Sexting, Shame and Suicide: a shocking story of sexual assault in the digital age
This essay was published last September but I’ve only just come across it. I keep thinking of Audrie and her body defaced and graffitied, the images shared and consumed. Her waking in horror to discover the markings all over her body and trying frantically to scrub them off. And the ultimate horror outcome, where she can no longer face the mocking, bullying and shaming. But I must say, it’s not only in the U.S that boys take the view that if a girl is under the influence of alcohol, she deserves whatever happens (some girls take this attitude also).
I have asked boys in the schools I address: “If a girl is drunk how many of you think she’s asking for it?” In many classes, the majority of boys would raise their hands. It is a common view. There is a terrible lack of understanding about consent and the face that if she is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, she can’t exercise it and a crime has been committed if she is taken advantage of. Audrie’s tragic story shows us where that view can lead. My sympathy to her devastated family.
Rape stats may be no higher than in years past, but the numbers are as shocking as ever. Every two minutes, a sexual assault happens in the U.S., and nearly 50 percent of the victims are under the age of 18, according to Katherine Hull, a spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: “The demographic of high school- and college-age women is at highest risk for sexual assault.” More than half of the incidents go unreported, advocates say. The ability to record and communicate gang-sex assaults has added a new enhancement to an old and ugly crime against women. From Instagram to Snapchat to texting, young people with raging hormones and low impulse control are passing around what amounts to child pornography. And the bodies most frequently watched and passed around are female.
“It’s a perfect storm of technology and hormones,” says lawyer Lori Andrews, director of the Institute for Science, Law and Technology in Chicago. “Teen sexting is all a way of magnifying girls’ fantasies of being a star of their own movies, and boys locked in a room bragging about sexual conquest.”
But as of yet the law provides little protection to the rights of those violated. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act effectively means that no Internet provider can be forced to take down content for invading a person’s privacy or even defaming them. “I could sue The New York Times for invading my privacy or Rolling Stone for defaming me,” Andrews says. “But I couldn’t sue and get my picture off a website called sluttyseventhgraders.com.” Read full article here
Boys Men and Violence
Dr Michael Flood March 5, 2014
Sexual violence is a serious social problem in Australia. According to a recent national survey, about one in six women in Australia – just under 1.5 million – has experienced sexual assault. In the past year alone, 87,800 women experienced sexual assault. Younger women are at greater risk. These are the victims, but what about perpetrators? Various studies show anywhere from 15 to 25 per cent of males have forced or pressured a girl or woman into sex or tried to do so…
Boys and young men are more likely to force or pressure a girl into sex if they have sexist and sexually hostile attitudes – they see girls as sexual objects, as less important or less valuable than males, and they feel entitled to see how far they can push things. The 2001 Australian National Crime Prevention Survey of young people aged 12 to 20 found about one in seven guys agreed that, “it’s okay for a boy to make a girl have sex with him if she has flirted with him or led him on.”
Some of the media consumed by boys and men is implicated in violence. TV, movies, music and computer games often portray women as sexual objects only, put men’s voices and lives at centre stage, and condone or even celebrate violence as entertaining and legitimate. Pornography use is increasingly common among young men, and here callous and hostile images of women are routine. In a wide range of media, boys learn that real men are tough, dominant, and aggressive. Read full article here
A female teacher at a Tasmanian school where I spoke on the objectification of women could not stay to hear the end of my talk.
The images I showed were too confronting, bringing back traumas suffered two decades ago.
”The very acts that have become part of my trauma were there on display as a part of mainstream culture,” she said.
Do advertisers, editors, fashion, music and video-game producers think about how their violent images traumatise female survivors of sexual abuse and degradation?
T-shirts in surf stores depict women naked, bound and splattered in blood. Mainstream advertising shows women pinned down in simulated gang-rape scenes, tied up in cars boots, buried, chopped into pieces, decapitated. Women are shown as passive, vulnerable, often naked and as sex aids.
These images, among 200 in my presentation, took Genevieve back 20 years.
Once an idealistic young person, Genevieve worked hard to turn her love of acting and performing arts into admission to a prestigious performing arts school.
”It went without saying that you did not get in just on talent, but on marketability,” she says.
”I remember consciously dressing in a low-cut body suit and tight jeans aware that my acting skills were only part of my ticket in. From that moment on, I was a commodity and accepted treatment as such.”
Groomed by a lecturer, she ended up drugged and sexually assaulted for three days by five men. Each played out fantasies that were listed in explicit writing on the walls. Because of their power and status, she didn’t go to the police, fearing retribution.
She also felt that being cross-examined in the courts would retraumatise her. She had seen what had happened to other victims.
What Genevieve suffered came back to her as I spoke. Seeing my images caused her to panic. Her heart beat rapidly, she went into a hot sweat and she felt herself dissociating and losing time.
She says she felt retraumatised. ”I could feel a rising wave of fear. I’ve spent 20 years rebuilding my life. Every day I have to make a wall between me and the world. I’m so busy trying to protect myself. Deviant behaviour is now on public display every day.”
Do those who profit from the images they use to sell things even care about the impact on women like Genevieve? She is worried about the normalising of these images to children. ”What hope do my boys have of knowing where the line is? What hope does a girl who experiences these things have of getting understanding and support when she is confronted by constant exposure to images that say it is OK?” Genevieve asks.
Two years ago, Brian McFadden (his fiancee at the time, Delta Goodrem, was an anti-violence ambassador) released a song titled Just the way you are (Drunk at the Bar), which contains the lines: ”I like you just the way you are, drunk as shit dancing at the bar, I can’t wait to take you home so I can do some damage … I can’t wait to take you home so I can take advantage.”
In response, one survivor wrote in a comment on my blog:
”So, Brian McFadden, do you think this is something to poke fun at? Does my story deserve its own catchy tune and rounds of laughter and applause because you were so clever to come up with something witty that ultimately diminishes the trauma of my experience and belittles my feelings about it?”
Such imagery and words, as used by McFadden, create a harmful cultural narrative about what it means to be a woman today. Media and popular culture reflect values. Any reading of the social landscape tells us women are really only good for one thing: to be used sexually.
Anti-violence campaigner and sexual assault survivor Kate Ravenscroft points out that one in three women is a victim of violence, yet the trauma of their experience is diminished and belittled.
The cultural messages that make violence appear sexy are part of the same culture in which victims of sexual assault have to survive.
”Seeing that violence treated flippantly, carelessly, can be devastating,” she says.
Women like Genevieve battle to control rising panic most days, everywhere they go, because the acts done to them are on display so casually, with the tacit approval of governments who love to repeat a mantra that self-regulation is working. It’s not, and it’s real women who are hurt because of it.
‘The ultimate guide to being yourself’ is about self-acceptance. It offers girls three lessons in how to be themselves: Fall in love with you; Quit Faking It and Get inspired, not obsessed. The first encourages girls to recognise and love themselves for their unique traits. This is well and good. But I don’t think we can ‘fall in love’ with ourselves. We can value our innate dignity and worth, and work to resist pressure to conform to an idealised norm, but ‘falling in love’ is a bit over the top. I don’t think we are meant to be ‘head over heels’ with ourselves – telling girls they should be setting up impossible expectations. I do like the advice to girls to start a gratitude journal and list five things they are grateful for every day, as expressing gratitude is a proven way to improve mental health. ‘Be your own therapist’ also advises girls to organise their thoughts, reflect, be more positive and relieve stress by keeping a journal. I don’t quite agree with the conclusion though: “There’s nothing more empowering than knowing that no matter what life throws at you, you can cope with it.” This puts too much pressure on an individual girl. As I move around the country speaking in schools, I hear shocking stories, including from girls who have suffered sexual abuse and other forms of violence, depression, anxiety, cutting – which has increased by 90 percent in 10 years in older adolescent girls and 60% in girls 12-14 – and eating disorders. Sometimes they won’t get through without significant professional intervention and other support. Read full article.
ON Bookworld’s website, you can find My first cupcake decorating book, Children’s book of art and Children’s book of mythical beasts. But until recently, other beasts lurked among the titles hosted by the online book seller, the rebranded version of Borders.
Hundreds of titles appeared under the heading, Incest, titles far too explicit, not to mention disturbing, to be mentioned here.
Incest is a criminal act of abuse against children. About one-in-four is a victim of child sexual abuse. Yet companies are profiting from selling incest-themed fiction, supporting the views of abusers or potential abusers that it is acceptable to have sex with (i.e. rape) children.
Bookworld says it is working on solutions to monitor content more closely.
‘‘We agree with you that these titles should not be on sale and are very grateful that we have been made aware of them so that we can remove them from the site and ensure none like them will be available on Bookworld in the future,’’ said Bookworld’s Kim Noble.
While their prompt response is welcome, didn’t one staffer notice the titles and ask questions? And while Bookworld says it didn’t market the titles, surely carrying them at all achieves the same thing?
Why no audit checks of the data feeds they were channeling through their site? Why effectively traffick contraband materials without checking they weren’t breaching Australian laws?
It is just the latest example of the mainstreaming of child sexual assault material.
The Federal Government has established a royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. There are various other state and internal inquiries. Rightly so. The issue is a blight on our nation and everything must be done to stop it. But while millions are spent on these inquiries, we live in a culture which sends messages that child abuse is sexy. There’s no inquiry into the permission-giving drivers which encourage and enable the sexual abuse of children.
Like teen-themed sex toys which eroticised sex with girls advertised through Condom Kingdom; or a Melbourne sex store advertising a ‘‘back to school’’ sale complete with school uniforms, blackboards and apples for the teacher.
Amazon also lists incest titles. Last year, a global campaign forced a recall of A paedophile’s guide to love and pleasure.
Then there’s porn in the corner store. Pictures include one of a girl (allegedly over 18 but posed as a child, which is illegal) on a bed in bobby sox and pigtails, holding a hand puppet.
For years, child development advocates have called for action, sending multiple copies of illegal titles to the Classification Board. Board chief Donald McDonald has written hundreds of ‘‘please explain’’ letters to porn distributors but none bother replying. The board’s annual reports bear that out, documenting ‘‘no reply received’’.
The system is broken. Jeff Sparrow’s new book, Money Shot, reveals the contempt porn profiteers have for the system. Those in the industry say the risks of getting caught aren’t that great. Sparrow writes: ‘‘The adult industry of Australia was almost entirely outside the legal system . . . the remote possibility of a fine was like the spectre of shoplifting, an annoyance that just went with the trade.’’
Why haven’t state and federal attorneys-general, who are responsible for classifications, done anything to intervene?
Melbourne author Jayneen Saunders wrote Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept about helping children stay safe from child sexual abuse, but she has struggled to get a publisher and has been prevented from reading from the book at public places such as libraries, because of the nature of the content.
Yet, mainstream companies can profit from trading in products encouraging child sexual assault.
All these permission-giving examples undermine child protection. The idea it is acceptable to fantasise about children is given the tick by those who profit from trading in such fantasies.
If we are serious about addressing child sexual assault, when are governments going to address the culture which fuels and feeds it?
Despite the fact the system is stuffed, the Australian Law Reform Commission has endorsed selfregulation.
There are endless complaints about all the above and more, but the system doesn’t change.
I’ll vote for whoever decides to take this seriously.
Primed to accept brutality as normal in romantic relationships
It’s not enough that classic works of literature like Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights are to be given a 50 Shades of Grey makeover (read how Catherine Earnshaw enjoys bondage sessions with Heathcliff!). Or that there are 50 Shades of Grey mother and daughter cooking classes (whip up ’Playroom Pretzel Ropes’ and ‘Bondage Wrapped Shrimp’ with mum!) Or ‘My mummy pretends Christian Grey is my daddy’ slogans on baby jumpsuits complete with charming handcuff motifs.
The ‘50 Shades’ juggernaut rolls on, consuming everything in its wake. Now the latest market is teens who are being targeted with spin-offs from the phenomenon.
We know 13 and 14-year-olds are already reading this ode to sadism, receiving an early lesson in submission 101.
In the multi-million dollar best seller, Anastasia Steele has to sign a contract agreeing to do whatever her lover Christian Grey wants. She must be available on call.
One of the terms is: ‘The submissive shall submit to any sexual activity without hesitation or argument’. This is presented as true love rather than as a powerful man controlling a naïve young woman having her first sexual experience.
Anastasia feels “demeaned, debased, and abused.” But Grey is wealthy and showers her with gifts. Isn’t that so romantic? Cruelty is OK, as long as there is a happy ending.
Now teens are being sold their own versions, promoted as’ erotic fiction’ helping them ‘explore their sexuality’. But what is it that is being eroticised?
One of the most new popular titles for young people is Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire. Here’s an extract about the reaction of main character Travis after Abby sleeps with him and leaves without saying goodbye:
“Travis is a fucking wreck! He won’t talk to us, he’s trashed the apartment, threw the stereo across the room… He took a swing at Shep [roommate] when he found out we helped you leave. Abby! It’s scaring me! … he’s gone fucking nuts! I heard him call your name, and then he stomped all over the apartment looking for you. …he tried to call you. Over, and over and over…His face was… I’ve never seen him like that. He ripped his sheets off the bed, and threw them away, threw his pillows away, shattered his mirror with his fist, kicked his door… broke it from the hinges! It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life!”
Ah, young love. Travis, unhinged, goes around destroying things when he can’t get his way. He tries to blackmail Abby and limit her freedom. Obsession and jealousy are misread as love.
One young reader wrote on the Goodreadings site “I felt like Abby was in danger throughout the entire novel…anyone as needy as Travis is dangerous, in my opinion, especially when alcohol is in the mix”. Smart girl.
We are seeing a trend toward the acceptance of brutality as normal in romantic relationships. I heard a 15-year-old boy say he slaps girls and pulls their hair during sex because he read they liked it. Some girls expect to receive bruises from sex. Why say it with flowers when you can show it with beatings?
The view that ‘erotic’ fiction is an alternative to kids visiting porn sites has not been demonstrated. Even if they read one or two books, the bombardment of sexual imagery and porn online will barely be dented. Average age of first exposure to online porn is 11.
Age social affairs writer Michelle Griffin has argued that kids should be reading porn-themed books, recommending ‘House of Holes’ for the school library and family bookshelf. This is the book described by The Guardian as a “porn fest.”
There is a difference between literature which help teenage girls interpret their natural curiosity in sex and their bodies and literature which seeks to shape or exploit it.
Melbourne mother Helen Parkes wrote to me: “There are 12 & 13 year olds in my daughter’s class reading 50 shades and other ‘steamys’… I don’t think these are positive in any way even as a tool to ‘begin dialogue’. I want my daughter and her friends to spend a few years participating in school plays and sports instead of grooming themselves for men before they even know who they are and what they enjoy”.
Girls and young women describe cold, soul-less sexual experiences in which they are expected to be service stations for boys, pressured to ‘put out’, with no concern for their emotional wellbeing.
Will these so-called erotic novels help develop respect-based relationships? Real connection and intimacy? I doubt it. Yet that’s what girls say they want. In this months’ Girlfriend, the magazine’s sex survey shows 76% of readers are not sexually active – 56% say it’s because they are waiting for real love.
Reading material that portrays sex as a part of caring, complex, human relationships is a way of promoting healthy physical and psychological development. We should be equipping and empowering young people to make positive choices about their sexual lives rather than training them in domination and submission.
Perhaps it’s time for some explicit content on love and authentic human connection?
Doing good instead of bingeing is all class: MTR in Sunday Herald Sun
Scarlett* (she asked me not to use her real name) from Victoria, wrote to me about her experience of Schoolies.
While on schoolies I heard numerous stories of girls I go to school with having sex in club toilets with complete strangers before schoolies to ‘get it over and done with’… They feared that if they went on schoolies as virgins, they would be deemed ‘losers’…
While on schoolies, some of my closest friends had sex or gave oral sex or hand to complete strangers as they felt it was ‘expected of them’ by the boys and because ‘it’s schoolies!’.
At clubs and bars we went to boys chanted ‘tits out for the boys’… If boys came up to the girls and chanted ‘show us your tits!’ the girls would take their tops off or show their bra, because a massive group of horny boys chanting at you is pretty forceful.
…There was also a wet-shirt competition, prizes for lesbian kisses and games which included miming a blow job. They had to take off items of clothing to stay in the game…
Many of the girls were under the influence of alcohol and yes, boys did prey on drunk girls – I overheard two boys saying to each other ‘let’s get these girls drunk and take them down to the beach’.
Courtney Mitchell, 18, wrote to me too. Her experience was quite different.
Two weeks ago I had the privilege of joining a team on a short term trip to Thailand and Cambodia with Destiny Rescue. We spent time with poor and disadvantaged children and young people and saw how life is for those much less fortunate than ourselves.
My team had chosen to spend their schoolies giving instead of getting. It was inspiring to see them exchange a week of partying to spend an afternoon levelling out a soccer field so orphaned boys could play safely or playing with little girls rescued from the sex industry.
It was touching to think that money had been diligently raised all year not to hire a three-bedroom apartment and cover alcohol costs but to fly to the other side of the world with a willingness to get uncomfortable.
What better way to start life in the real world than by visiting the real world – and gaining awareness, preparation and perspective as a result?
If ever there was a case for re-considering the traditional schoolies ritual, it’s here in the stories of these two young women.
This so-called rite-of-passage – more like a week-long binge – sees hundreds arrested for serious assault, drunk and disorderly conduct, drug possession and obstructing police. Scarce resources are deployed to mop up the mess.
Many girls suffer sexual violence. Some families are left grieving the loss of a child who died at a schoolies event.
Of course young people should be able to let off steam, have fun and say farewell after being together with the same people for over a decade. We want them to revel in freedom and new beginnings.
But has the good wish to prove and redefine oneself, to grow and move on, turned into an empty, hollow and even toxic initiation?
It appears that young people themselves think so.
In fact most wish they’d never gone. University of Wollongong research found seven out of 10 of teens attending rated the experience as negative.
Why can’t we offer them something better? Provide incentives to participate in something affirming and positive, which won’t leave them with sadness and regret?
Fortunately there are a number of alternatives already on offer which deserve more publicity so that next time girls like Scarlett will have healthy options. Here’s a sample (check in your area for other programs).
• Schoolies Revolution
An initiative of HopeBuilders International, this not-for-profit work to break the cycle of poverty. It “challenges young people to step out of their comfort zone and do something radical. By turning away from the traditional “schoolies” young people are given the opportunity to give back to world’s poor”. This year students helped build a school, visited slums, visited prisons and looked after orphans in Uganda.
• Operation Timor-Leste (Rotary Club of Kerang)
Kalamunda schools (W.A) join a team to engage in community building activities in a small East Timorese village. The aim is to help young people think and act as global citizens, develop mutual cross cultural awareness and achieve personal challenges,
• Shepparton Schoolies Alternative
Students from a Lutheran College in Adelaide work with young refugees in Shepparton. The school hopes to strengthen and grow the connections with refugee communities.
Crossroads is a two-week pilgrimage for Year 12 school leavers from the Melbourne, run by the Melbourne Catholic Archdiocese. Students engage with remote communities, where they do volunteer work.
• ‘Coolies’ Program
Run by De La Salle College, the Coolies program takes 12 school leavers to for a month to work as unskilled labourers (‘coolies’) in rural villages and try to improve the lives of the poor. Students have built a new primary school classroom and toilet block.
STORM Co. is a youth initiative of the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It sends teams of trained young people to work for, learn from, and encourage individual communities, especially in remote parts of Australia.
EVERY weekend the group of 13 and 14-year-old girls got together and played a game. They’d stand in a circle and drink straight spirits. The girl who remained standing the longest, won. Some needed their stomachs pumped afterwards. The doctors who told me about treating girls like this almost every weekend have every right to feel demoralised.
The use of alcohol has become more widespread and acceptable for children and young people. They are drinking more often and at riskier levels.
Forty-three per cent of 16 and 17-year-olds say they drink to get drunk; two-thirds of 16 and 17-year-olds think that ‘‘it is OK to get drunk occasionally’’.
In the past 10 years, about 15 per cent of all deaths of 15 to 24-year-olds were due to risky drinking.
But should we be surprised, when the alcohol industry seeks to recruit young people into a lifelong habit?
Alcohol products are designed, packaged and promoted to normalise alcohol use for young people.
Grog companies spend billions embedding their brands in the lives and lifestyles of young people.
The underage alcohol market brings in more than $100 million in profits for the industry. Sporting gear bears alcohol brand logos. Spirit brands run competitions to win electric skateboards and use social media to get their message to young people.
If a beer or spirit ad gets 10 million views on YouTube, an average of 600,000 children under the age of 17 will see it.
Promotions link booze to sports, music celebrities, sex and an enviable lifestyle.
Sponsorship of football, lads’ mags and music festivals sends a message to young people that the brand understands them and that drinking is something everyone needs to do to have fun and friends.
Music is also used to push alcohol to kids. In a study of 793 popular US songs, a research team found one in five had explicit references to alcohol and a quarter named a specific brand.
The latest Zoo magazine tells its 28,000 readers aged 14 to 17: ‘‘Here’s a good reason to go out, get slaughtered and urinate on a policeman: even industrial quantities of booze won’t destroy the grey matter’’ (which isn’t true).
Alcohol consumption causes more than 5000 deaths and 80,000 hospital visits in Australia yearly. The economic cost is about $36 billion a year.
In a paper delivered to the Right to Childhood conference in Sydney recently, Professor Mike Daube made the case for suing the industry, making it pay for the human damage.
‘‘There is massive evidence on the impacts of alcohol on our community. It is a health problem, a social problem, an economic problem, a law enforcement problem, a cultural problem,’’ Prof Daube said.
‘‘It is a cause of death, injury, violence, domestic violence, child abuse, workplace losses, road crashes.’’
Prof Daube says industry self-regulation codes are limited and toothless. The industry is skilled in countering threats to its sales by downplaying health and other consequences of alcohol use and promoting its own soft education.
What minimal regulation exists is not enough to prevent the massive alcohol-related problems we are seeing.
With a million dollars a day spent sanitising and glamourising alcohol directly to young people for whom it is actually illegal to purchase, how can the meagre budgets available to school for drug and alcohol education compete?
Advocates for change urge the following: PROPER curbs on alcohol promotion; REFORM of the tax system so that we can’t buy alcohol cheaper than bottled water; CURBS on the increasing numbers of sales outlets — often where their presence normalises drinking for young people; A FUNDAMENTAL rethink of licensing laws to quell the drunken violence plaguing our cities; LEGISLATION to prevent secondary supply to children and tougher penalties for supplying; EFFECTIVE warning labels; RAISING the legal drinking age.
Surveys show under-18s feel strongly about the levels of alcohol marketing they are exposed to and want regulation that provides stronger protection. They also want more health warnings. It’s time for real action to stop more damage.
As published in the Sunday Herald Sun Nov 18, 2012
The erosion of childhood is becoming a social and cultural trend of great concern to child development experts as well as the broader community. Commercialisation, sexualisation, body image dissatisfaction and over exposure to violent imagery are some of the key factors. A growing body of scientific evidence and expert opinion has transformed the debate about this trend into an important issue with major implications for mental health, public health, education and policy. We look forward to meeting you at this unique event.
‘Is it possible the DSM could become the book of appeasement, refuting questions of morality and legal culpability with regard to child abuse and exploitation?’
Last week Salon ran a comment piece by Tracy Clark-Flory which opened:
We usually hear pedophilia talked about in terms of mental illness – if not evil – but Aug. 17 a motley crew of self-identified “minor-attracted persons” and mental health professionals have gathered in Baltimore to talk about it as a sexual identity. At hand is an issue deeply important to both groups: the revision of the diagnostic criteria for pedophilia.
I have written elsewhere on the mental gymnastics employed by some of the judiciary when it comes to accepting either the vocabulary of excuses put forward by child sex offenders to exculpate them from responsibility for their offences, or minimising the harm suffered by child victims.
Of course these arguments, attitudes, utterances and opinions would not hold currency were it not for the lawyers who advance them on behalf of their clients and quarters of society that either accept them or give them tacit approval via a passive and apathetic response.
This week UK judges severely weakened legal rules that limited sex offenders’ unsupervised access to their own children. Judges declared that it was a human rights violation to prevent offenders’ from having this access. After all, they said, family life and unfettered access to ‘family life’ is their right – the rights of child victims factor in only as a secondary issue. Despite the rhetoric and declaration of a charter of human rights for children, they continue to have their status at citizens of equal worth negated. More troubling is the fact this so often occurs when children are most in need of protection from sexual predation or sexual violence.
In the same week, a US conference was held on ‘pedophilia’ under the rubric of men who are ‘minor-attracted – in other words men who desire and seek to sexually abuse children. The conference sought to advance the rights of this particular group of men by influencing the revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to better reflect a particular understanding of pedophilia as a psychiatric illness.
The DSM is the psychiatric bible and has been criticized for its development as a diagnostic manual based largely on incomplete and unscientific data – indeed psychiatrists ‘vote’ on additions and revisions and much research has highlighted the gendered nature of the psychiatric illnesses proclaimed in the book with some disorders being so ridiculous they beggar belief.
That fact that many have been removed or revised in response to societal and cultural awareness and changes in attitudes to gender and race is a testament to how mental illness can be socially constructed and even vanish from our vocabulary and treatment as society and psychiatry reconcile certain social and cultural beliefs and attitudes.
The psychiatric nomenclature declaring certain types of sexual offenders or men who declare they have not yet engaged in sexual activity with a child but have a predilection of sexual attraction to children, as individuals with a mental illness as opposed to criminals (or at least potential abusers) is a worry for many reasons.
Why is this ‘illness’ the almost exclusive problem of men and not women? It is an ‘illness’ that has been going on for centuries without recourse to any successful treatment.
I have a problem with the term ‘pedophile’ because it can be literally translated as a lover of children. Chat rooms for pedophile advocates highlight that they do not seek to ‘hurt’ children, but it is patently clear they have no concept – morally or otherwise – of what it is to ‘hurt’ a child. And believe me in my professional work I have seen first- hand the hurt suffered by children by ‘pedophiles’ – hurt that punctures the very soul of young lives and leads to damage across adult lives.
If we accept it is an illness then it is an illness afflicting almost exclusively men and has inflicted a tsunami of catastrophic damage to the lives of countless millions of children that amounts to an emotional genocide across time and place that appears to have no end.
Those advocating for these men are concerned that the law and society misunderstand ‘pedophiles’ and view them alongside ‘molesters’ of children. There exists a problem in the teasing out of men who are sexually attracted to children but say they have not acted on it as opposed to men who say they are sexually attracted to children and have acted on it.
As studies continue to show, men who are sexually attracted to children will generally move to act on that attraction. Those who have not as yet physically acted on that attraction may very likely seek other forms of intimacy with that attraction perhaps by way of viewing child pornography or engaging in contact that might not be sexual but may well still be harmful to a child’s healthy development.
We should feel a strong discomfort about a group seeking to define the parameters of what they say is their sexual orientation and have it accepted as an illness when that particular ‘illness’ can and does lead to various forms of abuse and exploitation of children around the world.
There is also the problem of normalizing the idea that many men harbor sexual desires for children. At a time when we are battling the enormous and endemic problem of child pornography and child sex tourism, we need to ramp up our collective check of society’s moral compass on accepting, even reluctantly, that sexual desires for children are a modern illness afflicting men around the world.
There are moral, ethical and even psychological questions as to why the sexual predation, desire and sexualisation of children is the almost exclusive domain of men. In late modern society we need to ask ourselves some strong questions – is the sexualisation of children a link to the sexual desire for children and the growing market in child pornography and child sex tourism. And again to ask why these issues have the common denominator of children and men.
I worry about the gendered nature of an illness where men harbor sexual desires for children – and which research consistently shows so many men will act upon – and want this targeted behaviour to be classified as an illness. We have become a humanity that pathologies our behaviours and actions to an extraordinary degree, thus removing notions of responsibility, decency and a solid moral compass.
The 20th century is marked by consumerism with our identity linked to what we buy. I buy therefore I am, is the credo. And just as our high consumerism causes so much destruction – professionals have helped us craft a language of illness and pathology about our buying habits. Why reflect on a problem and see ourselves as central to it when we can tell ourselves it is an illness and thus another ailment in society we can seek treatment for.
Is it possible the DSM could become the book of appeasement refuting questions of morality and legal culpability with regard to child abuse and exploitation?
It is not the redefinition in the DSM that will ‘cure’ this peculiar illness of men nor provide the type of moral erudition needed to tackle the world wide problem of child sexual abuse. It is the refining of humanity and our capacity to deal with an entrenched crime inflicted on children.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It, Ruby Who? book and DVD plus Too sexy too soon MTR DVD in one bundle for $120 saving 22% on the individual price.
In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It and the Ruby Who? book and DVD in one bundle for $100 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real and Faking It in one bundle for $70 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
“A landmark publication” – Clive Hamilton
“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.