place the responsibility for their behavior on something else. In the great American game, the blame is placed on bad parents who make bad kids. Explanations for homosexuality and paedophilia center on some kind of parental influence: mothers who are castrating, dominant, controlling, and hostile; fathers who are weak, and insipid. To say that my sexual responses at some level are learned is also to say that I am responsible for them.
Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love.
PAIDIKA: Is choosing paedophilia for you a responsible choice for the individuals?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: Certainly it is responsible. What I have been struck by as I have come to know more about and understand people who choose paedophilia is that they let themselves be too much defined by other people. That is usually an essentially negative definition. Paedophiles spend a lot of time and energy defending their choice. I don't think that a paedophile needs to do that. Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love. I am also a theologian and as a theologian, I believe it is God's will that there be closeness and intimacy, unity of the flesh, between people. A paedophile can say: "This closeness is possible for me within the choices that I've made."
Paedophiles are too defensive. They go around saying, "You people out there are saying that what I choose is bad, that it's no good. You're putting me in prison, you're doing all these terrible things to me. I have to define my love as being in some way or other illicit." What I think is that paedophiles can make the assertion that the pursuit of intimacy and love is what they choose. With boldness, they can say, "I believe this is in fact part of God's will." They have the right to make these statements for themselves as personal choices. Now whether or not they can persuade other people they are right is another matter (laughs).
Positive and Negative Views of Paedophilia
PAIDIKA: You've said that paedophiles speaks negatively about themselves; they are defensive; they act negatively. Paedophiles are a disparate group, like any human group, so what kind of individuals are you talking about, and with whom are you having contact?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: Well, they are paedophiles I have come to know, to talk with as patients while providing treatment. But my contacts have not been limited to the therapeutic setting. I've also met others in a general context, here in the Netherlands, and in the U. S., and I've read some of the literature.
Let me give you another example. The paedophile literature keeps talking about relationships. Every time I hear the word "relationship" I wince. It's a peculiarly bloodless, essentially Latin word that may have a lot of intellectual or cognitive content, but has little emotion. I think it would be much more honest to use the good old Anglo-Saxon four letter word "love," more honest for paedophiles to say, "I want to love somebody." Not, "I want a relationship." I mean, what the hell's a relationship?
Paedophiles can make the assertion that the pursuit of intimacy and love is what they choose. With boldness they can say, "I believe this is in fact part of God's will.
PAIDIKA: You say that paedophiles should affirm the fact that they believe that paedophilia is a part of "God's will." Are you also saying that for the paedophile to make this claim about "God's will, is also to state what God's will is?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: (laughing) Of course, I'm not privy to God's will. I do believe it is God's will that we have freedom. I believe that God's will is that we have absolute freedom. No conditions, no contingencies. When the blessed apostle Paul says, "All things are lawful for me," he says it not once but four times. "All things are lawful for me." He also adds that not everything works.
PAIDIKA: Hollida, I can see you want to say something. Do you have a different point of view from Ralph's?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: I'd add one qualification to what Ralph has just said about there being no conditions or contingencies to the freedom given us by God. I would add, you have to take the consequences of this freedom. That said, well, I guess I do feel differently about some things. For example, I find it difficult too envision how a paedophile relationship can have the potential of being the type of close, intimate, constantly developing relationship that would be possible in more traditional relationships, whether in heterosexual marriages, or a committed adult homosexual relationship. Speaking only about men and boys at least, what I have seen is that once the young man gets to be a certain age, the paedophile is no longer interested in the young man sexually. These relationships start at around the age of eleven or twelve, and then by sixteen, seventeen, the paedophile is ready for a new one. The old relationship is, if not thrust aside, at least radically changed. It's hard for me to see that is a deep, meaningful relationship, even if I'm using the word Ralph doesn't like. It doesn't have the same bad connotations for me.
I'm no expert on the way these relationships develop or on what happens to them when the boy turns seventeen, eighteen or twenty. I can't imagine it just stays the same. It poses certain questions for me. Do paedophiles retain a close, intimate relationship with the boy, although the sex ends? Did they then add another boy while keeping the first boy, and then later repeat the pattern and add another and just keep adding new boys until they have a whole harem, ranging in age from let's say twelve to forty? Or perhaps the paedophile doesn't keep the first boy around. Perhaps he disappears out of his life altogether only to be replaced by the next? If that is the way it is, which seems from my observation to be the case, then I don't understand how there can ever be a close, intimate, constantly progressing and developing relationship. Perhaps it is possible. I'm not saying it is not possible, but it does strike me as being a limitation of these relationships.
There's also a second set of questions I have around a completely different matter. The problem, as I would state it, is that in the United States, paedophilia is viewed so negatively that I think the possibility of harming the young man would be very real. I don't know if a positive model is possible in the United States. The climate is such in the United States that it would be very, very difficult for a paedophile, even with the most idealistic of motives and aspirations, to make his relationship actually work in practice.
Even if the boy at some point viewed it as positive, after coming into contact with the way the society as a whole viewed it, the very real danger would be created of making the experience harmful. Relationships and societal attitudes are, of course, two completely different areas. In such a negative climate, I don't know if it would be possible for the relationship to be good for the parties involved when the entire society is so negative.
When I think about paedophiles, these are some of the theoretical difficulties I have with it. In practice, how these relationships turn out is a totally different issue. It might be that the relationships continue to grow but change in form and become positive. They might also develop negatively. As I said these are theoretical problems. For example, if the sex continued, we would have to call that male homosexuality, not paedophilia. If a relationship started when the individuals were respectively twenty-two and twelve, and they stayed together until they were forty-two and thirty-two, we would not define that any longer as a paedophile relationship.
RALPH UNDERWAGER: I think that Holly and I agree that sexuality is a smaller part set within a large whole of our humanity: our capacity for love, our ability to approach some form of unity with another person. Sexuality takes place within this larger context, but it is not exhaustive, nor necessary, nor sufficient as a cause unto itself. The necessary and sufficient cause of sexuality for us is the unity, the wholeness, the intimacy.
The history of human behavior surely demonstrates that sexual behavior can become a very volatile, explosive part of intimacy and closeness, such as in jealousy and possessiveness. There is, in other words, a potential for sexuality, even if it is a small part of the whole, to erupt into what can be pervasive, cataclysmic experiences. When the sex ends abruptly and the man has been saying to the boy, "I love you, I care for you. You and I are one in mind, body, spirit," and then suddenly says, "That's all fine, but we ain't gonna do it no more." What happens then?
PAIDIKA: Perhaps a loving friendship continues. I've certainly encountered relationships where it has. Aren't you saying that we should define relationships in terms of love?
RALPH UNDERWAGER: I was urging earlier that you make the loving image clearer to the outside world. What appears to the public is not the picture of a loving man but rather the picture of the dirty old man lurking in alleys, waiting for nice innocent young lads to come by, grabbing their genitalia and hustling them off and sort of casting them aside and waiting for the next one.
PAIDIKA: Perhaps the question is, should we only define paedophilia or paedophiles by the worst examples of individual behaviors?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: Well these terrible examples exist. We have to take them in. There are very negative aspects of paedophilia that we see from our experience in the United States. We saw a priest, for example, who started having sex with a child when the boy was nine. He told the child that he loved only him. But, in fact, at the same time, he was also involved with half a dozen other nine-and-ten-year-olds. He had had anal sex with the kid. And then he cast him aside at age fifteen. The boy was totally and hopelessly screwed up, his whole sexuality in confusion. Worse, the story leaked out, so the child was mercilessly teased at school, called a homosexual and gossiped about. There are children who have been abused, raped, and dropped on the side of the road.
I want to be clear though. Nobody has talked to us in the U. S. about their paedophilia who's engaged in an on-going relationship, just individuals who were ordered into therapy. You have to remember, if somebody in the United States talked to us and said, "You know, I'm a paedophile and I have a sexual relationship with this boy and it's good," we would have to call the police and turn him in. We would turn him in too, because we would be in jail if we didn't. So, when we say we've talked to people, we mean individuals sent to us for therapy.
The climate is such in the United States that the discussion would have to be carefully sanitized, completely abstract. There couldn't be any reference whatsoever to somebody who might be in an on-going relationship, because we would have to call the police and say, "That person has been sexual with minors," and if we didn't do that, we would lose our licenses as psychologists, face a fine of $5,000, and six months in jail.
PAIDIKA: There is research and some scientific opinion that demonstrates that more positive examples and personal experiences exist. Theo Sandfort's research, cross-cultural models, the writings of the German sexologist Bomemann. Shouldn't we be putting positive views into the picture in order to come to an understanding?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: We don't know about The Netherlands. Our impression is that it's somewhat easier here than at home.
But your point is that potentially there can be good, healthy, positive relationships between men and boys. It would be difficult to come up with sexual research for that in the United States because it would frankly be suppressed. When I did a review of the literature on boy victims of child sexual abuse, some of the studies show not just negative effects in some of the boys. The authors try to explain this away. Their rationale is that because they didn't find negative things in their study, does not mean there are none. They just haven't shown up yet! If anyone in the United States were to do a study that showed positive outcomes and then wrote it up as a scientific paper, they probably would not succeed in getting it published. It could only be published if they found a way to explain away any positive findings. They would have to make it look like they found something other than what they found. They would be entirely vilified.
PAIDIKA: Doesn't your book, Accusations of Child Sexual Abuse, suggest that all sexual relationships between adults and children in the United States are abusive relationships?
HOLLIDA WAKEFIELD: No. I think we would claim that these sexual relationships, in the U. S., at least, could range from neutral to harmful. We don't envision or hypothesize that they could be positive, but at best neutral.