The opinions some people have regarding sex with children do not particularly surprise me. One can find a host of people who have varying ideas about what is and is not acceptable. Likewise, one can find people who will allow many things to occur that would, if brought to light, likely result in criminal charges.
However, while I am not surprised by people’s opinion regarding sex with children, I am still disturbed by the conclusions people will draw, especially in an attempt to minimize sexual abuse against boys.
One such instance involves an account from French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s father. Pal Sarkozy wrote in his book So Much Life that his first sexual encounter was at 11-years-old with his nanny, whom he “seduced:”
He writes: ‘Sleep! That’s a joke! I innocently asked the nanny to lie down next to me as if to give me a big cuddle while whispering the story. She obeyed.
‘I slipped my clumsy but hurried hand under her skirt while she, unperturbed, continued reading.’
After ‘finding peace with my body, my desire satisfied’, she rearranged her dress and kissed him on the forehead. ‘From then on, I would ask for my nurse and stories every night.’
It is possible that the 81-year-old man recounted his experiences exactly as they happened. It is also possible that he embellished them, changed the facts, forget what actually occurred, or simply fabricated the story. From this excerpt there is not much to work on.
That does not, however, stop some from drawing conclusions. One blogger* draws the conclusion that:
Our culture has the assumption that children below a certain age are essentially a-sexual, but as Sarkozy’s story illustrates, not all children are sexually innocent and some are even sexually predatory. Our laws, our judgments and our most basic moral beliefs are all based on the assumption of pre-adolescent a-sexuality, and Sarkozy’s story, together with my creepy nephew, make me wonder if it is time to re-examine such beliefs.
As for her “creepy” nephew:
When my nephew was about 9 or 10, he developed an obsession with my daughter’s body. He spied on her and her friends, grabbed her breasts, her ass and even tried to stick his hands in her crotch. When my daughter told him to keep his hands to himself, or complained about his behavior, my mother scolded my daughter! My mother insisted that my daughter not “make a fuss” and absolutely refused to believe that my nephew’s behavior was sexual in nature. She could not, would not believe that a pre-adolescent boy could have sexual thoughts let alone act like a drunk middle aged man at a Christmas party.
The blogger has a point that our culture tends to think of children as completely asexual. However, children are anything but. Their understanding of sex is much different than that of adults, but children are curious about their own bodies and the bodies of others and will experiment. What the blogger regards as “creepy” behavior is not particularly abnormal, at least in terms of interest. In terms of actions, her nephew’s is abnormal, although not in the way the blogger concludes.
Again, children do not think like adults, so clearly adult sexual behavior is not something innate in children. It is something they learn. The question the blogger should have asked is why her nephew is so sexual?
In most instances, highly sexual children are victims of sexual abuse. When victims act out, they may try the acts done to them with someone much younger or their own age. Usually they will mimic what was done to them right down to grooming the other child. In other instances they may become very promiscuous and try the acts with anyone. And in others they repeat the behavior with those who are similar to the person who abused them. If the blogger’s nephew was sexually abused, which is a possibility, the latter two scenarios seem most probable. Of course, it is much easier to assume the boy is “creepy” than to assume one’s relatives, particularly a female relative, may have abused him and he was simply reenacting what happened or participating in the existing abusive situation.
It is also possible that he was simply mimicking behavior he saw on television, in a film, or that he witnessed at home. The point is that it is extremely unlikely that a prepubescent child would randomly become sexually aggressive. It is not impossible, just very improbable.
That leads to the second conclusion drawn, this time by Hugo Schwyzer, that boys who have sex with adult women are actually the aggressor, i.e. the rapist. As Schwyzer states:
Christine is struck by the circumstances of the encounter that Pal relates. Though only eleven, the father of the French president recalls himself as the initiator, and the nanny as silently acquiescent. Lots of power dynamics are at play. She is older, but he is male. She is his nanny, but he is the son of her employers. She is an adult, he a child — but he is the aggressor. Christine notes that today, we might charge the nanny with a crime for failing to stop Pal’s overtures. But the story raises the troubling reminder that aggressive sexual behavior, and a disdain for consent, is not limited to adolescents or adults.
It is not hard to imagine that Pal’s nanny weighed the cost of resisting the boy’s advances. He wasn’t an infant; if he made his displeasure known in one way or another, she might well have feared for her job. His capacity to consent was vitiated by his age, but hers was no less vitiated by her subordinate economic status. Given that all we have now are the recollections of a man describing an event that took place before the Second World War, there’s little more we can say definitively.
There is one thing that we do need to point out, and that is that even pre-pubescent boys can be sexual aggressors. Their targets are usually those who are, for reasons of age or status, vulnerable. An eleven year-old boy who is sexually assaulted by his thirty year-old female teacher is in a very different position than an eleven year-old boy who initiates sex with his thirty year-old nanny. Age compromises the capacity to consent, as we all know. But we must also acknowledge that class, status, and fear compromise consent as well.
It seems woefully improbable that an adult woman, even a poor woman working for wealthy people before the Second World War, is incapable of refusing the demands of an 11-year-old boy. She was his nanny, and therefore in a position of power over him. While that position was contingent on her employer’s pleasure with her service, she was still in a position of authority, not helpless. So to excuse an adult woman having sex with a boy because she might fear losing her job is preposterous.
As I stated on Schwyzer’s blog, it is unfortunate that he appears to condone adult women having sex with prepubescent male children, particularly as he would never state that an 11-year-old girl who had sex with a male caregiver was the aggressor, regardless of whether the man risked losing his job if he continued to resist. He does a great disservice to boys who are raped by women, although I understand that he does not believe such acts happen, and apparently believes the boys are actually the predators.
Coincidentally, Schwyzer partially acknowledges that Pal Sarkozy is an unreliable source. The man is 81-years-old and it is not uncommon for males, particularly older men, who were abused by women to re-frame the abuse in a way that presents the then boy as the initiator and the one in power. The notion of innate male sexual prowess is a powerful social narrative that permeates through most Western cultures. The last thing Sarkozy would want to state is that his nanny took advantage of him. It is much easier to say he took advantage of her.
Rather than questioning that element and whether potential abuse by a trusted nanny may have lead to Sarkozy’s present adultery, Schwyzer jumps to the bizarre conclusion that this is somehow an issue about not thinking of women as people. His comments about how wonderful the women in his life were have nothing to do with Sarkozy’s experiences, although they do come across as a dismissal of any claims that some female caregivers are sexually abusive and that those experiences could harm the boys.
One can take Sarkozy at his word, but even if one does, the account he gives is of a woman who did not seem bothered by what occurred. The blogger called the nanny “traumatized,” but the wording Sarkozy used was “unperturbed.” According to him, the nanny “continued reading” as he fumbled along. That is a much different response, one that suggests the nanny was a willing or complicit participant. It may also suggest that there is more to what occurred than Sarkozy is letting on.
This is one of the reasons why such encounters are viewed as abusive today. We cannot be sure whether Sarkozy, or the blogger’s nephew, are actually “aggressors” or whether their nannies, older cousins, family friends, siblings, or parents simply took advantage of a child’s normal interest in other people’s bodies and caused or created situations where sexual activity could take place.
Again, if this were a woman recounting “seducing” men at 11-years-old, there would be no argument about men fearing for their jobs or girls being sexual aggressors or girls being “creepy.” Everyone would state that any man should know better than to have sex with a child and that any man who did not is a sex offending dirtbag. Everyone would ask who abused the girl to make her so sexual. There is no reason this should not apply to women who “have sex” with prepubescent boys.
* As per this individual’s request, I have removed any direct reference to her name on this blog. However, I have not removed the link to the original post.