Monday, January 08, 2007


Ingrid Drake has an article "The Politicization of Child Sexual Abuse" on Alternet ( I don't have the time to compose an article, so I'll just go down the piece, commenting as I go. Readers are referred back to the Posts "Prosec Nation" and to any discussions about the dynamics, strategy, and tactics of the Revolutions of the Identities and of the assorted levels of Advocacy and their dynamics.

A. Politicization itself: To all of the 1st and 2nd level advocates, the grass-roots types and the organizers, this phenomenon of politicization may come as a shock (not as much as 'unintended consequences', but still a shock). So often of good heart, an advocate will listen to the story of a victim, and sustain a laudable desire to help by then creating a Cause in the service of which the advocate's time and effort would be worthwhile. It's a noble sort of thing, and much what seems to be the American ideal of local government and the deliberation of the citizenry coming together to resolve a problem. But when the objective of even the entry-level advocacy is to effect 'change' over a much wider area, involving many more human beings and requiring the aroused approval of far more citizens than are reachable through the local town meeting, and also requiring either funding or legislation from city, state or federal lawmakers - now this is where strange things begin to happen.

You start getting involved in areas which you might not be familiar with, and lobbyists or advanced-level Advocacy professionals and PR types are needed; large numbers of strangers need to be aroused so you need media attention; the media can't grab much attention by discussing ideas anymore, and they do it by arousing readers emotionally, either pity or rage being the pathways of choice nowadays; the particular circumstances of your 'victim' are probably too unique to catalyze a large and wide response, so the Problem has to be generalized and - ideally - the size and scope of the Problem needs to be expanded, and most ideally it needs to become like an accordion, capable of almost indefinite expansion. Politicians are - on their best days - looking to maximize the returns on any energy and effort they expend; you do that by reaching the widest number of people with the biggest type of impact - like, oh say, taking a hard-hitting whack at a monstrous problem that is affecting everybody; and if that Problem is capable of unseen and/or permanent and/or sinister damage and if that Problem includes a Stranger of Danger (just like in so many fairy tales) well then so much the better.

And all of this presumes that your victim was honest and truthful and your victim's report was accurate, to begin with. Things, clearly, get complicated and even fogged-up pretty quickly if you're going to do more than just help out an individual or a small group of individuals within your own circle of familiarity and direct knowledge. And once this thing gets really rolling, then the Cause has to be furthered and protected even if un-truth is discovered within it, because if the Cause is Good then it's worth it, and if the Cause is Big then a lot of folks are now staking reputations and jobs on it.

B. "Child Sex Abuse": One of the earliest slick-tricks in the whole thing was the mixing up of terms. Violent stranger rapes and incomprehensibly awful stranger-abductions/rapes/murders of children were shown in the media, to which the term 'sex offender' was attached. But such cases were relatively rare - if awful - and so the class of 'sex offender' wound up being expanded to include cases from urinating in a park and 'streaking' all the way up to the aforementioned stranger-dangers. And the age of the child-victim was expanded from the moment of birth to armed military recruits. And the range of actions was expanded to the point where nobody today can comprehensively and succinctly define "abuse" or "molestation" - which some claim can be perpetrated in one's own mind without committing a legally discernible 'act' at all, or can be perpetrated without being physically present to the purported victim.

All of this is a long long way from the jaw-dropping rapes and abductions and murders that originally aroused the public and started the whole thing. Now, to move back and forth from 'child sex abuser' to 'sex offender' simply confuses matters. And given the massive and corrosive changes in criminal law and praxis now in place on the basis of all that (sometimes mis-placed or mis-used) public outrage and fear, there is absolutely no room for such confusion. We have to be extremely judicious and clear in our use of terms. But this is the approach of the scientist - seeking accuracy and the truth dispassionately and consistently. To the advocate aroused by outrage and moved by the need to 'help', such detachment is ineffectual in the face of the 'emergency' and may even be a form of treason to our common humanity, or to the Cause.

And there's also a 'politics' involved here. The political problem is one inherited from the early-'70s days of the feminist movement. Back then the whole issue was framed as one of 'men' being the perpetrator and women being the 'victim' (children didn't actually come into the script until later; such are the dynamics of advanced level Advocacy). But 'men' included almost half the population. You can't drum up a sustained large-scale support for your Cause if your Cause defines almost half the population as bad-guys before you even get started. So there was a built-in pressure toward a certain hidden (and thus sorta dishonest) compromise with their own theory as well as with whatever reality actually existed out in the field: the 'classic' 'sex offenders' became the odd or dangerous weirdlings that - like the old Salem witches (at least at the beginning) - lived at the fringes of society. The 'average guy', with a family and kids and a decent job - and presumably 'straight' - was somehow passed over by the avenging angels of the Advocacy. And increasing knowledge (only now coming to light) that the vast majority of sex-offenses were committed not by predatory strangers but by persons known and familiar to the victim - that knowledge was ignored; it ran the risk of deflating the bubble which supported, perhaps enabled, the size and power of the Cause and the Advocacy.

C. "Empowering communities": Again, in light of the familiarity factor, 'community involvement' isn't going to be as useful. Community-awareness might work against predatory strangers hiding here and there, who might be noticed by an alert citizen - but like the air-raid wardens in New York and Los Angeles and a thousand smaller cities here in World War 2, they are good examples of willing civic involvement but yet there's little danger of an actual air raid. The greater danger is coming from within the home. And the community has no business in the home. Nor, from the Framers' point of view, did the government and its police power, except in the most clear and distinct and awful cases; most sex 'abuse' - by definition not as clearly examinable as is a murder or serious assault - exists in waters far too shallow for the government battleships of the criminal law to go in after.

And there are grave Constitutional issues involved in trying to get those monstrous ships in close enough to fire their big guns, which in any case will simply obliterate the whole property; there is no 'surgical strike' in the draconian application of already-draconian criminal laws. A certain level of 'surgical' is only obtained by dispassionate judges and juries in individual cases; but in the interest of achieving maximum effect and rooting out all possibility of judicial and juridical laxness toward the Cause, no such latitude is popularly allowed to the on-site dispensers of justice any more. And prosecutors are having a field day in the face of the seductive temptation to simply preside over a 'monster-kill', like the guys in the early scenes of "Jaws".

D. "Monsters": Actually, from the point of view of accuracy and from the point of view of morality, it's probably better not to apply the metaphor of 'monster' to any human being. A human being is a remarkable being, and cannot be reduced by comparison to any lesser creature, whether real or imaginary. This 'monsterizing' of people - a subset of 'demonizing' people - has helped to lubricate massive destruction in our world, especially in the blood-soaked 20th century. While it 'sells', such a scare tactic fundamentally corrodes our appreciation of the awe-some (and sometimes awe-full) creation of God (or of the Universe, or of Life, or of the gods, or ...) and it also corrupts as us The People, that Ground of the Federal Government upon which all the Branches are built and from which those Branches derive their life and character. If We The People start getting sloppy, then so will our government in all its Branches, and when that happens ... there's only one direction for the plane to go. Yes, in a good Cause it may seem to effective a tool not to use, but like an old Brown Bess musket, the thing has a hell of kick and recoil, and hurts far more of its users than its targets.

E. "Demonizing: We cannot really want this primal and primitive human trait to become dominant in our society and in our culture. It was this characteristic that so clearly revealed Salem's witch craze to be as evil in its effects as the devils and devil-helpers it sought to discover, identify and destroy. As we are taking increased care (until the current Administration started turning back the clock) to prevent toxic chemicals from being spewed into the air, so we should and must try to prevent more primitive emotions that are toxic to a civilized society from being spewed into the 'air' of our culture. And with well-funded advanced-level Advocacies, these elements can be spewed out at industrial strength.

F. The "battle against sex-offenders": Again with the metaphors! War is a terrible thing, as are battles. It is not at all wise to inject into the public mind that we have declared war upon a sizable percentage of our own citizens. Yes, it makes politicians 'stand tall' and it keys into a powerful remembered and imagined treasure-house of imagery and motivation. But it's not accurate. A house divided against itself cannot stand and a society that declares 'war' on its own membership is doomed simply by the fact that it no longer appreciates the serious and fundamental essence of its own existence. We cannot allow it. Yes, William James once wished that we could find 'the moral equivalent of war'. It would have been a bit more enlightening if he had said the 'morale equivalent of war' because that's what he was looking for: the same motivational burst that is called forth by war, but not involving war. Surely we could find something less violent and more constructive that would give us the same motivational rush? Alas. Scripture noted long ago that the children of darkness are always more fervent than the children of light. Whether attributable to Original Sin or to the fact that we have not yet evolved that far from our primal origins, Fight-Enemy-Win seems irreplaceably and un-surpassably welded or wired into most human beings. We want to think very very carefully before summoning those demons from deep within ourselves, as individuals or as a society, and certainly as The People upon whom rests the foundations of this Republic.

G. Taking the issue "seriously". I am ALL for this. But as implied above, 'serious' responses don't simply mean violent and immediate and ready-for-primetime symbolism or actions. An ill-considered law or regulation can create as much violence as an actual act of violence on the street, and over a much longer period of time. And with many unintended consequences. The sense of "Emergency" has a very very bad historical track-record in Western history: Hitler's first law was the Emergency Law for the Protection of People and State ... and it went downhill from there. A Republic in a constant state of 'emergency' is not going to remain a Republic for long. And if every Advocacy claims its own 'emergency', then we are really in trouble. And "Just-one-ism": the claim that it will all be worth it 'if we save just one'. It's not that easy. We could save far many more clearly endangered children each year by prohibiting them being transported in motor vehicles ... should we do that to save them, or to save 'even just one'? It's not easy at all to figure a policy on these matters. If most children are 'abused' in the home setting, then what do you do? And what happens to the Republic when the police power of the government is now in every bedroom and at every hearth?

H. "People should be available for therapy." This is very dishonest, even if it is in a good Cause and is well-intentioned. The whole concept of Registry - which smacks so much of old European horrors that I am amazed any American could approve of it - is surrounded by serious consequences, and none the less serious for being un-noticed or unintended. One way of getting around the bald Constitutional fact that the requirement for Registration constitutes double-jeopardy, a second punishment for a crime, is the hugely-obvious wink-wink that such registration is not 'punitive' but simply 'administrative' (Which was precisely the point made in Germany in 1934; it was just to help the Fuhrer protect the German people a little better by keeping track of certain types, nothing more. Ja.). But to bolster that 'administrative' - after all, what were you trying to administer that you needed to keep track of these people? - it is now claimed that the government needs to know where 'sex offenders' (again with that uselessly broad term) are so that it can notify them when new therapies are available. Ja. Right.

We do not know what makes people want to have sex with infants or animals, or why some people get off on violent sex or unwanted and forcefully imposed sex. And there are so many others who aren't sex-offenders for having tried to have sex at all. So we don't know what's driving these actions, so we won't be having any effective therapies anytime soon. (Take a look at the new book "Failure To Protect" by Eric Janus, and discussed at length in the Post "Prosec Nation" on this site.) We know so little at this point - we are kidding ourselves and acting dishonestly by claiming that therapeutic help is just over the horizon. It is hell and gone from here. And if the government can Register 'sex offenders' today, whom will it want to Register tomorrow?

I. "Such critical perspectives of sex offender policies are rare in media coverage." Yes. I respect very very much the fact that folks within the advocacy movement are beginning to examine their own advocated policies. But we have to recall that in this matter the Advocacy is trapped in a corner of its own making. The highly primitive argument style of Either-Or (as in You're either for this or against this, Yes or No) coupled with the Ad Hominem attack style (as in If you don't agree with us then you support child-molesters and maybe you're one yourself!) has made the expression of any public doubt a very dangerous choice indeed.

We recall a few years back that a bunch of researchers simply studied studies that had already been done and had been public for years, and reported that in toting up the conclusions already published, it became clear by the numbers that almost none of these major studies had reported clear proof of lasting damage to children from an experience of sexual abuse; almost instantly Congress felt compelled to pass a Resolution (that passed unanimously) decreeing that there was indeed lasting damage to children. You wonder. If studies had claimed to find that water froze at 24 degrees F, Congress wouldn't have bothered to get involved because the facts would clearly speak for themselves to anyone who took a moment to check. But in the sex-offense stuff, there are no clear facts, only claims and evidence that is charitably described as "anecdotal" or "unofficial" or "repressed" or "hidden". But it's a political time-bomb, so Congress jumps right in. This does not bode well for the scientific basis or integrity of most 'sex offense science'.

And as Prof. Janus notes in his book, even if we don't know a lot yet, we've done an awful lot of law-passing on the basis of what little we think we know. This may not be the best way to run a railroad. It is certainly not the best way to preserve the Republic, which precisely was founded on the principle that The People have a better chance of achieving a reasonably ordered society and cultural surround if the government and its coercive powers are kept on as tight a leash as possible. Governments on long leashes are notorious for breaking loose and taking over the whole show.

J. "What will we do to stop this in the future?" We have as much chance of "stopping" sexual misconduct as we do of "stopping" any other manifestation of Original Sin. Or as much chance of doing it as the US military has of conquering Evil all around the whole world. It is an impossible goal. And while this means that folks who sign up for it will have a Cause to fight for during the rest of their natural lives, it also means that huge legal holes are being torn in the fabric of the Constitution in the service of achieving a goal that it is impossible to achieve in the first place.

K. "The global pandemic": Too many well-intentioned advocacy types like to hear themselves talk like the big people on national news. A 'global pandemic' is the Black Plague or the influenza of 1918-20 that killed 50 millions around the world. While it is nice to throw out phrases that the scientists and UN types do, and gets a lot of mileage with folks who might otherwise not get worked up for you, nonetheless it is historically inaccurate and it belittles the true proportions of suffering and awfulness experienced by those who went through them, and it also winds up desensitizing and dumbing-down your listeners, who walk away at the end of the day thinking that pandemics are only as violent and destructive as somebody crying over a repressed memory. The Black Plague killed a third of the population of Europe, and in a very horrible and vividly gruesome way, almost shattering civilization itself over there. Extremism in the defense of one's Advocacy is indeed a vice. And a terribly expensive one. Republics cannot afford it.

And this ties in with a previous comment in the article about UN figures that indicate "150 million girls are sexually abused each year (14 percent of the planet's child population) as well as seven percent of the boys". Think about this. How can the UN possibly know this? Where are their worksheets so somebody else can check their addition and multiplication? The UN can't keep track of its own budget, and can't even get medical supplies into war-zones. How in heck does it go in and conduct surveys on child abuse? Or are these simply numbers made up in a Good Cause? If a little girl has only two friends and one of them was abused, does the UN researcher then get back in the precious helicopter and head for the next country, marking down that between 33 and 50% of the little girls 'here' have been molested? I'm not making light of the problem - I'm trying to shed some light on it.

L. "People aren't born child-abusers." I think it's wonderful that advocates who previously hated abusers on behalf of the victims are now trying to improve the situation by asserting that 'abusers aren't born that way'. But it's the same mistake again, only this time made in the service of the other side, so to speak. Nobody knows what makes people abuse children. Nobody - it seems - can clearly define 'abuse'. This whole 'abuser' and 'sex offense' phenomenon has been lubricated by the claims of 'scientific proof', first of the offenses and now - it seems - of the solutions that will totally stop it. Stop it. We are faced with a societal problem or a complex of problems which - by the Year of Grace 2007 - we have complicated immensely by a sustained panoply of legal hammer-blows that have damaged the foundations of the Republic's structure more than they have substantively reduced the Identified Problem. A great deal of damage has been done in the past 25 years and we need to start asking ourselves B) if it has worked but also A) if the ship upon which so many have been madly hammering and sawing is still sea-worthy. Let's not forget: if you look at the run-up to the Iraq War, an awful lot of that playbook had first been deployed in the service of the sex offense Advocacy. Substitute WMD for 'sex offense' and Saddam for 'sex-offender' and ... well, take a look yourself. We'll all be better off the more we start giving things a careful look and some careful thought.

I am tremendously impressed by the willingness of advocates to look at their programmes, plans, and assumptions. But at this point they are now suffering from one of the problems of 'success' in Advocacy: unintended consequences have created serious damage that has to be addressed even as they are trying to undertake the alread-demanding task of assessing and re-assessing their own initial assumptions.

It's a sign of how debauched public discourse has become that the advocates stand almost the only chance of 'permitting' significant public discourse to carry on and engage the matters at hand. We cannot expect politicians or the mainstream media to be of much use.

That being the case, let this good work begin.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home