File spoon-archives/aut-op-sy.archive/aut-op-sy_1998/aut-op-sy.9806, message 219

Date: Mon, 29 Jun 1998 21:15:05 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: AUT: A Call to Safeguard Our Children and Our Libreties (fwd)

{This is the statement of an informal group of Boston-area educators,
health workers, criminal justice workers and other community  activists.
This statement is circulated to individuals and  organizations to initiate
discussion, and for additional signatures.   It is hoped that others will
endorse this call, or will formulate their own statement, tailored to their
own communities.}
As people concerned about children's welfare and a just society, we speak
out against the troubling direction of current campaigns to protect
children from vaguely defined sexual dangers by criminalizing and
scapegoating a wide range of people and behaviors. These approaches often
ignore the realities of childhood and adolescent sexuality and they
sometimes equate affection with violence.  They distract us from the
problem of far more serious forms of violence against children and young
people.  They erode essential freedoms  for everyone.  Current hysteria is
so pervasive that anyone who suggests a more thoughtful discussion risks
being branded a child abuser.  To truly protect children as well as empower
them to be themselves, and to protect a free society, we insist on a more
sensible and compassionate approach.
*	Most child abuse has nothing to do with sex. It is important to
speak out against true sexual abuse, which has so often remained hidden and
denied within families and communities.  However, non-sexual violence and
murder of children is as pervasive as sexual violence.  Poverty,
malnutrition, ethnic discrimination, poor education, and inadequate health
care are all forms of abuse that threaten millions of young people in our
affluent nation.  Yet there is no national commitment to halt these deadly
and more pervasive forms of harm to children. Instead, our attention is
riveted by any case involving sex.
*	Recent child sex abuse campaigns make little or no distinction
among diverse behaviors and circumstances.  Any sex equals violence, and
seventeen-year-olds are 'children.'   The brutal rape of a six-year-old
girl by her father;  uncoerced sexual relations between a fourteen-year-old
boy and a thirty-year-old woman; an affair between an eighteen-year-old boy
and a sixteen-year-old girl:  these are clearly very different cases, yet
they are all portrayed as rape under the law and in the media.  We do not
believe that affectionate, mutual sexual expression is the same as violent
rape.  To equate them is to trivialize rape. Furthermore, in sex cases
involving children, hard evidence seems unnecessary:  the allegation
suffices.  It also seems odd that we speak of older and older youth as
children in need of protection from sex abuse, but consider younger and
younger children to be adults when accused of crimes.
*	Demonizing any class of people as devoid of humanity and beyond
redemption is wrong.  Laws now brand any transgressor of under-age sex
rules as a 'sexual predator,' even when no violence or force is alleged,
and even when the young person is a month or a day shy of the legal age of
consent.   In addition, society's fears and hatred of homosexuality often
leads to a scapegoating of gay people, falsely stereotyping them as child
molesters.   Demonization is destructive even when applied to truly violent
offenders.  Those who commit sexually violent crimes do not come out of a
vacuum.  They come out of our communities and families.   The message
conveyed is that the main danger to children is the stranger about to
pounce on them, the pedophile whom we can expose and stigmatize.  Yet most
sexual contact between adults and minors is among family and friends.    To
view dangerous offenders as totally 'other' than us  prevents getting to
the roots of such crimes.  Permanent stigmatization not only makes
impossible re-integration into society of those who are rehabilitated, it
signals a breakdown in civil society.
*	"Protect the children" has been a battle cry to expand coercive
state power and imprisonment.  The past two decades have seen many new
forms of state repression in the name of protecting children:   There are
sweeping new censorship laws; registries to track people for life and
expose them to public ridicule; civil commitment to incarcerate those not
convicted of a crime but deemed 'dangerous;'  life-time parole for sex
offenders in some states; and mandatory life sentences without parole for
second offenses; thought police empowered to monitor those imprisoned, on
parole or under 'civil detention' with mandatory lie detector tests and
aversive therapy in some jurisdictions; mandatory reporting laws that turn
doctors and therapists into agents of the state; prohibitions against
freedom of association; and extra territoriality - allowing prosecution of
citizens for behavior outside the state or nation, even when that behavior
is legal in the other jurisdiction.  These assaults on civil liberties have
befallen us because so few have been willing to risk being seen as 'soft on
child molesters.'  We hold that civil liberties are indivisible.  We argue
that longer sentences, harsher treatment in prison or calls for the death
penalty merely escalate and perpetuate the violence.  Repressive state
powers cannot be neatly applied only to 'bad' people.  They threaten us all.
*	The power and capriciousness of the laws and attitudes wrought by
these campaigns have put up a destructive barrier between adults and
children.  Currently, caring adults may reasonably fear that any affection
will be branded as abuse.  This fear means that adults - whether parents,
teachers or strangers - often withhold that which all kids need most:
affectionate, respectful attention.
The real challenge is to support and expand programs for children and youth
which develop caring, loving, thoughtful, whole human beings.  Among these
are day care, after-school care, sex positive sex education,  and better
training and pay for those who work with children.  The aim of all these
programs should be to empower young people to learn to make their own
decisions about their lives.  Children and youth need to view themselves
not as potential victims, but as part of a community which supports and
nurtures them, encouraging them to speak up and act responsibly on their
own beliefs.  We want children to love life, not fear it.  If this is to
happen, there must be adults courageous enough to demand an honest and
constructive approach to sex and youth and to call for an end to the
prevailing hysteria.  Only then will we be able to safeguard the liberties
we all need to develop fully.
SIGNED:  Dr. Richard Pillard, psychiatrist; Paul Shannon, educator; Cathy
Hoffman, peace activist; Chris Tilly, economics professor; Marie Kennedy,
community planning professor; Eric Entemann, mathematics professor; Tom
Reeves, social science professor; Bob Chatelle, writer & anti-censorship
activist;  and Jim D'Entremont, playwright & anti-censorship activist; Ann
Kotell, health worker; Carol Thomas, social justice and religious activist;
French Wall and Bill Andriette, gay writers and editors; Nancy Ryan,
feminist activist; Reebee Garofalo, popular culture professor;  Dianne
McLaughlin, community & criminal justice worker;  John Miller, economics
professor; Molly Mead, urban social planning professor; John MacDougall,
sociology professor; Laurie Dougherty, social science researcher & editor;
Monty Neill, educator & political activist; Rev. Margaret Hougen & Rev.
Edward Hougen; Roswitha and Ernest Winsor, criminal justice advocates;
Paula Westberg, teacher; Rosalyn Baxandall, American Studies professor &
community activist (New York); and others...
For information, call Paul Shannon at (617) 497-5273; or email Chris Tilly

To:  Friends and Colleagues
From:  Safeguarding Children and Liberties Network
Encl: "A Call to Safeguard Our Children and Our Liberties"

Dear Friends:

Last year, the brutal rape and murder of a young boy in Cambridge triggered
a wave of indignation which targeted all 'pedophiles.' Supporters of the
death penalty in Massachusetts used this case and almost prevailed.  There
were calls in public meetings to "find and kill all the pedophiles."
Cardinal Bernard Law was quoted a saying, "This is the closest thing I've
seen to a lynch mob since my days in Mississippi."

Some of those working against the death penalty realized that hysteria
about child sex cases had to be dealt with directly.  Many who work with
prisoners and criminal justice had long recognized that a panic about child
sex was the context in which a number of new laws about children, sex and
sex offenders were passed almost unopposed despite major civil liberties
and other concerns.  Yet to speak about these problems was tantamount to
being accused of support for child molestation.

A discussion group of about twenty people formed, hosted unofficially by a
non-governmental organization.  Participants included women who are incest
and sex abuse survivors, boy-lovers, anti-censorship and civil liberties
activists, feminists, gay and lesbian people,  health-care workers, church
activists, peace and social justice activists, academics, and those who
work with prisoners.

We have met regularly for six months, sometimes almost as a kind of group
therapy or consciousness-raising session, dealing with deep and justified
angers and emotions.  We continue to hold a wide range of views about
children's sexuality and certainly about intergenerational sex.  But we
found that we all strongly condemn rape and other forms of genuine abuse
against children and youth.  We all believe in the possibility for
redemption and rehabilitation of all people, no matter what their 'crimes.'
Finally, we all value essential civil liberties and believe that many
recent measures have dangerously increased state repressive powers.  Slowly
we formed a consensus on these matters.  The result is the enclosed
statement, "A Call to Safeguard Our Children and Our Liberties"  We now
hope to broaden the list of those signing the statement so that it can
become a tool to encourage further dialogue.  We do plan to use the
statement publicly, on the internet, published in various formats,
including Op Ed pieces, and in a variety of other formats.

We believe this process - dialogue between those who hold strong views
about sex and children from differing perspectives - is unique.  We believe
it is urgently needed in the United States, and in some other societies
directly affected by U.S. attitudes and policies.

We call on our counterparts in other places to form similar discussion
groups and work to craft a consensus about these topics.   Various
non-governmental organizations, churches, colleges and civil liberties
groups should be approached to host the discussions.

We hope that groups who work with children, with prisoners, with other
legal issues, in areas of social justice and ethical concerns, will
consider this statement, endorse it or draw up their own organizational

We ask you as individuals in the Boston area, to join us in signing this
statement now.   We believe the time is overdue to begin a serious and
humane discourse about how society should handle sex and children, and sex
offenders generally.   In Boston, it has again become immanently needed as
the Jeffrey Curley murder trial is covered in the media, and as two major
new laws will be on the floor of the Massachusetts State Legislature.
These are the Sexually Dangerous Predator Act (H5498), which includes
two-strikes-and-your out provisions for life sentences without parole for
many categories; and the revised Sex Offender Registry Act (H5352), which
adds new categories of offenders and provides for mandatory one-year
sentences for unregistered offenders (who number several thousand in
Massachusetts).  We hope you will also consider calling your legislators to
ask them to amend or oppose these bills.

If you are willing to be an individual signer, please contact Chris Tilly
(email:; or Paul Shannon (telephone, (617) 497-5273)
indicating how you wish to be listed.  Others, please contact us for more
information and to let us know of your own efforts and positions.
Dr. Richard Pillard, Cathy Hoffman, Paul Shannon, Chris Tilly and others....

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