[15 April 2009]
“Different frameworks of interpretation will lead to different conclusions of what reality is.”— Kenneth Burke
Earlier this year, two brave 12-year-old boys came forward with a tale that has become far too many parents’ worst nightmare: sexual abuse at the hands of a church worker. Following an investigation the worker, a volunteer with the church’s youth program, was arrested and charged with five felony counts of child molestation and one felony count of child solicitation. What makes this case unique is the defendant, 33-year-old Sheila Granger, who has pled ‘not guilty’ to all charges.
Typically, child molesters are male. It’s difficult to say exactly what percentage is female, however, as most sexual abuse of children goes unreported. A vast underground network of pedophiles exists worldwide, with the internet as its best tool, so law enforcement officials and researchers must rely on those who are caught for statistical data and insight into the mind of a pedophile. (It should be noted that not all pedophiles act on their urges and are therefore classified differently than child molesters, who do. Nonetheless, pedophilia is a psychological disorder requiring treatment.)
For the public, however, there is a clear picture of what a pedophile is, one painted by the media. It is not someone like Granger, a housewife and mother. Fictional television too often portrays pedophiles as slimy, nerdish, inept men, victims of abuse who consequently fail to develop social skills. This is not an inaccurate portrait; though many pedophiles do fit this profile, it is not wholly representative.
Another image of a pedophile also comes from the media: the pedophile priest. This story has dominated the news for years, and has been incorporated into popular culture, most notably in John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt. Priests actually make up a small percentage of known molesters, but the violation of trust resulting from abuse by a priest makes this crime seem particularly egregious.
It also reinforces a belief common among some factions: most pedophiles are gay. And most gay men are pedophiles. Certainly, these two ideas have been the focal point in a propaganda campaign designed to vilify gays, thereby persuading the ill-informed to oppose gay rights. The argument goes like this: homosexuals are predators who want to harm children; society has a moral obligation to protect children; therefore, adopting equal rights for gays legitimizes behavior that poses a significant threat to children. On its face, it is a logical and sound argument.
Plus, it’s a proven strategy. Political campaigns and media service announcements have made us all more aware of the threats facing our children and how to protect them. Given our heightened awareness of these threats, it’s easy for a group to tap into that fear by arguing that a new and more ominous danger is growing. As Michael Blain concluded in Critical Discourse Studies, “The use of innocent victims such as children to articulate the ‘truth’ of an opponent’s villainy is one of the chief rhetorical means to vilify an opponent. These attacks are designed to provoke anxieties, anger, and moral outrage in those addressed.” (“The Politics of Victimage”, April 2005)
However, as any first-year student of logic will verify, an argument is only as sound as its foundation, and the propaganda campaign that seeks to link homosexuality and pedophilia relies on distortion of evidence, inference, and emotion rather than sound data. Numerous logical fallacies are employed in making the link:
Distort the evidence: The Jesus-is-Savior website quotes the 2001 article by Mary Eberstadt entitled “Pedophilia Chic: Reconsidered”, in which she notes that the question of pedophilia is “demonstrably not yet settled within certain parts of the gay rights movement” (emphasis added). From this statement, the site concludes that pedophilia is “part of the overall homosexual movement”.
Rely on questionable sources: Dr. Edward Fields is a well-established homophobe, white supremacist, and anti-Semite whose work has been largely discredited. However, that didn’t stop the Traditions in Values website from quoting him on their anti-gay webpage: “Because homosexuals can’t reproduce naturally, they resort to recruiting children. Homosexuals can be heard chanting ‘TEN PERCENT IS NOT ENOUGH, RECRUIT, RECRUIT, RECRUIT’ in their homosexual parades.” (This author has attended several “homosexual parades” and has yet to hear this chant.)
Infer, and allow people to draw conclusions: The Traditional Values Coalition featured the headline “The homosexual activist movement and organized pedophiles are linked together by a common goal: To gain access to children for seduction into homosexuality.” Accompanying the headline was a picture of a man holding a poster that read “I’m gay and I teach America’s children”. One is to assume that he is not teaching the children algebra.
Overplay the facts: Traditional Values also reported on a New York Post story that it claimed proved “the secret epidemic of homosexual child abuse cases that go unreported in New York City’s public schools.” However, the story reports that 75 percent of victims in the school system are female, and that homosexual cases make up only one out of five cases of sexual abuse in the schools.
Use outdated material: Jesus-is-Savior quotes a 1979 study that claims 73 percent of homosexuals have had, at some point, sex with someone 16- to 19-years-old. The study did not determine if the sexual contact occurred when the gay man was also a teen, making the contact no more predatory than most prom night dalliances, and the overall study is called into question by the clear bias that existed in gay studies during the period. Likewise, the site quotes a 1982 book as evidence that the gay movement still embraces a 1972 proposal to eliminate age-of-consent laws.
Make the minority the majority: Kevin Bishop is an admitted pedophile and spokesperson for the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA). In an interview with a South Africa paper, Bishop hypothesized, “Scratch the average homosexual and you will find a pedophile.” This quote is frequently used as evidence of the predatory nature of gays, despite the source’s clear bias and lack of credibility.
Nonetheless, the existence of NAMBLA seems to validate the link between homosexuality and pedophilia, and the organization is regularly cited as an indication of the general depravity of gay men. At its largest, in the mid-‘90s, the group was estimated by the FBI to have 1,000 members. Using that membership count and the conservative number that only one percent of the population is gay, that means that NAMBLA members account for only .0003 percent of the homosexual population in the United States.
Realistically, the percentage of pedophiles in the gay community is considerably higher than that. Just how much higher is uncertain, with studies offering figures ranging from less than 10 percent to almost 50 percent of all pedophiles being homosexual. The disparity can best be explained through terminology, according to Dr. Michael Day, a clinical psychologist who has worked with troubled teens in the past.
Researcher bias often leads to differing definitions of “homosexual contact.” Many abusers engage in male on male contact, although they maintain a heterosexual lifestyle in all other respects, and are therefore classified as homosexual molesters. Further, some studies classify as homosexual or bisexual those abusers who have had both male and female victims.
It’s difficult to imagine that a predator that targets same-sex victims could be heterosexual, but Dr. Day notes that child molestation, like rape, is usually not about the sexual act. It is about power and an attraction to the innocence and lack of physical maturity of the victims. Many predators are drawn to the submissive, weaker position of the child, regardless of gender.
Dr. Day further explains that child molesters are developmentally “fixated”—in other words, they are stuck in an earlier stage of development that results in an immature ability to interact with adults. They are more likely to have increased anger issues and a decreased ability to manage moods. These characteristics are not related to sexual orientation, but stem from childhood trauma and abuse or from mental disorders that prevent appropriate development.
I asked Dr. Day specifically about NAMBLA and their assertion that the “love” expressed between boy and man is reciprocal. That children love unconditionally is the “tragic beauty of a child”, he explained. What these children experience is similar to Abused Woman’s Syndrome; they feel dependent upon the abuser for validation and attention. There are parts of the physical act, such as non-sexual touching and hugging, that the children might find reassuring, although they may hate the sexual aspects of the relationship. To reject this unwelcome aspect of the relationship, the child fears they must also reject those aspects that make them feel good, such as the attention and non-sexual playtime.
To say that NAMBLA and its positions are reflective of the gay community is like saying that female teen prostitutes are representative of the heterosexual community, in Dr. Day’s words. In the book The Sexual Exploitation of Children: A Practical Guide to Assessment, Investigation, and Intervention, author Seth Goldstein decides that “the homosexual community, for the most part, rejects (NAMBLA) and is repulsed by them. For example, one gay man told me that the subject of ‘boy lovers’ make most homosexual’s ‘toes curl’”. Nonetheless, Dr. Day observes that NAMBLA makes an easy scapegoat for those opposed to gay rights. These individuals want the world to be a safe place that is predictable and controllable, so the fight against a perceived evil is simplistic in their eyes—it’s all for the better good.
This is certainly evident in a note posted by the webmaster of Jesus-is-Savior.com, who notifies readers, “If you are a homosexual, I do not hate you at all. In fact, I care about you very much, which is why I made this webpage. This webpage isn’t intended to make you mad or hurt your feelings (although the truth usually does step on people’s toes), it is intended to open your eyes to the truth about homosexuality…”.
The truth is that reputable studies have failed to establish any link between pedophilia and homosexuality. A study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy showed that gay males who are involved with other mature males showed no greater response to pictures of nude male children than straight males showed in response to pictures of nude female children. Physicians in Colorado studied one year’s worth of molestation cases and concluded that the risk of being abused by a gay man or lesbian was between zero and 3 percent, while there was a 100 times greater risk of being abused by a heterosexual partner of a relative.
Given this data, it’s not surprising that a study published in Pediatrics concluded that attempts to paint homosexuals as molesters “have little to do with everyday child abuse.” The study further concludes that these attempts divert public attention and legal action from dealing with the issue of child molestation realistically. (Studies cited on “Facts about Homosexuality and Child Molestation” page of the Sexual Orientation: Science, Education, and Policy”, website of Dr. Gregory Harek of UC Davis.
And therein lies the true tragedy of the right’s campaign to vilify gay men by linking them with pedophilia—it draws attention away from the true war to be waged. FBI statistics reveal that the majority of molestation victims are female, with up to 25 percent of all females falling victim to sexual abuse as girls. (Only one in six males are victims, and not all are victims of male on male abuse.) According to The Abel and Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study cited on the Child Molestation Research & Prevention Institute’s website, 19 percent of molesters target their own biological children and 30 percent target stepchildren or adopted/foster children. Seventy-seven percent of molesters are or were married, and 93 percent claim to be religious. (“Tell Others the Facts”)
If opponents of gay rights are serious about stopping child molestation, they shouldn’t look inside the gay community. They should look inside the house next door. Instead, they have devoted too much time on a propaganda campaign that spreads misinformation, hampers the march towards civil rights for many Americans, and ultimately, puts more children at risk than would be otherwise. It is only when we get serious about who is abusing our children that we will be able to stop them.