The International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation

It’s Not Easy Being a Child Lover:
Applying Techniques of Neutralization Theory to Case Studies of
 Intergenerational Intimacy in the Philippines

Billy J. Long, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice
School of Social Sciences

Ferrum College
#3 Roberts Hall
Ferrum, VA. 24088

Long, B (2011). It’s Not Easy Being a Child Lover: Applying Techniques of Neutralization Theory to Case Studies of
 Intergenerational Intimacy in the Philippines
.  International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation. Vol 15(2) 79-84


This paper addresses the problem of child prostitution in the Philippines. The US military has long contributed to the perpetuation of “red light” districts in ports it visits. Sykes and Matza’s techniques of neutralization theory is used to explain why sailors and marines can simultaneously believe that sex with children is wrong while still engaging in intergenerational intimacy. Sailors and marines use five techniques to neutralize the guilt they experience at the thought of violating sexual moral codes that proscribe sex with children. Social and psychological approaches to combat this problem are offered.

Key words: child prostitution, Philippines, military prostitution, techniques of neutralization


Perhaps no topic elicits a more viscerally negative response than that of sex with children.  Communities recoil in horror when the quiet man in the house on the corner is exposed as the neighborhood “child molester.”  Internet sites exist and laws across the United States mandate that released sex offenders report to the police and post their personal information on websites. Even in United State’s prisons, child sex offenders are often considered to be the “lowest of the low” and are subjected to ostracization and abuse (Sandfort et al., 1991).

However, this extreme opposition is often relaxed when going abroad. Many people (in this case males in the U.S. Navy) seem to be able to find innovative ways to relax the taboo while abroad. While the prevalence of child sex abuse by U.S. Navy personnel is unclear, it is estimated that there are close to 100,000 child prostitutes in the Philippines alone (Juvida, 1997; Black, 1991).  In other words, while abroad, sailors and marines can sometimes neutralize the moral guides that successfully regulate behavior here at home.

I was enlisted in the U.S. Navy from 1982-1987 and served for approximately two years on a ship that was stationed in the Philippines. I became very acquainted with the local community by living off base and serving as a Shore Patrol petty officer.  Shore Patrol petty officers serve as foot patrols in the Olongapo City “red light” district keeping the peace and responding to calls for order maintenance. This allowed me to make copious observations of sailors and marines engaged in questionable behavior involving minors, overwhelmingly young girls.

The U.S. Navy has routinely been criticized for being a corrupting influence for Filipina youth (Beacham, 1993; Lim, 1998; Orejas, 2000; Ralston and Keeble, 2008; Preda Foundation, 1997; Todd, 1993).  Once a naval vessel arrives at the Subic Bay Naval Station on the island of Luzon (51 miles from Manila), hordes of young male sailors flood into the surrounding town (Olongapo City) looking for loud music, alcohol and sex. Most of the Filipina girls were engaged in “legitimate” prostitution as “hostesses” vis--vis local bars and clubs. The process typically takes place in the following manner.

Immediately after leaving the naval station, sailors and marines must cross the bridge over the Pagasa River. This river is so polluted with human waste that it came to be known simply as the “Shit River” (Mendoza, 2008). As military personnel cross the bridge over the river they are confronted with a flotilla of tiny boats containing girls ranging in age from about 10 to 20 years old wearing white dresses who are begging for pesos to be thrown into the water so young boys can retrieve them and share with the girls. These girls, who also double as prostitutes, came to be known as the “Shit River Queens.” Once past the bridge the sequence goes something like this: a) sailor or marine enters a bar, b) numerous adult beverages are consumed while listening to a live local band, c) he is approached by multiple girls willing to provide sexual services at discount rates, sometimes right at or under the table, d) he makes his selection from among the hostesses, and e) decides between a short or long time. The serviceman then pays the “bar fine” to the bartender (usually a hostess who is working her shift behind the bar for 1-2 hours). Bar fines in the mid-1980s in Olongapo City typically ranged from 50-150 Filipino pesos ($2.50- $7.50 USD) for a “short time” (one  sexual act – either oral or straight sex within a one hour time limit) and 150 – 200 pesos ($7.50- $10.00 USD) for a “long time” (overnight).

The practice described above was widely accepted by the Philippine government, local police (Baranguy), and the Navy hierarchy. It was not uncommon, for example, for senior petty officers (pay grade E-6 and above) to provide orientation on ships to new servicemen. The orientation consisted of information pertaining to: a) bars with the greatest concentration of young voluptuous teenage girls, b) bars known to have high rates of gonorrhea, and c) locations of local clinics that sold penicillin over the counter so as to avoid having to report to sick bay and having records kept. An excessive number of sexually contracted diseases can be grounds for disciplinary action (considered a form of destruction of government property).

Many servicemen limited their sexual exploits to the accepted practice discussed above. However, an alarming number of servicemen became desensitized and found the traditional nightlife dull and sought excitement with underage girls.  As a result of familiarity with the local landscape from living off base, combined with serving in the Shore Patrol, I had the opportunity to become cognizant of sailors and marines engaged in sexual congress with girls as young as 10-years-old.

The Purpose of this Paper
This paper is an illustration of hypothetical sexual situations involving U.S. service members and underage Filipina girls (usually between 10 and 14 years of age). The primary goal is to illustrate how techniques of neutralization theory may be used to explain these events. The types of events described in this paper occurred with shocking regularity but the incidents discussed below should not automatically be assumed to refer to actual individuals.  An attempt is made to illustrate the typical nature of sexual relations between underage girls and service members and the social-psychological methods used by service members to neutralize the normal guilt that is created when one violates moral rules in which one genuinely believes.

Sykes and Matza’s Techniques of Neutralization Theory
An appropriate theory that can be used to explain the intergenerational intimacy (IGI is sometimes pejoratively referred to as child sex abuse or child molestation) described below is Sykes and Matza’s techniques of neutralization theory (Sykes and Matza, 1957). This theory falls into the category of a social control approach. It assumes that all people are motivated toward behaviors that serve self interest (e.g., crime, theft, illicit sex etc.). Most people are, however, restrained from crime and deviance by various mechanisms. Techniques of neutralization theory assumes that guilt is the primary restraining mechanism that keeps most people from breaking the law. However, some people develop techniques to neutralize guilt that will temporarily allow them to violate the law without accepting a deviant self-image. Most people (including most criminals) have respect for the law, in this case the rules prohibiting sex with children, but these rules are deemed to be situational. Laws and moral boundaries are seen not as categorical imperatives but merely as qualified guides to regulate behavior. Sexual deviants, then, insist that there are “degrees of harm” and the techniques of neutralization therefore serve as tools to mitigate culpability by assuaging guilt. There are five major techniques deviants use to neutralize guilt before committing a lewd sexual act against a child: 1) denial of responsibility, 2) denial of injury, 3) denial of victim, 4) condemnation of the condemners, and 5) the appeal to higher loyalties (Sykes and Matza, 1957).

Denial of Responsibility.
One of my hypothetical acquaintances in the Philippines (“Wally” from Oregon) had a habit of bypassing the traditional bar scene because he became enamored with a 10-year-old flower girl (“Shayla”) who sold flowers on the street corner in front of a patio-style open bar where many sailors congregated during the evening with their newly purchased hostesses. After buying flowers from her, Wally would typically entice Shayla to accompany him to a local hotel (the “Blue Haven” on Magsaysay Drive in Olongapo City) for sex. He routinely bribed the desk clerk to look the other way. Anytime Wally was confronted with the fact that sexually exploiting a 10-year-old girl was inappropriate he would typically respond by employing the technique of neutralization referred to as denial of responsibility. In this case, the deviance was outside of his complete control. Generally, he would state that: a) “I was drunk,” or b) “I was expected to build a partying reputation with other sailors.”  The key to this technique of neutralizing guilt is to create plausible deniability to avoid accepting a deviant self-image.

Similarly, Wally would deny responsibility by stating that sex with underage girls was largely condoned by the military chain of command. Essentially, the military brass neglected its responsibility to provide guidance and oversight; therefore, Wally felt as though responsibility should at least be shared. Along the same lines, Wally routinely pointed out that the Philippine government needs U.S. dollars. Therefore, since both local and national authorities were aware of how rampant IGI was between U.S. military personnel and the local children, responsibility is diffused and, consequently, guilt is temporarily neutralized.

Denial of Injury.
 Using this technique of neutralization, Wally could assuage the guilt associated with his sexual acts with Shayla. Here, it is assumed that no one is really hurt by the act (at least visibly). Wally once said, “sex with Asian kids is like water treatment (known today as water boarding); it leaves no physical scars.” Other notable quotes from Wally include: a) “sex happens billions of times a day and if she’s old enough to bleed, she’s old enough to breed,” b) “I gave her more money than she and her family can earn in six months,” c) “I follow the ‘13 and under rule;’ if the girl is 13 or under I give her three times the fee that is paid in bars.” By focusing on the compensation given to the child, Wally was able to make the argument that ultimately she and her family were actually better off by his coming into their lives; thus, once again, guilt is neutralized because of the lack of any obvious injury.

Denial of Victim.

This technique of neutralization involves another hypothetical acquaintance (“Drew” from Massachusetts).  Drew conceded that his child lovers were in fact injured by the sexual exploitation. According to Sykes and Matza, however, the injury is justified to help offset some other real or imagined harm.  For example, Drew concluded that underage girls still have free-will to choose whether or not to go with him. As a consequence, a young girl is “choosing” to be harmed by the contact. One could view this as a righteous use of force used to punish morally defective “victims.” 

In one incident, Drew was discovered by the Blue Haven hotel desk clerk while in the process of sexually assaulting a girl believed to be approximately 12 years old with an unidentified vegetable.  The clerk contacted the Shore Patrol and reported shrieks of horror coming from Drew’s rented room. Days later when Drew was confronted about the attack he dispassionately said, “no little Flip (slang for Filipina) who was at home doing her homework that night got reamed.” The clerk’s memory of the event faded precipitously after Drew provided a 1000 peso bribe through an intermediary. Clearly, then, by viewing the 12-year-old girl as someone deserving of punishment, guilt was neutralized long enough to allow Drew’s sexual assault to take place.

Condemnation of the Condemners.
 Using this technique of neutralization, another hypothetical acquaintance (“JG” from New Jersey) neutralized the normal guilt he experienced long enough to violate sexual moral codes of conduct in which he genuinely believed.  According to Sykes and Matza, condemnation of the condemners manifests itself in the deviant lashing out at those who criticize him. The condemners are considered to be hypocrites because they have engaged in acts (or alternatively, harbor viewpoints considered to be morally objectionable) as equally repugnant as those they are condemning.

In this case when JG was confronted by fellow military personnel for using obviously underage girls for sexual experimentation, he would deflect the criticism back onto the condemners. It was not uncommon, for example, to hear JG criticize sailors who had married local Filipina women for contributing to the morally repugnant permissiveness toward miscegenation.  JG was overheard on several occasions criticizing the miscegenation of fellow sailors because it pollutes the races.  He believed that since many of his child lovers were so young that they had not reached puberty combined with the fact that he used condoms so as to avoid contracting gonorrhea, that at least he was not polluting the Asian or white race. Consequently, he believed he had the moral high ground over those sailors who dared to condemn him while simultaneously supporting, or actually engaging in, interracial marriage and procreation. In essence, JG believed that being defined and ultimately labeled a sexual deviant was simply a matter of luck. Miscegenators (and to some lesser extent homosexuals) had simply won the “sexual orientation lottery” because their lifestyles and behaviors were currently acceptable while at this particular point in time, IGI was frowned upon.  To JG, IGI in the Philippines was but one of a multitude of sexual appetites that fall under the normal curve but his desires, much to his consternation, simply strayed from the rigid and arbitrary sexual parameters imposed upon him unfairly by the moral entrepreneurs in the dominant U.S. society and offended military personnel in the Philippines. Consequently, this mindset allowed JG to easily neutralize the guilt that he naturally felt as a result of his desire to have sex with Filipina children.

The Appeal to Higher Loyalties
This technique of neutralizing guilt suggests that deviants have loyalties or values that transcend the structure of law. These alliances result in a diminution of guilt associated with IGI (at least while in the Philippines). In the case of JG, for example, guilt was very effectively neutralized by adhering to well established traditions of sailors in the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet. JG believed that it was every sailor’s responsibility to drink to excess and to corrupt the morals of the indigenous population. The fact that he involved children in his schemes simply meant that he was more effective at it than was everyone else.

The illustrations above demonstrate that by using techniques of neutralization, sexual deviants can attenuate the effectiveness of social controls. Just as a thief using file sharing software to download music without paying royalties to artists genuinely believes that stealing is morally wrong, he may nevertheless be able to neutralize the guilt he feels by arguing that he is simply redistributing wealth away from the upper class or that his preferred mode of theft really does not hurt anyone (the “everyone is doing it” defense). The point is that the thief or sexual deviant is not fully opposed to the moral codes of conduct but is merely seeking to drift into deviance long enough to satisfy some desire. All this must take place without the deviant being forced to alter his self-image and accept a negative label (e.g., “child molester”).

To combat this, the U.S. military could take two approaches: macro and micro. A macro level approach would involve increasing the penalties for these types of violations. The Shore Patrol could cooperate more fully with the Baranguy (local) police of Olongapo City. Similarly, the Shore Patrol could be increased beyond its token levels of the past and be used to seriously monitor bars (i.e., brothels) and report violators.

The Philippine government could also play a role. Singapore, another country where the Navy makes port calls, has draconian punishments available for rule violators. Drug traffickers, for example, may be executed while immigration violators may be subject to caning. As a result, the Navy has implemented bans on its personnel preventing them from venturing into red light districts (Soltani, 2003). Simply stated, according to the philosophy of situational crime prevention, when the opportunity to offend is severely restricted, the frequency of offending is reduced.On the micro level, group confrontation therapy involving cognitive restructuring may prove beneficial. There is an extreme dearth of empirical support for individual and group therapies for child sex offenders (Borzecki and Wormith, 1987; Furby et al., 1989).

Nevertheless, the assumption here is that treatment must combat the offender’s belief that sex with children can, depending on the situation, make sense. Here, offenders come face-to-face with the consequences of these types of offenses. Potential violators (e.g., personnel not yet deployed to Asia) can be shown how young girls can be damaged by repeated sexual exploitation and how this is not offset by the economic gain they “enjoy” as a result of becoming child prostitutes. Group members are also encouraged to confront each other’s rationalizations and manipulations to prevent the potential offender from successfully neutralizing the guilt of violating rules that they agree with while at home but are able to violate when they get to the Philippines (Clear et al., 2010).


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