Friday, June 23, 2006

Methinks Thou Art But a Maiden 

This is a post that may get more than a few folks looking at me askance, but it's something I've thought about for a while now. I have always maintained that words have meaning, and that it is better for continued accuracy of understanding to judiciously protect those meanings. For example, during mandatory training I was always the one who emphasized the point that "sexism" is not equivalent to "sexual harassment" and that being a disgusting boor, while wrong in its own way, does not constitute grounds for an allegation of sexual harassment. I have deplored the tendency of some to expand the meaning and understanding of words describing horrible or evil actions as it degrades the impact of the true evil. If "rape" is expanded to include the ex post facto analysis that "I really didn't want to do it, but felt like I should" (as I have read in some College "Date Rape" literature), then the impact and meaning of the word when used to discuss the violation of another's body, will and personal integrity is lessened. I was reminded today of a similar trend as regards other crimes of a sexual nature.

A post on ABC's blog The Blotter trumpets that "Online Game Becomes Sexploitation Site." The article discussed a 40-year-old Texas man who was arrested for using the on-line game EverQuest to "lure" a 14-year-old girl into having explicit sexual conversation and send him naked photos. Leaving aside the sensational headline and lede that claims pedophiles are using on-line games like EverQuest specifically to avoid traceable e-mails (a claim for which no evidence was provided) I was struck by the fact that there was absolutely no information provided to indicate that the man was just such a predator rather than merely a gamer who became infatuated with another gamer and exhibited poor judgment. I also found it interesting to see EverQuest being referred to as a "Sexploitation Site," despite any indication that the game itself was used to exploit the girl or that the photos were not provided to the man (not the game) voluntarily. It seems one would be equally justified in describing the USPS as a "Criminal Conveyance," since con-men do, in fact, use the mail to communicate and often conduct scams. Apparently they are following the old '80s Dungeons and Dragons story template, where a game being played by some emotionally unstable kids was blamed for them doing the sorts of things emotionally unstable kids are prone to do anyway. Finally, it did not escape me that the intentional implied connection between this man, pedophilia and "child predators" was not lost on several commenters, many who expressed joy and relief at the assumed pending jail time and one who even suggested giving the sick man a medical injection of "straight hydrocloric[sic] acid."

But let's evaluate this situation. A man talks dirty to a young woman and convinces her to send "provocative, naked photos." Considering there was at least three States between them at all times I highly doubt if there was any physical contact or coercion involved. Yes, he was in the wrong, something he openly acknowledged when contacted by ABC News, but is this really something for which a man's freedom should be forfeit and his life should be ruined? While many commenters had already consigned the man to the eighth circle of Hell there were a few who pointed out the inaccuracy of accusing one of pedophilia or sexual abuse when there was no possibility of physical contact while others shared my discomfort with using the label "pedophile" to describe someone attracted to a sexually mature young adult.

This is where you get your chance to look at me sideways and wonder what I'm really saying, but I believe there is a fundamental difference between those who exhibit a sexual attraction to sexually immature youths and those who exhibit an attraction to sexually mature youths. For clarification, I use the word "youth" to describe anyone not attaining majority, nominally 18-years-old, rather than "child" as I think it is a more accurate term for this discussion. In the first case, the target of attraction is without doubt an inapproriate target based upon a clear physical standard, while in the later case the unsuitability of the target is due to an assumed emotional standard. Or, to put it another way, given a photograph of two young people it is easy to tell the difference between a physically immature 12-year-old and a 19-year-old, but this may not necessarily be true if asked to discriminate between the same 19-year-old and a 16-year-old. In the case of the 16-year-old, though, when the age of the individuals becomes known it would then be reasonable to expect an adult to respect that person's youth and to not pursue the attraction. As such, though, I don't see that the attraction itself is necessarily wrong, but rather how the person responds. It's the same principle I teach my girls when I tell them "it's OK to get mad, but it's not OK to get mean." The problem in the event discussed by the article was that the man failed to exercise the judgment one should be expected show. I'm sure nobody could have ever imagined a 40-year-old hard-core gamer without the emotional maturity and judgment to tell a girl who is actually paying him attention that he is to old for her. Granted, I don't know if this the reality of the situation, but nothing in the article tells me it couldn't be.

In the end, though, we have another man who will probably be added to the local "Sexual Predator" listing and who will have to, for the rest of his life, identify himself as such or risk going back to jail. But, based upon the information available, is this right? I have young daughters so I have a strong interest in knowing who my neighbors might be when it comes to such matters, but when my wife and I checked the local register or Sexual Offenders I noticed a very certain pattern. Without a doubt the most common offense was statutory rape or similar offenses involving a minor. What I really wanted to know, though, was who may have been previously convicted of a violent assault or stalking or such, not who got in trouble with the neighbor's daughter back in 1977 when they were 20-years-old. And while it may be reasonable to place limits upon consummation based upon protecting emotional health or parental prerogatives, it seems quite anachronistic to still hold the idea of statutory "rape" in the day of Feminism and Sex-Ed in almost the same regard as when we were interested in protecting the virtue of the innocent. While it may be good for the anti-sexual predator industry, in my eyes it just throws chaff into the question of "who are the dangerous sexual predators."

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