Wednesday, September 19, 2007

On why I hate To Catch a Predator

There have been a lot of posts recently on Wonkette about the (alleged) sexual misconduct/crimes of elected politicians (they appear regularly lately under this tag). These include posts on the crazy antics of Larry Craig and that wacky Bob Allen as well as some light gay-bashing (literally) by Tucker Carlson. But in addition to all of that, they also include a couple posts (which I'm not going to link to, but you can find pretty easily) about reports that a legislative staffer for a state assemblyman and council chairman sexual molested children (in different states, in unrelated incidences). Several comments on these two posts refer to the above mentioned bathroom-sex seeking politicians in a kind of, first-this-and-now-this?! way.

I suppose the connection Wonkette readers see between the two things (closet-gay men trolling for sex in public places and child-molesters) is that all of the politicians involved presented themselves as "family values" people to the public. I think there's a couple of pretty obvious differences here though. The first and most obvious difference would be that gay people who publicly solicit other people for consensual sex are not hurting anyone, at least not in the same way that an adult hurts a child through years (or even one incident) of abuse. The second difference would be that though both groups are hypocrites (the closeted-gay men because they push legislation that would take away rights from other gay people and the child-molesters because presumably they present themselves to the world as straight and not mentally imbalanced), I don't really understand how someone who is a child-molester can not be a hypocrite (not unless they're a card carrying member of NAMBLA). They aren't just hypocrites; they're criminals and also, in my opinion, they have mental problems.

Um, I guess I'm just trying to state the obvious: Being a closeted-gay person (even one who takes away rights from other gay people) is different from (read: not even remotely in the same category as) being a child molester.

Besides not liking the lumping together of Craig et al. and child molesters, I'm not sure how I feel about Wonkette's posts and their commenters simultaneous disgust (at the child molesters' actions) and glee (at seeing them bought down), both of which I actually share. It made me think of the t.v. show "To Catch a Predator," which I hate (and it's not just Stone Phillips). Although I am glad that the issue of child molestation/statutory rape is being covered by the media, that show has some problems.

In addition to the legal problems mentioned in the link, I think it has some problems in its conception and execution. For instance, I think it feeds into a myth out there that your child needs to be protected the most from strangers on the internet, when the truth is 80% of the time the attacker is someone the child knows (please check out the right hand bar to see where I got my statistic--I was a little turned off by this sites take on pornography [unless they mean child pornography; it's not clear] so check this out if you want another look at some different, but related statistics.).

I do think it's great that "To Catch a Predator" has a spotlight on the perpetrators rather than shining the hot light on the victim, as is too often the case (what did *she* do to make him interested? is a question that is asked way too often--maybe more often in cases of rape then in child molestation, but in either case, the focus should be on the behavior of the perpetrator rather than that of the victim). But the problem is, the scope of their light is not big enough. "To Catch a Predator" asks parents to look outside of their home, schools, neighborhoods, and churches and into the bushes for that lurking stranger. And that makes sense, because it's actually a much easier idea to swallow then the idea that your children's step-father might be touching them inappropriately. It's easy to keep your kid off the computer. It's not so easy to confront a culture (whether the culture is a home or in a country) that treats women and children as the property.

I want the coverage of child molestation to be accurate. I want it to force us to examine a hard truth that people we know (and even love) could be abusers, not just that creepy guy in the library who is always heavy-breathing near the computers. And I want us to ask, what is it about us, as a culture, that makes otherwise ordinary, average people think they can do this kind of thing to someone else?

I don't know the answer to that, but I would guess it's related to power and systematic oppression.

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