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
#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
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).
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-à-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”
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).
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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).
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
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