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.