Putting our children at risk

David Webb
The Rare Reporter

Child sexual abuse a concern for everyone, especially LGBT parents

Most people would probably agree there is no resource that a society cherishes more than its children. So it is hard to fathom how sexual predators manage with such apparent ease to carry out horrendous, undetected assaults on children practically under the noses of their families and others who are charged with their protection.

As horrific as the crime of child sexual abuse is, there are no firm estimates of its prevalence because it often goes undetected and is seriously underreported, according to agencies that study child abuse.

Less than 100,000 crimes of sexual abuse are reported each year because children fear telling anyone, and adults who become aware of the activity are often reluctant to contact law enforcement agencies, even though there is usually a legal requirement to do so.

With so many LGBT households now raising children, it is obviously vital that all parents be aware of the tactics used by sexual predators to seduce children without arousing the suspicion of their families, and aware of the symptoms victims of child sexual abuse exhibit.

The critical need for sustained intervention into child sexual abuse recently gained national attention following a grand jury’s indictment of retired Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on 40 counts of child sex abuse involving eight victims over a 15-year period. The victims reportedly came into contact with the now 67-year-old, married Sandusky in connection with the Second Mile, a children’s charity the former football coach founded.

Although Sandusky denied, this week in an NBC interview, engaging in any type of sexual activity with the pre-pubescent boys, he acknowledged showering and “horsing around” with them after exercise. He also admitted hugging young boys and putting his hand on their legs when they sat next to him.

His admissions shocked viewers and confirmed in many minds what was already suspected — Sandusky is most likely a pedophile that has taken advantage of young boys with the unwitting complicity of their families.

It is a devastating scandal that will likely rival the one that rocked the Catholic Church a decade ago when it became known that untold numbers of Catholic Church priests sexually abused young boys and violated the trust of their families.

If the charges against Sandusky are true, the accounts by the victims portray a classic pattern of enticement and betrayal practiced by the former football coach in his pursuit of the young boys. Likewise, the lack of action by those who knew about Sandusky’s alleged criminal activity parallel what often happens when the abuser commands power and respect in a community.

Much of the difficulty in combating child sexual abuse can be attributed to its relative youth in terms of public awareness about the crime. The first studies on the molestation of children began in the 1920s, and the first estimate of the prevalence of the crime was reported in 1948.

In 1974 the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect was founded, and the Child Abuse and Treatment Act was created. Since then, awareness about the problem has grown dramatically, and much more is known about deterring the crime and assisting victims of it.

Children’s advocates have identified “red flags” to help parents and others protect children from sexual predators. They warn parents to be wary of someone who wants to spend more time with their children than they do, who attempts to be alone with a child, who frequently seeks physical closeness to a child such as hugging or touching, who is overly interested in the sexuality of a child, who seems to prefer the company of children to people their own age, who lacks boundaries, who regularly offers to babysit,who often gives presents or  money to children, who frequently walks in on children in bathrooms or locker rooms, who frequents parks where children gather, who makes inappropriate comments about a child’s appearance or who likes to photograph children.

Signs of possible sexual abuse in children include a fear of people, places or activities, reluctance to undress, disturbed sleep, mood swings, excessive crying, fear of being touched, loss of appetite, a drastic change in school performance, bizarre themes in drawing, sexually acting out on other children, advanced sexual knowledge, use of new words for private body parts and a reversion to old behavior such as bedwetting or thumb sucking.

Aside from the moral responsibility to protect children and other weaker members of society that all people share, it is essential to intervene in child sexual abuse because of the long-lasting psychological damage it usually causes. The problems can include feelings of worthlessness, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and distorted views of sexuality.

Also, victims of child sexual abuse tend to become sexual predators as adults, making it a crime that begets more crime.

The Sandusky scandal will undoubtedly lead to devastating repercussions for Penn State, for the Second Mile charity with which the former football coach is no longer affiliated and for law enforcement and university officials who became aware of concerns about the former football coach’s activities and failed to act on them.

But the real tragedy — if the allegations are true — will be the lasting impact upon the victims.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.        

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Pope says condoms OK for some groups, including male prostitutes

NICOLE WINFIELD and FRANCES D’EMILIO  |  Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has opened the door on the previously taboo subject of condoms as a way to fight HIV, saying male prostitutes who use condoms may be beginning to act responsibly. It’s a stunning comment for a pontiff who has blamed condoms for making the AIDS crisis worse.

The pope made the comments in an interview with a German journalist published as a book entitled “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times,” which is being released Tuesday, Nov. 23. The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano ran excerpts on Saturday.

Church teaching has long opposed condoms because they are a form of artificial contraception, although the Vatican has never released an explicit policy about condoms and HIV. The Vatican has been harshly criticized for its position.

Benedict said that condoms are not a moral solution to stopping AIDS. But he said in some cases, such as for male prostitutes, their use could represent a first step in assuming moral responsibility “in the intention of reducing the risk of infection.”

Benedict made the comment in response to a general question about Africa, where heterosexual HIV spread is rampant.

He used as a specific example male prostitutes, for whom contraception is not usually an issue, but did not mention married couples where one spouse is infected. The Vatican has come under pressure from even church officials to condone condom use for such monogamous married couples to protect the uninfected spouse from transmission.

Benedict drew the wrath of the United Nations, European governments and AIDS activists when, en route to Africa in 2009, he told reporters that the AIDS problem on the continent couldn’t be resolved by distributing condoms. “On the contrary, it increases the problem,” he said then.

Journalist Peter Seewald, who interviewed Benedict over the course of six days this summer, raised the Africa condom comments, asking him if it wasn’t “madness” for the Vatican to forbid a high-risk population from using condoms.

“There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility,” Benedict said.

Asked if that meant that the church wasn’t opposed in principle to condoms, the pope replied:

The church “of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but in this or that case, there can be nonetheless in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality,” according to an English translation of the book obtained by The Associated Press.

Elsewhere in the book he reaffirmed church teaching opposing artificial contraception.

“How many children are killed who might one day have been geniuses, who could have given humanity something new, who could have given us a new Mozart or some new technical discovery?” he asked rhetorically.

He reiterated the church’s position that abstinence and marital fidelity is the only sure way to prevent HIV.

The English publisher of the book, Rev. Joseph Fessio, said the pope was not justifying condom use as a lesser of two evils.

“This is not a justification,” he said. Rather, “The intention of protecting the other from disease, of using a condom, may be a sign of an awakening moral responsibility.”

However, the Rev. Jim Martin, a Catholic writer, said the comments were certainly a departure, an exception where there had never been an exception before.

“While some bishops and archbishops have spoken in this way, the pope has never affirmed this,” Martin said. “And it’s interesting that he uses as an example someone who is trying to act morally to someone else by not passing on an infection, which was always the stance of those people who favored condoms in cases of HIV and AIDS. So it does mark a departure.”

The English translation of the original German specified “male prostitute.” The Italian translation in L’Osservatore Romano, however, used the feminine “prostitute.” The discrepancy wasn’t immediately clear.

Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, the Vatican’s longtime top official on bioethics and sexuality, elaborated on the pontiff’s comments, stressing that it was imperative to “make certain that this is the only way to save a life.” Sgreccia told the Italian news agency ANSA that that is why the pope on the condom issue “dealt with it in the realm of the exceptional.”

The condom question was one that “needed an answer for a long time,” Sgreccia said. “If Benedict XVI raised the question of exceptions, this exception must be accepted … and it must be verified that this is the only way to save life. This must be demonstrated,” Sgreccia said.

In the 1960s, the Vatican itself condoned giving contraceptive pills to nuns at risk of rape by fighters in the Congo to prevent pregnancy, arguing that the contraception was a lesser evil than pregnancy.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans said clearly the pope wasn’t encouraging condom use.

“I think the pope has been very strong in saying condoms do not solve the problem of morality and do not solve the problem of good sex education. But if a person chooses not to follow the teaching of Christ in the church, they are at least obliged to prevent another person from contracting a disease that is deadly,” he said.

In Africa, Benedict’s comments drew praise among gays and AIDS activists.

“If he’s talking about condoms, it’s a step in the right direction,” said David Kamau, who heads the nonprofit Kenya Treatment Access Movement. “It’s accepting the reality on the ground … If the Church has failed to get people to follow its moral values and practice abstinence, they should take the next best step and encourage condom use.”

John Kitte, a gay Ugandan, said the pope was acting as a good parent.

“He minds about all the people living on earth. What he has suggested is very good and I encourage gays to take his advice seriously.”

But an evangelist pastor in the Uganda capital of Kampala, Solomon Male, argued the pope shouldn’t be granting any recognition of or encouragement to gays.

“If the Pope is saying so, then he has not read the Bible,” he said. “Gay acts are bad. It is abominable and should not take place.”

Christian Weisner, of the pro-reform group We Are Church in the pope’s native Germany, said the pope’s comments were “surprising, and if that’s the case one can be happy about the pope’s ability to learn.”

—  John Wright