How the Topic of Child Sexual Abuse Has Created Misconceptions and Unhelpful Hysteria From Anita Bryant Onward
No topic is as explosive as child molestation. The mere suspicion or yet to be proved accusation of it can foment hysteria and destroy reputations like a wildfire. As recently as 20 years ago male homosexuality was still inaccurately and vastly equated with pedophilia and still is in some quarters. Anita Bryant’s infamous 1970s antigay crusade dubbed Save Our Children scurrilously smeared gay and lesbian teachers as sexual predators and “recruiters” of children.
During that same time and in decades previously, it was common to describe a homosexual man as “a man who likes little boys” even though the gay man was clearly interested only in adult men. The term “homosexuality” itself was equated by millions of Americans as “pedophilia”. Adult gay men could be unfairly and homophobically tarred as corruptors of youth if they ever even dared to speak intellectually or informatively about homosexuality in the presence of adolescents or young adults. The notion of queer studies in universities was unthinkable.
A high school teacher or college professor of history, humanities, or literature could run afoul with administration for even making an allusion to same sex attraction. Science departments might or might not have been allowed to discuss the topic. This could put the instructor, male or female, in the position of being perceived as seducer of youngsters. Science departments might or might not have been allowed to speak on the subject. It would have depended on the school.
Though things have thankfully improved in academia, the stereotypes persist while real problems spin out of control. Sex trafficking, valid and invalid child porn accusations, misinformation and disinformation in child custody battles, war zones where children are fair game for rape, and legal sexualization of children in media and marketing are topics that have yet to be fully seen as problems, much less dealt with.
Regionally, when Minnesota State football coach Todd Hoffner, was cleared of what were clearly dubious accusations of child pornography because of misperceived family photos, judgments and stigma persisted and still do. Ironically, it was Minnesota where systematic abuse of numerous boys and some girls by priests has now been proven to have happened. It has been a financial nightmare for the Catholic Church and a spiritual crisis.
There have also been highly visible cases of women in recent months convicted of illegal relations with minors. Moreover, beauty pageants for little girls can be magnets for lechery. Girls are encouraged to wear makeup at earlier ages. A brilliant spoof at the Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre reflected on the objectification of little girls in yoga pants last year. Indeed, these are dicey topics but there needs to be some resolve and a far-reaching forum for getting thoughts on these things out in the open.
Someone who has come forward to bring civility and sanity to the discussion is Minnesota’s foremost advocate for abused kids, Patty Wetterling. She has pointed out that overreaction and draconian penalties are not the answer.
Paroled sex offenders are routinely denied employment and housing. Neighborhoods are systematically informed of their presence. Very few are met with welcome baskets. Life for them is typically an endless stream of discrimination, and bogeyman projection of others’ fears and even fantasies, Such fantasies can take on graphic fixation or obsession by the one who is actually doing the discriminating. They are often about the mutilation of the sex offender or suspected sex offender’s genitals. There can also be sadistic capital punishment fantasies. Such horrific visualizations say as much about the righteous anti-molester as they do about the offender.
Sex offenders were often victims of child sexual abuse themselves. Many are themselves the victims of incest. Moreover, the general public who ostracizes and stigmatizes them would be wiser to reflect on the many cultural and economic forces that encourage this, from advertising to our own unchecked attitudes and incapacity to talk dispassionately about the subject. So often someone who tries to bring a sense of empathy for the abuser is quickly cut off from the conversation and even stigmatized him or herself. And this kind of hysteria needs to stop. Cruel and unusual punishment were denounced by America’s founders.
When the space to share thoughts freely about this topic is finally granted and new theories and concepts about its roots are allowed to be discussed without traumatized victims and indoctrinated punishers derailing discussion, there will surely be improvements made and potential solutions for the damaging effects of child molestation.
Through Mar. 22
Nimbus Theatre, 1517 Central Av., Mpls.