May 21st, 2002

Me 2012

Moral equivalence

A few thoughts on things about "sexual abuse" reporting that bugs me.

To start with, the term "sexual abuse" has no meaning whatsoever for me anymore. I'll read news reports that call it "sexual abuse" when a 20 year-old man forces a toddler to perform oral sex. I've heard the same phrase "sexual abuse" used to describe far more innocuous acts. Teachers in kindergartens don't hug their pupils any more because if the toddler happens to complain, suddenly that hug was "sexual abuse".

Now, this may just be me, but not only do I distinguish a moral difference between these two acts, but I'll go so far as to say there's a difference between a man who rapes his twelve year-old niece and threatens to beat her to a pulp if she tells anyone, and a twelve year-old girl who thinks she's in love with her thirty-something neighbor and consents to have sex with him.

Neither of the above cases are "right" or "good" in my mind. But the former is considerably weightier as a crime. The girl clearly suffers at the point of the crime and will continue to suffer afterwards. In the latter case, the girl will, very likely, suffer at some future point: she will get older, she will regret her crush, she will resent the man who took advantage of her.

But, even though children cannot give "informed consent," I still think the distinction is meaningful. Both men in both cases have committed reprehensible acts, but while I have no sympathy whatsoever for the first, I have a little for the second.

The media doesn't distinguish. I read about this "rampant pedophilia" in the Catholic Church with "hundreds of reported cases" and "multi-million dollar civil suits" and I wonder: what did these priests actually do?

And if they are serial rapists, moved from parish to parish by bishops who were concealing the evidence of their actions, well, for goodness' sake, why aren't they facing criminal prosecution? Why am I reading about lawsuits against Catholic parishes (and, last I heard, it's not entire parishes that are being accused of mass orgies with children), and not about District Attorneys pressing charges specific individuals for criminal acts, and obstruction of justice? Last I heard, rape, sodomy, and sexual assault were all crimes.

Why don't we ever prosecute people any more? Why is it always organizations? The "Catholic Church" or "Arthur Andersen, LLC" are just words. Just names. Names don't commit crimes. People do. Why aren't we prosecuting them?