Tag Archives: Child abuse

Learning to swim

20 Feb

Last night on ABC TV one of the more interesting truth seekers of the last decade, documentary film maker Louis Theroux, spent time with paroled sex offenders in Los Angeles.

I was a little chary of watching after growing up with abuse. It’s never possible to be certain that something you see or hear or smell or taste or feel or touch won’t revive a memory you thought safely long gone, as Proust observed some while before the term “trigger warning” was coined.

Theroux has the style of the best therapists: his presence is fearless, he will go wherever his subject wants to take him, and his skilled use of silence creates a space in which others can speak what they may not otherwise say.

As he frankly admitted, there were ways in which Theroux liked some of his subjects, while at the same time being unwilling and unable to set aside from his thinking their crimes, and the effects of those crimes on others, particularly children.

I felt sadness and pity for the broken, lonely lives led by the offenders.

It is almost impossibly difficult to express any emotions other than revulsion, hatred, and outrage towards sex offenders, and their crimes are deserving of all those feelings.  It is understandably required of us that our compassion be directed only towards their victims. But I am wondering if it is possible to hold the care and concern for the victim, and the sad pity for the perpetrator in the mind and heart at the same time.

It isn’t something I could have considered until I’d spent decades dealing with an aftermath of traumatic abuse that never really ends. It just changes. There are ways in which a life is broken by such experiences, and is only really ever cobbled together again. If you haven’t had a childhood, nothing and no one can ever give it to you. There is a loneliness in knowing darkness, because darkness separates you forever from those who haven’t known it. The predator passes on their broken, lonely life.

Because of my circumstances and its effects on me, I never learned to properly swim. One day, Mrs Chook said, I am going to teach you to swim properly.

I was full of fear. I couldn’t put my head under water, or breathe. She coaxed, and encouraged, and rewarded and persisted, and one day it all fell into place, and I was swimming properly.

This is one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me. I can be a child in the pool. I never knew what it was to be a child in a pool. Now I take that child for a swim whenever I have the chance and when we’ve swum our laps, we play.

 

Quint Buccholz Two

 

So the point of this is, I  was wondering if this long, gradual, infinite process of healing myself as best I can, with the most enormous amount of help and love, has brought me to a place where I can watch Louis Theroux give a voice to people like the one who stole my childhood, and feel sad pity for his broken life. I am wondering, is this what forgiveness is?

I am currently confined by two circumstances. Illness, and the edges of tropical cyclone Marcia. Our house is like a snug, dry cave and through the windows there’s our garden, lush, green and dripping. Confinement has it purposes, if one can but see them.

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“Art is dangerous. Art is not chaste” Robert Crumb and the anti child abuse campaigner

20 Aug

The recent Sunday Telegraph campaign against graphic artist Robert Crumb’s proposed participation in an exhibition at the Sydney Opera House, used the opinions of anti child abuse campaigner Hetty Johnson to infer that Crumb’s work is complicit in creating communities that are unsafe for children and should be banned.

The Tele apparently faxed Ms Johnson (who had previously never heard of the artist) a few copies of Crumb’s cartoons, leading her to decide that: ”the Sydney Opera House is endorsing the depraved thought processes of this very warped human being. These cartoons are not funny or artistic – they are just crude and perverted images emanating from what is clearly a sick mind.”

Crumb cancelled his trip, giving reasons in this open letter to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Anti child abuse campaigners like Ms Johnson have an important role to play in any community. Children must not be abused. We must do everything we can to address child abuse of every kind wherever we find it, because we are cruel and inhuman if we don’t.

But it’s a symptom of psychosis to mistake illusion for reality. Campaigners such as Ms Johnson are striving to impose a psychotic world view when they campaign against images such as those produced by Crumb, and closer to home, Bill Henson. Such campaigners necessarily view the world around them through the eyes of those who are sexually aroused by children. They seek in images of all kinds what they imagine paedophiles desire. They assume these images will provoke undesirable action in their viewers. They have no basis for these assumptions. They have no evidence. They simply object.

After working for many years with survivors of childhood sexual assault, I can attest that one can eventually see suspicious behaviour everywhere, in the most innocent of gestures, and on reaching that point a sensible practitioner knows it’s time to take a break. Yes, there are adults who abuse children. No, it’s not everybody. Yes there are images that paedophiles seek out and exchange. No, they are not every image in art or advertising that feature children.

These efforts by campaigners to colonise the public gaze have nothing whatsoever to do with preventing child abuse. Children are overwhelmingly sexually abused by people they know, frequently close family members. They are not necessarily abused by sexually crazed admirers of Robert Crumb and Bill Henson, or even by those sad human beings who earn their livelihood designing “sexy” underwear for little girls, and the even sadder mothers who buy it for them.

Here, I have to say that I don’t find the linked advertisements guilty of “sexualizing” the young models. I believe we need a conversation about what is and isn’t sexy and to whom, because it seems to me that campaigners are adopting a definition of “sexy” that is not necessarily shared by the whole community.

I find these images of the girls silly and sad. There’s not one thing that’s “sexy”about them. They are degrading not because they sexualize, but because they commodify. The young girls’ beauty is not sexualized, it is ruthlessly co-opted and exploited to sell product. The girls are dehumanized because of this, as are we all to varying degrees by the capitalist society in which we live.

It’s also worthy of note that these campaigners cannot, apparently, achieve their goals without perpetuating and trafficking in the “offensive” images. So on websites such as that belonging to Melinda Tankard Reist you will find links to purported “evidence” of the “sexualization” of young girls, sometimes tantalizingly prefaced by comments such as “if you can bear to look.” Unless you are willing to take Reist’s word for it, you have to open the links.

Without public outrage, these campaigners will cease to exist. They have everything invested in encouraging the viewing and sharing of the images they condemn. The question must be asked, are they too engaged in the process of commodification and exploitation of the child models? Is this the underlying reason why they are unable to address these matters as corporate and consumer issues?

What campaigners such as Hetty Johnson and Tankard Reist are actually engaged in are diversionary tactics. In blaming the art they do not understand for creating a climate in which the so-called “sexualization” of children is promoted and nurtured, they are distracting attention from the real culprits: corporations and consumers. Human beings have long been reduced to the status of a commodity in the interests of profit. Greed, not paedophilia underpins the increasing  sexualization of children. The personal worth of adults has long been measured by their exchange value: it was only a matter of time before this extended itself to the imposition on children of  impoverished and crude adult notions of what is “sexy,” designed purely to extend the profitability of human exploitation and commodification.

Back to Robert Crumb. Crumb’s work is a fine example of the power of catharsis. The artist owns himself as “weird,” highly anxious and neurotic, and possessing a vividly boisterous sexual imagination. These characteristics imbue his work with powerful feeling, and viewing Crumb’s images is often a disturbing experience.

But remember: “Art is dangerous,” Picasso claimed. “Art is never chaste. Where it is chaste, it is not art.”

The artist’s job is often to expose to the rest of us what we might not want to see or acknowledge as human. The best artists won’t flinch in their task of expressing what we would most like to deny about humanity. Those who are too afraid to rise to the artist’s challenge will demand censorship. They will clamour for the silencing of the artist’s imagination because, they claim, there is an inherent link between the imagination, and the acting out of imaginative visions. In other words, they take Picasso’s claim that art is dangerous far too literally.

Art is dangerous to the closed mind. Art can take us to emotional experiences and spiritual realisations that are not always easy and comfortable. But art will not turn us into paedophiles. The horrifying photographic images of sexually exploited and tormented children passed around a paedophile ring are not art.

While the artist may be expressing a personal vision, the fact that others can identify with and appreciate the artwork transforms the personal into the universal. Finding imaginative ways in which to safely express the darker and more dangerous emotions is the cathartic experience, and the cathartic experience is one that can enable a safe release of unconscious conflicts in the viewer as well as the artist. This is the power of art, and I include in the category of “art” all mediums of expression. Dark and dangerous emotions are human. They demand acknowledgement and safe expression. Art offers safe emotional release, both in its making and its appreciation.

This is the experience campaigners such as Johnson and Tankard-Reist wish to deny us. Trapped in a spiral of denial, they need to universalize their positions in order to feel validated. They need us all to agree with their critical judgements. They demand that we all adopt the paedophile’s gaze, and interpret the art that surrounds us, whatever its form, through that lens. They do not discriminate, their responses are formulaic and tiresome: if it is weird and sick to them, it has to be weird and sick to everyone, and the weird and sick must be silenced and denied.

What currently passes for “sexy” in our culture seems to me to be highly unsubtle, crude and largely uninteresting. Yet these campaigners have somehow managed to turn this one-dimensional representation of human sexuality into a cultural threat of nuclear proportions, especially for our children. Artists such as Crumb and Henson, of all people, have been caught up in this manufactured threat.

Campaigners themselves insist on reproducing many of the very images they decry, because, they claim, people must see them in order to be able to protest them. Outrage is their weapon of choice, and they must create enough of it to bring about their censorship goals.

Yet all they ever achieve is a band-aid solution. They do not address the underlying issues. They do not go deeply into the immorality of the increasing commodification of the human. They do not address a global economy that survives only as long as we all consume as much as is possible for as long as we are alive, making the construction of new markets an absolute necessity, even when that market is children and childhood. They do not address the complicity and collusion of mothers and caregivers in the sexualization and commodification of children and childhood. They do attack art, in all its forms, because that is easy.

The conflation of the “sexualization” of children and paedophilia with the perceived dangers of art needs to be challenged and resisted whenever it rears its hydra-head. The real role of anti child abuse campaigners is to work for educative and economic services that will help protect children, and that will offer accessible services for adults recovering from the frequently life long aftermath of childhood abuse.

There is no place for these campaigners as arbiters in the world of art. They have proved over and over again that their perspective is warped and one-dimensional, and that censorship is their only response to expressions of the human that they do not understand.

Gillard’s choice: which kids will she send to the camps?

6 Jun

The Gillard government’s deal with Malaysia on asylum seekers has taken yet another turn. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has now conceded that he will decide whether or not to send unaccompanied children to the camps on a “case by case” basis.

Just what will be the criteria for these choices? How will the Minister assess which of the unaccompanied children (in his legal care as their guardian) he will send to the Malaysian camps?

Does Bowen have a conflict of interest in this situation? As the children’s guardian, should he not be putting their welfare before his duty to Gillard? Isn’t the well being of these children his first responsibility? How would we deal with any other legal guardian who subjected their charges to unacceptable risks?

In these camps unaccompanied children are at risk of physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse; exploitation, inadequate nutrition, and loss of the childhood to which the UNHCR Convention claims all children are entitled.

What are the criteria the Gillard government will use to judge which unaccompanied child is “suitable” to be subjected to the perils and abuses of a Malaysian camp, and which unaccompanied child is not?

If we are to observe the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which we are, as usual, signatory, we cannot send any unaccompanied child to Malaysia.

And the Minister’s suitability to continue as guardian to unaccompanied refugee children needs to be urgently addressed.

Government’s brand new 12 year plan to end domestic violence is already out of date

20 Mar

by Laurent Fintoni via flickr

 

Kate Ellis, Minister for the Status of Women, launched a 12-year national plan last month that is designed to reduce violence against women and children.

The plan is based on research that indicates as many as one in three Australian women will experience physical, sexual and emotional abuse by men during their lifetimes.

The plan expresses the intention to address social norms and practices, rigid beliefs about gender role expectations and cultural values, all of which contribute to a society in which violence against women and children is endemic.

Currently, there are more reported assaults on women by men.

However, what the plan completely neglects to address is that there is also a great deal of anecdotal evidence that women are the primary perpetrators of the emotional abuse of children, with disastrous and long-lasting effects.

Any 12-year national plan to prevent violence against children should include proper and full investigation into this type of child abuse. Why doesn’t this one?

Paucity of empirical research

While there are studies on female violence against male partners, it’s difficult to find current research on the occurrence and effects of maternal emotional abuse on children, and on the adults they become. Research has lagged behind clinical experience, notes the author of this 2007 study and there is a relative paucity of empirical data.

Yet there is a plethora of anecdotal evidence to be found on the long-term effects of maternal emotional abuse on the development of children, and on their adult lives.

There are thousands of personal stories of emotional abuse – maternal bullying, attacks on the young child’s self esteem, the long-term consequences of being raised by a narcissistic mother for whom one is little more than an accessory in public, and an emotional whipping post in private. This clinical term has been colloquially adopted as shorthand for maternal emotional abuse.

There are 10 Google pages dedicated to the term, and a further 10 pages dedicated to maternal emotional abuse.

The term “narcissistic mothers” sits comfortably with increased societal concerns about the “sexualisation” of young children, specifically when young girls are dressed and made up as if they were adult women.

Campaigners such as the Australian Christian Lobby and Melinda Tankard Reist express profound and I believe legitimate concerns about this increasing practise.

However, the elephant in the room is that mothers and female caregivers overwhelmingly purchase and dress young girls in this manner. Reist, the ACL, and many other campaigners apparently find it easier to lay all blame at the door of various media and advertising outlets.

They neglect to mention the responsibility mothers and female caregivers must bear for purchasing these products, and choosing to dress their little girls like adult women.

It’s reasonable to investigate the possibility that such mothers and caregivers are indeed abusively acting out their own narcissistic and unrealised desires through their little girls.

The stories of maternal abuse are out there

The long-term consequences of maternal abuse

Maternal abuse is a broad predictor of adult dysfunction in the areas of relatedness, identity, affect regulation, abandonment concerns, and borderline and anti-social features. Briere and Rickards found that “high paternal support did not appear to reduce the negative effects of maternal abuse”.

On the matter of childhood sexual abuse the authors note: For example, the current results suggest that childhood sexual abuse, although significantly related to impaired self-capacities, is second to the effects of childhood maternal abuse. (emphasis mine.) Such data does not mean that sexual abuse is less than psychologically toxic, but rather that another form of child maltreatment—one less addressed in the literaturemay be even more traumagenic. Additional study is clearly indicated to determine the reasons (whether biological, attachment-related, or sociocultural) for this specific effect.

The area is almost a professional and wider societal no-go zone – so thoroughly has feminism succeeded in creating the belief that the perpetration of intra-familial abuse is a primarily male phenomenon. Yet there are many, many women and men who experientially know this is not so. Why don’t feminists who are in a position to do so, validate this experiential knowledge, and clamour for empirical research?

W Kierski addresses professional reluctance in his paper ‘Female violence: can we therapists face up to it?” This link appears to come and go, but Google “female violence” and you’ll find this paper, and 11 further pages with both scholarly and anecdotal material on the topic.

The reality many feminists resist

Together with society’s reluctance to consider that mothers are anything but good, as well as the difficulties of identifying what can seem, compared to physical injuries, a nebulous concept of emotional maltreatment, this area of abuse receives far less attention than others. It is described by some mental health professionals as the “hidden” form of maltreatment.

Unpopular as this notion might be, it’s my opinion that feminism has created a simplistic but powerful binary narrative in which men are perpetrators and women are victims. This has now hardened into a rigid gender role expectation.

There is very little room in this story for the reality of female violence against male partners, against other women, and against children, unless a woman murders them or otherwise physically abuses them in a manner worthy of media attention. These women are then cast in the role of the extremely bad mother, and frequently subjected to vitriolic public attacks.

Yet victims can also be perpetrators, regardless of their gender. This is the reality many feminists resist, to the detriment of all of us, and in particular, our children.

The halcyon days of brilliant feminist scholarship and subsequent ground breaking cultural change are over. The once inspirational ideology has degenerated into little more than housework and lipstick cat fights.

The first feminist clique to address the issue of maternal emotional abuse, and lobby for urgent and comprehensive research into its occurrences and effects, will receive my support. Feminists have always led the way in addressing domestic violence perpetrated by men – now it’s time  for women to address intimate partner violence and child abuse by women.

This is not something women would accept being addressed by men. It can only be seriously addressed by women ourselves.

What we know so far is that there is very good reason to investigate. If further study bears out the 2007 Briere and Rickards’ data, we are looking at a profoundly significant determiner of adult well being, one at least equal in its probabilities of long-term damage to male perpetrated domestic violence, and the sexual assault of children.

Facing up to and addressing maternal emotional abuse is quite possibly feminism’s next frontier, and if the sisters baulk at it and stay with the trivia, then what is feminism really good for in 2011?

WHAT THE NATIONAL PLAN SAYS

The definition of domestic violence used in the new 12 year National Plan announced by Minister for the Status of Women, Kate Ellis, last month, does not acknowledge any familial abuse other than that perpetrated by men:

Domestic violence refers to acts of violence that occur between people who have, or have had, an intimate relationship. While there is no single definition, the central element of domestic violence is an ongoing pattern of behaviour aimed at controlling a partner through fear, for example by using behaviour which is violent and threatening. In most cases, the violent behaviour is part of a range of tactics to exercise power and control over women and their children, and can be both criminal and non-criminal.

Read: “in most cases the central element of domestic violence is violent male behaviour” towards women and “their children.”

Female violence against intimate male partners, well researched for quite some years now, and alleged by some researchers to be as common as male violence, and often differently expressed, is inexplicably omitted.

Maternal violence of any kind against children is omitted, though paternal or male violent behaviours against “women’s” children are included in the definition.

Further in the document we find this:

It [the Plan] will look at building positive attitudes and beliefs, social norms and ways for organisations to confront controlling, macho, aggressive and ultimately violent behaviour.

Read: “Violent male behaviour, because with “macho” in there, what else could it be?

The vision of the National Plan is that: ‘Australian women and their children live free from violence in safe communities.’

Read: “free from male violence” as female violence is not acknowledged in the definition.

And then: Values and Principles are: Responses to children exposed to violence prioritise the safety and long term well-being of children.

Read: “Responses to children exposed to male violence’, as female violence is not acknowledged in the definition.

And then: Protecting Children: Physical abuse, emotional maltreatment, neglect, sexual abuse and witnessing family violence are now all recognised as forms of child abuse and neglect. In April 2009, COAG endorsed Protecting Children is Everyone’s Business—National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009–2020. This framework is aimed at reducing child abuse and neglect in Australia over time. The National Plan and the National Framework are designed to work in tandem to bring about positive change for women and children experiencing violence.

Read “ experiencing male violence.”

The linking of the two plans suggests the National Framework might also be based on an interpretation of domestic violence as male violence. I haven’t checked. I hope I’m wrong.

And: The primary objective of perpetrator interventions is to ensure the safety of women and their children.

Read: “Male perpetrator interventions”

The examples are numerous. See:

http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sa/women/progserv/violence/nationalplan/Pages/default.aspx

We need a plan that addresses violence perpetrated on children by both women and men that includes physical abuse, emotional maltreatment, neglect, sexual abuse and witnessing family violence.

We need research into maternal emotional abuse of children. We need research into female intimate violence. We need a plan that acknowledges the realities of domestic violence, not one based entirely on out-dated stereotypes of gendered violence.

After forty years of treating domestic violence as a male only phenomenon, there has been no significant decrease in violence and child abuse statistics. This indicates that there is something we are not investigating, and female violence against intimate partners and children is very likely it.

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