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Lolita turns fifty

By Barbara Biggs - posted Friday, 2 December 2005

With the 50th anniversary of the literary classic Lolita this year, we’ve read and heard about the book all over the place. There’s even a visiting US lecturer on the subject arriving to speak about it at the NSW State Library.

I’ll certainly be going.

As a person who speaks on the need for treatment programs for child sex offenders, a survivor of child sexual abuse myself and an author, I have a few observations of my own to make.


Humbert Humbert’s justification of his sexual activity with Lolita is typical of many serial child sex offenders. His view is that the child seduced him, not the other way around. As if there can be any kind of consent between a 12-year-old girl and a middle-aged man.

It’s true that the effects of the book have filtered down into our culture in dangerous ways. In the UK last year alone, there were 55 sentences handed down to child sex offenders under review for their leniency because judges had said the girls were willing.

In Australia, this alleged sentiment led to the ruin of the career of a former Governor General Peter Hollingworth (following an interview regarding an offender's case.)

Both films made of Lolita have colluded in this temptress notion of pubescent girls, making Humbert’s viewpoint more believable and palatable by using actresses playing Lolita who are clearly much older than 12. In the 1950s film, the large-breasted actress looks at least 18. In the most recent film, although the actress is clearly much older than 12, there was, at least, some attempt to make her behaviour and body mannerism those of a young girl.

But the obvious reason a real 12-year-old girl wasn’t used, or someone who looked as if she could have really been 12, is that movie goers would have been horrified. They wouldn’t have been able to enter into Humbert’s (and some men’s) fantasy that the pre-pubecescent’s sole objective in life was to get him into bed.

Heaven forbid, viewers would not be able to avoid the thought of something similar happening to their own daughters or nieces or friends’ kids.


It is this social collusion which is so dangerous and which so horrifies families who have experienced the trauma of court with their own abused children and had the offender virtually let off by being doled out a suspended sentence.

I recently met one mother whose former partner had admitted sexually abusing her eight-year-old daughter to a psychologist but was found not guilty.

The judge told the jury that they had no option but to find the man not guilty because the child had not objected to her step-father’s advances and he had only bruised, not broken her hymen.

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First published in the Daily Telegraph on November 29, 2005.

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About the Author

Barbara Biggs is a former journalist and author of a two-part autobiography, In Moral Danger and The Road Home, launched in May 2004 by Peter Hollingworth and Chat Room in 2006. Her latest book is Sex and Money: How to Get More. Barbara is convenor of the National Council for Children Post-Separation,

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