Wednesday, August 29, 2007


(Graphic from Steve Audio)

Tonight's Austin evening news was full of a story about a 5-year-old boy who was assaulted in a public swimming pool restroom by a man in his 50s. The little boy was punched in the stomach and forced to perform oral sex on the man. The locale, Lakeway, is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Austin, and the parents interviewed on TV were in disbelief that this could have occurred to one of "their" children.

Yesterday's national news cycle had a CBS story about how "over the last 60 years, at least 5,100 adult leaders were kicked out of the Boy Scouts because of allegations of sexual abuse". The lightweight and sensationalist story did not mention how many of those accused were married and heterosexual, although that's a natural enough question given the Boy Scouts overt homophobia toward gay scout leaders.

And, of course, the current "big shocker" story out there is about Senator Larry Craig (R, Idaho) tapping feet in the stall next to him at a Minneapolis airport men's room. I can (and will at some point) write in a traitorous way about how, gay rights aside, I'm fucking sick of male sexuality intruding on public spaces, especially bathrooms. I'm really not going to be interested in gender-neutral public facilities until those places have been made completely safe for children to go potty without male predation OR male sexual behavior in the environment, whatever the sexuality involved. Last night Letterman, a big old homophobe, said "As far as I'm concerned, if you spend more than two minutes in a men's bathroom, you've already crossed the line" and I had to agree with him on a basic level: It's for crapping and pissing, then washing your hands and getting the hell out.

Yeah, I know, gay oppression has driven people to desperate circumstances. But when the lurking you're doing is linked with body evacuation and pedophiles, you might want to rethink what territory you seek to defend.

But, where my mind has wandered tonight is how far off the mark all these stories are. Yes, Republicans should never again, under any circumstances, be allowed to call themselves a party of morality or family values. And clearly, as TRex at FireDogLake said, they're all secret pansies.

Yet, the real circumstances of child sexual assault and male predation is not about bathrooms or even the Boy Scouts. It's about what is going on in the average American home.

I did the math. The current report rate of child sexual assault (which is likely far below actual incidence, but we'll go with what we can say with certainty), averaged over both genders, indicates that about 30% of people will be sexually abused in some way before they are 18 years of age. The 2000 census for Austin listed a population of 656,562 people, of which 22.5% (or 118,181 people) were under the age of 18. If, over the period of 18 years, 30% of those young folks are sexually abused, that averages out to 1969 a year, or 5.4 kids per day.

Imagine a news show that covered this every day, as they give us allergy reports and endless stupid trivia about sports. It would, at least 90% of the time, be a report about 5 or 6 children each day who were molested by a member of their family or a very close friend of the family, 98% of the time a heterosexual male. Imagine having that reality being reflected back to us on a daily basis, and what changes you'd start demanding.

I don't agree that America is sex-phobic. Sexual content permeates everything around us, including our children's lives. But it's sexual dishonesty, conflated with power games.

Susie Bright has a good essay up right now that I want to quote from, Is There a Republican Senator Who's NOT Having Bathroom Sex?

"From now on, as far as I'm concerned, every single Republican legislator is a Reeking Freak Closet Case until proven innocent.

"These men wouldn't know 'safe, sane, and consensual' if you tied it to their weener with a red flag. I won't call them 'gay' or 'kinky' because that would be an insult to the healthy spectrum of human sexuality. Instead, they're the worst face of sexual repression, because they don't care who they hurt, or how many lies they tell. Their whole life is a SHAM.

"The GOP Narcissists aren't the exception to the rule— they ARE the rule. They personify the very sexuality they campaign against. If they vote against gays, we know they're queer. If they're hopped up about "child porn," we can guess their internet habits. If they hold up monogamous marriage as a Christian ideal, we know they're adulterous, blasphemous fools.

"Here's what they all have in common; They pretend it didn't happen. They try to buy people off to shut them up. They cry that they've been victimized. And then they continue to persecute everyone else by:
* Voting YES on constitutional ban of same-sex marriage.
* Voting NO on adding sexual orientation to definition of hate crimes.
* Voting NO on expanding hate crimes to include sexual orientation.
* Voting YES on prohibiting same-sex marriage.
* Voting NO on prohibiting job discrimination by sexual orientation."

But, to address the issue more comprehensively, I'm going to reprint an essay I sent out via private e-mail last October, when the Mark Foley scandal fill the news cycle.

Okay, let's take a look at The Reality of Child Sexual Abuse.

The overwhelming majority of people who have a sexual interest in children and teenagers do not fit the classic definition of a 'pedophile'. They are, statistically, interested stimulated sexually by a variety of triggers, only some of which are young people; they are (around 98%) male; they are heterosexual; they are married or in strong relationship with another adult; and they would not identify their feelings as pedophilia.

The perception of those much younger than us as sexually arousing is completely interwoven into our culture. It is why we simultaneously, as a culture, support such things as child beauty pageants and also get upset when we see the actual photos of Jon-Benet Ramsey. It is the foundation of a high percentage of advertising strategy. It is why we have cheerleaders and Disney characters and the WB. It is part of the nuclear family dynamic.

As a culture, it is almost impossible for us to name desire without imagining it as occurring between two individuals who are "different" in a way that includes a power imbalance. Male desire, in particular, is taught to boys as being dependent on the greater helplessness, receptivity, and "softness" of their partners.

Sexual desire is imprinted on us in our culture while we are still children -- it's impossible to know at what age it would naturally occur, because we have no escape from sex as a commodity, so we have no control group. And this definition of desire is imprinted on children who will then learn to view those around them -- other children and teenagers -- as their first objects of longing. Some of us, many of us, never outgrow those first impressions and remain fixated on children and teenagers.

The child pornography industry is so voluminous that, even taking into account the reality that most consumers may be repeat consumers, more than half of adult American males are taking a dip in this world. It is the norm, rather than the aberration. It will remain the norm until we find another definition for desire, one that does not in any way include a power imbalance. A few people -- feminists of a certain stripe, mostly -- have begun the work of finding that definition for themselves without simultaneously embracing any ethic which declares sex "bad".

Neverthless, this effort has been persistently called "anti-sex". It is, definitely, an effort away from the Western male definition of desire and sex. And it takes a lot of hard work. The kind of work that most people find too disheartening to undertake, even if they understand and agree with its value.

So, the broader definition of pedophile includes more than half the population. The more focused definition -- those who have these desires and choose to act on them, either with physical contact or, as is far more common, with suggestive but non-physical interactions between themselves and those younger than them or as voyeurs and exhibitionists -- are a smaller but still significant category, perhaps 10 to 25% of the population. For these people, pedophile is a sexual orientation, in the same way that heterosexual or homosexual is a sexual orientation. It is compelling, it feels like a core identity, and suppressing it is difficult.

The majority of pedophiles (over 80%) identify as heterosexual and most (at least 90%) prey on children in their own families and friendship networks, Approximately two-thirds of repeat predators select girls when they are able, and about one-third choose boys. But access and proximity are far more relevant to this statistic than a gender preference. The one-third percentage for boys likely reflects the fact that boys are not as closely watched as girls, especially within family or close community settings. The identification of pedophilia as something that "gay people" do is erroneous and leaves children at grave risk.

At least 25% of women and 17% of men self-identify as having been sexually abused in some form as children. This statistic is undoubtedly much higher, considering how many people have a hard time making this self-identification. It is even more difficult to extrapolate from this how many active pedophiles there are in the general population, since the average number of victims per pedophile before he is stopped is around 100. (For pedophiles who act out on boys, the number is around 125 victims; for those who act out on girls, the number is around 85.)

At least 95% of pedophiles who have been caught say they were themselves molested as children. Most of these men (over half) claim their early molestation was not really harmful or was in some sense consensual. These same percentage claim the children they victimize are not really harmed and that the children likewise "consent". Most child predation is not violent; it is coercive, persuasive, and often does not involve frank acts of penetration. This confusion about the nature of consent is, likewise, woven into the fabric of our culture.

Clearly, then, pedophile as a sexual orientation is learned. The ability to undo this orientation depends on whether the pedophile also has other orientations equally strong, how early he is caught (repeated predation intensifies the orientation), what kind of reparative therapy is used, and probably other factors not yet clearly understood. Most of the methods used to deal with pedophiles are highly ineffective.

I personally believe that all sexual preferences and proclivities are learned. We pick it up from the adults around us as we go along, and we make a decision about ourselves based on the best information we have at the moment. All of the studies to date which claim to demonstrate a gay brain or a gay gene have serious scientific flaws. None of them demonstrate a shared biology between gay men and lesbians, and none of them demonstrate a biology that does not also occur in heterosexuals.

It is clear, at this point, that with our enormously plastic brains, behavior does a great deal to re-shape the brains we were both with. Conditioning remains the best-proven explanation for why we are who we are. And if you have a feminist understanding of the confusion of sex with power and the identification of women as the "abnormal" gender, then sexual preferences as choices (made so early they don't feel like a choice) becomes sensible.

The current scandal regarding Mark Foley is exposing all sorts of interesting things about our culture. The Right, desperate to reduce political fall-out, is now trying to claim Foley was not exposed as a predator because they were unwilling to out a gay man without proof. (If you fall that for that argument, from the same folks who consistently declare gays to be the number one problem in American, then I've got a Congress Street Bridge to sell you.)

The failure of Republican leadership to not only go public with the predation in their midst (and if you read all the instant messages and e-mails, it's clear it was predation of a virulent nature), but to also fail to even try to stop him, seems to be the most startling piece of the story. Except not for me, because I assume these Republican men in positions of leadership to have their own background with and preference for confused sex-power dynamics and desire based on power imbalance. He was one of their own, and not just politically.

Likewise, the reaction of Matt Drudge (a closeted Right-wing pundit) that these teenagers were someone "egging on" Matt Foley and are equally culpable, and the dismissal of the predation by Tony Snow, Bush's press secretary, as "naughty e-mails" reflect their comfort with this reality, not just their attempt to excuse any behavior by the party to which they have sworn unthinking allegience. Congressional pages are the bottom cogs in an intense hierarchy that uses servitude not far removed from slavery as a means of teaching and reinforcing the hierarchy. Of course they are perceived as fair game in that kind of setting.

So, then, this will consume the news cycle for a while to come. If it would give people information and an honest opportunity to re-examine their own conditioning and our larger culture, it would be a grand thing. I have no illusions that it will, except for those of us who are already doing such work. And in the meantime, the loss of the basic human rights first set out in the Magna Carta, the despicable war ravaging hopes for world harmony, the demonization of immigrants, the dismantling of liberation gains made in the past for women and people of color, the destruction of our economy and our environment -- all of these will recede to later in the news cycle, if they are covered at all.

Because sex sells. And that's the problem, right there. Anything you can do to not buy, do it.

1 comment:

SteveAudio said...

I'm glad you appreciated my little lolcraig.