Scapegoats and Shunning
Sexual Fascism in Progressive America
By "PARIAH", March 4 / 5, 2006
Progressives in America are rightly concerned about increasing signs of fascism in this country,
They ought to be concerned also about another sign of the demise of American justice and human decency: scapegoating. One sign of fascism has always been the creation of a scapegoated class whom people are taught to fear and hate, and whose very existence demands a totalitarian state apparatus of surveillance and control. A class whom no-one would dare defend.
There is a class of people in America today, numbering two million or more, who have been utterly scapegoated, ostracized, demonized and shunned. There is no longer any defense available for these people. Almost no-one on the left or the right, civil libertarians or ordinary citizens, will defend their rights. They are regularly vilified with the most vicious and hate-filled language -- language previously reserved for classes now protected: Jews, Blacks, homosexuals. They are fair game as targets of abuse and vandalism. They are subject to utter public scorn.
About 600,000 of them have been rounded up and forced to register -- many soon to be monitored for life with electronic bracelets and global positioning devices. Nearly 4000 have been locked up for life, not on criminal charges, but by civil commitment, and those numbers are growing by the day. The remainder are mostly in hiding, desperately afraid of sudden exposure and witch hunts by neighbors, fellow-workers and friends, whom they fear will suddenly see them as monsters beyond redemption.
They are a class defined not by specific crimes (though they are accused of many offenses) but by their very being, their desires, their constitution, as allegedly broken human beings. Presidents and Governors call them "despicable," "disgusting," "incapable of rehabilitation or reform", "beyond help." They are loudly reviled as examples to be shunned by fundamentalist and bigoted preachers, but also by left-wing media, progressive community leaders and feminists.
Who are these scum? Arab terrorists? Muslim fanatics? No -- those evil-doers appear almost benign when compared to this heinous mob. These are the most awful people in the world: SEX OFFENDERS! Worse, many are PEDOPHILES! In fact, these two terms become mingled. Jeb Bush recently alluded to all the sex offenders in Florida as child molesters, though fewer than 1/3 of those incarcerated in that state for "sex crimes" involved people under 18. Bush went on,
Of course among these sex offenders are indeed some criminals who have caused extreme harm: violent rapists of adult women as well as children. A few of them have kidnapped, tortured or murdered their victims.
Dr. Fred Berlin of the Johns Hopkins University Sex Disorders Clinic in Baltimore estimates that such crimes account for less than 1/10th of 1% of all sex offenses in America. His studies also show that fewer than 10% of child sex offenders re-offend -- though recidivism is usually given as a reason for draconian measures against them.
As child abuse experts point out, about 50 children are reported kidnapped and raped or murdered by strangers annually, compared to more than 3,000 children murdered by parents and other family members in non-sexual cases. Most sex offenders, says one therapist who works with sex offenders in a state prison system, are
Yet the media, police, prosecutors and politicians continue to insist that children are in dire need of protection from serial rapists and murderers. Two-thirds of parents surveyed said they feared their children would be kidnapped and or murdered by strangers. Facts simply do not matter when hysteria is involved.
Study after study of sex offenders -- as well as the countless media exposÚs -- insist that most sex offenders are ordinary men and women from all walks of life, indistinguishable from others in every way except their sexual desires or orientation.
The New York Times recently published a sensational story about a teenage boy who went on line to entice more than 15,000 customers to watch his own pornographic images of himself. The Times reporter, acting less like a reporter and more like a crusading cop, coaxed the boy away from his life of debauchery, reminding him he would instantly switch from "victim" to "perpetrator" when he passed his 18th birthday.
He helped get the boy to the FBI to close in on many of his key customers, whom the Times had further investigated on its own. These customers included police officers, lawyers, ministers, rabbis, social workers -- and especially those who work with children and adolescents. Many also were parents and grandparents with ostensibly happy families of their own. Surely one sign that something is wrong with this picture is that the "heinous criminals" are otherwise law-abiding, decent human beings with successful careers and "normal" personal lives. No. With scapegoating, such apparent normalcy is just one more sign of devious perversity.
The key ingredients of this scapegoating campaign are of course sex and children.
The core demon in the campaign is the recently created category of "pedophile"
Although defined by the American Psychiatric Association as persons with a dominant sexual desire for pre-pubescent children, the pedophile tag now applies to any person who every entertained a sexual desire or had a sexual incident, however minor, with anyone under 18. In some circles, the term pedophile is now used to put down any older person who has an affair or shows interest in younger persons -- 35-year-olds, for instance, who "prey on" 20-year olds. By the early 2000s, pedophile had become morphed with the still broader "sex offender," with even mainstream media free to refer to the feared and hated class as "pervs" and "perps" and "deviants."
This scapegoating also requires public exposure and shunning, even of those who dare defend the civil liberties of pedophiles and sex offenders or challenge attacks on them. In particular, public wrath is displayed against those who would challenge "age of consent" laws, which are higher in the United States
than in most other societies.
Although as of the 1880s, common law age of consent was 10 in England and its former colonies, and zero in many other societies -- where child-brides were common -- it has been increasingly raised until there is today, within UNESCO's campaign to protect children, a call for a universal age of 21. All sex between persons under 18 and those over 18 (or 21) thus becomes "abuse," since there is the myth that underage persons are simply not capable of consent.
Journalists and scientific researchers who challenge this construct -- or who defend some relationships between adults and minors as not being abusive -- face severe consequences. In the only instance of a U.S. Congressional resolution [*] against a scientific paper, the House of Representatives, with only minimal opposition, denounced a study by Dr. Bruce Rind & others, published in the scholarly review, Psychological Bulletin, in 1998 [**].
This meta-analysis reviewed several research protocols about adult-child sexuality, and summarized them as showing that relationships in which force was not used did not appear to cause harm, and sometimes might be beneficial.
Rind and his co-authors have been systematically ostracized and excluded from many scholarly journals. In 2005, a book by a major publisher, which contained another scholarly article by Rind, was withdrawn by that publisher (Hayworth) because of protests from fundamentalist Christians. Other gay writers like William Herdt and John DeCecco who researched sexual outlaw behavior in the U.S. (DeCecco) or intergenerational sexuality in non-western cultures (Herdt) simply moved on to other topics. This did not keep DeCecco from experiencing extreme persecution -- while a Professor in San Francisco he had to hire bodyguards to protect him from right-wing attackers.
A number of women researchers and radical feminists have attempted to undermine or slow down the sex panic. Among them have been Camille Paglia, Debbie Nathan, Joan Nelson, Elizabeth Stoney, Laura Marks, Gayle Rubin, Pat Califia, Carole Vance, Marjorie Heins, Joanne Wypijewski, Janice Irvine and Judith Levine. Paglia has been castigated by other sex researchers and many feminist writers for her defense of man-boy sexual relationships in particular. Although she has published lengthy, well-researched summaries of the history of sexuality and sexual research, she is seldom included in university curriculums involving these topics.
Many of the other women writers suffered similar consequences or censorship of their views. Debbie Nathan, who exposed and virtually stopped the so-called satanic cult child sex panic with her book Satan's Silence (Basic Books, 1996), has spoken of the icy reception her work has sometimes received. She said,
One woman writer, who had never had problems with previous articles on other subjects for a prestigious national magazine, attempted a balanced look at the crusade against Catholic priests, especially the sensational case of Father Paul Shanley. She was called in by the editor who said he simply could not run her piece.
Even before Judith Levine's Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex was published in 2002, a massive campaign by fundamentalist Christian groups, including Concerned Women for America, attacked the publisher, the University of Minnesota Press. While the book was published, the Press created a new process for reviewing its books before publication.
Levine spoke publicly about how she was humiliated time and again in public. She said the manuscript for her book had been turned down by many publishers, treated as if it were "radioactive." Among other insights, Levine wrote that
Nowhere is censorship and shunning greater than against those who would describe or depict childhood or adolescent sexuality, or mere nudity. The "victims" of the evil perpetrators must also be protected -- and projected as the spotless mirror image of their violators -- at all costs -- their purity and innocence asserted
Anything portraying the physical beauty of children or erotic aspects of their lives must be banned.
A spate of prominent photographers were censored beginning in the late 1980s, for photos of nude children or adolescents. The most prominent case was that of the gay photographer, Robert Maplethorpe, whose works were removed from galleries across the country, including the Corcoran Gallery in Washington in 1990, with conservative attacks on the National Endowment for the Arts which had funded some of his work.
Some cases involved prize-winning women photographers, including Sally Mann, Star Ockenga, and Judith Livingston. Each of them was pilloried. Livingston's son was temporarily removed from her home after she published a photo of him nude. Livingston was eased out of her professorship at Cornell, and Ockenga was dismissed as director of the MIT photography exhibitions.
Sally Mann, who did some of the most widely-published nude photos of children. Her frankly erotic photos of her own children were called incestuous, pedophilic and pornographic.
Feminist writer Germaine Greer has said of her work,
Mann now does landscape photography, and Ockenga, after a period of not working at all, turned to photographs of flowers.
Allen Ginsburg and Joseph Richy published an essay in 1990 against the radical departure from art history in which nude children and adolescents are out of bounds. In "The Right to Depict Children in the Nude," their main point was that sex and nudity in children, and especially adolescents, had been a primary theme of the visual and literary arts throughout Western culture, as well as in many non-Western societies. He pointed out that even popular advertising used photos and drawings of nude children -- especially boys -- and Norman Rockwell often portrayed nude or seem-nude boys on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.
Suddenly, all such photos and pictures disappeared. By the 1990s, when Calvin Kline made public a campaign to sell jeans showing scantily clad teenagers, he was forced to withdraw it within days.
The nude child disappeared. In fact, almost all photographs of pubescent and post-pubescent boys and girls vanished from most public media. No wonder, since the Faber Supreme Court decision in 1982 labeled child pornography as wholly unprotected expression not covered under the Bill of Rights, and since the child pornography acts, beginning in 1990, increasingly criminalized almost all such depictions of any person appearing to be under 18, even when "real children" were not depicted in drawings and simulations.
Almost the sole exception to the disappearance of erotic depictions of children has been Greer's The Beautiful Boy (Rizolli, 2003). She notes,
She took care not to provoke with openly sexual photographs, but she was clear that her purpose was to resurrect the erotic image of the boy, not as pedophilia, but as a reasonable erotic interest of homosexual or heterosexual artists. The response to Greer has been largely positive in the art world, though not without expected attacks in mainstream newspapers and conservative journals in which she is labeled a "female pederast" among other things. Greer is Australian and has always been known as one to challenge taboos and court sensational publicity.
A Supreme Court decision (Knox Vs United States,1993) criminalized photographs of even clothed children, if they could be deemed erotic. Most anti-censorship organizations simply stopped complaining about censorship in cases involving depictions of nude children or erotic situations involving children. These were now deemed beyond the pale of civil liberty.
The Parade magazine cover (Feb. 19, 2006) featured the words in large, bold type,
The feature article from which these words came was by Andrew Vachss, not a child sexuality expert, but a very high-priced lawyer who has successfully sued institutions and individuals in child sex abuse cases. Vachss does not define a "sexually displayed child" -- neither in terms of age
nor in terms of what it includes -- nudity? nearly nude erotic poses? -- but he makes the absolute statement that it is rape and a crime against humanity. Nothing could be more heinous (his word).
Who says? Why? Those questions are not asked and may not be asked. To ask them is to risk being accused of complicity with rape and crimes against humanity. Vachss goes on to urge stiffer penalties for mere possession or viewing of a downloaded photograph from the internet -- one assumes he means at least life in prison
The utterly evil act becomes the basis for completely scapegoating the utterly evil perpetrator.
The full force of this shunning and scapegoating is aimed at those who can be labeled pedophiles. As the National Center for Reason and Justice, a group that supports those it deems wrongly accused in sex cases, says on its website:
Until the 1980s, the notion that any offender would be forced to register and be tracked -- and publicly shamed -- for life -- went against the American notions of fairness and rehabilitation. "I've done my time" was considered a reasonable statement when prison sentences and parole was completed.
In Canada, the Supreme Court has denied police the right to make public the names of registered offenders, since this would thwart the goal of rehabilitation of prisoners. In the United States, the very purpose of the sex offender registry is to make it available to the public. This, and subsequent measures to monitor and restrict sex offenders, have put an end to any idea of rehabilitation for an ever-growing class of former prisoners. Longer and longer sentences and increasing length of parole or probation were not enough to satisfy the sex panic that has gone on uninterrupted from one phase to another since the 1960s.
The first registries appeared in 1990. By 1994, with Megan's law -- inspired like many of the other sex offender initiatives by a specific and isolated case of a horrendous murder of a child -- federal and state laws required that personal and work addresses and other personal information of sex offenders be made public in various ways -- from the internet and television to newspaper ads and billboards. In some states, special auto license tags and signs required at the door posts of offenders were mandated. By 2005, every state had adopted a registry and all but two state were incorporated into the federal registry and tracking system.
As Mark Matthews wrote (Feb. 9) in Stateline.org newsletter, not known for its radical viewpoints,
Twelve states now require many sex offenders, including those with even the mildest offense against minors, to wear electronic monitoring (GPS) bracelets for life. Bills to this effect are in the legislatures of eleven more states and likely to pass.
Special laws have been passed for this special class of human beings in virtually every area of life. These include
Eight states now require castration of some sex offenders before they can be released. Florida has passed legislation aimed at making the death penalty more likely if a sex act is involved in a killing, or even in the case of some child rapes where murder is not involved. Louisiana is set to execute the first sex offender in a non-murder case.
Another feature of recently passed or just introduced sex offender laws is to do away with all statutes of limitation, and to force registration and other restrictions on hundreds of thousands of people not now required to register. People who accepted a plea bargain twenty years ago because of a sexual misjudgment, with the assurance their sentence or parole would mean the end of it, now face a life-time of being hounded, shamed and shunned. Their families -- that is millions more ordinary, decent human beings -- also face the stress and humiliation of these actions, wondering when the police will crash through the door looking for their loved-one. Several states have introduced bills to make it a felony for family members and others, with possible punishment of years in prison, to refuse to reveal the whereabouts of sex offenders.
Adding insult to injury, "children," that is persons under 18, may also be labeled sex offenders, required to register and sometimes face life-long monitoring and various forms of shunning and shaming.
One teenage boy committed suicide in Oakland County, Michigan in 2004, when faced with 23-years of being on a public registry, which would include public humiliation at his school. He was convicted of sex with a 14-year-old girl, which was conceded to be non-forced, but violated the state's age of consent laws.
Matthew Limon, in Kansas was given 17 years in prison for a consensual blow-job given the week after his 18th birthday to a boy who was almost 15. Limon is also mentally handicapped. Limon's case was overturned and he was let out of prison after serving more than five years because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Kansas law which mandated longer sentences for homosexual acts was unconstitutional. He will still have to register for life as a child sex offender.
South Carolina Supreme Court justice Costa M. Pleciones opined from the bench that children as young as nine should be subject to life-time registration for sex offenses. Estimates are that more than thirty-five thousand children and adolescents have been convicted of sex offenses and are required to register.
The worst deprivation of rights comes in the form of life-time civil commitment of sex offenders after incarceration. Seventeen states have some version of this measure, and 21 more states are considering it.
As of December, 2004, according to researchers at the Washington think-tank that has followed this since Washington passed the first such law in 1990, 3,493 persons were in locked mental facilities or special prisons under civil commitment. As of that date, only 427 of persons ever locked up under these laws had been released. Usually called "Sexually Violent Predator Laws," these almost always include non-violent offenses against persons under the age of consent in that state. In some states, persons accused of various crimes including child pornography, prostitution and even indecent exposure are included as "sexually violent predators."
As Mark McHarry wrote in his thorough summary in Z Magazine, November, 2001, [*] civil commitment procedures deprive citizens of virtually all their Constitutional rights: the right to remain silent, to have a lawyer at interrogations, bail, provisions against double jeopardy and ex post facto laws--and many more.
The New York Bar Association, challenging Governor Pataki's administrative order in 2005 to move all sex offenders to locked mental facilities upon release, commented,
Sex offenders--especially "pedophiles," in its expanded definition to include anyone who has "offended" against any person under the age of consent -- now effectively 18 everywhere -- are purely and simply outcasts, untouchables. No-one wants them in their neighborhood, and virtually no-one will house or employ them. They may be publicly humiliated and vilified, and they are deemed worthy of shunning by an outraged public. Even those suspected of sexual deviancy are likely to be included in the shunning. The Media and politicians of both parties simply have a field day with the new scapegoated categories, and virtually no-one complains.
Formerly progressive alternative media have jumped on the bandwagon. The Free Times in Ohio, for instance, put a photo of an alleged "molester" of teenage boys on its January, 2006 cover, with the drawing of a bloody pen piercing his forehead, and an equally bloody red headline, calling him "Neighborhood Monster."
Mainstream media like NBC and The New York Times now run series that would have been found a decade ago only in yellow journalism outlets like the National Inquirer. Debbie Nathan (CounterPunch, February 17, 2006) has thoroughly exposed the shoddy journalism of the Times in its recent exposÚ of "child prostitution."
Slate commentator Jack Shafer noted (Slate.com, Dec.19, 2005) that the article (described above) by Kurt Eichenwald in the Times that same day about Justin, the teenage boy who marketed his own image in sex acts, crossed the line from journalism to advocacy, to outright solicitation of FBI and police involvement.
The NBC "Predator" series likewise involves police in sting activity, boasting that it has ensnared more than 50 men in cases where they will be charged with sex crimes involving no real "victims," but media and police plants on internet sites. The NBC reporter, Chris Hansen, makes no pretense of objectivity.
Using terms like "deviates" and "perverts," it is no wonder that the NBC site attracts thousands of blog comments that urge vigilante justice: "Put a bullet in the perp's head," says one. One can hope all this will rather quickly erode public confidence in the media as independent of law enforcement.
Such media coverage has an immediate impact even in the courts. An MSNBC afternoon news summary, which once jokingly called itself "all pedophiles all the time," reports each day on new cases of priests and sex, teachers and sex, and the like. A January, 2006 crusade by this MSNBC program as well as the Fox network, railed against Vermont judge Edward Cashman. Fox's Bill O'Reilly called him the worst judge in America.
Cashman had sentenced a child sex offender to sixty days in jail and a treatment program rather than a lengthy prison sentence, where the man would not get treatment. Judge Cashman first insisted,
After days of abuse in the media, which the judge said had deeply distressed him, he reversed his ruling and handed down a sentence of "not less than three years" in prison. Letters to the very liberal Burlington Free Press were almost universal in their sentiment: "Lynch him" (the offender) said one writer.
At testimony on a Maryland bill to require life-time electronic monitoring for almost all sex offenders, a spokesman for the Maryland Public Defenders' Office, quoted in the Washington Post, said,
Speaking about the new Federal Registry list of more than 500,000 sex offenders, which it shares on-line with the public, Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center noted,
Already, Massachusetts is considering laws which would create registries and require electronic monitoring for ALL "dangerous" offenders. Massachusetts would become the first state to expand these measures beyond sex offenders, but it surely will not be the last.
Liberal Democrats, socialists and green party candidates vie with Republicans to "save the innocent children" and "protect our children from monsters."
There is clear evidence that these kinds of measures (registration, electronic monitoring, and the like) are not effective. Castration, for instance, has been shown to be wholly incapable of affecting sexual desire. Since most sex offenses take place within the family at the home of the offender, monitoring devices do no good. Public exposure and humiliation of sex offenders is likely to increase, not decrease, shame and guilt, which are likely factors in further offending. Yet politicians of all stripes rush to put forward more and more such draconian restrictions on the hated class of sex offenders and pedophiles. A Baltimore Sun article (Feb. 17, 2006) called anti-sex offender bills "apple pie" that all politicians rush to take credit for.
To paraphrase Janice Irvine in Let's Talk About Sex (U. California Press, 2002), which chronicled the hijacking of sex education in America by right-wing Christians, the "depravity narratives" about sex offenders will rule the day so long as there is a "culture of stigma" on sexual topics, and so long as the "innocent child" model of childhood prevails.
In the past, a central feature of the American system of government was supposed to be that it applied to all citizens equally. At least that was the case after the Reconstruction era amendments that assured equal application to former slaves and other people of color, and after the voting rights amendment for women in the 1920s. Now, certain categories simply don't have the same rights -- possibly no rights at all. The creep of repression is bound to occur -- more and more groups will be demonized and seen as outside the ordinary protections of the law.
As Michael Neumann wrote in CounterPunch, February 13, 2006, in his excellent article on America's 'culture of piety' in its reaction to the Muslim protests against depictions of the Prophet Mohammed:
Neumann urged America to
One day -- perhaps fifty or a hundred years from now -- it will appear ludicrous that our society was so consumed with anger at this class of scapegoats that it obliterated its fine traditions of liberty and justice in favor of retribution and vengeance. It will seem odd, that American society was obsessed with concern about sexual acts with teenagers even as it pursued a pointless war that killed thousands of teenagers and others on both sides of that war.
People will hopefully someday recoil when told that a person convicted in Federal court of making a photograph of a 17 year old masturbating would receive a mandatory sentence of life in prison, yet a person convicted of the (non sexual) murder of that teen would face far less.
It will seem incredible that the focus was on sexual deviance rather than on the astronomical rate of murder and other real violence, or the growing gap between rich and poor, and the indelible mark of real poverty on so many children. Until such a day of greater sanity, this scapegoating and shunning of all sex offenders and "pedophiles" will inevitably lead to less freedom and more insecurity for all who might engender the wrath of puritan preachers or stoke the greed of media outlets and pandering politicians. For now, it seems unlikely that even those who traditionally guard our civil liberties or those who traditionally challenge state repression from the left, will dare speak out, lest they, too, be marginalized and shunned.
The writer remains anonymous because he writes and is politically active in several completely unrelated social justice movements. He fears that the shunning and marginalization he describes for those who write about this topic could compromise (unfairly) his other work.