The Sexual Revolution and Children: How the Left Took Things Too Far

By Jan Fleischhauer and Wiebke Hollersen

Germany's left has its own tales of abuse. One of the goals of the German 1968 movement was the sexual liberation of children. For some, this meant overcoming all sexual inhibitions, creating a climate in which even pedophilia was considered progressive.

Photo Gallery: A Sexual Revolution that Went too Far Photos
DPA

In the spring of 1970, Ursula Besser found an unfamiliar briefcase in front of her apartment door. It wasn't that unusual, in those days, for people to leave things at her door or drop smaller items into her letter slot. She was, after all, a member of the Berlin state parliament for the conservative Christian Democrats. Sometimes Besser called the police to examine a suspicious package; she was careful to always apologize to the neighbors for the commotion.

The students had proclaimed a revolution, and Besser, the widow of an officer, belonged to those forces in the city that were sharply opposed to the radical changes of the day. Three years earlier, when she was a newly elected member of the Berlin state parliament, the CDU had appointed Besser, a Ph.D. in philology, to the education committee. She quickly acquired a reputation for being both direct and combative.

The briefcase contained a stack of paper -- the typewritten daily reports on educational work at an after-school center in Berlin's Kreuzberg neighborhood, where up to 15 children aged 8 to 14 were taken care of during the afternoon. The first report was dated Aug. 13, 1969, and the last one was written on Jan. 14, 1970.

Even a cursory review of the material revealed that the educational work at the Rote Freiheit ("Red Freedom") after-school center was unorthodox. The goal of the center was to shape the students into "socialist personalities," and its educational mission went well beyond supervised play. The center's agenda included "agitprop" on the situation in Vietnam and "street fighting," in which the children were divided into "students" and "cops."

Pantomiming Intercourse

The educators' notes indicate that they placed a very strong emphasis on sex education. Almost every day, the students played games that involved taking off their clothes, reading porno magazines together and pantomiming intercourse.

According to the records, a "sex exercise" was conducted on Dec. 11 and a "fucking hour" on Jan. 14. An entry made on Nov. 26 reads: "In general, by lying there we repeatedly provoked, openly or in a hidden way, sexual innuendoes, which were then expressed in pantomimes, which Kurt and Rita performed together on the low table (as a stage) in front of us."

The material introduced the broader public to a byproduct of the student movement for the first time: the sexual liberation of children. Besser passed on the reports to an editor at the West Berlin newspaper Der Abend, who published excerpts of the material. On April 7, 1970, the Berlin state parliament discussed the Rote Freiheit after-school center. As it turned out, the Psychology Institute at the Free University of Berlin was behind the center. In fact, the institute had established the facility and provided the educators who worked there. Besser now believes that it was a concerned employee who dropped off the reports at her door.

A few days later, Besser paid a visit to the Psychology Institute in Berlin's Dahlem neighborhood, "to take a look at the place," as she says. In the basement, Besser found two rooms that were separated by a large, one-way mirror. There was a mattress in one of the rooms, as well as a sink on the wall and a row of colorful washcloths hanging next to it. When asked, an institute employee told Besser that the basement was used as an "observation station" to study sexual behavior in children.

It has since faded into obscurity, but the members of the 1968 movement and their successors were caught up in a strange obsession about childhood sexuality. It is a chapter of the movement's history which is never mentioned in the more glowing accounts of the era. On this issue, the veterans of the late '60s student movement seem to have succumbed to acute amnesia; an analysis of this aspect of the student revolution would certainly be worthwhile.

The Possibility of Sex with Children

In the debate on sexual abuse, one of the elements is confusion as to where the line should be drawn in interactions with children. It is a confusion not limited to the Catholic Church. Indeed, it was precisely in so-called progressive circles that an eroticization of childhood and a gradual lowering of taboos began. It was a shift that even allowed for the possibility of sex with children.

The incidents at the Odenwald School in the western state of Hesse -- a boarding school with no religious affiliation -- showed that there was a connection between calls for reform and the removal of inhibition. The case of Klaus Rainer Röhl, the former publisher of the leftist magazine Konkret, also makes little sense without its historical context. The articles in Konkret that openly advocated sex with minors are at least as disturbing as the accusations of Röhl's daughters Anja and Bettina that he molested them, which Röhl denies.

The left has its own history of abuse, and it is more complicated than it would seem at first glance. When leaders of the student movement of the late 1960s are asked about it, they offer hesitant or evasive answers. "At the core of the movement of 1968, there was in fact a lack of respect for the necessary boundaries between children and adults. The extent to which this endangerment led to abuse cases is unclear," Wolfgang Kraushaar, a political scientist and chronicler of the movement, writes in retrospect.

A lack of respect for boundaries is putting it mildly. One could also say that the boundaries were violently torn open.

Sexual liberation was at the top of the agenda of the young revolutionaries who, in 1967, began turning society upside down. The control of sexual desire was seen as an instrument of domination, which bourgeois society used to uphold its power. Everything that the innovators perceived as wrong and harmful has its origins in this concept: man's aggression, greed and desire to own things, as well as his willingness to submit to authority. The student radicals believed that only those who liberated themselves from sexual repression could be truly free.

'Hostile Treatment of Sexual Pleasure'

To them, it seemed obvious that liberation should begin at an early age. Once sexual inhibitions had taken root, they reasoned, everything that followed was merely the treatment of symptoms. They were convinced that it was much better to prevent those inhibitions from developing in the first place. Hardly any leftist texts of the day did not address the subject of sexuality.

For instance, "Revolution der Erziehung" ("The Revolution in Education"), a work published by Rowohlt in 1971, which quickly became a bestseller, addresses sexuality as follows: "The de-eroticization of family life, from the prohibition of sexual activity among children to the taboo of incest, serves as preparation for total assimilation -- as preparation for the hostile treatment of sexual pleasure in school and voluntary subjugation to a dehumanizing labor system."

Issue 17 of the cultural magazine Kursbuch, published in June 1969, described the revolutionaries' position in practical terms. Published by German author Hans Magnus Enzensberger, the issue contained a report by the members of Commune 2 in Berlin, titled "Educating Children in the Commune." In the summer of 1967, three women and four men moved into an apartment in an old building on Giesebrechtstrasse, together with two small children, a three-year-old girl, Grischa, and a four-year-old boy, Nessim. For the residents, the cohabitation experiment was an attempt to overcome all bourgeois constraints, which included everything from separate bank accounts and closed bathroom doors to fidelity within couples and the development of feelings of shame. The two children were raised by the group, which often meant that no one paid much attention to them. Because the adults had made it their goal to not just "tolerate but in fact affirm child sexuality," they were not satisfied to simply act as passive observers.

The members of this commune also felt compelled to write down their experiences, which explains why some of the incidents that occurred were reliably documented. On April 4, 1968, Eberhard Schultz describes how he is lying in bed with little Grischa, and how she begins to stroke him, first in the face, then on the stomach and buttocks, and finally on his penis, until he becomes "very excited" and his "cock gets hard." The little girl pulls down her tights and asks Schultz to "stick it in," to which he responds that his penis is "probably too big." Then he strokes the girl's vagina.

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1. It never was about the children, but always about the adults.
donald doug 07/02/2010
Let me begin by saying, that I was part of this sexual revolution as a child, and that I am reeling from the aftermath of what happened to me to this very day. That said, I want to point out, that when an adult engages in sexual activity with a child, it is not about love or sensuality, but about power. And it is exactly that level on which the abuse causes damage. No matter how often I was told that in an anti authoritarian household every member has equal rights, at the end of the day, I was still a child with all the limitations that that entails. I have a problem with the term Sexual Revolution. Screwing anything that moves hardly qualifies to be called that. The Left, as you call it, did exactly the same as the "Right". Adults having sex with children know no class boundaries. It happened just as much in conservative households, the only difference being, that the Left did it openly. And that was a huge step, yet clearly not enough. When adults consider children as adequate sex partners, it is about deep seated psychological damage, and has little to do with liberation of any kind. By openly engaging in these kind of practices, the 'Left' put the limelight on a topic that is of utmost importance. What angers me, as someone who happened to be on the child end of the spectrum at the time, is the fact that the issue was merely scratched on the surface and then left at that. It was never about the children, in my opinion, but about an attempt of the adults to confront something from their past, belonging to their childhoods. Considering, that the childhoods of those adults happened to be during World War II, complicates everything exponentially. I was used sexually as a child by various adults. It was never about me and always about them, even though it might have looked differently at the time. I confronted some of them over the years. Most of them belong(ed) to the establishment. Some of them are praised members of the establishment to this very day. Healing from this kind of abuse is a slow and often painful and extremely intimate process. It was very important for me to understand that the adults that chose to engage in sex with me as a child, did so out of their own damaged selves and had nothing to do with me as a human being. And that is exactly my point of critic with the "Left". Throwing a loaded topic like this onto the table could be considered courageous. Being unwilling to understand its true depth and impact is unforgivable.
2. lacking arguments
dein spiegel 07/03/2010
An interesting article, unfortunately it is just communicating the opinion that we're oh-so enlightened today, and back then people were just doing really wrong things because, well, everybody knows that, no? However, if there is no reason given for right or wrongs, the only thing that distinguishes both is the prevailing opinion, and that was what caused the problem to begin with. What is lacking in this article are scientifically well established studies that demonstrate effects of sexual abuse or intrusion into the private sphere on children. Without that, there's no rights or wrongs.
3. Legends debunked
sganarelle 07/03/2010
These are two of the legends that led to the fatal ideologies of the 1968 movement: The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead: A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Research (http://www.newsweekly.com.au/books/0813336937.html) Secret History: Kinsey's Paedophiles (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8606305708018993332#)
4. Really?
ibesq 07/05/2010
I left Germany in 1965 and spent the rest of the 60s and 70s in the U.S., with the 70s in San Francisco, so I have experience with left and progressive groups. I find it hard to believe that the conduct and attitude described in this article with questionable source material was so widespread in the late 60s and 70s in Germany. If you read between the lines, the author acknowledges the absence of widespread sexual abuse of children.
5. s
mae 07/05/2010
---Quote (Originally by sysop)--- Germany's left has its own tales of abuse. One of the goals of the German 1968 movement was the sexual liberation of children. For some, this meant overcoming all sexual inhibitions, creating a climate in which even pedophilia was considered progressive. http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,702679,00.html ---End Quote--- If leftist politicians have written books admitting to trysts with children, why hasn't the German police filed charges against them for child molestation? It appears that German society has a double standard when it comes to child molestation - one standard for priests and another for intellectuals and the artists. It is quite pathetic how this article tries to justify child molestation by the 68er's by saying they didn't realise they were harming the children - what did the have an IQ of 10? This basic common sense . This is what fanaticism does to people - they lose their morals. Any kind of fanaticism whether of the left or right inevitabley leads to an absence of morals. Fanaticism is not restricted to politics, it can also be fanatical atheism , fanatical environmentalism. Once an fanatical envirnomentalist told me that he didn't give a damn about millions of children dying of poverty becaue it was ultimately beneficial as over population was damaging the environment. He clearly had lost his morals but believed himself to be morally superior everybody else.
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