Pornography and Rape- A difficult subject

August 2, 2012

I caught the last ten minutes of this segment, How A Photo Cracked Open A Child Porn Ring, on Public Radio this morning and was profoundly disturbed on many levels.  As I embark on writing about this I take courage in the words of William James, one of the founders of modern psychology in the late 19th century, who when trying to counter the national mania for going to war with Spain, wrote, "reason has always been a feeble force in human affairs."   

While the trigger for what has become known as The Spanish American War was the false attribution of the  accidental explosion of the USS Maine in Cuba  to  Spanish sabotage,  this is about an actual event, one that brings a sense of outrage, an impulse to go to war with those who perpetrate it so to punish and erase such scourges from the face of the earth.

This story, Photo e-mailed from Mass. man led to vast global child pornography network,  was first broken in the Boston Globe by reporter Jenifer B. McKim.  In her radio interview she expressed her discomfort in describing the details of those in this ring, of their binding and then raping children who were selected because they would never tell what happened, as they were too young to talk.  Among these perpetrators were not only men who ingratiated themselves to the parents, but long time friends and in one case a father of the child.

In the 1980s there was a rash of accusations of Satanic sexual abuses at day care facilities by teachers. This was fomented by psychologists who used a procedure of cajoling children to tell stories that they described as recovered memories.  Hundreds of lives were ruined as now it is universally concluded that the teachers were absolutely innocent and that no children had been sexually abused.

I have no reason to doubt that what is described here, including the actual rape of infants, did occur. Unfortunately such abhorrent actions by a minuscule number of men, because of the horror of the crime and vividness of the descriptions, will have an effect disproportionate to the aggregate harm done to children. While the number of children maimed and killed by drunk drivers is thousands fold greater than this crime; as details of this Internet ring are promulgated every man who smiles at a child will arouse a shiver of suspicion in a mother.  The remoteness of the chance that such  natural affection is a calculated ploy to open the door to sexual assault is overshadowed by the horror of what could happen.  The message will be conveyed to children, subtly or otherwise, not to trust anyone, especially those that they feel a natural affinity to.

This report will also lead a conflation of the rare crime of violent child sexual rape with possession of child pornography.  Even now, as affirmed by the Supreme Court, possession of such images of children, can be punished as severely as murder. The argument is made that possessing such images ultimately does have a victim, the child who was filmed.  In thinking about this relationship of possession to victim, it must be noted that most states punish illustrations created without a model as severely as images of actual children.

While this story describes a closed ring of perverted individuals who do participate in procuring or encouraging outrages against children, this is not the case with most who are prosecuted for possession of child pornography.  It is reasonable for society to attempt to prevent moral outrages by criminalizing any depiction of it.  This was the justification for making all aspects of any pornography a serious criminal offense as recently as a half century ago.  We have moved so far away from this norm that we now find ourselves in the absurd position of considering pornographic images of 18 year olds an accepted part of our free market activities, while the very same production with someone a year younger is still a criminal offense having the most draconian punishments.

We do not look at what kind of pressures may be imposed on the porno actress, or prostitute or the dangers of this life.  With this acceptance of such activities we have channeled our outrage, our guilt for enjoying what can be the suffering of others into a distorted righteous indignation towards a single group, those who get off on viewing pictures of underage people having sex.  In the vast majority of cases this is innocuous, or the harm is indirect, somewhat like our buying low price goods made by those in unhealthy dismal conditions.  McKim's Boston Globe article included the statement that 85% of those who watch child pornography have assaulted children.  This is based on a single study widely refuted by other research that shows such real abuse at less than five percent.  Viewers of child pornography are guilty of just that, not child sexual assault.

A child is vulnerable to every kind of harm from kidnapping to bullying.....the list is endless. While this story had to be told, the inherent inflammatory element should have required that the caveats against over-reaction be part of the story. This followup article goes further in fanning the flames of such reactions, paving the way for pandering politicians and elected judges to further distort our laws in this area.

Certainly parents must go with their instincts on whom to trust, but this very crime changes their own sensitivity to the possibility of such bizarre perversions. For every person who would sexually assault an infant, there are untold thousands who would risk his life to save a child from harm.

This is a reality that must not be lost in telling this tragic story.

Shock and Awe in Aurora

July 21, 2012-- Posted to Dailykos. com

Explosions, flashes, smoke, cries of pain, and then only the mourning wails of survivors.

James Eagan Holmes, the individual who planned and executed the massacre at the movie theater in Aurora, was fifteen years old when the invasion of Iraq began with what was described as "Shock and Awe." This is the time when a boy is learning how to be a man, what is respected and what is despised, what emotions can be acted on and which have to be repressed, how to meet the challenge of navigating the uncharted world that lies before him.

Was James watching the coverage of the war on CNN that evening, the description of the thousands of missiles that would reign down on the cities of Iraq, with the knowledge that some will land on people like his family who will be killed or maimed. I remember that day, and hoping against hope it was a feint, a strategy to make a final demand on Saddam Hussein to concede even more, not that he could do much more than he had been doing. I didn't believe that this carnage would be unleashed on a country never attacked us, and was in a virtual state of surrender, accepting every demand for inspection and disarmament made by us

What did James take away from this? Most of us, I will say men because mass murder is still one activity that is exclusively masculine. Most men make the transition to adulthood in some way or the other. In some subcultures infliction of violence is a rite of passage. We know that some street gangs demand such against the hated group with different colors down the street. Within such a group, not to belong is unthinkable, even if homicide is a requirement.

We who have made it to adulthood have resolved the contradictions of life, found a way to channel our anger, repress our rage, express our impulses with various degrees of success. For others it is a lifelong challenge. Like  James, I dropped out of a Ph.D program in Psychology-Neuro didn't exist then. And as outgoing as I am today, then I was more studious, not connecting too well with my associates at Columbia. I adjusted; and like James before yesterday, my greatest breach of the peace has been a few traffic violations over the years.

But I know rage. I've felt it, and been amazed that it could take over my being. At a given point, release, acting on this, is anticipated with an almost orgiastic pleasure. It's part of human wiring, perhaps more so in men than women, but that's another discussion. Among men, mass murder is not only acceptable, under certain conditions it is required.

Power comes in many forms: from having the ability to order the destruction of a foreign regime to being part of a select profession that has credentials to describe and then prescribe human behavior. This was the power that James was close to achieving, a Ph.D that would have made him Dr. Holmes, someone who could be seen as an expert on events such as the one he perpetrated yesterday.

But he was not going to achieve this particular niche of authority as he was being pushed out of his program. His withdrawn personality would not be seen as wisdom but as a sign of disorder. His identity was being lost, and what was left. No friends, no intimates, and now no respect.

Or it could be something else. It could be like the case of Charles Whitman, who shot fifty people from the tower of University of Texas in 1966. It turned out that he had a brain tumor that was enough to affect his own wiring, From Wikipedia:

He was also affected by a court martial as a United States Marine, failings as a student at the University of Texas, ambitious personal expectations and psychotic features he expressed in his typewritten note left at 906 Jewell Street, Austin, Texas, dated both July 31, 1966 and later by hand "3 A.M., both dead August 1, 1966".

Charles Whitman, like James Holmes, was losing his identity, his authority, his power. While Whitman had an observable condition, "A glioblastoma, which is a highly aggressive brain tumor, which .....may have played a role in his actions," we will never know what could have affected Holme's brain, as it most likely is in the complexity of billions of neuronal connections that he was hoping to be part of understanding.

We all struggle, some more than others, each in our own way. I blog. I write for unknown people with the hope that a few may read and be affected in some way. Ironically, I share this activity with one of Holme's victims, Jessica Redfield, who may be, in her easy social interactions the antithesis of the man who took her life. She appears to have written only two blog articles, the first being an incredible expression of her emotions when she missed by minutes being a victim of another mass shooting, and so describing what she must have felt when this actually happened to her six weeks later.

Her other article is more whimsical and self revealing. As a budding sports journalist she compared her relationships with men with different hockey teams. This one caught my attention:

The Quiet Guy: That is the guy who shows up to some of the parties but never really says anything to anyone. You often forget he’s even there. He stays out of the way and waits for his moment to shine. I’m talking about the Columbus Blue Jackets.

According to all accounts, this was the persona of James Holmes, the invisible man who faded into the woodwork. The latest news reports is that Holmes not only was withdrawn in person but had no "digital footprint" no social media, no personal blog, no political website....nothing.

There probably doesn't exist any targeted preventative for mass slaughter, and thinking so may only be counterproductive. There's only so much security that's possible, and as we have now seen, there is always a weak link to be exploited. It may be that all we can do is share our own unique humanity, giving what we can to those who may be left out, those suffering from quiet desperation. It may be only a smile, or a brief conversation, showing some interest and maybe some empathy.

This shooting has brought a one day suspension of the presidential campaign where the escalating acrimony seems to be too resonant of the tragedy in Aurora. Perhaps when it resumes, there will be a new sensitivity to the possible effects of the metaphorical character assassination of the attack ad culture on those who are on the edge.

We on this site believe in political action to make a better country and world. That's admirable, but also difficult to achieve. We interact with various people, including those who are withdrawn, perhaps troubled, and in need of human contact. We will never know when such connections makes a difference, in a single life or many. But for those who can, make the connection. I still remember those who did so for me a half century ago with great fondness and appreciation.