Early LifePortuguese constitution of 1933 and Portuguese corporatism of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, who he much admired at the time. In 1940 he received his Doctor of Law degree cum laude from the Catholic University of Nijmegen. His dissertation, on the subject of the corporative state in Portugal, was published as a book and was reprinted several times.
His career was abruptly interrupted in 1950 when he was arrested for having sexual relations with a 17-year-old male friend. At the time, the age of consent for homosexual contacts was 21, based on an article in the Dutch Civil Code (248a). Brongersma was convicted and spent 11 months in prison. This article was repealed in 1971, reducing the age of consent for homosexual contacts to 16, the same as for heterosexual contacts.
He subsequently continued his career in the 1950s as a journalist and critical writer. From 1953 to 1956 he was a member of the executive committee of the Dutch Labour Party in the Utrecht region. In 1956 he was recruited for a four-year term as director of community work in Haarlem. As a result of his conviction he had been disbarred in 1950, but he was re-admitted to the Dutch Bar in 1959. He resumed his legal practice in that year and continued to work as a lawyer until 1980.
From 1960 to 1967 he was a senior lecturer at the Criminological Institute of Utrecht University, where he worked very closely with Professor of Law W. Pompe. In 1963, at the request of the Dutch Labour Party, he rejoined the Upper House for a second term which would last until his resignation in 1977. From 1969 to 1977 he was chairman and spokesman for the Permanent Committee for Justice of the Upper House. For his political service, he was made a Companion in the Order of the Dutch Lion on 29 April 1975.
Brongersma was primarily known for his publications and his advocacy of more liberal moral legislation, a subject in which he was keenly interested. Because of his expertise, he played a major role in 1971 as a member of the Upper House in abolishing Article 248a of the Dutch Civil Code, the same article on the basis of which he had been convicted in 1950. The age of consent for homosexual contacts was then lowered from 21 to 16. He advocated lowering the age of consent even further and allowing young people greater freedom to enter into sexual relations.
In the course of his lifetime he collected a huge number of scientific and academic publications on these themes, consisting of a library and personal archives. In 1979 he donated them to a foundation bearing his name, the object of which as stated in its articles of association was "promoting scientific study and publications in the field of sexual relations between adults and young people". In 1992 the objective was broadened to "promoting research of the sexual-emotional health of children and young people". A great deal of commotion ensued following his death in 1998 when some of the visual material in his collections was seized. The images were deemed to be child pornography. Legislation passed in 1996 made it an offence to have such pictures "on hand".
After resigning from the Dutch Senate in 1977, Brongersma devoted himself completely to the objectives of his foundation. It was then that he wrote his magnum opus "Loving Boys" (published in two parts, 1987 and 1990), while continuing to expand his collections. After his death, his entire social-sexological collections as well as his private archives were placed in the International Institute for Social History (IISG) in Amsterdam (www.iisg.nl), this without the visual material which had been seized by the authorities. The executive board of the foundation continued its activities, changing its name in 2003 into "Fund for Scientific Research of Sexuality.
Brongersma has a huge list of publications to his name, having authored some 1200 books and articles between 1930 and 1998 on a wide range of social and philosophical subjects such as criminal law, constitutional law, criminology, philosophy, religion, sexology, legislation on public morals and literary topics. Able to read ten West-European languages, he has written books on the Spanish Civil War, Portugal and the Portuguese, penal law and social problems. Beginning with his years at the Criminological Institute, he has written extensively in the area of sexology, especially on pornography, ephebophilia, pedophilia and the age of consent. His books on these subjects include: Das Verfehmte Geschlecht (in German, 1970), Sex en Straf ("Sex and Punishment", 1972), Over pedofielen en kinderlokkers ("On Pedophiles and Child Molesters", 1975), and his last work is his magnum opus and entitled Loving Boys (two volumes, 1988-1990).
Brongersma's focus regarding pedophilia has exclusively been a same-sex issue (man-boy).. He has admitted several times that he knew little or nothing about other issues of pedophilia (man-girl, and about female pedophiles). This stance (publicly shared by the national Dutch homosexual organisation COC at least in 1980) accorded with various meta-analyses of international data and studies available from Europe and North America (including Howells 1981; McConaghy 1993), which distinguished between pedophiles and 'situational offenders'. On this point, Brongersma found himself opposed to the other prominent figure of the 1970s Dutch pedophile emancipation movement, psychologist Frits Bernard, who considered pedophilia non-pathological, no matter whether it was homosexual or heterosexual.
Brongersma died in 1998 by means of euthanasia. His health failed and he grew lonely as his best friends died one by one. The social changes that had started in the 1980s, in response to the sexual revolution of the 1970s, caused him to become dispirited. Initially his pleas to liberalise legislation on public morals and the rights of paedophiles had been positively received by some, both in the Netherlands and internationally. But gradually the social climate became less receptive to these ideas, even turning harsh and hostile. Following his death, discussion flared up in the Netherlands as to whether people who were weary of life should be allowed to end their lives with the aid of a physician.
- The Age of Consent: Dream or Nightmare? - Includes radio interview with Brongersma (in English).
This article is in large part based on the archives of Dr. E. Brongersma, preserved at the International Institute of Social History (IISH), Amsterdam, The Netherlands.