Academic journal article Hecate

Politics, Paedophilia and Free Speech: The Witch Hunt Continues

Academic journal article Hecate

Politics, Paedophilia and Free Speech: The Witch Hunt Continues

Article excerpt

Introduction

In November 1983, Alison Thorne was transferred from her teaching position at the Glenroy Technical School in Melbourne, Victoria to an administrative position at the Tullamarine Regional Office of the Victorian Education Department. It appears that the Director-General of Education in Victoria and others in the Department considered her an unsuitable person to be entrusted with the teaching of school-children; yet her excellent record as a teacher, her involvement in equal opportunities and anti-sexual harrassment issues as they affect both students and teachers, and the willingness of several Melbourne schools to include Thorne as a member of their staff suggest that she is indeed well-qualified and well-respected.

Discriminatory action of this kind by Education Departments is not new -- teachers who were also draft resisters were sometimes transferred to Correspondence School sections during the Vietnam War and in 1969, at the high school I attended in Canberra, a teacher who had a juvenile criminal record but who had completely rehabilitated himself in the meantime was similarly transferred from classroom duties when his background became known. In 1976 in Brisbane, Greg Weir became the only teacher bonded to the Queensland Education Department who was not offered a teaching position on completion of his training that year: Weir had spoken out in defence of the Homosexual and Lesbian Group at the Kelvin Grove Teachers' College. On the basis of his political comments as a homosexual, the Education Department argued that Weir had broken the criminal code, had stated that he had done so and would be likely to continue to do so. Thus, according to the Department, Weir "would be unable to inculcate into the children of Queensland proper respect for the laws and values of Queensland".

Like Weir, Alison Thorne has been neither charged nor found guilty of any crime. All she did was what any individual in Australia is supposed to have the right to do: she signed a press release expressing a political opinion. In this case the press release was issued by the Gay Legal Rights Coalition and protested against the charges of "conspiracy to corrupt public morals" laid against nine members of the Australian Paedophile Support Group after investigations by the Delta Task Force of the Victoria Police which had infiltrated the group, presumably for the purpose of discrediting it. The charges against the nine were later dropped, yet what was not usually made clear in the media was that the group was not engaged in illegal activity as a child-molestation pick-up club, but rather aimed to discuss the political, legal and social implications of paedophilia and to increase community awareness of the ways laws regulating children's sexuality are enforced in Australia. These issues are sensitive, and discussion of them is not assisted by the widespread ignorance and emotionalism that characterise public attitudes towards paedophilia in Australia today.

Paedophilia, which refers to close relationships which may involve sexual contact between adults and under-age children, including teenagers, is usually associated in the public mind with relationships between men and boys. Presumably for this reason, paedophilia is also often confused with homosexuality, which can lead to substantial difficulties for those campaigning for gay rights. A notable example is the slur campaign against gays that was conducted in the Queensland Parliament in 1984 on the occasion of the Tenth National Conference of Lesbians and Homosexual Men being held at the University of Queensland. The Conference included a workshop on paedophilia and on this basis, government pressure was brought to bear on the University to withdraw facilities for the entire Conference. The resulting crisis for the Conference (and the University) was averted only when the workshop organisers bowed to the pressure to withdraw their session. This did nothing for informed public discussion of paedophilia, or of gay sexuality and gay rights, and it also represented a further erosion in Queensland of the right of universities to operate without government interference. …

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