Donald West

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Donald J. West

Donald James West, or Donald J. West (9 June 1924 – 31 January 2020) was a British psychiatrist and criminologist, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Criminology at the University of Cambridge and former Director of the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge, UK.

He was particularly known for his 1955 book, Homosexuality (revised 1968), arguing for tolerance. He was an ally to sexual minorities including MAPs, co-authoring a supportive book on homosexuality (1997) with fellow MAP ally psychiatrist Richard Green.[1]

West helped pioneering 1st wave MAP Movement figure Thomas O'Carroll with his book, Paedophilia: The Radical Case (1980), with O’Carroll giving West his “heartfelt thanks” in the introduction. Much later in 2011, he helped promote O’Carroll’s book Michael Jackson's Dangerous Liaisons, writing that "The author’s sympathy lies with the children whose feelings are disregarded by adults in prosecutorial combat. His vivid and insightful commentary is a joy to read".[2]

Responding to Dutch MAP Edward Brongersma's article The Meaning of Indecency, published in the British Journal of Criminology,[3] West criticized Brongersma's use of research while voicing his agreement with his overall conclusions[4]:

I happen to agree that the criminal prosecution of sexual acts is inappropriate, whatever the age of the participants. [...] One might conclude from Brongersma's comments that a child's contact with adult sexuality is a neutral, sometimes even a positively beneficial, experience, and this may indeed sometimes be the case. Be that as it may, one cannot escape the confines of one's own culture, and the fact remains that it is the norm for children to be kept, as far as practicable, in ignorance of adult sexuality, and that, for some at least, a sudden, unexpected confrontation can be a frightening, off-putting experience. Furthermore, where a child is concerned, passive acquiescence from fear or ignorance is not necessarily "informed consent".

The reason why, in spite of these reservations about his arguments, I still support Brongersma's conclusion is simply this. In my judgment, the trauma of the criminal process is worse for the child than the sexual incident itself. Consensual sexual behaviour of children, however inconvenient or inappropriate, is better controlled by education and welfare measures than by the criminal law. Neither Brongersma nor I, however, is suggesting that the sexual molestation of unwilling, reluctant and complaining children should be other than a criminal act. (pp. 32-33).

In 1981, West wrote that mutually willing ("consensual") age-disparate sex was sometimes beneficial:

Admittedly, pedophiliac relationships do sometimes seem beneficial. A child may learn much from a consistent and caring adult lover and come to cherish him as a friend long after the period of erotic attachment has passed.

He raises the issue of iatrogenic/secondary harm, warning that the effects of hysterical adults, legal trials and police investigations on the younger party are “certainly worse than the effects, if any, of the sexual activity itself”:

They may come to feel guilty, perhaps because of the sordid or secretive circumstances of the affair, or from fear of the consequences of detection. This may in turn interfere with the development of relationships with peers. In the absence of reliable research information as to the extent and frequency of these complications, it is difficult to know what to advise when an actual or suspected pedophiliac relationship comes to the attention of a parent, teacher or other concerned individual. The usual tendency is to over-react. The effects of anxious probing by parents, followed by police interrogations, court proceedings and the possible imprisonment of someone to whom the child has become much attached, are certainly worse than the effects, if any, of the sexual activity itself.[5]

"More commonly", he wrote, "homosexual contacts with adults are a matter of rather casual sexual indulgence as far as the boys are concerned, an extension of the homosexual curiosity and eroticism that is, as Langfeldt points out, so commonplace among boys." (Ibid, p. 257). Giving Clarence Osborne as an example, he points out that willing boys often return to the scene of the crime - their older sex partner's home.

In 1987, he wrote:

It has already been emphasised that the vast majoroty of men who are sexually attracted to children are non-violent in their approaches. Signs of fear or annoyance on the child’s part would normally make them desist. After all, child lovers are seeking, however inapropriately, an affectionate response and a mutually pleasurable experience. Paedophiles often develop great sensitivity to children’s reactions and are able to select, much as ordinary lovers do, those who are likely to prove willing partners.

While being sympathetic he again takes a nuanced position, acknowledging the potential for harm while recognizing young people's agency:

It is universally agreed that the criminal law should protect persons of all ages from unwanted sexual intrusion. Controversy arises over the criminalisation of consensual acts as “sexual assaults”. This creates a category of victimless crimes, justified on the grounds that children must be protected from giving way to their own sexual inclinations or from responding to the seductive approaches of others. Professor Brian Hogan (1978) identified the crucial issue when he questioned whether the basic assumption behind the existing law, namely that the young are harmed by sexual experience, can be proved. Libertarian principles suggest the abolition of a legal fiction of an age of consent and the introduction of a requirement to have a complaining victim before a criminal charge can be brought. Objections to this simple solution are substantial, if not completely convincing. Assaulted children are sometimes very young infants, even babies, and so not in a position to appreciate fully what is happening or to formulate a complaint. To meet this, the law could fix some age below which it would be assumed, unless the contrary could be proved, that the child did not consent.[6]

In 1990, he published a book chapter reporting on the nuance of overall positively recalled minor-older sexual experience, in the book Children’s sexual encounters with adults: a scientific study (available as PDF via Libgen).[7] The book included 2 chapters which give the results of 2 separate studies, after asking a community sample of university students and (in the second study) people chosen from the UK Electoral Register, about sexual experiences they had had before age 11 with someone over age 16, and those they had between age 11 and age 15 with someone over 18. West performs a literature review and notes the persistence of positive youthful experience despite stigma and criminal sanction, as well as showing how the same data can be interpreted differently depending on the author's perspective. C.K. Li's PhD dissertation on the self-perception of pedophiles living in the community is also included.[8]

In 1998, he published Boys and Sexual Abuse: An English Opinion, which discussed Alfred Kinsey and gave some critical reflections on age-disparate sex.[9]

His later relevant writings, such as Paedophilia: plague or panic? (2001),[10] are slightly less sympathetic. However, West never disavowed his earlier arguments or research on sexual minorities, including MAPs. As West was willing to give a supportive endorsement to Tom O'Carroll's 2011 book, it is likely he remained sympathetic to MAPs for the rest of his life.


  1. West and Green (eds), Sociolegal Control of Homosexuality: A Multi-Nation Comparison (New York : Plenum Press, 1997).
  2. Libgen: Dangerous Liaisons PDF
  3. EDWARD BRONGERSMA, THE MEANING OF “INDECENCY” WITH RESPECT TO MORAL OFFENCES INVOLVING CHILDREN, The British Journal of Criminology, Volume 20, Issue 1, January 1980, Pages 20–32, <>
  4. Commentary by D.J. West to The Meaning of ‘Indecency’ with Respect to Moral Offences Involving Children, by Edward Brongersma, British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 20 No. 1 Jan. 1980. pp. 32-33.
  5. D.J. West. Adult Sexual Interest in Children: Implications for Social Control, in Adult Sexual Interest in Children, edited by Mark Cook and Kevin Howells, (Academic Press, 1981), pp.255-256.
  6. D.J. West, Sexual Crimes and Confrontations (Gower Publishing Company Limited, 1987), p. 58, p. 62.
  7. Donald J. West, T.P. Woodhouse, and C.K. Li. (1990). Children’s sexual encounters with adults: a scientific study (London: Duckworth, 1990; Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1993).
  8. Summaries of these chapters can be found here and here
  9. West, D.J. (1998). Boys and Sexual Abuse: An English Opinion. Arch Sex Behav 27, 539–559.; a copy on webarchive
  10. Donald West. (2000). Paedophilia: plague or panic?, The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 11:3, 511-531.