An ironic dismantling of stereotypes

This sort of thing practically writes its. The Star Ledger’s Linda Ocasio interviewed Margaret Smith of the John Jay College of New York. Smith was a member of the team behind the two studies on sexual abuse the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned. The point of the interview was to address some of the stereotypes about sexual abuse against boys, however, Ocasio appears to play to them with her questions.

For example, look at her first question:

The Boy Scouts and Catholic Church both ban gays from membership. Yet they are the two organizations hardest hit by sex abuse scandals involving gay men and boys. Why is that?

Smith does an excellent job of dismantling that nonsense:

It’s really a mistake to perceive this as a problem of homosexual men and adolescents. First of all, there is no reason to think that homosexuals are any more likely to abuse a child than heterosexuals.

In general, the typical man who abuses a boy is a married heterosexual. This finding is common to many social science studies and is endorsed by those who treat abusers. We found in our research that 80 percent of the priests who abused boys also had sexual relationships with adults.

Throughout the printed interview, Ocasio asks rather leading questions. It is unclear if these are questions that she wants to ask or if she asked what she thinks people assume is the truth. Either way, her questions end up playing to stereotypes, which leads to this exchange:

Q. Do abusers join the church or the Scouts for opportunity, like arsonists joining the fire department?

A. We did not find that men approached the priesthood with that goal. They do not go through 10 years of education in college and seminary to abuse children. With the Boy Scouts, or other youth organizations, all you need to do is volunteer. So these groups are more likely to attract opportunist adults.

Q. Is the church somehow a refuge for gay men who have sexual dysfunction?

A. We don’t find any basis for that belief.

Q. Are priests or Scout leaders more likely to be gay?

A. Is Jerry Sandusky gay? That’s my answer to that. In other words, this whole line of questioning that is based on the idea that people are homosexual or heterosexual and set that way for life is not borne out by our research. It’s not clear that any research supports that contention, although it’s clear that some people have a strong interest in simplifying sexuality.

It is easier to blame homosexuality instead of acknowledging that adults can be attracted to or develop intimacy in a variety of ways with a variety of people. Protecting youth from unwanted sexual intrusion means that we must be realistic about adult sexual behavior.

Even Ocasio’s question about female offenders comes across as pure stereotype:

Q. Are women less likely to be abusive? We haven’t heard any reports of abuse in the Girl Scouts.

A. The reason we know about boys is because of the reporting or records released by these organizations. Now, all major sports organizations and other youth-serving organizations are paying close attention to abuse allegations.

It doesn’t mean there is no abuse in the Girl Scouts; it means there has been no reporting of abuse. The number of boys who reported an unwanted sexual approach from an adult 20 years ago was low, but is rising now, as 20 to 25 percent of boys report such experiences. About a third of women report an unwanted sexual approach by an adult before the age of 18.

Good on Smith for not playing to the stereotypes and expectations. The reality is that we do not really know what makes people offend, and there is no telltale sign that signals which person is an offender and which is not. There is also no evidence to support the notion that offenders in organizations like the Boy Scouts or the Church specifically joined them to have access to kids. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that Jerry Sandusky created the Second Mile solely for the purpose of abusing children.

All these assumptions, from people’s motives to the sexuality, come from people trying to simply a complex problem. It is easier to think that only gay men abuse boys than it is to understand that some heterosexual men may also have a sexual attraction to boys or make act out sexually with boys because of some other factor.

The truth is messy and difficult, so people try to make it easier, even if doing so means losing sight of that truth.

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9 thoughts on “An ironic dismantling of stereotypes

  1. In an otherwise excellent post, I don’t understand something:
    “It is easier to think that only gay men abuse boys than it is to understand that some heterosexual men may also have a sexual attraction to boys…”

    By definition, wouldn’t any actual sexual attraction to boys make you either gay or bisexual? It’s true that a heterosexual man might have sex with another man as a type of “sexual assault power play” type of thing. BUT he wouldn’t be sexually excited by this encounter.

    So I’m wondering if you misspoke.

  2. Clarence, if you define sexual attraction in the broadest terms, I suppose you would be correct. However, sexual attraction is more nuanced than that. A better way of looking at it is as a spectrum. A person may be “bisexual” but primary has sex with members of the opposite sex. In that sense, they are more or less straight. In this case, we are also dealing with an age difference. The attraction to a child is much different than the attraction to an adult. If it were not, then the person would settle for an adult since they would be easier have an accepted relationship with, right?

    In other words, if the attraction were specifically that the boy was male, one could argue that there is a homosexual element to it. However, if the attraction is specifically about the child’s age, then the child’s sex likely does not matter. Coincidentally, that is what researchers find when talking to serial abusers. People who girls tend to abuse boys. Those who primarily prey on boys tend to only abuse boys, but they also tend to favor a specific age group.

  3. Clarence – It’s amazing how people claim to be free of prejudice and yet they have prejudice in buckets. It seems that as humans we are programmed to be prejudiced and jump to conclusions – make fast assessments and stick to them. That is after all a good hard wired behaviour for survival, but it is not so good when being analytical, learning and expanding knowledge. I’ll walk you through a real world example.

    I have recently been dealing with a person who has a sexual attraction to other people’s clothes … and when I say that, people hear Transsexual. I didn’t say other sexes – I said other people’s. … and people start to look at you funny and pull funny faces.

    The person has a sexual attraction to women’s clothes and men’s clothes – and when I say that there is this idea that the person is male – because the women’s clothes is mentioned first …. but the reality is that the person is female and gets sexually aroused by the touch feel and putting on of other people’s clothes – women’s or men’s.

    I have mentioned a woman becoming sexually aroused and having a paraphilia – and at this point there are faces like a Bull Dog Chewing a Wasp.

    There has been great debate about how a label should be created and used for her. She is not a Trans-vestite – and Cis-vestite does not apply. Bi-vestite has been put forward as well as simple Vestite – but as the idea of Trans-vestite is so strong in social perceptions other words built the same way to communicate the same issue from other less considered angles just come out as forced.

    This person also has not age limits – so they get sexually aroused by any clothes, including baby clothes … and of course when people hear sexual attraction linked to anything labelled with child/baby they immediately are off on the Pedo Train!

    Dealing with alternate ways of being is not just an issue of language, it is also an issue of changing how you perceive emotions and so much more – and above all else keeping the Hard Wired Prejudice Genes under control.

  4. Mediahound:
    I can’t make heads or tails of your analogy or how it might apply to my question, or even if you are accusing me of having prejudice merely for asking a clarifying question.

  5. TS:
    I think I mostly disagree if I am understanding your argument correctly.
    A person might ONLY have attraction to underage boys or attraction only to underage girls. And while I will give most people a break for “children” 15 or above, I think we can agree that at some point where their partner/victims are in the early teens and before it’s perfectly appropriate to call them a pedophile. So to me, there can be “gay” pedophiles, “straight” pedophiles, and “bisexual” pedophiles.

    I don’t see why I should drop the other labels and solely focus on the pedophile label. The fact is I would bet that 90 plus percent of people who would have sex with 15 and above adolescents also have no issue with having sex with fully legal adults anyway, whereas most people who have sex with hypothetical little seven year old Suzy on the playground would not.

    The reason to keep the labels is that they are more descriptive. They also comport to orientation and thus enable us to say that a “gay” pedophile is likely to be of danger only to same-sex and a “straight” one a danger to opposite sex children, whereas a “bisexual” one is a danger to children of both sexes.

  6. Clarence, there are three classifications for people who sexually abuse children: pedophile, hebephile, and ephebophile. Pedophilia refers to the sexual preference towards prepubescent children. Hebephilia refers to the preference for barely pubescent children, around the ages of 11 to 14. Ephebophilia refers to the preference for older teens. Most sex offenders fall into the two later categories.

    Distinguishing between sexual interest in children versus adults is important for the very reason that people will jump to the conclusion that if a man rapes a boy that means both the man and the boy are “gay”. That is not necessarily the case. Most of the time, the men who prey on boys and the women who prey on girls identify as heterosexual. Most of their adult interactions are with the opposite sex. So it would be inaccurate to say they were homosexual or bisexual, particularly since most of them do not seek out those types of relationships with adults. Again, the interest appears to be with an age group first, and then perhaps some preference for a particular sex.

    In other words, we must look at the chief interest. If it is the age, then that is the person’s actual preference. If it is the sex, then that is the person’s actual preference. That is key. If the person is only interested in children of the same sex, then that is not really a homosexual attraction.

    As for your theory about who certain offenders would be a danger towards, recall what I wrote before: most people who prey on children will prey on both sexes. It is only when they have the choice of abusing the types of children they prefer that they stick to a particular sex. Otherwise, they will abuse any kid that fits their general sexual interest. So there is no way that you could stick an offender attracted to girls into a room full of boys and expect that they would not abuse any of the boys. Chances are they will.

  7. When it comes to Ephebophilia -something I’m inclined to deny is a “pathology” in the first place – I’m willing to bet most people who would have sex with older teens would have sex with legal adults as well, EVEN IF their actual preferences was , say, 15 to 19 year olds.
    I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of those who would have sex with younger teens or pre-teens as a preference would want nothing to do with what we consider legal adults whatsoever.

    What you forget is that older teens are fully (or nearly fully developed) sexually and thus send off the sexual signals that those considered legal adults do.
    The younger one goes the fewer of those signals and the less chance that someone who does not prefer those signals would be attracted to those who have them.
    At least that’s how I look at it.
    And while I haven’t read as widely or as much as you have on this stuff, I’ve still read several studies and probably over a hundred articles (and probably a few hundred news reports).
    It seems to me that most people that prey on children DO stick to one sex or the other. Now, I might be wrong about that, but that is not an impression based on nothing, and it also seems to comport with how most people of “normal” sexuality conduct their sex lives.

    I don’t really understand this would be controversial to say – if it is true. I don’t know why it has to be assumed that the majority of child sexual predators are some kind of “Universal Child Predator” or something like that, when most of them seem to stick to one sex or the other even when they have a choice. In other words, I don’t imagine that someone who had sex with ten ten year old boys was merely operating because of “opportunity”, nor do I have a doubt that if Jerry Sandusky had wanted to , he could have arranged something with an underage girl as well. It woudn’t have been as easy but it would’t have been totally out of place or something that someone with his connections and (at the time) reputation and power couldn’t have done. In short, Sandusky preferred boys for his molestations and it is thus appropriate to say he is a gay pedophile.

  8. Clarence, you are making my point for me. If the attraction were specific to the person’s sex, one would expect to see offenders seeking out anyone of that sex. If the attraction is specific to the person’s age, then one would expect to see offenders focusing on people in their age-range first.

    While it may be true that some teens give off the same sexual signals adults do, if that was all it took then one should see more adults interested in teens than we do. Again, it would appear that age is the issue.

    As for offenders sticking to specific sexes, it depends partly on the offender, partly on the offender’s access to children, and their age preference. Usually, the younger their age preference, the more likely they will abuse children of both sexes. However, those who are sexually interested in children of any age will sometimes abuse a child who is not their sexual preference if that is the only child they have access to.

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