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David Sonenschein

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David Sonenschein (birth year unknown - died 28 May 2021), was an academically trained sex researcher, anthropologist and ethnographer with expertise in sociology and media criticism. He conducted early research on 1960's male homosexual communities, and published one of the first works to critically examine what he termed child sex abuse hysteria, in a 1984 solicited book chapter, "Breaking the Taboo of Sex and Adolescence: Children, Sex and Media" - partially available on google books.[1] His 1998 two volume study of the panic, Pedophiles on Parade, "may be the most detailed examination ever of the construction of child molester" according to one reviewer,[2] and "the definitive study" by another.

Sonenschein's years of sex research began in 1961, earning a Master's degree in anthropology from the University of Indiana. Here, he worked as a staff researcher (1966-1968) at the university's Institute for Sex Research, founded by Alfred Kinsey. Working with William Simon and John H. Gagnon, whose magnum opus was said by MAP ally sociologist Ken Plummer to be "quite probably the single most important general sociological study of sexuality that has ever been published", Sonenschein's main project was a study of gay community life in Indianapolis and Chicago. His oral histories of 23 men, collected in 1967 in Chicago's pre-Gay Liberation period, were later self-published as Some Homosexual Men (1983).[3] His 1998 Pedophiles on Parade shows similar thinking to Simon and Gagnon, as his "premise is [that] we base social relations upon imagery, using symbols" which are "accompanied by standard, agreed upon and rigidly enforced texts that demand severe punishment for violation along with the elimination of criticism..."[4]

His early work focused on homosexuality within anthropology,[5] ethnography,[6] and the everyday language and slang used by homosexuals.[7] In 1969, he was requested by the President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography to do a study of women's erotica which was published in their 1972 reports as “The Romance Magazine.”[8] After he, in his words, "fled academia" in 1973, he continued writing and publishing as an independent scholar, serving on the editorial boards of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS), the American Studies Association of Texas (ASAT), and the National Coalition of Independent Scholars (NCIS). Into later life he was Book Review Editor for The Independent Scholar, the on-line Quarterly of NCIS, and webmaster for ASAT. He served as NCIS Board Secretary, Book Review Editor, Membership Officer, and Database Manager, and the NCIS has since set up a David Sonenschein Award in his memory.[9]

Research focused on MAP issues

David Sonenschein handled photography at American Studies Association of Texas meetings

In his short 1987 commentary On Having One's Research Seized,[10] he documents multiple cases where researchers attempting to study the realities of "child pornography," or "kiddie porn," were arrested, harassed or subjected to a hostile environment which created difficulty in testing the accuracy of sensationalist media claims. He writes:

In September, 1984, my own 4-year accumulation of research on pedophilia and children's sexuality was seized. At this writing, nearly 2 years later, the materials (including illegally seized legal files and personal and political writings) are still held; it was over 7 months before American Civil Liberties Union lawyers and I were able to inventory the documents. The news media again helped directly in promoting the project as a "ring," and I was charged with "sexual performance of [sic] a child" for photocopying photo-graphs from commercial "kiddie porn" magazines for content analysis. I have been fined $5,000 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The content analysis was not completed, and the project, an ethnographic study of child-adult sexual relationships, has been destroyed. Fragments will appear if materials are returned; only one historiographic paper has been published (Sonenschein, 1984). Comments by arresting officer Sgt. John Russell may be of interest to other investigators: "Your research is through. Your research is over. I have finished your research for you. You can research anything but this".

The 1984 "historiographic paper" Sonenschein refers to is a book chapter - "Breaking the Taboo of Sex and Adolescence: Children, Sex and Media" - partially available on google books.[11] Although the research community was further deprived of ethnographic work attempting to document community samples of age-gap sexual experience, especially experiences outside an exclusive focus on forced / unwanted cases where the risk of secondary harm has been introduced, Sonenschein went on to publish a two volume magnum opus Pedophiles on Parade (1998). A lengthy and detailed assessment of how the media portrays pedophiles, volume one was entitled "The Monster in the Media", whilst volume two "The Popular Imagery of Moral Hysteria". The book was reviewed in the Journal of Homosexuality (pages 185-190).[12]

At least some of the attention Sonenschein received appears to be attributable to his activism, and some would say, too close involvement with the Childhood Sensuality Circle.[13]

External links