This week has seen much media coverage of the news that three senior Labour politicians held leading positions in a human rights group that backed the notorious Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE).
PIE was formed in 1974 and campaigned for "children's sexuality". It wanted the government to axe or lower the age of consent and it offered support to adults "in legal difficulties concerning sexual acts with consenting 'under age' partners". The real aim was to normalise sex with children. Many of this week’s revelations are not new but they do reflect the shock that we feel about how a group with "paedophile" in its name could operate so openly for a decade.
Columnist Matthew Parris said “if there was anything with the word 'liberation' in the name you were automatically in favour of it if you were young and cool in the 1970s. It seemed like PIE had slipped through the net”
At the time there was a battle raging over free speech and PIE were able to take advantage of this. Journalist Polly Toynbee wrote of her "sinking feeling that in another five years or so, their aims would eventually be incorporated into the general liberal credo, and we would all find them acceptable".
Fortunately there were those who were willing to fight for the rights of children including The National Viewers and Listeners Association (as Mediawatch-UK was then known). Charles Oxley, Vice President of NVALA, successfully infiltrated PIE and was able to provide police with a dossier on the group and its membership which played a crucial part in the police prosecution of its members and the disbanding of the group.
NVALA drafted proposed new legislation to make membership of any organisation which supported, encouraged, condoned or enticed adults to have sexual relationships with children illegal and to make the production and distribution of material advocating such relationships against the law. In her book Mightier Than The Sword Mary Whitehouse wrote about standing outside the committee room in which the ballot for Private Members Bills took place to make sure successful MPs were given sight of the draft legislation and urged to take it forward.
Mary Whitehouse wrote: “As I see it there is a choice of freedoms here: either the freedom of vicious perverts to propagate their perversions or the freedom of children.”
Reading these words in 2014 it is impossible not draw parallels with our fight to protect children online today. The ‘adult industry’ launched the Free Speech Coalition with the aim of “greater public tolerance of freedom of sexual speech” and it currently engages in lobbying, PR and litigation with to this end. We have this group to thank for legislation in the US which removed the prohibition on depictions that appeared to be of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct and opened the door to a tsunami of material known as ‘barely legal’ which features computer generated images of children or performers over the age of 18 childified to look much younger
Protecting children from pornography is much more than a free speech issue. As more and more emerged about the effects of pornography on those who consume it is an issue of public health and we must ensure that we do not allow this fact to be clouded.
Writing in The Times the year before PIE was disbanded philosopher Roger Scruton stated his view that freedom of speech had to be sacrificed when it came to such groups. He wrote: "Paedophiles must be prevented from 'coming out'. Every attempt to display their vice as a legitimate 'alternative' to conventional morality must be, not refuted, but silenced."
It is to be hoped that we will be able to look back on our present campaigns from the future and wonder how we, as a society, ever accepted the universal availability of online pornography without protection and be thankful that the work which are undertaking today has strengthened future generations.