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Friday, June 25, 2010

In her latest column for the Philadelphia Weekly, Tara Murtha addresses radio station B101's refusal to air a public service ad about child sexual abuse unless the words "rape" and "sexual" are deleted (!) . This prompted the following letter from me:

It's appalling that B101 refuses to air ads about child rape unless the words "rape" and "sexual" are removed. The following quote reflects an attitude that's all too prevalent: "'Mommy, what's that mean?' is a phrase that makes [parents] feel that we have let them down as a radio station."

Correction: if parents can't handle this question, it means that they as parents have let their children down. Such enforced ignorance makes children far more vulnerable to rape.

If they are to be empowered to resist unwanted sexual attentions, children must get a clear message that they own themselves and are entitled to decide for themselves what is "good touch" or "bad touch" — not have such judgments imposed on them by adults under the name of "love" or "protection."

Hopefully, if anyone suspects a child is being abused they will, if possible, go to the child first with child-centered, non-leading questions like "Is someone hurting you?" or "Is someone doing something that makes you feel bad?" In this way abuse won't be swept under the rug, nor will children be traumatized by memories confabulated — or redefined as "bad" — in response to adult suggestion.

I've subsequently visited the website for the Hero Project, which sponsored the ad. Much of the information on the site is valid. For instance, in line with what I wrote above, it urges that parents tell their children to let them know if someone is doing something that makes them uncomfortable. And many of the potential symptoms they list are indeed indications that something disturbing is happening in a child's life.

A couple of the supposed warning signs give me pause, however, such as "age-inappropriate" sexual knowledge and "excessive" masturbation. Given the still common attitude that children should be asexual and ignorant, these could easily be interpreted in a way that simply reinforces the repressive messages that emotionally victimize children as well as make them easier prey for sexual abuse. Indeed, one might logically suppose that if a child is masturbating more than before, it reflects an experience that's made her/him more aware of her/his potential for sexual pleasure -- the opposite of what an abusive experience would do. Intervening on this basis seems more likely to disrupt a positive relationship than a negative one. Some adults have stated that they are glad no one else found out about such positive childhood experiences with older people, or complained that the reaction of other adults to the discovery was emotionally traumatic for them. (See, for instance, this paper by Joan Nelson, Ed.D., who herself had such an experience.)

Further, it's been documented that psychological trauma doesn't generally result from childhood sexual experiences unless they are physically traumatic, or accompanied by emotional abuse such as threats. This was the point of the Rind-Bauserman-Tromovich study that evoked such conniptions in politicians (egged on by physiologist "Doctor Laura" Schlesinger) several years ago that they pulled the un-Constitutional stunt of passing a resolution condemning the American Psychological Association for publishing the study in their journal. It's also dealt with in depth by Susan A. Clancy in her book The Trauma Myth.

This leaves me with a mixed mind about complaining to B101 about their decision. The cowardice that motivates it is certainly disgusting, but I wonder whether their changing it could do more harm than good. But at least I've made my own view public with the letter above, and I'll also post a comment on the paper's site just in case the letter isn't published.

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