Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dear America: sexual abuse makes victims; not predators; not piano teachers

Former Congressman Mark Foley, who inappropriately sexually harassed young men under his supervision has fled behind the defense of, “I was abused as a teen.” I was immediately reminded of the second season of Veronica Mars, where the question of who could have blown up a bus sending 8 teens to their deaths is answered in a single insight: Beaver was sexually abused in little league. Ah, now the question of exactly what type of sociopath who could have murdered indiscriminately time and again is answered; the lurking time bomb of the abused. Indeed, this seems to be the year for America to reaffirm the myth that those sexually abused are not victims, merely future predators.

This idea is a double insult to the hundreds of thousands of victims of sexual abuse. The double insult is first the assumption that abuse, instead of damaging or crushing some part of a person, implies it instead creates something new: a lurking monster. Second, it is that this act of sociopathic creation only occurs with men; who are somehow more damaged than women, for whom, societal values dictate, this sort of stuff is second nature (and remember, “good girls” don’t talk about being sexually abused!).

The first idea has been extrapolated from stats that show that a percentage of male sexual and physical abusers have been abused themselves. This creates an idea that being a victim of abuse puts you on some sort of “reaction scale” rating from the latent to overt potential for becoming an abuser. However, this makes as much sense as assuming survivors of concentration camps are going to join the SS or start carrying out medical experiments of their own. Getting raped is not a creative act. It doesn’t teach you how to play the piano, it doesn’t help your emotional development, and it doesn’t instill in you plans to murder, stalk, sexually predator or damage other human beings. Yes, some people who sexual abuse have been abused, but more haven’t. And of the dozens of cases of rape, incest and sexual abuse that occur in the US every day, only a tiny, tiny fraction go on to be sexual abusers. A far greater portion go on to become medical workers, or teachers, or work in computers or in finance; but getting raped doesn’t help one succeed on wall street. Get it? Of course, law enforcement knows that, though often TV land cops suddenly break a murder case when they find out a suspect was abused. There are no potential predator warnings out for the several million victims of sexual abuse alive in the US today.

Sexual abuse can only hurt, twist or stop things inside a person; not develop them. It can stop trust, ways of communicating, ways of seeing others and ways of seeing yourself. People who have been sexually abused work to get on with their lives; they do not; as Season two of Veronica Mars states, go around raping people just to see if they are “normal.” Nor do they as Congressman Foley wants to imply, manage to NOT sexually harass anyone in their long years of campaigning and work building up their power base, but now, with teens in their employ, are suddenly incapable of doing otherwise because of what happened when they were 13-15. Men in positions of authority, who are often considered above suspicion and even the law, will harass and abuse simply because there is often no consequence. Such dubious acts need not even stop one’s career, as in the case or Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose sexual relationship with a 16 year old when he was 28 hasn’t stopped his movie or political career. Strom Thurmond’s affair with the teenage sevant “help” while in his twenties didn’t stop him from going on to be one of the longest sitting and most powerful Senators. If Foley can claim anything from the “I was abused” defence, it would be the perception that males in positions of power sexually harassing or abusing other males is something easy to get away with. But it was his view that his own desires and interests were more important than those in his care which he should answer for.

If you want to blow up this myth, and I certainly do, then lets start talking about sexual abuse and harassment, openly in North America. When only the rapists, creeps, snipers and cannibals stand up to talk about being abused, and when that is the only occasions news outlets will talk about it, then we are led to believe, even more than the overwhelming cultural pressure toward abuse victims to “shut up, shut up, shut up about it”, that abuse in men creates monsters and that abuse to females produce…women. Back to Veronica Mars, it is notable that the one crime in each season she can’t solve is rape. In the second season, cutely titled, “The Rapes of Graff”, Veronica during her visit to a university, finds her boyfriend is charged with rape. Veronica, while exposing a frat tradition of harassing girls for sex in order to score points, does not chose to find the rapist, but rather only the evidence to prove that it wasn’t her boyfriend, just some run of the mill university serial rapist. Oh well, the frat boys don’t get to have parties for six months, Veronica’s friend is cleared, another friend gets a scholarship and all is well (hello? The serial rapist and the raped girls? Shhhhhh, “good girls” don’t talk about getting the short end of the stick regarding “justice”).

The best way to stop all of this is to stop sexual abuse, and that is by talking about it and treating it as the crime it is. Which is a fairly new concept. In Britain, until the 70’s, women police officers were part of The Women’s Branch, which only had limited powers and dealt with “women’s crimes” (aka not REAL crime) which include domestic abuse and rape. The US has the highest rate of reported rape per captia in the world (4 times higher than Germany, and 13 times higher than Japan). Yet most rapes will go unreported, and according to the 2003 US National Crime Victimization Study only half of reported rapes result in an arrest, 20% are not prosecuted, and of those who are prosecuted, only 58% are convicted, and only 2/3rds go to jail. That means only 1 in 6 of the minority of rapes which are reported ends up with someone going to jail.

I do not believe a society which views women as equals could stand so far above the rest of the world, not just in the way women are viewed as sexual prey but where there is any credence put to the belief that it is the act of being abused which turns, not the abuser, but the victim into a threat. The US catholic church has faced 1,400 lawsuits regarding sexual abuse of over 10,000 child victims. The church’s solution? Aggressive attack by claiming that the abused children and parents were at fault, and then blame the gays; telling everyone the “problem” has been solved now that gays or people with “gay tendencies” are banned from being priests (regardless that 98% of male to male sexual abusers are heterosexual).

Abusers are just that: abusers; the people where the blame and focus should belong. Victims should not be silenced or blamed, or led to believe that they are damaged in a way that is a threat to society. I just wish enough people would speak up about this that the creators/viewers of Veronica Mars and Congressman Foley would put away this type of reasoning. They can place it on the shelf of “bigoted defense ideas only used to blame victims” right next to “gay panic” and “men can’t help themselves sexually.”


GayProf said...

The statement by Foley made me want to spit – and I don’t spit. Your post is another elqouent expression of the serious problems with this quite obvious political stratedgy. Moreover, I would argue that it adds another element to the “gay men are really psychologically fucked-up individuals” mythology.

GayProf said...

Ooops -- Forgot to spell check. See how angry I am?

Elizabeth McClung said...

Yes, I noticed that recently in American politics, when caught being particularly slimy one merely throws up the hands and cries "the GAY made me do it" - Foley here takes the Evangelical twist of "the abuse made me GAY which made me do it!"

Apparently the concept that abusers look for isolated and vulnerable youth victims (which includes young LGBT's) is a new one up on the hill. Yet the group which has the highest abuse are disabled youth; due to reasons listed above and thier limited ability to tell others - yet no one seems to be believing that sexual abuse made these children and teens blind or deaf or that they will grow up to menaces to society because "the abuse made me deaf which made me take over a school and shoot people"


Sfrajett said...

Right on. the scariest thing is that I hear people saying "Oh, I always knew he was gay," instead of "Oh, I always knew he was a sexual predator." Ugh!

Sober @ Sundown said...

Beth, I am so disgusted about this Foley situation. I am a recovering alcoholic, and a gay American. I am tired of people choosing to behave badly, and if they get caught, they rush into rehab till the heat cools off. His attorney leaped at the news microphones to claim Foley is a gay man, and a victim of sexual abuse; I suppose that is better than being a pedophile.

I personally see Foley as a predator, and not a gay man. He is older than me, and if I went after 16 year olds, I would be considered a pedophile. If I had sex with young 16 year old males, I would go to jail.

I wish America would wake up, and stop tolerating all this bad behavior from it's politicians.

Makes me want to spit, too.

Jackson said...

From someone in a country that routinely massacres people in the name of oil, you don't half bang on about things in a way that makes me think "The lady doth protest too much". Does this obsession hide personal issues?

Elizabeth McClung said...

Canada does? News to me. Please elaborate? Have you revealed my inner workings as Canada's secretary of Defence?