Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Survivor's Story

I must admit that I've mulled over posting this for a while. For starters, it's not easy for me to talk about but I think the time has come for me to address this topic, painful though it may be.

The recent discussion in the blogosphere prompted by Barack Obama's assertion that sex education ought to begin in childhood compels me to speak. I agree with him. In the last decade alone, I have seen media become more and more sexualized. I'm speaking primarily about the internet, popular music, and television, but this culture as a whole has become hyper-sexualized. What was taboo in the '90s is tame compared to today. For example, I remember the controversy about Sir Mix-A-Lot's song "Baby Got Back" and the accompanying music video. Today, it wouldn't cause anyone to bat so much as an eyelash.

I'm glad we're having this discussion. A mere thirteen years ago, after all, Joycelyn Elders was forced out of her position as President Clinton's Surgeon General for proposing that sex education ought include an additional focus on masturbation. Still, I admit to having my doubts. I wonder what has changed since that time and if the American people are finally willing to confront that we live in a society where sex and sexual images are pervasive. Yet, we are still very much a Puritanical nation which condemns sex as shameful but thinks nothing of using sex as a means to make money.

A fellow blogger posed the question as to whether or not childhood sex education could help children from being exploited by pedophiles. I'll be honest. I don't know. To better illustrate this point, I need to refer to my own story of survival.

When I was a young boy, I was molested by the father of my two playmates. As is typical in such matters, I don't remember the abuse. The mind locks down on the memories as a means of protection--it's a coping mechanism invoked by the brain during times of intense trauma. So to answer her question: I'm not sure any amount of foreknowledge would have prevented the abuse. My parents tried to keep me safe in every way they could, but the abuse happened anyway. They weren't negligent or unfit to raise me.

In honesty, short of locking your child up in his or her room, there's absolutely no 100% fail-proof method.

Had I known what was happening to me, could I have prevented it? I doubt it. My trust was violated by an adult. I might have been better able to conceptualize it and know that it was wrong but being that I was a painfully shy, withdrawn, highly introverted child I was an easy target. Out of shame, I never vocalized what had happened to me for years. It was only later, through analyzing particularly unusual comments made by my playmates during the time the abuse was going on as well as noticing substantial gaps in my memory that I became aware of what had transpired.

Let's get real here. We humans are apt to treat the effects of a problem rather than confront the causes. So let's get to the heart of the matter. What causes pedophilia? Has it been around since the beginning of time or can it be traced it back to a particular point in history? What are its root causes? Does it serve any sort of biological purpose? Is this a phenomenon which occurs only in Western society?

It's well and good to see pedophilia and childhood sexual abuse as evil and a social taboo but that really doesn't answer these questions.

150 years ago, the legal age of consent was somewhere between the ages of 10 and 12. Those were different times, however. This nation was based primarily on agriculture and producing lots of children was considered essential because many hands were needed to tend to farming. Many infants died in childbirth and many perished at young ages due to diseases that modern medicine has since figured out how to cure, if not outright prevent.

As times changed, the age of consent increased. In most states, the age of consent is 16. As time went on, people began to believe that until a child had reached the age of consent, he or she was not capable of making a mature decision whether or not to engage in consensual sexual contact. Society changed. As we moved towards an industrial age, the concept of adolescence emerged. Instead of rapidly transitioning from childhood to adulthood, with no in between, a period of exploration, questioning, and challenging the status quo developed and became socially acceptable. It has been proposed that childhood and adolescence have increased in length since then, as we have shifted from an industrial society towards an information based society.

Another question that comes to mind is this: were children in 1850 more or less equipped to deal with sexual matters than children of today? Or is the reverse true?

I am left with only questions with no concrete answers.

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