As soon as the Foley story broke, I knew it was just a matter of time. Sure enough, The People for the American Way reported that Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council, said the real concern about Foley’s sexual predatory behavior toward an underage congressional page is “the link between homosexuality and child sexual abuse.” Not just Perkins, many other right wing mouthpieces are disgorging similar rhetoric.
The radical right, at the helm of its mighty cutter boat, the U.S.S. Wedge Issue, is chipping and tacking its way through the towns and psyches of our country yet again. I’d yawn at such a hackneyed conflation – homosexuality equals child sexual abuse – but those guys’ll take advantage of any opening they can get and I feel sure they’d ram the bow of their boat right through my mouth on its way to the voting booths in November. Besides, I know that cutter can do some serious damage.
Perkins goes on to say that ignoring the “homosexuality issue” got the Catholic Church in trouble and now it’s getting the House GOPs in a big mess.
He’s right. Ignoring issues is dangerous. I’m a psychotherapist who has worked with child sexual abusers, as well as many, many child sexual abuse survivors. I’m legally mandated to report any child abuse, be it sexual, physical, emotional maltreatment or neglect. I don’t have to know for sure, I just need to have a reasonable suspicion. And I only have 36 hours after I suspect or find out to report it. It’s serious business. One that no therapist worth her license could legally, ethically or morally fathom ignoring.
But hoping we’re too busy wrapping plastic wrap and duct tape around our children to protect them from the homosexual menace and terrorist threats to notice, ignoring is precisely what Perkins and the right wing crew are doing. They’re ignoring the child abuse that’s happening repeatedly in Congressional chambers and corporate board rooms. The abuse happens via the laws that are passed allowing corporations to poison the air and water and food we expect our children and their children to breathe, drink and eat. It happens when our leaders allow our corporations to come into our schools and sell our children unhealthy soft drinks and junk food as they suppress studies that show how harmful much of our processed foods are. It happens when advertisers are allowed to inundate our children with endless ads teaching them to want more, more, more, rather than letting them know they are inherently enough already, helping them grow into psychologically secure adults. It happens when we take away school lunch programs for the poor, when we make it harder and harder for our children to get student loans, and when we take away the workplace rights of parents, making it more and more difficult for them to provide for their children. And our current occupations have wreaked untold physical, psychological and emotional abuse on an entire generation of Afghan and Iraqi children, breeding fear and hatred and hopelessness.
Bill by bill, law by law, it seems our leaders are well-practiced at ignoring child abuse. Why would the sexual abuse of a congressional page be any different? Because somehow it is. Little else stirs such a deep chord of moral outrage within us, pulling at our instincts to protect our children, as when we think of an adult sexually abusing a child. And while Hastert et al. are not legally mandated to report child sexual abuse, that they could know–or reasonably suspect such an egregious violation was happening in their place of work–and not take steps to protect the victims is remarkable. That they didn’t feel a moral mandate their consciences wouldn’t allow them to ignore and impel them to intervene speaks volumes about their priorities and their motivations, as well as their fears.
Were I the parent or a loved one of one the pages, I would feel outraged and betrayed. Being a citizen who demands that my leaders step into their humanity and beyond self-interested politics when an issue as serious as this begs for it, I feel outraged and betrayed, yet not surprised. And, I’d be writing these same words were it a Democrat who allegedly perpetrated this abuse. Our children’s safety and well-being are not the stuff of a political match. Ever.
Let’s get some child abuse facts straight.
Child sexual abuse (and sexual abuse in general) usually has nothing to do with sex, but with power and control.
Child sexual abuse takes many forms and is not just about touch and penetration. You don’t have to be in the same room with a child to sexually abuse him or her. Whether it is cyber, verbal or physical, it’s serious and should be taken seriously. You can’t possibly pretend to know how an email exchange from an older, more powerful adult will impact each kid.
Adolescents, even if on the cusp of stepping into their sexual selves or if already there, can be profoundly psychologically impacted by sexual abuse. Same with adults.
Child sexual abuse cuts across all strata of the population.
Having said that, studies show that men sexually abuse children more then women and most child sexual abuse is perpetrated by straight, not gay, men.
The majority of child sexual abuse happens not by the stranger on the street your mother tells you not to talk to, but by someone you know–a trusted family member, a neighbor, a congressman down the hall.
Not only is the gay-man-as-child-abuser myth as worn and tired as it is hateful and damaging, in this case it’s such an obvious attempt at, “Hey, look over there at the gay sex pervert and not over here at the mechanisms that helped create the scandal and at us who covered it up,” it’s almost pitiable.
The subject brings up many an offshoot issue that isn’t within the scope of this article. And, I haven’t seen Foley in therapy, of course, so I don’t pretend to know the depths of his psyche. But that isn’t the issue. What matters is that we take Perkins’ advice and not ignore the “homosexuality issue.”
Let’s ask our congressional Democrats to take this opportunity to speak out against gay stereotyping. Let’s let them know that we expect more of them than just seeing the Foley incident as yet another Republican scandal set to help them in the upcoming midterm elections.
Better yet, let’s all of us: Independents, Democrats, Republicans, Greens, teachers, preachers, parents, gays, straights, bisexuals, you name its, and each person reading, seize this opportunity ourselves as a teachable moment. Let’s not ignore what they want us to ignore. Let’s take this occasion to speak out and say that not only is the cover up and thus the aiding and abetting of sexual abuse as wrong as the abuse itself, but let’s talk about the fact that Foley’s actions are not so much the act of a gay man, but the act of a troubled human being in a system that actively discourages help and transparency. Let’s all be mouthpieces that say we’re too smart to buy into such an insultingly thinly-veiled, homophobic diversionary tactic. Let’s talk about how Congress and Perkins and the self-interested radical right folks riding the choppy political waters on the U.S.S. Wedge Issue are busily ignoring the real issues, and in so doing not only gay men, but our children and each and every one of us the world over are done inexcusable harm.
If you are a child being sexually abused and need confidential help, call: National Child Abuse Hotline: 800.422.4453. If you are an adult at risk for sexually abusing a child, or a friend or family member of a sexual abuser and need confidential help, call Stop It Now!: 888.773.8368
CAROL NORRIS is a psychotherapist and freelance writer. Her articles and thoughts can be found on her tragically moribund, but one-day-soon to be resurrected blog: http://carolnorris.blogs.com