If you are an artist and you abuse a child, never fear: the art world has your back, writes Melinda Tankard Reist.
Artists who commit sexual violations are too often considered above the law and deserving of special treatment.
Their brilliance is given deferential treatment: they exist in another moral universe where the rules governing everyone else don’t apply. Oddly, this deference does not apply to parking tickets.
Whether the art objects are photographs, films, pieces of pottery or woven tapestries, their makers are often bestowed with godlike qualities. Queensland art gallery owner Andrew Baker describes Torres Strait Islander printmaker and sculptor Dennis Nona, for example, as having ‘invented the visual language of his people’. Simon Wright, author of Dennis Nona: Time After Time, marvels about Nona’s ‘reckoning of the universal lay fertile”.
When Nona, 42, was jailed for multiple child rapes in 2014 – he challenged the conviction, but lost his appeal in July – members of the art world rushed to prop up their idol. Art history professor Sasha Grishin, for example, wrote that he was “not in any way disputing the seriousness of the crimes” for which Nona was convicted, but insisted that he was “the most important artist to emerge from the Torres Strait in the past 50 years”.
Cairns Regional Gallery director Andrea May Churcher stated that art, over time, has a life beyond its creators, and that Nona’s objects should still be seen as “an important part of our cultural heritage and works”.
With so many accolades, the sexual torture of children is rendered almost subordinate.
Art historian and valuer Frances Cummings said he was “very supportive” of Nona: “He is a genius of an artist and the things he committed were when he was a very young man.”
Nona’s former arts manager, Michael Kershaw, told the ACT Supreme Court that Nona was a ‘role model’. With so many accolades, the sexual torture of children is rendered almost subordinate. Perhaps we need to be reminded of what Nona did.
In 1995, Nona moved in with a mother and two teenage daughters while attending a Canberra art school. He raped one of the girls over the course of a year until she became pregnant at the age of 13 and was reported to child protection services. (The pregnancy was terminated at 23 weeks. In the words of the judge, the girl “underwent a late stage termination, which was not a straightforward procedure”).
Court records indicate that harm to the girl has been long lasting in the terrible damage it has done to her. She has suffered suicidal thoughts.
In 2004 and again in 2006, Nona was arrested on a domestic violence offence as well as an assault against a woman who refused to have sex with him. A domestic violence order was served on him in 2006.
Nona has not just been propped up by bigwigs of the Australian art world. A 2012 court judgment records that “senior officers of the AFP… for reasons of convenience or, most likely, expense” did not charge Nona with child rape offences in 1998, despite their having “evidence that the applicant had the opportunity to commit the offences”, and “extremely strong DNA evidence” of his responsibility for the pregnancy.
In the judgment, the presiding judge acknowledged that many people would find this decision by the AFP “inappropriate, if not shocking”. Shocking or not, the Australian art world was the beneficiary of the AFP decision, because Nona’s exhibitions continued in Australia and overseas.
The Australian painter Donald Friend was a self-confessed paedophile.
Even when police finally charged Nona, he pleaded not guilty, made an application for a permanent stay of proceedings under the Human Rights Act, and failed to show remorse.
Other artists have played the art card throughout a life of the sexual abuse of others, without any such call to justice. For example, the Australian painter Donald Friend was a self-confessed paedophile. A documentary produced by Kerry Negara reported Friend’s boast, in his own diaries, of frequent sex with boys as young as nine and 10 while living in Bali.
A prominent curator, Barry Pearce, responded that paedophilia was not black and white – that Friend’s paedophilia was “on the light side of penumbra” and Friend was merely interested in notions of youth and the ideal of the beauty of the body.
In contrast, the Balinese boys – now grown – said that they felt exploited and harmed by the experience of being “appreciated” for their beauty by Friend. But Pearce said to call Friend a paedophile would be “shocking”.
At the same time, the Australian art world is backed by public institutions that promulgate their sexual values.
The “roll-over” feature of the National Gallery of Victoria website allows viewers to zoom in on the naked body of an underage girl, without any cautions or caveats about the digitalised collection, the identities of the children pictured, or any indication of the controversy around the photographs displayed.
The roll-over pictures are part of the 1985 “TCM” series that Bill Henson gave to the gallery in 2007, before it auctioned off some works in the series in 2008 (another earlier auctioned image was of an underage girl lying on her back naked, with legs spread).
The Australian art world staunchly defends Henson’s activities in producing and disseminating these pictures. Tolarno Galleries refused to reveal the age of the youngest naked girl in its exhibition.
Filmmaker Roman Polanski raped and sodomised a 13-year-old – whom he had lured to a photoshoot – after giving her alcohol and a quaalude, while she begged to be released. He faced charges and fled to Europe because a judge suggested he might put Polanski in prison.
Polanski’s defenders described him as a persecuted victim: he was such a wonderful person and how tawdry was it that he should be subjected to the law, and what a nightmare for the poor genius. He continues to be a celebrated director.
Gore Vidal was quoted in The Atlantic as saying: “I really don’t give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?”
No amount of whitewashing by the art establishment should be allowed to disguise the reality of the suffering of real victims.
Former MP guilty of sex offences receives suspended sentence
Today I am thinking about a 15-year-old Tasmanian girl and what she thinks of the Australian justice system. I’m wondering if she is questioning if it was worth taking her harrowing ordeal to the courts to find no justice at the end of the process.
At a mere 12-years-old, this girl was prostituted by adults and used by at least 120 men. Only one of them was charged. And yesterday he was released.
Former Tasmanian MP Terry Martin, who had been found guilty of unlawful sexual intercourse with a young person and of producing child exploitation material in 2009 – he took photos of the girl which were added to his stash of hundreds of pornographic images including of children as young as eight -walked free from court with a suspended sentence.
Handing down his ruling in Hobart’s Supreme Court, judge David Porter said Martin’s medication for Parkinson’s disease caused him to do what he did.
According to The Australian “The judge said the condition caused by the medication had impaired Martin’s ability to make moral judgments and therefore ‘his moral culpability is reduced’.
How did the drugs influence the fact that he took images of what he did? Did they cause him to pick up a camera and start filming? When the Judge says Martin’s offences would not have occurred, it is as if they just happened like that.
Was it just an incredible coincidence that Martin already had a child porn collection? And what does this suggest about other men who are on the same medication? Should they be watched with eagle eyes around children? If this drug causes men to solicit girls and use them for sexual gratification, shouldn’t it be immediately withdrawn from market?
Late last year I published a piece on the girl’s case by Professor Caroline S Taylor. It gives important background and detail on the case, so I think it is worth reprinting today.
Meanwhile, I hope the young girl, so mistreated and violated and now denied justice, knows that there are many who do care for her and are angered and saddened at what passes for justice.
Post by Professor S. Caroline Taylor, Foundation Chair in Social Justice and Head of the Social Justice Research Centre at Edith Cowan University. Professor Taylor is also the Founder and Chair of Children of Phoenix Organisation, a charity that provides scholarships and mentoring support to children, adolescents and adults affected by childhood sexual abuse.
Last week, the Tasmanian Director of Public Prosecution, Mr Tim Ellis, released an eight page Memorandum of Advice to the Tasmania police which instructed that at least 120 men who had paid to ‘have sex with’ a 12-year-old ward of the state will not be charged with breaking the law.
On October 1, on Stateline Tasmania, Mr Ellis dismissed broad community and expert concern about the case as nothing more than a symptom of “wicked” media sensationalism. He added the gratuitous comment that the law rests with a “reasonable jury, not a lynch mob”.
In effect Mr Ellis framed the numerous and profound media and expert critiques of the social justice issues that this case clearly raises as nothing more than an hysterical media driven moral panic about child sexual abuse.
It’s a puerile argument, as stupid as it is offensive to public sensibilities. This tactic reduces the complex reasons behind the critique of his decision with an underhanded accusation that such critiques are not “reasonable”. This is echoed in the Attorney-General Lara Giddings comment: “I understand their anger”. Reducing the profound ethical critiques of this case to a single reactionary emotion – anger – infantilises public concern in order to dismiss such concerns.
Our legal system is premised on the notion that police lay charges where there is evidence that a crime has been committed according to the rules of the law. Yet in this case the DPP has determined that not one, not two, not three, not four, but a series of men charged with paying to sexually abuse a child all really believed that a 12-year-old ward of the state was an adult. To be clear, the Director of Public Prosecution has used his discretion to void all charges on the grounds that he found every one of their arguments “convincing”. I wonder how many “arguments” they actually had? Or did they amount to the one generic excuse: they could not tell the difference between a primary school age child and a female aged 18.Read more
I haven’t seen the latest photographs by artist Bill Henson to go on show at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne.
But I have seen these.
So I know what Henson is capable of and how he likes to depicts and shoot young girls.
The girl (image to the right) who featured naked on the invite to the Roslyn Oxley gallery was 13. While that photo was widely circulated, an even more graphic one of another girl (image to the left) was not. She is ‘Untitled 1985/86’, quietly auctioned by Menzies Art Brands, Lot 214, for $3800, only weeks after the original Henson controversy.
And when Tolarno Galleries refuses to reveal the age of the youngest naked girl in the new exhibition, you have to suspect there is a problem. Why the secrecy? Was she at an age where she could consent? As respected teen psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg put it when I asked his view, would she “have sufficient cognitive or emotional maturity to fully comprehend the potential ramifications of what she is doing?”
Where will her photo end up? Where did the photos of the other two girls above end up?
Why does calling it “art” make sexualised depictions of young girls OK?
It is right to question Henson’s sexual depictions of vulnerable naked young girls – and other overtly sexualised imagery of children – a point I made on Channel 7’s Morning Show last Thursday. Media academic and researcher Nina Funnell also reveals here that Henson’s images have been found in the collections of paedophilies.
Some important observations also in a piece on the Generation Next blog. We need to start confronting the impact of this material on survivors of sexual assault.
Child advocates are calling for the resignation of chief executive officer, Jeff Bezos for allowing Amazon.com to sell such titles.
“Amazon’s history of blatant disregard and complete inhumanity toward child victims is evidence that Amazon needs serious leadership and policy changes,” says Eva Montibello, executive director of Protect Mass Children, an organisation aimed at protecting children from sexual abuse.”
[trigger warning for survivors of child sexual assault]
After a global protest and threats of boycott, on-line bookseller Amazon removed The Pedophile’s Guide to Love & Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct from its site yesterday.
The book endorses sexual crimes against children.
The E. book by Phillip R. Greaves, which was available for Amazon’s Kindle electronic reader, is an instructional manual which teaches pedophiles how to break the law so as to avoid getting, caught or so as to attract ‘liter’ [sic] sentences” if they are caught.
In using the term ‘pedosexuals’, the book asserts that the sexual abuse of children (often their own children) is simply a sexual preference. The idea is that pedophiles are a misunderstood sexual minority who ‘love’ children. The book compares the plight of pedophiles to the plight of Jews in World War 2. This is a deadly idea that covers up the reality of what is being promoted: the rape of children.
In its initial statement, Amazon said it “believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchase.”
Yet Amazon’s own policies prohibit content of certain kinds, including “offensive material,” as well as content that “may lead to the production of an illegal item or illegal activity.”
Perhaps teaching men how to rape children and get away with it just wasn’t offensive enough?
A word about the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Here’s what it says:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
This only explicitly refers to Congress making laws on speech, not state laws and not local regulations, but the way the Amendment has been interpreted however means that it is now broader in scope. However, rather than conferring a right to free speech on the part of individuals or companies, it restrains the exercise of certain power by certain (governmental) bodies. Amazon is privately owned, it can largely set its own limits (which it seemed to do, then ignored).
Should ‘freedom of speech’ trump a child’s right to be safe and not be harmed? The promotion of sexual abuse of children should be met with zero tolerance. Children’s rights to safety outweigh a pedophile defender’s ‘right to free speech.’ This book does more than promote, it falls in the legal category of ‘child abuse materials’.
The laws in Australia are aimed against not only “child pornography” but against the wider category of “child abuse material”. As this instruction manual for child abuse is an e- book, it could fall under the prohibition against using a carriage service to access child abuse materials. So this book could be actionable under Australian law.
Those defending this material don’t want any regulations. But in the absence of people regulating themselves, ie. not abusing children and not publishing how-to guides on pedophilia, then regulation is necessary.
It was great to see how one woman’s complaint against Amazon set off a global protest resulting in The Pedophile’s Guide being removed from the site . But that’s just one of the titles to which Amazon links. There are more here.
Some people ask, how do you draw the line in regulating speech? We draw the line on harm, and we need to hold the line on this.
Here’s my thoughts on the issue on Channel 7s Morning Show this morning. Fiona Patten from The Australian Sex Party appears too.
The Australian Sex Party doesn’t seem to have any issue with pornography depicting young women as little girls, which also plays into the hands of those who desire to abuse children. I’ve written about that here.
In the past couple of weeks I’ve met or heard from young girls whose experiences give further disturbing insight into just how bad things are for girls right now.
A 12-year-old girl approached me after I addressed the question ‘Are girls being treeated as sex objects?’ before an audience in Sydney’s western suburbs. She revealed she was being molested by boys at school. It had gone on every day for two weeks. She hadn’t told anyone. She asked the boys not to do it. They ignored her. Her eyes brimming with tears, she wanted to know how she could make it stop, or if that was even possible.
An 11-year-old girl in a NSW country town was the only one in her friendship group who had not yet had sex. Her friends had made arrangements for her to lose her virginity at the annual show. She didn’t feel she was ready and was looking for excuses she could give to get out of turning up. Was there any way out for her or would she have to give in?
Two 14-year-old girls told me about multiple unpleasant sexual hook-ups, pressured by older boys into acts they felt bad about after. They feared resisting and felt powerless to make it stop.
None of these girls seemed aware that they had a right not to be harassed, not to be molested and assaulted, not to be coerced into unwanted sexual activity. It was so common for themselves and their friends to be treated this way. And they feared repercussions, being ostracised, causing a ‘fuss’ and attracting attention for making a complaint.
Fortunately, a young policewoman had just introduced herself to me. She was able to assist the first girl. An educator was trying to help the second. And the 14-year-olds were looking at getting further help and advice.
What a world our girls are inhabiting. They are having to comprehend and negotiate difficult things at ages when they shouldn’t have to. They are being systematically preyed upon. Here are two more examples in as many days.
Porno pic cyber-bullying at ‘epidemic level’
CYBER-bullying is reaching epidemic levels, says a Melbourne youth worker, amid new claims about young girls being pressured to provide pornographic images of themselves.
Police are investigating a case at St Joseph’s College boys school in Geelong, in which it is believed a computer hacker stole an older student’s Facebook identity and then pressured a grade five pupil to provide pornographic images of himself to a Facebook “friend”…
Youth worker Les Twentyman has also revealed that he was told about a girl in year eight at a school in Victoria’s east recently being lured into performing sex acts with year 12 boys that were filmed and posted on the Internet. Read more.
Police warn on ‘juvie hunting’
POLICE and teachers have grave concerns about an emerging youth phenomenon dubbed “juvie hunting”, where older teenage boys groom younger girls for sex.
Sources say juvenile hunting is rife in Perth schools where boys aged 16 and 17 target younger teenage girls in a contest driven by popularity and status.
The Sunday Times understands that teachers at several Perth 2schools, including Sacred Heart College in Sorrento, lectured Year 12 boys about the possibility of criminal charges if they have sex with a girl younger than 16, the legal age of consent…
Police had received more reports of offences against children since mandatory reporting came into place last year.Read full story here.
Preyed upon and pressured to provide porn images. Preyed upon and molested. Preyed upon and forced to provide sex acts. Girls are targetted for all this at younger ages and many boys seems to think they are entitled to do whatever they like to them.
We have to turn this around. Girls need to be informed of their rights. They need to demand an end to this. And the boys who act in these ways need to know it is illegal. And if they don’t stop, those in authority over them must act quickly to make them see how serious this is and that there really are consequences.
I’d really like to hear less of these accounts. I’d like to hear some good stories from girls.
Stop Porn Cultures conference: how industrialised porn harms us all
I’ve just come back from the US where I attended the Stop Porn Culture conference in Boston. While I can’t say I enjoyed it quite as much as the enchanted evening listening to James Taylor and Carole King perform in Washington (my smooth-taking mate DJM from the north of England scored $15 tickets on the sidewalk an hour before the show), it was good to be with like-minded women – and some men – committed to unmasking the harms of Big Porn Inc.
The conference examined the nature and impact of the global porn industry and the move toward ever more violent and degrading forms of pornography. The papers were disturbing. We learnt of the tactics porn companies use to get men hooked on porn, of the porn profit trails leading to mainstream corporations, of porn’s influence on the music industry, of racist stereotypes of Black, Asian and Latino women perpetuated in pornography, of the filming of sexual torture of women in war situations. We watched Chyng Sun’s film ‘The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality, and Relationships’. I hadn’t seen animated images of children used in pornography before. Now I have. This material, so life-like and realistic – is one of the latest trends in pornography, protected as free-speech under the constitution of the United States of America, thanks to the efforts of the ‘Free Speech Coalition’.
I also picked up Dr. Gail Dines new book Pornland: How porn has hijacked our sexuality (Beacon Press, Boston, 2010), which I read on the plane home (read David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers on the way over. Reckon I’ll choose Anne of Green Gables for the next trip). The book is a confronting no-holds barred look at what porn is and where it is taking us, including the niche markets of teen sex, torture and gonzo porn. Professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston, an internationally acclaimed speaker and author, and a feminist activist, Dines argues that the proliferation of sexualised imagery is a major public health concern that we cannot ignore. She argues pornographers have hijacked our sexuality, selling is back to us in forms ever more dark and cruel. Contrary to stereotypes of anti porn feminists as ‘man hating’, it is clear Dines cares for men and boys and porn’s impact on them. Also contrary to the labels, Dines makes it clear she is not anti sex, just anti industrialised, corporatized porn sex which destroys real intimacy.
Gail Dines is a founding member of Stop Porn Culture, an educational and activist group made up of academics, anti-violence experts, community organisers and anyone concerned about the increasing pornification of the culture.
I’m reprinting here, with her permission, Gail’s opening address to the conference:
Welcome to the Stop Porn culture Conference of 2010. We are thrilled to host these two days of keynotes and workshops, and to provide a space where we can discuss the harmful effects of an industry that saturates our society with misogynistic and racist images. In this room we have women and men who are activists, anti-violence experts, academics, anti-racist educators, students and citizens who feel deep in their gut that something is wrong with the culture. Everywhere we look we see what it means to live in a pornified culture where the images, themes and stories of porn seep into our everyday lives. Whether it be teens sexting or Miley Cyrus doing a pole dance, the dominant discourse around sex and sexuality has been hijacked by the pornographers.
We come together this weekend to share ideas and discuss strategy, and we do this because we recognize that we need to build a robust movement that takes on this predatory industry. This weekend you are amongst friends. It is not often that those of us opposed to porn find a place where we can feel welcome. The academy has basically turned us into outliers, the mass media has caricatured us, and we are ridiculed and insulted all over the web.
If the chatter is to be believed, then apparently we are anti-sex prudes who hate men and scream rape every time a woman has sex with a man. To read about us, it would appear that we are against fun, sexual creativity, playfulness, masturbation and of course orgasms. We are depressing, unappetizing and worse yet, out to ruin everyone else’s sex life.
Of course, all this is just a way to belittle us and legitimize the porn industry. I would say that anti-porn feminists are pro-sex in the real sense of the word, pro that wonderful, fun and deliciously creative force that bathes the body in delight and pleasure. And what we are actually against is porn sex. A sex that is debased, dehumanized, formulaic and generic, a sex based not on individual fantasy, play or imagination, but one that is the result of an industrial product created by (mostly) men who get excited, not by bodily contact, but by market penetration and profits. A sex that encodes deep cultural scripts of male entitlement and female subservience.
To appreciate just how bizarre it is to collapse a critique of pornography into a critique of sex, think for a minute if we were critiquing McDonald’s for its exploitive labor practices, its destruction of the environment, and its impact on our diet and health. Would anyone accuse us of being anti-eating or anti-food? I suspect that most readers would separate the industry (McDonald’s) and the industrial product (hamburgers) from the act of eating and would understand that the critique was focused on the large-scale impact of the fast food industry and not the human need, experience, and joy of eating. So, why, when we talk about pornography, is it difficult to understand that one can be a feminist who is unabashedly pro-sex but against the commodification and industrialization of a human desire? The answer, of course, is that pornographers have done an incredible job of selling their product as being all about sex, and not about a particular constructed version of sex that is developed within an industrial setting.
Understanding that porn is an industry means that it needs to be understood as a business, whose product evolves with a specifically capitalist logic. This is a business with considerable political clout, with the capacity to lobby politicians, engage in expensive legal battles, and use public relations to influence public debate. Like the tobacco industry, this is not a simple matter of consumer choice; rather the business is increasingly able to deploy a sophisticated and well-resourced marketing machine, not just to push its wares but also to cast the industry’s image in a positive light. As a major industry, the porn business does not just construct and sell a product; it constructs a world in which the product can be sold: the technologies, the business models, the enthusiastic consumers, the compliant performers, the tolerant laws, even the ideologies that proclaim porn to be the very pinnacle of empowerment and liberation.
As anti-porn feminists we refuse to buy into the “porn equals empowerment” argument and instead look at the industry from a critical and macro perspective. This means looking for patterns and explaining how they came to be, their dynamics and the structural forces that perpetuate them. We acknowledge that some women can make porn work for them. Jenna Jameson is fabulously rich, Sasha Grey is on the fast track to becoming a major crossover star, and Tera Patrick is a one woman industry. But for all the Jennas, Sashas and Teras, there are thousands of women that go to the San Fernando Valley with stars in their eyes and come away with scars on their bodies. Some go back to their low paid jobs while others end up on the streets under the control of pimps, in the brothels of Nevada, or doing the type of porn that is considered to be beyond the mainstream, even by the porn industry.
You won’t be seeing these women on Oprah or Howard Stern. These are the women the pro-porn people never want to talk about because they bring into stark focus just how the industry really treats women. Their lives illustrate the contempt and utter disregard that the industry has for women and the reality of their lives is hidden behind the mantra of “well, they consented”. What does consent mean in a world where women are the poorest, hungriest and most overworked group? What does consent mean in a world where, according to economist Amartya Sen, 100 million women are missing? And we don’t even notice their absence. For these women, gender isn’t some abstract concept to be played with or deconstructed within a post-modern discourse, it is a lived experience and it shapes, determines and controls the conditions of their lives.
See also this blog piece by Susan Hawthorn of Spinifex Press, who also attended the SPC conference.
Last month I briefly mentioned a Tasmanian case in which a father, a registered sex offender convicted of possessing child pornography, was given visitation right to his two daughters.I thought the story warranted a more in-depth examination, so I asked Caroline Norma to take a closer look. Caroline isa PhD candidate with the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne. She is a member of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women in Australia, and works part-time with the Policing Just Outcomes Project.
[Trigger warning for survivors of sexual assault and inter-familial rape]
Justice Robert Benjamin in the Robins v Ruddock case of22 January this year awarded a registered sex offender access rights to his two daughters. This was despite the fact that, in his judgment, Justice Benjamin said he believed one of the daughters, a ten year old, who told the court she was scared of spending time alone at night with her father. She had reason to be scared. Her father had been convicted for possessing child pornography, and was listed on the state’s sex offender register. Justice Benjamin believed the girl’s mother who told the court she had seen her ex-husband sexually abusing his stepdaughter. He believed a forensic psychologist who told the court the ten-year-old daughter had also been sexually abused at some point. Justice Benjamin believed the ‘mother was truthful in giving evidence’ (p. 22), and that she was unable to intervene in her husband’s abuse of her daughters because of his violent and controlling behaviour. Justice Benjamin described her ex-husband as having poor impulse control, as being ‘manipulative and disingenuous’ (p. 23), as opportunistic, as engaging in inappropriate ‘communication’ with his daughter, and as acting in self-serving ways. However, despite fully understanding and acknowledging the sexual threat the father posed, Justice Benjamin ignored the pleas of the girls’ mother and awarded a sex offender fortnightly access to his daughters.
How did Justice Benjamin arrive at this decision? The reason he was able to believe the girls, while still deciding to grant a sex offender access to them, seems to rest in an implicit belief in a biologically determinist ‘hydraulic model’ of male sexuality. This is a term coined by the head of the International Center for Research on Women, Geeta Rao Gupta. Gupta argues that even in the 21st century, some men still think their penises operate like hydraulic systems. In technical terms, a hydraulic system operates ‘by the pressure created by forcing water, oil, or another liquid through a comparatively narrow pipe or orifice’. So some men justify their raping behaviour on the basis of an unsuppressible and explosive biological need for sexual release. They imagine their penises function in a similar way to a hydraulic system operating with semen under pressure. They worry about their hydraulic systems breaking down if a vagina (or indeed any hole!) is not found to trigger the release valve.
The comedic quality of this bizarre ‘hydraulic model’ idea of male sexuality fades quickly into tragedy when the model is applied by judges in familial sexual assault cases. In Justice Benjamin’s case, an implicit belief in a hydraulic idea of male sexuality appears to have led him to think the father would rape the girls only if certain conditions prevailed. Specifically, three circumstances had to be guarded against if the father’s hydraulically-operated sexuality wasn’t going to explode:
First, the father must not come across the girls at night-time when they are less alert and wearing fewer clothes;
Second, he must not come across one of them alone, but only together in a pair (Justice Benjamin explains that he sees ‘the risk of the father acting inappropriately with the children [a]s significantly diminished when they are awake and alert and when the children are together’, at p. 23); and
Third, the girls must not be in the father’s bed.
Justice Benjamin’s judgment expresses a clear idea about what triggers the operation of the father’s hydraulic penis: provided the father doesn’t see his kids in darkness, sleepiness, or alone, there will be no risk of his sexually assaulting them. So Justice Benjamin made court orders designed to prevent these three conditions arising. First, he orders the two sisters to sleep in the same room, and the father to have another adult stay overnight at his house when the girls sleep over each fortnight. This person must be in the house between the hours of 8pm and 7am. Second, Justice Benjamin ordered that there be a ‘door on the children’s bedroom which is capable of being shut at the request of the children’ (p. 19). Third, he ordered that the father must not ‘invite’ the girls into his bed.
Justice Benjamin’s implicit acceptance of this myth of the male hydraulic penis in his reasoning means that the two girls now face real danger. The reality of men’s sexually abusive behaviour is very different from the view crystallised in the biologically determinist ‘hydraulic penis theory’. In reality, abusers go to great lengths to gain sexual access to girls at all times of the day, and often even look for employment that allows them to work with children. They put a lot of time and effort into grooming girls for sexual abuse, often using pornography and animals to instruct them. They document and share with other men techniques of sexual abuse. They go to great lengths to cover up the abuses they perpetrate, and will threaten and harass girls who attempt to speak out against them. To sexual predators, custody rights can seem like manna from heaven, allowing them to abuse their victims in the privacy and convenience of their own homes. In the Robins v Ruddock case, the father now has enough time and space to properly groom his daughters away from their mother so they will never again speak out against him.
The safety of children is endangered when people who appear to believe in hydraulic penises hear court cases involving children. Hydraulic penises are just a myth, and have no basis in reality. Biological determinist myths about male sexuality are dangerous because it looks like they render influential people like Justice Benjamin incapable of taking proper action to protect children’s safety and wellbeing. There are very few powerful people on whom children can call to protect them, and as long as myths about male sexuality permeate the Australian court system, judges will threaten, rather than armour, the human rights of the weakest members of our society.
It’s not sex it’s rape
I’ve written before about how rape is too often minimised in reporting of sexual crimes, reduced to “had sex with” and other lesser depictions.
Lauredhel from W.A, in a piece titled ‘A forensic semanticist on sex and rape’ published on the Hoyden About Town blog, makes the same point. Here’s an extract:
In Trenton, N.J., a group of up to seven guys—a mix of adults and minors—paid a teenager for her 7-year-old sister. They allegedly gang-raped the girl as the rest of the partygoers looked on.
Yet, the lead in the Web site story began, “Police in New Jersey’s capital say a 15-year-old sold her 7-year-old sister to have sex with as many as seven men and boys.”
Breaking news: The 7-year-old girl from Trenton didn’t “have sex with” up to seven men. If there was sexual contact, she was gang-raped. Read story here.
Why isn’t incest rape?
In an older but still vitally significant piece, Caroline Taylor discusses the courts’ refusal to use the word ‘rape’ in incest trials:
In one case, after complaints from the defence barrister, the survivor was threatened with contempt of court charges if they did not refrain from using the term rape when they described repeated acts of sexual penetration by their father. In a discussion between the trial judge and defence lawyer the judge declared that since ‘incest was consensual’ it could not therefore be rape, and so the survivor was wrong to make such a claim. To add insult to injury the defence barrister added that using the term rape suggested some kind of violence was used! Two other cases from the same sample involved legal discussions involving the inappropriateness of survivors or police using the term rape in ‘incest’ trials.’
For more background on the issue see these blog posts here, and here and pieces in Unleashedand On Line Opinion. It is clear Australia’s classification system is being held in contempt. In Senate Estimates hearings in February, Director of the Classification Board, Donald McDonald, informed the committee that he had issued 1000 ‘call-in’ notices for porn distributors to remove magazines and films containing prohibited content – including promoting sex with little girls and rape and incest themes . When asked how many had responded, he replied: “none”.
The problem of lack of compliance and lack of enforcement must be addressed by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General in its meeting this month.
Caroline Overington writes in The Australian today that the Family Court has ordered two girls aged 8 and 10 to have sleepovers with their child sex offender father. As long as there’s a lock on the bedroom door. This man has filmed child pornography and created links to child porn sites. He also previously invited one of his daughters into his bed. In my opinion, this man has forfeited any right to have his daughters stay over. The 10-year-old sobbed that she didn’t want to stay with him. Too bad. And what about during the day, after the girls have unlocked the door that kept their father out of their room the night before? The Judge said the risk of sexual abuse was “diminished when they are awake and alert, and when the children are together”. So these very young girls have to be alert and vigilant about possible attack, and look out for each other? Who could possibly think that is a good environment for children? This ruling must be re-examined.
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