Sunday, March 4, 2012

Combatting Sexual Abuse of Children and Social Control

Sex-negative cultures are those which are not comfortable with sexual pleasure being enjoyed for its own sake and which employ the regulation of sexuality as a major means of exerting social control. Cultures within the Christian, Islamic and Jewish traditions clearly tend toward the sex-negative, especially in their more primitive, fundamenalist manifestations. Conservatives within both the United States and Canada incarnate that ideology. Recently, there have been two striking illustrations: Rick Santorum, the second most likely Republican candidate for President of the USA, amazingly asserting that sensuality is the work of the devil and a significant threat to the American Way; Vic Toews, the Public Safety Minister in the Conservative government of Canada, promoting his Omnibus Crime Bill as chiefly a strike against the sexual abuse of children and child pornography, even though those crimes represent a very minor consideration of the Bill itself, which contains harsher penalties for growing dope than child abuse.

It is characteristic of the legislative process of sex-negative societies that laws restricting sexual practice function as instruments for enforcing greater social control. I don't question the need to have strong legislative sanctions related to the sexual abuse of children, especially when it involves young children. As I have stated in previous postings, almost anyone who has experience in social services has witnessed the harm that such abuse causes and any research with which I am familiar confirms the emotional harm resulting from child sexual abuse. Nevertheless, promoting the Omnibus Crime Bill as a strike against child abuse and pornography is a classic, and in this case, misguided, attempt to achieve greater social control under the guise of restricting a particular sexual behaviour. The zealotry behind that choice is evident in the response given by the Minister to critics of the bill in Parliament: "You're either with us or with the child pornographers". In other words, not to support that ill-conceived, legislative exercise in social control is to be an ally of sexual deviants; an echo of the Fifties attempt in the USA to link communism with homosexuality and to accuse those opposing the criminalization of progressive political belief of being, literally, in bed with homosexuals.

The same sex-negative logic is at work in the legislative efforts in many Russian cities to prevent public reference to homosexuality; a measure intended to combat the alleged decay of social values and to re-impose the pre-revolutionary dominance of the Orthodox Church in Russian political life. Attempts in the USA to deny basic rights of GLBT peoples and to restrict access to birth control are yet other manifestations of utilizing discrimination against particular exercises of sexuality as a vehicle for a much wider agenda of social control.

An interesting discussion has recently emerged around a sting operation targeting pedophiles that is taking place in Washington, DC, a relatively liberal jurisdiction in relation to the rights of sexual minorities.  The police operation involves, among other initiatives, an investigating officer joining, on-line meeting places of adult, gay males, the popular among them.  The investigator describes himself as a twenty-something or thirty-something, very attractive, gay man, into PNP (using drugs in the process of having sex) and looking to hook up with someone with a similar profile. Once another man initiates a conversation with him to explore getting together, the investigator mentions that he has access to a twelve-year-old boy, who is "freaky and loves to get fucked"; asking if that interests the potential, sexual partner. If the potential partner replies in the affirmative and agrees to meet the investigator he is arrested on his way to the meeting and given a choice: either plead guilty to some misdemeanor related to corrupting a minor or contest the arrest and be charged with the criminal offense of soliciting a minor for sexual purposes. Both the chief of police and, so far, all but one judge, have approved of the sting operation and regard it as a legitimate tool in the fight against pedophiles. Apparently, it is used in other jurisdictions as well.

But, what constitutes a pedophile? Usually, a pedophile is understood as someone who has a preference for sex with children. The men being caught in this sting operation are in an adult, gay chat room, looking for other adult, gay partners. They are, initially, drawn to the very attractive profile posted by the investigator and, perhaps, to the fact that he has access to drugs for PNP. In fact, one of the men contesting his arrest, a Canadian tourist, was addicted to crystal meth and wanted to meet up with the investigator primarily to access the drug. While one might question the morality of someone agreeing to meet with a sexual partner in the presence of a twelve-year-old boy, who might be part of that encounter, it seems a stretch to conclude the person was seeking out a child with whom to engage in sex. It can readily be imagined that someone might agree to a meeting, hoping to have access to a hot man with drugs, and intending to turn down sex with the boy. Indeed, he might think, even hope, that part of the of the "lure"  does not turn out to be a reality. Remember, the meeting never actually takes and many an alleged enticement made over the net turns out to be non-existent.

Join with that illustration another that seems equally questionable: arresting someone for possession or distribution of child pornography who frequents a web site, which has many, different channels, offering material to diverse sexual tastes. Imagine that someone goes to such a site in search of depictions of adult sexual encounters and is not interested in, perhaps even repulsed by, channels depicting sex with minors. Sometimes, it might not even be clear that the channel in question actually depicts sex with minors; for example, it might advertise itself as involving sex with "twinks", young men, whose actual age may not readily discernible. Again, while one might question the morality of someone continuing to frequent such a site, once realizing that child pornography is or may be available on it, does that make the person guilty of accessing or possessing child pornography?

I think it is reasonable to feel uneasy with the zeal evidenced in such prosecutions. Much has been written regarding the risks of emotional damage to police investigators and crown prosecutors needing to expose themselves to child pornography in order to do their jobs. Of equal concern is the reality that law enforcement in areas of sexual behaviour is notoriously subject to abuse, due to the fact that repressed desire can emerge as a felt need to repress similar desires in others; one's own, inner conflicts becoming externalized in the repression of the threatening "other"; a risk intended to be lowered in many jurisdictions by designating police and prosecutors to work in the area of sexual crimes, as opposed to asking for volunteers. Punitive, wide-sweeping legislation only serves to augment that risk through giving a greater license to officers to carry out what might be a largely personal agenda; the zealous pursuit of homosexuals in the context of combatting alleged subversion carried out by J.Edgar Hoover providing a notorious illustration.

The result of these reflections indicates that one is justified in feeling a certain queasiness when listening to an interview with some public official speaking of countering child abuse and pornography with what seems a bit too much zeal. It is important to be vigilant that prosecuting the sexual abuse of children and the possession, production and distribution of child pornography not be used as a cover to extend state control into other areas or to violate the civil rights. I believe it is especially important for those of us who feel it is right that children be protected by the state from abuse to not remain silent in relation to legislation that goes beyond what is necessary to assure such protection; even though there is a risk of being accused by zealots of siding with child abusers and pornographers in the process.

1 comment:

  1. Very relevant here in Montreal, considering an ex-cop was one of those arrested for producing and distributing child porn. It also brings to mind Julian Fantino (now an MP) who, as police chief in London (ON), would arrest gay men as pedophiles, show the media piles and piles of seized video cassettes, presumably kiddie porn, only to drop the matter a few weeks later.