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April 25, 2007

Sex Offenders Barred From Church

This article about churches debating whether or not to let child molesters in made me really sad.

I don't know about Judaism or Islam, but I was raised Christian (I'm not now) and the message is clear, across denominations: love your neighbor as yourself, do not judge, turn the other cheek, welcome the sinner.

Part of the reason I'm not a Christian, aside from a lack of belief in God, is that I don't have the wherewithal to practice Christianity--any form of it. I'm not able to not judge--or even to attempt it. I don't want to attempt it.

But when it comes to what freed child molesters should have a right to, going to church, if they want to, is at the top of that rather short list. Keeping them from church would be like keeping them from therapy because the therapist has other patients who aren't comfortable with being under the same roof as a child molester. It's letting your fear get in the way of someone else's attempt at redemption. How is that Christian?

See, I don't believe that raping a child is worse than raping an adult. I don't believe that raping a child is worse than murdering a person. It's different, and needs to be handled differently. All are evil acts.

I also don't believe that any generalizations about the redeemability of child molesters can be true. Some must be Hannibal Lecter types. Maybe some are driven by shriveled souls. Some are probably on an evil power trip that they might be able to get past to some degree. Some are frightened children themselves. I don't know, I can't see into their souls. But that's the problem. No one can.

I don't believe that the child, or children, these people raped and abused will be helped in any way by their exclusion from honest worship. I don't believe that potential future victims will be protected by a denial of honest, open worship from a known child molester.

I agree with the person in the article who called this hysteria. I think it is. I think people are hysterical about child molesters for three reasons. The first is that it's a relatively new crime. Previously, it was either so taboo, so unthinkable--or else so mundane and not worth mentioning in a world in which parents literally owned their children--that it was never named and no one came forward. Abusing children has only been a crime for about 100 years or so. Being new, this crime feels freshly taboo, dirtier than the age-old crimes of murder and rape.

Secondly, in the US, we are almost pathologically sentimental about childhood and insist upon the innocence of children and the childlike state. Even Europe has no J.D. Salingers, and European hipsters never slid into the infantile mode that American hipsters still employ. And I don't think it's a coincidence that Lolita is the primary masterpiece of a European transplanted to the US and commenting on the corruption of American society. Japanese infantilism is so heavily sexualized it would make Americans ... well, hysterical. What other industrialized nation keeps abstract children so on a pedestal (or pedastal?) Or what industrializing nation, for that matter?

Thirdly, in the US we're hysterical about sex. We can't heeaaaaaandle the truth. We'll show blood spraying and serial killers on children's prime time, but we won't show people tongue-kissing. So having sex with children, even sexualizing children in any way, is an affront both to our absurd dream of the innocence of childhood, and to our desire to keep sex at a distance.

And this whole child-complex afflicts liberals equally with conservatives. Both are guilty of letting their little brats run around restaurants screaming. Both ostracize Mothers Who Spank. Both conveniently forget what little monsters children can be and call bullying "teasing". The only difference is that the one group insists on saving pre-child lumps of flesh from destruction, while the other insists on putting poor kids through the daily humiliation of asking for a free lunch--oh, no, wait, the first group put a stop to that. Whew!

I think I'm particularly sensitive to this issue because I just completed and sent out a story about a woman who crosses the line with a young teenaged boy. I wrote it because I was very disturbed by a long-term disagreement with an ex-friend of mine. She's an ex-friend in large part because of this disagreement.

It centered around a discussion we had when Mary Kay Letourneau was released from prison. LeTourneau is the teacher who had a sexual relationship with her 13 year old student, was caught, wouldn't stop, and got pregnant by him. She was eventually sent to jail for seven years when she wouldn't stop seeing him.

She was released and immediately married the former student, who was now 22 and taking care of their two daughters. I was discussing this with the ex-friend, who wasn't as shocked by the situation, and the marriage, as I was. After a lengthy discussion in which I pointed out that she'd have a problem if it was a male teacher and a 13-year-old girl, she burst out that she didn't mind women taking advantage of young boys because men had been abusing women for so long that she didn't mind a woman getting some back. I was so appalled I could barely speak to her.

I was further appalled when this same friend told me that she was dating a young man who was barely legal and more than a decade younger than she, and that she had struck him when drunk, just to see how he'd react.

After I ended our friendship, her attitude--and the personal history I suspected her of having that gave rise to it--really haunted me and I ended up writing a fantasy story about a world in which men had disappeared and only women and children of both sexes were left. The women start seducing the boys. My protagonist, modeled after my ex-friend, turns out to be far more predatory than she would have imagined.

I deliberately set up a scenario that made the child abuse ambiguous, but I only ended up rendering real-world child abuse ambiguous for myself. In a discussion with a gay friend I found that older-man/younger-boy relationships (remarkably along the lines of the Greek ideal) are an open secret in the gay community and many teenaged boys seek such relationships out and are grateful for the caring sexual awakening that they receive. I can easily imagine now that some teenaged girls might also seek out such relationships and benefit from them, even though the danger of abuse is so great.

My disgust of sexual abuse of young teens--set aside young children--has not lessened, but my sense of the complexity of this issue where older children are concerned has increased. It's also affected my view of all child sexual abuse: not that it isn't wrong and horrible, but that it is textured and nuanced--that all abusers, though all criminal, are not all the same. And that, yes, they're still human beings; and that, in fact, this crime, this sin, is an explicitly human one.

What I'm saying is that child raping is horrible, but so is child beating. So is woman beating. So is woman raping. So is man beating (yes, it is) and so is man raping. So is murder of anybody. And it depresses the fuck out of me to hear Christians saying, on their home turf, that every kind of sinner can worship, but not the child molester. If there's a better definition of a sinner in need of redemption, can someone please tell me what it is?

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Comments

The story I'm editing right now is about the redemption of a pedophile. I doubt it'll ever get published, but I agree with your last sentence whole-heartedly. This is the AIDS of our time, like cancer was fifty years ago.

Untouchable outcast unclean.

People forget that these men and women are the way they are for a reason. Often it was because they were treated the same way they treat others. They need help, not hatred.

Jesus never walked away from or shamed anyone except the arrogant religious leaders of the day, so caught up in their "goodness" that they destroyed everyone around them.

Okay, I'm off the soapbox now. :)

thanks for your response, pat. i was focusing on the offenders in my post, but i do want to put in here that we should never stop thinking about the victims, even while we're trying to have compassion for the offenders.

I found the film "the woodsman" outrageously simpleminded and frankly offensive because it completely ignored the devastating consequences TO OTHERS of what the molester had done. it only focused on the devastating consequences to himself, which frankly, he deserved.

i don't want to be the one to say what sort of awful punishment child molesters deserve, but my post was about keeping them human, and not about letting them in any way off the hook. they are, finally, adults, and no matter what abuse they suffered themselves, most are, by our general definition, sane and responsible for their own actions.

i know plenty of sexual abuse victims who do not abuse.

No, please don't get me wrong. I think that child abuse is an awful crime, and having a history of being abused DOES NOT let you off the hook. There are some who are just too damaged to let loose. Others have found ways to end the obsessive behavior, with a lot of help. Both, however, are treated equally.

Someone with a history of molesting children should never be around others' children, but there's no incentive for them to get help when admitting to something (or even admitting the desire to molest) gets you the scarlet P. Because of this, there's no closure for the victims who try to confront the perpetrators either, because no one would admit they either did this or needed help.

Child molestation is a HUGE issue in society, which is why (I think) there's so much finger pointing. No one wants to admit it's not the dirty old man in the dark alleyway.

The report of the CIS states that, among substantiated sexual abuse cases, non-parental relatives represented the largest group of alleged perpetrators (44%), followed by biological fathers (8%), stepfathers (8%), other acquaintances (8%) and babysitters (7%). A child’s friends (peers) and family friends were each identified as the alleged perpetrator in 5% of substantiated cases. Teachers were identified in 4% of cases, and other professionals, strangers and a parent’s boyfriend/girl-friend were each identified in 2% of cases. In 5% of substantiated sexual abuse cases, mothers were identified as the alleged perpetrator (3% biological mothers and 2% step-mothers)
From the Public Agency of Canada's National Clearinghouse on Family Violence

In other words, only TWO PERCENT of REPORTED child molestation cases is the "weird guy in the alley", aka the stranger. The rest are people the child knows. That two percent might be even lower, since most children are threatened by the perpetrator not to tell or otherwise coerced/persuaded to think they 'deserved it' or 'caused' it somehow.

It's really a sad thing when you think about it.

And I haven't seen the movie you're referring to but it sounds pretty vile.

This is not a new taboo!

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