Saturday, January 27, 2018

Sexual Abuse of Children

I had noted that there must be near-elite gymnasts from the last decade whose heads must be swimming these past two weeks, realising what they would have been in for in terms of sexual predation had they been just slightly better and qualified to go Karolyi Ranch. Until just now, they might have regretted that they had fallen just short in ability. A reverse is now true, for them and their families, as they are relieved they were spared this. We do not see all ends, and bad news is good news sometimes.

A friend commented that someone on NPR had claimed that this isn't just gymnastics, it's about power, and these things occur wherever there this power dynamic obtains. I think that's only partly true. NPR can always be relied on for the Conventional Wisdom that fits together nicely with the other narratives, and are very good at automatic self-censorship so they don't badthink.

Certainly, children are less powerful, which makes it easier in some ways for predators. (I am defining the gymnasts as children for a narrow purpose here.  Some of them may have been of the age of consent and intelligent young women. Yet because of their body type and they way they have to keep themselves extremely slender, the attraction to them cannot be characterised as adult.) Parents and society erect barriers around children for their protection, but predators usually seek out circumstances of trust where said barriers are down.This is not evidence that the powerlessness drives the attraction to children. It may be the whole deal for some; it may be part of the erotic draw for many or most others, but motivations are difficult to know and dangerous to assume. The child molesters I have known*, or gotten secondhand reports of from their victims, speak more often of other things. They are attracted to the sweetness and innocence of their victims, some to destroy it, but most to share in it. Or they see the child as lonely and in need of comfort and identify with that child because they were lonely themselves.

I have known some who seem to be exploiters only. They desire and they take. This seems more common in those who prey on boys, but my sample size is small. I do have that impression from the conferences I used to go to many years ago, but my expectations may have been driving my learning. These predators sometimes target boys of very specific age and appearance; another group seems to prey on everyone. I will note as a tangent that in many societies worldwide powerful men will have sex with whoever the hell they please, as a demonstration of their power: multiple wives, other men's wives, other men, children, whatever. We would call these primitive tribes, but perhaps we are just trying to distance ourselves there.  I'm not sure we can justly associate this behavior with homosexuality or pedophilia. Yet it is because I have felt this as a skin-crawling reality, backed up by what I read in the record, that I don't think that it is necessarily true of the others.

The recent #metoo revelations have included many that have clear power dynamics driving the eroticism.  The ability to command, and command contrary to the will of, which is is even stronger, is the whole point. It puts me in mind of Screwtape, and the powerful demons literally consuming the less powerful and reveling in the fury of the consumed. It may be that this is always present to some extent in the exploitation of adult men and women.  Maybe I will address that another day.

Notice that I have described a wide range of abusers. That is why I think there is a wide range of causes.  I think sometimes it's genetic.  Yes, that's an evolutionary dead-end, but it's not far-fetched to think of it as a male preference for young females gone into overdrive. Traits that are within normal limits and even useful are exaggerated all the time, which is how we get anxiety disorders and depression. Years ago a speaker at a conference claimed that the predators on specific ages and appearances of boys were abused at identical ages themselves.  I don't know if you'd be allowed to say that these days. I have known a few over the years that fit that description, but that may just be confirmation bias on my part. I haven't heard of any evidence for prenatal influence, but I don't see anything against it. Combinations of factors - limited emotional development + loneliness + poor impulse control + sexualised childhood.

But I'm not buying power dynamics as a primary.  It's there, and sometimes could be the whole story, but I have seen too many that just don't fit. Also, I am always suspicious of things that fit other social narratives too neatly.  Those seldom hold up.

*I am writing entirely about males here. I have known females who abused younger females, but very few.  Not enough to break into categories and draw generalisations from. If any of you have worked at detention centers or treatment facilities that have all-female units you might know more.


Christopher B said...

People do seem to ignore that the power dynamic flows both ways, at least to a degree. We are attracted to, and both seek and enjoy approval from people perceived as powerful. We are flattered, and we seek to capitalize on this approval to advance our own agenda. Look at the 180s done just this week in Davos.

There is an element of this in MeToo. There are some women (Judi Dench if I recall) who Weinstein won over. There were others who went back, and while they may have successfully rejected his advances they enhanced his stature as a deal maker and therefore their own position on the A-list. The Aziz Ansari has some similarities. His date ditched the man who brought her to the party where they met, and was clearly conflicted as to how to balance her desire to get close to Ansari with his treatment of her.

I expect that are some parents whose children made it to the Ranch that might be having trouble looking in the mirror.

Grim said...

I would add that the presence of power dynamics in a sexual relationship is not necessarily indicative of anything bad. Lots of people seem to enjoy them, and find ways to play with each other that don't hurt either party. It's not the sex, and it's not even the power: it's the harm that's the issue.

Jonathan said...

Some of the Hollywood and DC me-toers were probably willingly using sex to climb the greasy pole of status and achievement in a way that is as old as human nature. Of the others who were unwitting adult victims many might have avoided victimization, if at significant personal cost, by walking away. This puts them in a different category than the child victims of the coach, and thus it puts the coach in a different and worse category.

Christopher B said...

Johnathan, agree though I'd say with regard to AVI's post that even viewing abuse of children exclusively through a predator-prey dynamic will give you an incomplete picture. There is likely an element of real attraction in some cases before the abuse starts.