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  • Pedo-Sexuality:An Especially German History
  • Meike Sophia Baader (bio) and Nicholas Levis

Controversies about pedophilia continue to unfold in many countries. In no small measure, this is due to the coming to light in recent years of many incidents of abuse involving the Catholic Church. These scandals have posed a serious challenge for the Church and have been treated in various national case studies.

The ongoing public debate on pedophilia in Germany, however, has been cast as a problem of the Left and of liberalism, almost certainly making for a unique circumstance internationally (Herzog 2014). To understand how this happened, we must take a closer look at the German discourse since 2010, which has gone through different waves and displayed a variety of discursive elements. The narrative that has been reinforced since 2013, especially, portrays the Left and liberalism as particularly apt to adopt pedophiliac positions.

Though the waves of public debate have been complex, since 2013 there has been an almost complete failure to distinguish between actual practices of sexual abuse and the adoption of pedophilia-defending positions in the debates about sex crime laws during the 1970s and 1980s. These controversies are deeply embedded in the specificities of German history. They return us to the 1960s and 1970s, the sexual revolution, and the post-1968 antiauthoritarian education and children’s Kinderladen (day care) movements in West Germany—and thus also to the “paradoxes of sexual liberalization” that still concern us today (Herzog 2013). From the perspective of historical scholarship and a history of education that considers the longer term, even more fundamental questions arise about how very differently child sexuality and the relationships between adult and [End Page 315] child sexualities have been discussed and assessed at various points over the centuries (König 2014).

Stages of the German Debate Since 2010

Starting in early 2010, the German public learned of numerous incidents of sexual abuse at Catholic boarding schools in prior decades. This served to revive interest in another earlier scandal involving the sexual abuse of children and adolescents at the Odenwald School, an institution famous within the educational reform movement. Odenwald had been founded in 1910 as a pioneering coeducational boarding school closely associated with the life reform (Lebensreform) and youth and women’s movements of that time. In the 1970s, Odenwald became a model for a new West German movement for educational reform. Stories about sex abuse incidents at Odenwald in the 1970s and 1980s first emerged in the late 1990s, but without major public, let alone legal, consequences. The full terrifying extent of what had transpired was only revealed after 2010: more than 130 mostly male students were sexually abused by Odenwald teachers, with the headmaster playing a prominent role. How could this have been concealed for so long? Among the reasons advanced are that Odenwald was an elite school as well as a model school of the reform movement. The school enjoyed a kind of institutional protection, and the headmaster similar personal protection. These unwritten rules were respected by the media and still very much followed in the late 1990s.

In the meantime, a series of publications by victims, journalists, and social scientists have considered how such a high number of abuse incidents could occur over a period of so many years without discovery. The practice of abuse enjoyed a level of discursive legitimation at Odenwald. The school’s agenda of educational reform was wrapped up in a specific dynamic, both drawing connections to Greek antiquity and Plato’s ideal of “pedagogical Eros,” and appropriating the arguments and vocabulary of the sexual revolution (Baader 2012a). In the wake of the abuse controversies, a thorough scholarly examination of “pedagogical Eros” explored its origins and development through the German and English life reform movements around 1900 and in the ideas of the English sexologist Have-lock Ellis (Oelkers 2011). The Odenwald incidents also became the subject of a German feature film released in September 2014, Die Auserwählten. Directed by Christoph Röhl, “The Chosen” portrays the headmaster [End Page 316] who sexually abused male students as an autocratic hippie who refutes criticisms of his own behavior by citing Plato.

The story of abuse...