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Apr 17, 2011

Part two of my two-part series about why unprecedented public hatred isn't enough to stem the problem of child sexual abuse.

3) Willful ignorance- this is a multi-faceted issue. People on the street have a desire to know a certain amount about child sexual abuse, but no more than that. The media has gotten the hint, and provides us with as much of what they think we want as they think we'll consume, and that's part of the problem.

I think people like hearing lurid stories about sexual abuse because it makes them feel better about their own families. "I'm not sure how good of a parent I am, but I know for damn sure that this has never happened under my roof. As many mistakes as I've made, I've never done that to my kids." So dramatic stories about sexual abuse saturate the news. And if the stories involve the uber-dramatic elements of kidnapping or trafficking, all the better. Never mind the fact that most instinces of child sexual abuse don't involve kidnapping, human trafficking, or even criminal prosecution (more on that later). Publishing houses have learned that we love hearing stories about celebraties who have survived sexual abuse, and their memoirs will get published easilly, their manuscripts bought at a good price. And these certainly make for an interesting read, one that can teach the reader a thing or two about the crime. A few non-celebraties have managed to sneak into the commercial part of this market (think Augusten Burroughs). Back in the 1970's, when CSA was being dragged out from our culture's closet, and people were being confronted with the fact that this actually happens, each and every published survivor's story was contributing enormously to changing the public's consciousness. But here we are fourty years later, and the media still think we're most interested in hearing stories about celebraty abuse survivors and little else. Well, what else is there? First, there are plenty of non-famous abuse survivors out there. And if they try to get their stories published, the conventional publishing industry will say, in no uncertain terms, that they are not intersted. There are many literary agents who will say on their websites or in their bio's "not interested in abuse stories". Survivors who want to tell their stories end up getting sucked into self-publishing, which in general I think is a predatory practice. It can work well, but the system is stacked so that it usually doesn't work well for anyone except the publishing company. But in the last 40 years, a lot has been learned about every facet of child sexual abuse. Dr's Able and Harlow wrote a book, called "The Stop Child Molestation Book", that does an amazing job at explaining pedohilia and the dynamics of child sexual abuse to lay people. And they self-published it, presumeably because they couldn't find a conventional publisher. This book teaches people why and how child sex abusers do what they do, and how to keep your kids safe. What parent wouldn't want to own that? If people knew this book was out there, they would buy it. And it would change the world. But the publishing industry has managed to styme that, and I personally think it has blood on its hands for that.

Even among survivors, I see a lot of ignorance about pedophiles, including lots of belief that pedophilia isn't a mental illness. If we choose to believe that pedophilia isn't a mental illness, it must only be perpetuated by really terrible people. Which, sadly, brings us to #1 on my list of why we haven't been able to do more to solve this problem.

#4- So many windmills to tilt at- Sexually abuseing children is a bad thing. Almost every American you meet will agree with that, and if they don't, don't let them babysit for you! It's such a bad thing, we need to really punish people who do it. So let's make the laws tougher. It's still happening? Let's make them tougher, still. It's still happening? Let's make sure that the public can access lists of people who've sexually abused children. It's still happening? How can that be?

Here's my Care2 Confession- I'm a member of as many "make the laws tougher" groups on Care2 as I can find. Not because I really believe this is the answer, but because I want to connect with people who are passionate about the issue. And, the idea of serious punishment for these people is appealing, especially to someone who is a survivor. But let's look at why punishment has been letting us down for the last 40 years. One reason is that kids rarely disclose their abuse at its onset. Often, they don't disclose until they're adults, and in that case, in about half of all states, they run into statutes of limitations that styme their quest for justice. If a child doesn't disclose abuse until months or years after its onset, judges and juries are already going to be suspicious. Since most children are sexually abused by someone they care about deeply, and their disclosure causes that person to disappear from their life, and causes their family all sorts of grief and misery, they usually recant their story. And that really makes judges and juries suspicious. There usually is no medical evidence of child sexual abuse. There usually aren't witnesses, although now that most American's have cell phones with cameras and video capacity in their clutches most of the time, more images of child rape are showing up there, which does help prosecuters. And most of the defendents in these cases are likeable, and they often don't have any criminal records. So take the inherient "flimsyness" of what the child is saying, the lack of corroborating evidence, and the inherient reluctance of people to believe that "nice" people can do something so wrong, and you get a negligable chance of conviction. Prosecutors know this, and are often willing to take a conviction for the tiniest little thing, often endangering the welfare of a child, in order to stick anything, at all, on the offender. They figure locking the offender up for a few weeks is better than nothing at all. The maximum sentance in this case is completely irrelevant- if the prosecution knows there's no chance of a conviction, it doesn't matter what the maximum sentance is. CPS is able to function a little differently, since they're not a law enforcement entity (see one of my earlier blogs). They can indicate an adult of an alligation of sexual abuse, and keep that adult from having further access to the child they abused. That adult will be listed in the state's central registry of child abusers, and places that employ people to work with children or other vulnerable people can look up candidates on that registry. But not everyone on the street can, which is why we have Megan's Law. But I think I've already pointed out the biggest weaknesses of Megan's Law- it only represents the minute percent of offenders who get convicted in criminal court, and most people won't look up someone who "seems nice" in it- especially people in their family or circle of friends.

In the first half of this, I mentioned the gentleman I met in October who asked me if I thought anyone could do anything to actually stop child sex abuse. Well, last week, when I was setting up another display at the public market, I saw him again. He proudly said that he kept the literature about Prevent Child Abuse NY that I had given him six months ago, and was refering struggling parents he knew to their helpline (1-800-Children). We didn't have a conversation quite as philosophical as the first time, but we didn't need to. He was convinced that parents can be helped, children can be helped, and he can play a role in it. And that was enough for both of us.

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Posted: Apr 17, 2011 11:26am
Apr 11, 2011

Six months ago I set up a table at the local farmer's market to promote Prevent Child Abuse NY. That day, a man came up to me and started asking me questions about child sexual abuse. He told me parts of his life story- suffice it to say it was very unenviable. And before he left, he asked me if I really thought I could do anything to stop child sexual abuse, as it has been going on through the earliest glimmers of Western civilization. I was at a loss, I must admit, but finally I said I believe a difference can be made, and that my life is much better and more purposeful because I believe that.

Well, this fellow's question did make me think. Child sexual abuse is probably the most deplored crime in our culture. We are constantly pushing the boundries of our constitution to control it, by starting registries like Megan's law, Civil confinement, and the efforts that were made to censor "A Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure" in November. And there is some evidence that we are having some success in decreasing all forms of child abuse, as federal numbers and NYS data (which is all I look at, as that's where I live). But we are still talking about a crime that, at 25% of girls being victimized and 15% of boys before their 18th birthday, is beyond pandemic.

I'm going to break this down into a few blogs, because frankly, I'm a busy woman. But here are some of the reasons the crime of child sexual abuse is so prevelant in our society.

1) The case of the likeable criminal- Most children will be sexually abused by someone both they and their parents like and trust. I think parents read that fact, nod vacantly, and don't really absorb it. What it means is that we're capable of liking someone who does something absolutely terrible to someone we love. Very likely, that person we love is a part of our family. Granted, the people most likely to murder us are people we know, too, but other than domestic violence (which is not to be dismissed by any means, as it is a very significant cause of death for young women), they aren't likely to be people we are terribly close with. And murder isn't nearly as common as child sex abuse. I think it is very, very hard for people for whom child sex abuse isn't a big part of their life to wrap their mind around the fact that betrayls this bad are even possible. If people really don't believe this can happen to them, they don't need to worry about it.

2) Sweeps week- In the 1980's, child sexual abuse was a huge deal. And while plenty of experts were out there, telling accurate, evidence-based truths about the crime, there were also a few stranger abductions happening. And those got much, much more publicity. It was easier for people to swallow the big bad stranger snatching their child away from them than it is for them to believe their spouse or relative is going to do it. And people tend to swallow that which is easy. What did we get out of that? We got a lot of information dispersed about preventing something which is increadably uncommon. And we had an excuse to not try and think about something which was much more unplesant, but also more likely. And FYI, right now I think the human-trafficing movement is going to supplant the knowledge-base we're accumulating about child sexual abuse prevention. Why would the media run a story about "regular" old child sexual abuse when we have human trafficking to report on? Never mind the fact that the majority of people in the United States who are trafficked for sexual slavery are child sexual abuse survivors who ran away from their abusive homes, hoping to find something better and missing the mark very badly. I don't want to sound insensitive to human trafficing victims. But I do feel that treating this crime as though it happens in a vacume, without roots in larger societal problems, is ultimately going to be counter-productive to all facets of work against CSA.

Part two will be forthcoming. I need a break, my computer needs a break.

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Posted: Apr 11, 2011 11:45am


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melanie blow
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