Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Friendly debate

My post about the Counterpunch article on sex offenders sparked an email exchange with a friend of mine--no surprise, since she and I go 'round about this topic pretty regularly. I'm posting our debate in the comments section of this post, since it's rather lengthy. I promised her the last word and I'm sticking to that, though I admit to having to stifle a few obvious rejoinders.

Laziness prevents me from really editing our exchange, except for redacting names to protect the innocent. I'll put her words in bold, just to try to reduce the confusion.

3 comments:

BG's Friend said...

There's no such thing as "sex with the SpongeBob Squarepants contigent." Sexual contact with children is rape. And that makes the conversation entirely different from a conversation about the far-right's obsession with other people's-- other *adults'*-- sexual proclivities. Yes, there's a difference between fondling a child and raping one, and there's a difference between raping a child and killing one, but that's not really the issue. An adult who is sexually aroused by the body of a child is an adult who must be kept away from children.

It's tempting for liberals-- if only as a knee-jerk reaction against any pet project of the far-right anti-sex squad-- to see this as a sexual liberation issue. If the people who are saying that gay sex is unnatural and that female desire is unnatural, are also saying that sexual desire for children is unnatural, then it's time to stand up for the misunderstood, mistreated pedaphiles. I don't buy it.

It's not just that Schneider overestimates the postive effect of therapy, which she does, as you point out. It's also that she overstates the anti-pedophile hysteria. Sure, there are isolated pockets of idiocy out there, but in my real life here in suburbia, I don't know anyone who's even checked out the sex-offender registry, much less acted in any way that could be considered paranoid. The kids here don't just play in their front yards unsupervised, they're allowed to roam in packs from yard to yard for hours, even with truckloads of strange men coming into the neighborhood every day to keep building these McMansions. Two years ago, one of my friends found out that her children's swim-team coach, a father of three, is on the TBI sex-offender registry, and she didn't even take her kid off the team. The club just had a meeting with parents, who voted that he simply be chaperoned at all times, and he finished out the season as coach. It's hard to see that as a witch hunt.

BitterGrace said...

Okay, here's my response:

"Sexual contact with children is rape"

I don't disagree with that, but a literal-minded interpretation of that statement creates the kind of absurd situations Schneider talks about, with teenagers being
prosecuted for sex with other teenagers.

"An adult who is sexually aroused by the body of a child is an adult who must be kept away from children"

Simply not possible, unless you are willing to lock up--forever--everyone guilty of the thought crime of fanatasizing about children. I would say an adult who is sexually aroused by the body of a child is an adult who must learn to control his behavior. Therapy has some chance of doing that. Intermittent incarceration won't do a thing to help improve impulse control.


"It's tempting for liberals-- if only as a knee-jerk reaction against any pet project of the far-right anti-sex squad-- to see this as a sexual liberation issue. If the people who are saying that gay sex is unnatural and that female desire
is unnatural, are also saying that sexual desire for children is unnatural, then it's time to stand up for the misunderstood, mistreated pedophiles."


I didn't say anything *remotely* like that in my post--in fact, I expressly said the reverse--and Schneider didn't say that either. What she said was that the punitive, demonizing approach to sex offenders is doing nothing to reduce the risk of children being abused sexually. I think she makes a good case. I'm not saying one couldn't be made from the other side, but I haven't seen it. Have you?

For the record, I think any discussion of whether a particular sexual orientation is "unnatural" belongs to the realm of religion, not law or psychology. Pedophiles feel impulses toward behavior that is harmful, as do we all. They have to learn to control them. See above.


I defer to you absolutely on the matter of how educated, middle-class parents react to this issue. I'm glad to hear it. I'm not at all sure it applies across the socioeconomic spectrum. I've seen an awful lot of kids afraid to go into a public restroom alone, and Target seems filled with moms who freak out if their kids get out of their sight for an instant.

The idea of adults having sex with children is repulsive to pretty much everybody except pedophiles themselves. It's repulsive to me. I think racist and sexist hate crimes are repulsive, too. I believe people who commit them should be punished, but I also think it couldn't hurt to try to help them overcome their bigotry and uncontrolled aggression. Why shouldn't pedophiles be entitled to at least that much?

bg's friend said...

["Sexual contact with children is rape"

I don't disagree with that, but a literal-minded interpretation of that statement creates the kind of absurd situations Schneider talks about, with teenagers being prosecuted for sex with other teenagers.]

But all laws are open to interpretation by idiots, including by our Idiot-in-Chief. That's why we have a court system. We don't stop making laws because it's possible for someone with a skewed understanding of the world to misinterpret them; if we did, there would be no laws. How *many* teenagers have been actually prosecuted for having sex with other teenagers? Schneider is willing to toss off 50 kids a year to murder by pedophiles, but she's not giving numbers here.

["An adult who is sexually aroused by the body of a child is an adult who must be kept away from children"

Simply not possible, unless you are willing to lock up--forever--everyone guilty of the thought crime of fanatasizing about children. I would say an adult who is sexually aroused by the body of a child is an adult who must learn to control his behavior. Therapy has some chance of doing that. Intermittent incarceration won't do a thing to help improve impulse control.]

First, why isn't it possible? Second, if I thought pedophiles-- those who act as well as think-- could be remedied by therapy, I'd be all about therapy. I'm basically for letting anyone out of jail who can remotely be trusted in society-- and that includes spouse-murderers, drug-dealers, and a lot of other people who've done bad shit but don't pose any serious risk to the rest of the world-- because I agree that prison is a degrading place that just makes people crazy. But there's a lot of evidence that sex offenders, and not just pedophiles, aren't truly treatable. The Catholic church spent decades trying, and now they're paying through the ass for sending very sick men back into a world where children trust them. Frankly, I think it should cost them the whole damn Vatican, but no one has asked me.

["It's tempting for liberals-- if only as a knee-jerk reaction against any pet project of the far-right anti-sex squad-- to see this as a sexual liberation issue. If the people who are saying that gay sex is unnatural and that female desire is unnatural, are also saying that sexual desire for children is unnatural, then it's time to stand up for the misunderstood, mistreated pedophiles."

I didn't say anything *remotely* like that in my post--in fact, I expressly said the reverse--and Schneider didn't say that either.]

That was a reaction to one of the comments posted, not to the blog post itself.

[What she said was that the punitive, demonizing approach to sex offenders is doing nothing to reduce the risk of children being abused sexually. I think she makes a good case. I'm not saying one couldn't be made from the other side, but I haven't seen it. Have you? ]

Actually, I read recently that even public demonizing and abject humiliation don't do much to stop pedophiles. One of the men caught on camera in one of those newsmagazine sting operations actually showed up again, in the next sting. Clearly, recidivism is inevitable in some of these cases, and those are the people who ought to go to jail and stay there. Will putting them in jail prevent all kids from being sexually abused? Of course not. Nothing will do that. But that doesn't mean that known predators should be left to roam the street while they're receiving the therapy that will do nothing to stop them.

[For the record, I think any discussion of whether a particular sexual orientation is "unnatural" belongs to the realm of religion, not law or psychology. Pedophiles feel impulses toward behavior that is harmful, as do we all. They have to learn to control them. See above.]

I absolutely don't agree. I *don't* think everyone has impulses toward behavior that is violent and degrading, and sexual abuse of children isn't merely harmful, it's violence against the weak and defenseless.

[I defer to you absolutely on the matter of how educated, middle-class parents react to this issue. I'm glad to hear it. I'm not at all sure it applies across the socioeconomic spectrum. I've seen an awful lot of kids afraid to go into a public restroom alone, and Target seems filled with moms who freak out if their kids get out of their sight for an instant.]

The thing is, the only parents you see freaking out are the parents who are freaking out. I don't deny they're out there. But what you aren't noting is all the parents who *aren't* freaking out, simply because they look like people who are shopping without children. I'm a paranoid mother, I admit it, but I wouldn't panic if my kids disappeared in Target unless I'd looked for them for a while and couldn't find them. Kids disappear from their parents' side every day, all day long, everywhere. That's what kids do.

[The idea of adults having sex with children is repulsive to pretty much everybody except pedophiles themselves. It's repulsive to me. I think racist and sexist hate crimes are repulsive, too. I believe people who commit them should be punished, but I also think it couldn't hurt to try to help them overcome their bigotry and uncontrolled aggression. Why shouldn't pedophiles be entitled to at least that much?]

I actually think a lot of pedophiles are horrified by their own desires and behavior. And for what it's worth, I find bigotry and race-hatred just as repulsive as pedophilia. But bigotry and race-hatred are learned responses to particular circumstances, and I don't think sexual desires are, in most cases. So of the two, I'd bet with the racist for the better chance of rehabilitation. On the other hand, I can't help but think a person who's capable of cold-blooded torture and murder in a hate crime is also a person who doesn't have much chance of overcoming aggression and bigotry. For a true sociopath, someone incapable of feeling empathy, no amount of therapy will touch them in the end.