Yesterday the New Yorker published a really long but fascinating (and at times heartbreaking) article by Jill Lepore called Baby Doe, which begins with an examination of the dead toddler girl whose body washed up in Boston Harbor last year and widens into a discussion of one of the major culprits of child abuse—poverty—and how kids in the system would be better served by the government changing its focus to better address this fact. I recommend reading the article in pieces because it’s a lot to take in. The second article, written by Matthew Broomfield, was published by Motherboard and is called YouTube Personalities Use ‘Minecraft’ to Prey on Underage Fans. The title of that one is pretty self-explanatory. Both of these articles are well worth your time, especially Lepore’s.
Aside from a crisis at age 18, I have never been seriously tempted to molest a child. There have been some minor temptations along the way, but these were shrugged off pretty quickly. I have also had some moments of insecurity, when I myself started to believe society’s message that I was a ticking time bomb destined to harm a child. But I will never experience that again.
I’m 43 years old. My days of raging hormones and sexual ignorance are far behind me, as are the days when my extended family was swarming with small children. Most of the kids that have been in my life are either now adults or nearly so, with many of them now having kids of their own. No, I will not offend. Ever.
But, if you want to keep claiming I will, by all means, go ahead. I don’t mind. Sure, some younger pedophiles may very well internalize that message and may offend because they have come to believe they have no choice, and I will still work to destigmatize these attractions on their behalf. But I myself will forever be safe from offending, so you can say whatever you will about me. You know why I don’t mind? Because some day when I die, I will do so with a clean record. And on that day I will have had the last laugh.
You know what else? I’m not Darth Vader, because I do not find your lack of faith disturbing. In fact, every time someone claims I’m doomed to offend, it only strengthens my resolve. So keep it up! You’re doing me a favor. I not only accept your challenge, I’ll pass it with flying colors. Because on top of my own ethical reasons for not offending, I now live to prove you wrong. 🙂
I consider myself a rational and level-headed person most of the time, and I am highly suspicious of anyone who claims that the modern American government is thoroughly fascist. Of course I worry about the swelling costs of our bloated bureaucracy and certain overzealous factions of the state spying on American citizens or clamping down on our freedoms, but I generally don’t get caught up in paranoid conspiracies about the government plotting to completely control Americans or anything like that.
Even so, it occurs to me that if the government was interested in a fascist crackdown on Americans, it could probably accomplish this most easily by basing its propaganda largely on two things: terrorism and child abuse. In fact, an argument can be made that elements of the government have already grown uncommonly fat and powerful by exploiting society’s fears of these two things in particular. But my focus here will be on the one most pertinent to me.
Let’s start with one of the biggest social programs in America: Child Protective Services. Now, CPS is unquestionably a valuable and important organization, but there is a growing mountain of evidence that they have overstepped their bounds far too often, and one of the easiest ways to get a child temporarily or permanently removed from a family is to level an accusation of sexual abuse against someone in the family. My question is, how can the moral panic over pedophilia not be at least partly responsible for the state’s overzealous prosecution of these cases?
In an eye-opening article in Atlantic Monthly about CPS, Professor Paul Chill is quoted as saying:
On an average day, police officers and child-welfare caseworkers throughout the United States remove more than seven hundred children from the custody of their parents to protect them from alleged abuse or neglect. These children are typically seized without warning from their homes or schools, subjected to intrusive interrogations, medical examinations and/or strip searches, and forced to live in foster homes or group residences while the legal system sorts out their future…Removals can be terrifying experiences for children and families. Often they occur at night. Parents have little or no time to prepare children for separation. The officials conducting the removal, as well as the adults supervising the placement, are usually complete strangers to the child. Children are thrust into alien environs, separated from parents, siblings and all else familiar, with little if any idea of why they have been taken there. Such experiences may not only cause “grief, terror and feelings of abandonment” but may “compromise” a child’s very “capacity to form secure attachments” and lead to other serious problems. The trauma may be magnified when the child is actually suffering abuse or neglect in the home, and in any event it is increased when reunification with loved ones does not occur quickly.
Certainly children should be removed when there is solid evidence of serious child abuse or neglect in the home, but too often CPS’s unwarranted power to simply remove a child from their family is a sign of the organization unnecessarily flexing its muscles. I should point out here that I have a great deal of respect and sympathy for the people who have to make these decisions every day. For a powerful and emotional look at the difficulties faced by CPS agents, read Marc Parent’s book Turning Stones: My Days and Nights with Children at Risk. It isn’t the case workers themselves I most take issue with, but rather the way the system is set up and some of its adversarial policies towards parents.
Mothers are especially vulnerable to the overreach of CPS. In an article on the Women’s Justice Center site called Beware Social Services: What Victims, Advocates, and Mandated Reporters Need to Know:
In brief, the particular problem we cover usually unfolds like this. A mother herself seeks help from CPS or becomes involved with CPS through someone else’s report of suspected child abuse. Her child has been physically or sexually abused by a family member, usually by a male family member, or there are concerns the child is living in a home where there is domestic violence. At first, the mother naturally anticipates that CPS will try to help her and her child, and try to punish and stop the perpetrator. So these mothers are stunned when suddenly the CPS/juvenile court system turns its sights on her, even though everyone agrees she didn’t perpetrate the abuse or violence.
Suddenly she is the one under investigation, and the perpetrator is seeming to be all but ignored. And worse, CPS is threatening to take her child from her, or has already done so without warning or notice, and is threatening to keep the child, right at the time that mother and child need each other most. She feels the system turn hostile toward her. Did she, the non-offending parent, protect the child from the violent parent? Did she protect the child from molestation? Did she protect the child from being exposed to domestic violence in the home? Well, no, obviously she did not, or could not, or, in the case of molestation, often didn’t know about it.
The article goes on:
Unfortunately, such stories are not the result of occasional human errors that are bound to occur in any public agency. They are, instead, inevitable and frequent outcomes stemming from the flawed founding premises and the weak legal underpinnings of the CPS/juvenile court system. The structure of the system drives toward these injustices no matter how well intentioned individual CPS workers may be. Nor is this to say that children should never be removed from the non-offending parent. There are circumstances in which they should. The problem is that the system is so arbitrary, sexist, secret, and outdated, that it tends toward abusive or mistaken results.
The internet is full of CPS horror stories, and within that context we can place the trend of the government removing kids simply because their parents allowed them too much freedom, usually taking the form of children walking home from school or playing outside alone. At the heart of this trend is the fear of what? Child kidnappers, of course, and that means (dum-dum-DUM) pedophiles! The Big P, the most horrible existential threat to children in the modern world if the media is to be believed. The fact is, this trend could not have happened without the moral panic of sexual predators, because the new normal is for parents to forbid children any alone time outside of the home (and often inside as well if internet-accessible computers are present) and to hover, hover, hover, all day every day, incessantly. Thus, any parent who bucks this helicopter mentality is now deemed a negligent parent, and that’s where CPS steps in. The plain fact is, the government should not have the power to confiscate one’s children just because they were allowed to play outside in the local park without adult accompaniment.
Side note: how’s this for irony? As a young man in the early ’90s, I had friends with small children, some of whom I babysat. Often I would take the children in my care to one of several small parks, where I would sometimes find other children playing (gulp) alone. Since I was the only adult present, you might say I became the responsible caretaker of all the children at the park on that particular day. If a child I didn’t know had gotten injured, I would’ve tended to them just as I would any child in my care. And had an adult come up and snatched one of those children, you can be damned sure I would’ve reacted. Now, as we have already established elsewhere, the strangers most inclined to swipe a child for sex and then murder them aren’t pedophiles but “situational-type child molesters who display the morally indiscriminate and inadequate patterns of behavior” (Ken Lanning’s words, not mine). Was this a case of the fox guarding the hen house? Perhaps, but only if the fox was domesticated, had bonded with the hens and had no interest in eating them. Whatever the case, it amounted to a pedophile guarding children from mostly non-pedophiles, and I can’t imagine my story is unique.
Another facet of this issue is the government’s pursuit of internet child porn consumers. In a recent article in VICE by Joseph Cox, the author explains how the FBI used an unprecedented new technology to hack into over a thousand home computers suspected of accessing a particular child porn site. Many people will look the other way when it comes to the government doing such things in the name of catching sex offenders, but they fail to recognize that such overreach inevitably spills over into other aspects of law enforcement. Take, for example, the sex offender registry (SOR). The first SORs came into existence in the mid-1990s, and approximately twenty-five years later my state of Tennessee has enacted the Tennessee Animal Abuse Registry, the first of its kind in the country but assuredly not the last. Will it stop there? I wonder.
In my last radio interview, one of the men who called in suggested I should be arrested despite the fact that I have never committed any sex crimes against children, and he is not the only one who has ever suggested this. As I have said before, it seems that with pedophilia, in many people’s minds we are guilty until proven innocent, which of course would be impossible. The host of the show, Adrian Kennedy, asked me if my home state of Tennessee had any laws against confessing to having a sexual attraction to children. Ummm . . . what? Last I checked, that would be a thought crime. It really makes me wonder if these people, many of whom are anti-government free speech advocates, are even aware of the irony in such a position. They constantly go on about the slippery slope dangers of the “liberal media” advocating for better treatment of non-offending pedophiles and pedophiles seeking treatment and yet fail to grasp the very real danger of advocating for the prosecution of thought crimes. If the state really did punish me just for having an attraction I didn’t choose and cannot change and speaking out about it, do you think that they would stop there? No, this would establish a legal precedent that would pave the way for the state to punish all sorts of thought criminals.
I can’t believe I have to tell this to Britons since George Orwell was one of their own and this book is a literary classic, but read Nineteen Eighty-Four, damn it, or even V for Vendetta, a graphic novel written by another Brit, Alan Moore. Airstrip One was meant to be Great Britain and you are actively advocating for Orwell’s dystopian world if you think anyone, including those with unpopular viewpoints—or I should say, especially those with unpopular viewpoints—should go to jail for their thoughts alone. If you aren’t willing to read the book, then at least read the damn Wikipedia page on thought crimes! I don’t think your quite there yet, but if your island does turn into a nanny state, it seems to me you will only have yourselves to blame.
Here is the link for my appearance on Dublin Talks with host Adrian Kennedy. Having listened to it, I think it was a better interview than I remember, but in all fairness I was pretty tired when I made my original assessment. Anyway, here you go. It should kick in as soon as you click the link.
Hardship often prepares an ordinary person for an extraordinary destiny. – C.S. Lewis
Reason.com just published a wonderful article written by Lenore Skenazy on the unfairness implicit in the sex offender registry with respect to underage offenders, entitled Why America Puts 9-Year-Old Kids on the Sex Offender Registry for Life. The article is based on a research paper written by Catherine Carpenter called Throwaway Children: The Tragic Consequences of a False Narrative.
I was emailed yesterday by Jeremy Dixon, producer for yet another Irish talk radio show called Dublin Talks, hosted by Adrian Kennedy. I don’t know why the Irish find me so fascinating but anyway, the email was cordial enough and I agreed to do an interview. I’ve done enough of these things now that I pretty much know how they generally go, and my experiences have largely been positive, or at least neutral. Here was my email in response to Dixon’s interview request.
Jeremy,Sure, I’ll be interviewed for your show. Let’s see, I’m in the Central Time Zone, and the best time to interview me is between 1 PM and 6 PM my time. I think you guys are six hours ahead, so that would be evening for you.Take care,Todd
Thanks for getting back to me so soon. How does 1pm tomorrow suit you?
I told him that would be fine. Now, you should know that I am a night owl who usually goes to bed at 2 AM and wakes around 10-11 AM. Last night I slept roughly anyway because of some concerns over my pipes freezing, since I can’t afford to have them repaired if they freeze and bust. I was just beginning to finally drift off when my phone began ringing . . . at 6:30 AM this morning. I ignored it, hoping the callers would give up, but it turned out to be Dixon, and he proceeded to call me off and on for the next hour and a half. Finally realizing there was no hope of getting back to sleep, I got up at 8 AM and answered the phone, figuring that he just wanted to confirm the later interview. How naive I was. We soon went live and I just went with it. What the hell, right? Beforehand, Dixon says, “Oh, I probably woke you up, huh?”
“No, it’s fine,” I say. “I just woke up to see a bunch of calls on my phone.”
I am a little irritable now, but I remained pleasant. And then the interview with Kennedy begins. Standard questions initially, but then it quickly veers off into Kennedy playing off of his callers, who are of course responding with vile threats and insults (never heard on-air). I’m used to that by now, but Kennedy asks me, “Do you understand the hatred and disgust people have for you?” I answer, pleasantly, something to the effect of, “I understand the hatred directed at those who actually abuse children, but much less so those who just have the thoughts and feelings.” Apparently unsatisfied with this, Kennedy circles back around again later, continuing with this line of questioning, as if my answer would be different the second time. It wasn’t.
Please keep in mind that I was extremely tired and not particularly alert, though that was no doubt part of Dixon and Kennedy’s plan all along. The entire interview I kept getting the impression that they were trying to get my goat, to make me snap. If so, then I’m afraid I left them terribly disappointed. I’m sure, given how I actually felt, my replies weren’t always the most intuitive or sympathetic, but I think, all in all, I fairly well stumped their attempts to get me on the proverbial ropes. Needless to say, not my favorite radio experience. Niall Boylan was soooooo much more professional than Dixon and Kennedy.
And for future reference for anyone who wants to interview me: if you aren’t willing to stick to the agreed to plan, then sorry, I don’t have time to appear on your show. This is not a job for me; I don’t get paid to do it. I do this in the name of advancing the dialogue between society and people like me. From this point on, if you aren’t going to offer me even the simple courtesy of adhering to the parameters we both agree to beforehand, then I am simply going to ignore you. 🙂