Ready for the next wave of sex abuse hysteria?
By Carey Roberts
In 1994 a Child Protective Services official instructed his employees to dig up child sex abuse cases to justify the agency's budget. Before long 43 parents and Sunday school teachers in Wenatchee, Wash. had been arrested and charged with nearly 30,000 cases of sex abuse involving 60 children. It wasn't until four years and many ruined lives later that the Wenatchee witch hunt was exposed as a fraud.
A decade later, we seem to be on the verge of another moral panic involving sex abuse, but this time with a new wrinkle: its perpetrators are as young as four years old.
Last year a pre-schooler in Waco, Tex. hugged a female aide as he boarded the school bus. The four-year-old's embrace lingered a bit long, and soon the boy was required to defend himself from a charge of sexual harassment. The scarlet letter of "inappropriate physical contact" is now stamped on the child's school records.
In December a kindergartener in Hagerstown, Maryland pinched a classmate's bottom. For that he, too, was branded a sexual harasser. To those who asked how a little boy could understand, much less commit such an action, spokeswoman Carol Mowen came up with this loopy explanation: "It's important to understand a child may not realize that what he or she is doing may be considered sexual harassment, but if it fits under the definition, then it is, under the state's guidelines."
Middle school students in McMinnville, Ore. designated Fridays as Slap Butt Day. Those days "pretty much we would just go around slapping people's butts," recounted Megan Looney. But one day the local police got wind of the racy activities. They came in and arrested 12-year-old Ryan Cornelison and 13-year-old Cory Mashburn, charging each with five counts of felony sex abuse.
Six times the teenage boys were subjected to a strip search. Six days later they were released from jail. Then it took the judge six months to hear a motion to dismiss the case, even though the "victims" had signed affidavits saying they wanted the charges to be dropped.
Even respected media organizations are beginning to jump on the sex abuse bandwagon.
Earlier this month the Associated Press released a report with the five-alarm headline, "Sexual Misconduct Plagues U.S. Schools." The word "plague" suggests a pestilence descending upon schoolhouses in every hill and dale throughout the land.
But a closer reading of the article reveals that among 3 million public school teachers nationwide, 500 have their teaching credentials restricted each year due to a sex abuse charge. So cause for concern, yes -- a plague, definitely not.
Lest you accuse me of going wobbly on the horrific crime of child sex abuse, I will remind you that when the Congress held hearings on the problem in the early 1970s, similar white-hot rhetoric was bandied about in a calculated effort to convince the federal government to invest millions to halt the abuse "epidemic."
The bigger problem with the AP study is that was run by journalists, not trained researchers. They only looked at teachers whose credentials had been revoked or restricted, and then concluded "in nearly nine out of 10 cases, they're male." Indeed, every one of the teachers highlighted in the AP article are men.
There they go again, those beastly men, this time ravishing young innocents. But hold on a minute …
What about Debra Lafave, the reading teacher in Tampa who admitted to deflowering a 14-year-old boy in her classroom, car, and at home? Have we already forgotten about Mary Kay Letourneau of Washington who had an affair with a sixth-grade boy?
Just two weeks ago, Meredith Vincent, a home school teacher in Van Nuys, Calif. was arrested for allegedly molesting a 14-year-old boy. And last Friday, Kay Sorg, a science teacher at Albany Middle School, Calif. appeared in court following an accusation of having sex with a high school girl.
According to a 2004 Department of Education report, "Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of the Literature," student surveys reveal that only 57% of sex offenders are male. That's a far cry from the nine-in-10 statistic reported by the AP. So how do we explain the discrepancy?
A few years ago Tina Smith wrote a book on Perspectives on Female Sex Offending: A Culture of Denial. Smith reveals that when it comes to female-perpetrated sex abuse, we live in a state of selective amnesia. Thanks to chivalrous school administrators, female abusers are often given a second chance and their record stays clean.
So before we stick men with the sex offender moniker and ban them from the schools, let's be sure to look at both sides of the sex abuse equation.
Carey Roberts is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.
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