This case just made my point for me

Two days ago an article came out in the the British newspaper The Guardian called Rotherham woman offered safe haven to troubled girls – then pimped them out. It explains how one woman, Karen MacGregor, used her youth support organization KinKids to take in teenage girls who were homeless, but then she would get the girls drunk and sell them to men for sex. Moreover, as the article says, “MacGregor was an energetic, high-profile campaigner on behalf of abused children . . .”

In this post I said it was unfair to always treat non-offending pedophiles as if they were potentially guilty, as Glori Meldrum, founder and head of the advocacy group Little Warriors, seems to want to do. I then pointed out how anyone could potentially be an offender, including someone like Meldrum herself:

It’s true that you ultimately can’t prove that we have never done anything to kids, but that can be said of anyone, even Meldrum. Who’s to say she hasn’t used her organization as a front to cover her own abuse of children? Obviously I don’t believe this, and I doubt anyone else does either, but that’s the thing: often the real hardcore abusers turn out to be those we least suspect, people in positions of authority who work regularly with kids. And being the founder of an anti-child abuse organization, what a perfect cover it would be for her! I mean, who would ever suspect someone like that, right?

And there you have it. Now we know that just such a person has been arrested for doing exactly that. Let this be a lesson: don’t single out self-confessed non-offending pedophiles as potentially more guilty than anyone else. Remember, most child sex offenders aren’t actually pedophiles anyway, and there is no way to know in the current environment how many pedophiles (people with a primary or exclusive attraction to children) are actually sex offenders. Meanwhile, the worst offenders are often the people you least suspect.

Stop saying that rape and abuse are worse than death!

Well-known internet kook and anti-Semite Charles Edward Frith just recently posted this message on Twitter:

And as you can see, he actually got fourteen likes on this! Frith has a sizable following that laps up his every conspiracy-laden, junk science-y post and tweet, people who think exactly like he does. We can mostly write them off, but unfortunately, there are far more mainstream folks who buy into the very same message Frith tweeted there. Why? Well, a lot of it has to do with how our culture processes these things. There can be little doubt that we are in the midst of a full-blown moral panic over rape and especially child sexual abuse. These issues are certainly worthy of our attention, and some of the reactionism is warranted, especially in light of the horrendous scandals that have come to light in the last twenty years or so: the Catholic priest abuse, Bill Cosby, Jimmy Savile, etc. But sometimes all this emotionalism boils over into some truly head-shaking viewpoints, one of which is this notion that sexual abuse and rape are so horrific that even death is preferable.

Look, I understand that such abuse can be terrible, especially the variety that goes on for years at the hands of a loved one, or those brutal instances of rape where the victim’s life is in jeopardy. But to be fair, those are rare. Not that any kind of sexual abuse isn’t bad, but as someone who was molested myself at age seven, I can attest to the fact that having your genitals touched by an adult is far from the most horrible thing one can experience. I’ve said before that on the trauma scale from one to ten, my molestation was about a two: it was eyebrow-raising but not unpleasant. In contrast, at age ten I attended a revival at an aunt’s church one evening where the traveling evangelist who preached to us gave a lecture on the horrors of hell using examples of real-life burn victims to explain how bad suffering eternal hell-fire would be. By the end I was in tears and giving my life to Jesus at the altar. If that isn’t child abuse, I don’t know what is. On the trauma scale, that was about a seven or eight for me.

However, I firmly believe that even the worst abuse doesn’t have to be a lifelong sentence of misery and horror. I’m not saying it’s something we can forget, but nor do I think victims of rape and abuse have been demolished and tainted for the rest of their lives. In fact, I feel that this attitude is a major part of the problem with respect to the way we address and deal with these crimes as a culture, and that it often winds up becoming self-fulfilling prophecy, causing victims who would otherwise not have been so negatively impacted to experience this misery in order to avoid cognitive dissonance, so that their beliefs are not in conflict with their perceptions of themselves and their own experiences. Worse yet, in my opinion it is downright irresponsible and even immoral to put forth this claim that abuse and rape are worse than death, as there may be victims who take it to heart to the point where they end their own lives.

Besides, this message (which is even perpetuated by some misguided feminists) suggests that the penis is so powerful that even if someone is forced to just touch it, let alone have it inside them, it will irrevocably destroy their souls. Sorry, but I have to agree with Charlotte Shane: there is no inherent power in the penis to destroy anyone’s life, and to teach girls and women otherwise is, I think, antithetical to the whole idea of female empowerment, and it’s quite sad that feminists are often the ones who bolster and sustain this myth. If abuse really is about power, as feminists often claim, then why give abusers the power to hurt you long after their crime is over and done? Screw those guys! They’re nothing, and that little bit of flesh between their legs doesn’t have to dictate the rest of your life! I just don’t get it. If power is their ultimate aim, then isn’t that exactly what abusers want: to control your life through terror and pain? The way to disempower them, then, is to refuse to let that act of aggression mean anything more to you than a brief moment of discomfort. And it certainly doesn’t have to mean that you’re life is so terrible afterwards that death would be one’s only reprieve. To hell with that.

With all due respect to victims and survivors (of which I am one), people need to stop saying that sexual abuse is worse than death! Yes, it can be terrible, but there are many things that are much worse. You can heal from abuse, come back from it stronger than ever. You can’t come back from death. If you’ve been abused, one small part of your life has been taken from you, and perhaps your sense of security, at least for awhile. If you’re dead, everything has been taken from you, and you can never get it back. So, please, end this nonsensical line of reasoning.

Little girl sacrifices her life for two toddlers

Our society often underestimates the power of children, but here is evidence that a “mere” child can be as powerful as any adult, for what is more powerful than sacrificing one’s own life to save that of another? How about saving two others? Kiera Larsen, a ten-year-old girl from California, jumped in the path of a runaway SUV to save the lives of two toddler girls, aged one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half. She managed to get the two smaller children out of the path of the vehicle but was unfortunately struck by it herself, later dying from her injuries. This small girl had more bravery than many adults I’ve known, and her short life had more meaning than that of some people three, four, five times her age. Kiera, wherever you are: your sacrifice was incredible, and you will never be forgotten.

Children’s sexual fantasies

One thing I consistently hear from pedo-haters as a justification for their hatred and persecution of pedophiles, even non-offending pedophiles, is that children are basically innocent, by which they mean asexual. Ergo, any introduction to sex by an adult is inherently corrupting and destructive to their innocence. There are several problems with this line of reasoning, not least of which is that it implicitly conflates pedophilia with sexual abuse. But another problem with it is that it demonstrates a resounding ignorance of children themselves. For one thing, it fails to acknowledge children as individuals with their own set of interests and motivations. While all children begin as sexually naive, at some point most of them do begin to have some understanding of and even interest in sex, even if it is crude and often ill-informed. And many who have experienced it on some level, including masturbation, know it feels good. Children also fantasize about sex sometimes.

Over on Studio@Gawker, Stephanie Georgopulos, in conjunction with Comedy Central’s new show Not Safe with Nikki Glaser, just put out an article called Stuffed Animals, Cult Leaders, and the Mailman: Yes, Women Have Fantasies, Too, and I think it’s an important piece. It highlights not only women’s sexual fantasies but young girls’ as well. Here are some examples:

“My first fantasy was about being tied up. It was when I saw Peter Pan, the animated version, and they tied Wendy onto the pirate ship and she was trying to get free. I remember thinking that was really hot. Like during recess at school, I wanted to play ‘get tied up.’ That was so exciting to me.” — Jess, 30

Or:

“I was best friends with this guy in third grade, and I didn’t even know what sex was yet, but he gave me his school portrait and I put it on my pillow and humped a stuffed animal (the original sex toy). My fantasy was, I was laying on this bean bag we had in our classroom, and he tripped and fell on top of me, and then we rubbed our bodies together. I didn’t even know what penetration was, but I knew that whatever turned me on involved two bodies rubbing on each other.” — Amy, 28

There you have it—children have sexual fantasies too. I myself had a fantasy around age ten of being forcefully stripped by an adult or another child. I even had dreams about it, and when I would wake up just before being stripped, I often felt disappointed. These dreams were likely inspired by a scene from The Dark Crystal where the Skeksis Chamberlain was forcefully stripped out of his robes, and I remember playacting this scene once with a cousin (though not to the point where I was stripped completely).

Don’t get me wrong: the takeaway from this shouldn’t be that I think children are raging little horndogs who are ready to get it on, or that adults engaging children sexually should be seen as okay. My reason for bringing it up is a little more oblique: to point out how wrong most people are with respect to these issues in general. You see, the pro-contacters understand these things better than the average Joe does, and that is a massive problem, because young pedophiles who find themselves on a board like Girl Chat or Boy Chat can be easily confused by the essential truthfulness underscoring much of the pro-contact agenda, especially in light of how far out in left field the rest of society tends to be on this stuff. There is a point at which the pro-contact viewpoint slips into pure speculation and ultimately wishful thinking, but the transition is more subtle than you may think, and if society is going to have any chance of winning over young, impressionable pedophiles to right-thinking in the face of that seductive pro-contact bias, then it needs to be more honest about these issues.

Moreover, this mistaken view about children as perfectly asexual little angels actually makes them more vulnerable to sexual abuse. Consider: a child who masturbates meets a molester who points out to the child how good it feels to stimulate the genitalia. The child may already know this, but they also know that most adults, including their parents, think they don’t do such things, or even know about them. Who do you think the child is more likely to trust on sexual matters, the adult who tells the child what they already know, or the adult who is in utter denial about these things?

Think about it.

Yet another example of a child abused . . . by the system

I can’t believe this is still happening. Wait, yes I can.  A 14-year-old boy in Three Rivers, Michigan has been busted for producing child porn, all because he took a nude photo of himself on a girl’s phone.  The girl then sent it to another girl, who also sent it to someone else, and guess what?  Now those girls have been busted for distributing child porn!  All three of these kids are now going to be labeled sex offenders simply for doing something that comes natural to teens. It’s a moral outrage alright, but not what the kids did.  Rather, the fact that the state is unwilling to distinguish between kids playing around and kids actually being victimized is absolutely unacceptable.

This is what a moral panic run amok looks like, but that’s how it always goes.  In the end, when left unchecked, these kinds of things wind up hurting the very people they’re meant to protect.  The reality is, there is a faction of society that is so insecure about their own sexual issues that they can’t stand the thought of kids being sexual beings, and so the kids who shatter this precious illusion invariably wind up getting punished for it.  This is just such a case.  This boy and these two girls are now lifelong social pariahs.  Perhaps it’s time for society to learn the concepts of balance and restraint. Here’s a great quote by Mary Wollstonecraft that everyone involved with government in any capacity should have as their personal mantra:

“Every political good carried to the extreme must be productive of evil.”

Dealing with cognitive biases part 2: I’ll be damned if I do! (the backfire effect)

One of the most difficult biases to overcome both in ourselves and in others is polarization, a.k.a. the backfire effect. You’ve seen it a thousand times: you’re debating with someone, and the more data you throw at them, the more they dig in their heels. It doesn’t matter how much evidence you give them; they are never going to budge. This generally traces back to the backfire effect. It is this polarization which has resulted in increasingly less balanced and more partisan news. The explosion of specialized media both televised and web-based has made this phenomenon the norm. A liberal can tune into MSNBC and have all of his liberal views reinforced, never having to think about the issues from any other perspective. Conservatives can do the same with Fox News. If that’s not enough, on the internet there are niche sites and resources for pretty much every perspective under the sun. Unfortunately, the casualties of all of this compartmentalization have been truth and civility.

I have certainly fallen into this trap myself. I’ll wager we all have, and the more specialized and compartmentalized our society becomes, the harder it is to pull back and look at an issue with unbiased eyes and thus learn what’s really going on. Likewise, the more hostile our opponents are, the more personal it becomes for us, and we can lose sight of what we’re trying to accomplish. It can be a tough thing to overcome when there are people out there screaming for your head. As a non-offending pedophile, I am very much aware that there are people who despise me even though they don’t know me at all, including a few who would murder me if they could get away with it, despite the fact that I have never and will never sexually abuse a child. They hate me because they have already formulated an image of me in their heads based on a single character trait: the fact that I am attracted to children. In their minds I am guilty regardless of my actual history.

Well, all of that hate and anger can be distracting if you let it be. Sometimes that is exactly their intention. Your enemies don’t want you to think rationally or be unswayed by their attempts at intimidation. They want you to break down emotionally and run away gibbering. They want to control the debate no matter what. Dealing with people like that can be incredibly frustrating, and you may be inclined to do exactly as they expect you to, or to get angry and lose focus (this has happened to me more times than I care to remember), or to just give up altogether. What you must remember is, when your enemies resort to these tactics, you have effectively won the debate already. As a non-offending pedophile, I already have the moral high ground and they know it. They know they can’t defeat me on that front.  If you also have scientific evidence to back you up, then they have nothing left, so they are forced to use fallacious appeals to emotion and straw man attacks in order to try to send you running. Don’t let them!

Because keeping your cool serves more than just allowing you to win the debate. It also allows you to continue to see things clearly. When challenged, you will almost certainly be tempted to dig in your heals. You have just cause to do so if you are right, and especially if your opponent is abusing and insulting you. I know, I’ve been there . . . many times. But you’re never going to get anywhere by being obstinate and rigid in your approach.

So how do you deal with people on the other end of this discussion? There are a few things that will generally make a difference, and believe me, I struggle with these too. Like I said earlier, I am far from perfect myself. I have bad days too, days when people get to me, but with growing experience, a better understanding of where my opponents are coming from and continuing to educate myself about the best way to convince someone of my position, these are becoming less and less everyday. In terms of studying the most effective methods of debate, here is what I’ve learned:

1) Choose your battles carefully – When someone engages you in a discussion, even if they are angry or upset, if they are trying to make an actual point and not just insulting or threatening you, it means they are generally open to learning. These are people worth engaging. In fact, emotional people are actually easier to convince if you know how to do it, but we’ll get to that in a minute. On the flip side, if someone is simply insulting you, threatening you, or making jokes at your expense, then there is little point in engaging them. It’s usually what they want: to amuse themselves by wasting your time and getting you needlessly riled up. Don’t play their game. You have better things to do with your time and energy.

2) Validate the other person’s viewpoint – Many people think of debate as a fight, and that’s a tempting perspective, especially in the antagonistic environment of the internet, but this approach generally isn’t very productive. It is better to think of it more like a dance. Dances can be organic or structured, cool or passionate, simple or complex, but whatever type of dance you’re participating in, you ultimately want to lead it. If you are completely at odds with the person you’re debating, it isn’t going to be much of a dance, is it? The idea is to flow with your opponent, and to do that you have to recognize where they’re at and what they’re doing. In terms of debate, this means validating their viewpoint early and often. I confess, this is one I struggle with myself. I can be a passionate person, and when you’re in the grip of your emotions it is very easy to lose control of yourself. Being in touch with your emotions is not a weakness; letting your emotions control you is.

Besides, most of the time your opponent’s position is rooted in their morality. You may disagree with their moral perspective, but don’t fault them for being moral people. When it comes to pedophilia, their morality is rooted in the same soil as yours. You want to protect children from harm and abuse, and so do they. Their position is not generally a moral failure but a lack of information and/or a lack of perspective. Your job is to convince them of this, but you’ll likely fail to do that if you’re being combative, exchanging insults, etc. Remember: there’s a lot more to being an effective debater than just adhering to logical principles and knowing a bunch of facts. Empathy is at least as important as those things.

3) Disarm them with humor – You have many tools in your debate bag-of-tricks, and one of the best is humor. Never underestimate the power of levity to disarm an antagonistic opponent. It’s a difficult art form to master, certainly, but even amateur humorists can soften the hardest opponent a little with a well-timed joke or quip. It’s a quick way to disrupt a particular thought pattern. As Gary Gillespie says in his essay Take My Partner, Please: Humor in Worlds-Style Debating:

The first explanation to account for humor is that audiences laugh at violations of their expectations of the world or language.  The mind follows accepted patterns when processing information. Humor crisscrosses these patterns, creating new neural connections that — for some reason — strike us as funny. Jokes cause thoughts to jump tracks and head off in surprising directions eliciting smiles, guffaws, chuckles, and laughs. The new connection forces us to re-examine familiar conclusions about the world and give us what Kenneth Burke calls “perspective by incongruity.”

In other words, humor causes people to look at something in a different way than they’re used to. Try it sometime when your debating someone—stick a joke in at an unexpected point. But be careful you don’t push it too far or in the wrong direction. For example, self-deprecating jokes are okay, but don’t make fun of your opponents, and you definitely don’t want to make light of sexual abuse. It would be in very bad taste and usually isn’t funny anyway.

4) Temper your perspective – Remember, from society’s viewpoint your perspective is an extreme one, even if you are right. When there is an opposing viewpoint that has some validity, acknowledge it up front and address it, and then present the information you have that contradicts the dominant narrative. Just as with good dance, good argument rests on your ability to give a bit when necessary. Remember Aesop’s fable of the oak and the reed. The unyielding oak breaks under a strong wind, but the flexible reed withstands it. Asians have a similar aphorism about the bamboo tree. There are a few ways to do this in the context of debating someone on these issues. The first one, of course, we’ve already covered: validate the other person’s viewpoint.

Another thing is not to sweat the small stuff. I know your inclination is to point out every little thing your opponents get wrong, but you really don’t have to do this. It’s not that you’re agreeing with them if you fail to address every point of contention, but remember, this may be an entirely new perspective for them, and as I’ve said before, this stuff is complex. They aren’t going to be able to process all of that at once anyway, so focus on the major points and don’t spread yourself too thin.

Thirdly, don’t let ignorance gall you. There’s a ton of it out there when it comes to pedophilia, and it accounts for a lot of the hatred and vulgarity we face from the public, but most of the time people aren’t being deliberately bigoted. They simply do not see this as a civil rights issue . . . yet. But most people are decent at heart, and the more we are persecuted out in the open, the more they will recognize that there are important similarities between how other minorities have been treated in the past and how we are being treated now. Continue to educate them with patience and understanding. The good ones will eventually come around; the rest don’t matter.

And finally, a good part of being a flexible debater is being prepared for anything. People will throw the most ridiculous arguments at you sometimes. You may be tempted to just write them off as idiots, but if they’re being sincere, don’t do that. Treat every serious point with respect, humility and calmness. You never know where it is they’re coming from or how much they know or think they know on these issues. The surest way to reinforce their ignorance is to treat them like they are stupid. When you’re debating someone with an opposing perspective, think of Chinese finger traps. You’ve seen these, right? You stick your fingertip in one end, someone else sticks their fingertip in the other, and you both try to get out of them. The problem is, the more you pull away, the tighter they become. The trick is to yield somewhat, push forward instead of pulling away and voila! they become loose enough to remove your finger. It’s also a good idea to study debate tactics and heed advice from professional debaters. There are plenty of good resources online.  Here is one of the better ones. Just remember that this advice is often aimed at folks who are participating in actual debate competitions. You aren’t doing that so disregard anything that puts you in an antagonistic position with respect to the person you’re debating.

That’s it for now. I may add some thoughts to this later, but these are the main points to remember. Above all, keep in mind that if the person you’re debating is genuinely interested in fairness and the truth, they will be willing to hear you out and will listen to your perspective, but remember, they may be fighting every belief or bias they have with respect to this issue, so you will want to tread carefully. If, however, they are completely unwilling to listen to you and offer you nothing but a hard way to go, then you’re likely wasting your time. The best thing to do is ignore them entirely and move on to the next person.

Vocativ article about VirPed

Vocativ has published an article written by Ian Frisch about the Virtuous Pedophiles forum and its members. It’s called DARK NET: The “Virtuous” Online Pedophile Forums. It’s an interesting piece, though there are some minor issues with it. I’m not crazy about the placement of the word virtuous in quotation marks a couple of times early in the article, including in the headline, which reads to me as if it is being used sarcastically. There are also a few spelling and grammar errors. But it’s still a worthwhile piece to check out.