Moral Panics – Particularly Those Concerning Children – Always Serve Some Hidden Purpose

Judith Warner, New York Times
The Myth of Lost Innocence

At a journalism conference a couple of years ago, I met Linda Perlstein, the author of “Not Much Just Chillin’: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers.” This meeting occurred right in the middle of the “rainbow party” craze – that is to say, the media frenzy around the alleged oral activities of oversexed (and lipsticked) tweens.

Rainbow parties hadn’t actually played any part in Perlstein’s book. But that, she told me then, hadn’t stopped TV producers – representing “Oprah,” from “The Dr. Phil Show,” from a Katie Couric special – from calling and cajoling her to come on their shows to talk about them.

“I’d say, ‘No one is doing that,’” she told me when I called her this week to refresh my memory of her story. “Even the sluttiest kids I knew, when I told them about that said, ‘Ewww. No one does that.’ This really prurient stuff was being way overblown.

“Believe me, I wanted to be on ‘Oprah.’ I had a book to sell. I’d say, ‘There’s lots of stuff to talk about. Stuff that really should be talked about, that’s more nuanced and complex.’ They were like ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’”

I found myself thinking about Perlstein’s media follies this week, when I read Tara Parker-Pope’s article “The Myth of Rampant Teenage Promiscuity” in Science Times on Tuesday. For me it not only raised the issue of myth and reality (teens are, in truth, having sex less and later than they did a decade or two ago), but also brought to mind the stories that we tell and what people are willing to hear.

Two sociologists in Philadelphia, Kathleen A. Bogle, of La Salle University, and Maria Kefalas, of St. Joseph’s University, both specialists in teen sexual behavior, told Parker-Pope that they’d had to struggle mightily to get people out of their “moral panic” mindset, and make them understand that teens are not “in a downward spiral” or “out of control.”

“They just don’t believe you. You might as well be telling them the earth is flat,” Kefalas told me when I called to follow up with her this week.

This reminded me of how the developmental psychologist Joseph Mahoney – and others – have had to fight to convince people that another much-discussed creature of our time, the Overscheduled Child, isn’t as common or as stressed-out or even as busy as we commonly think. (I myself didn’t believe him at first, and wasn’t too nice about it.) It reminded me, too, of the Boy Crisis – how hard it has been for scholars who have taken a hard look at the boy/girl achievement numbers to counter the popular wisdom that boys are falling behind. And it reminded me of the Overmedicated Child, that particular trope of child corruption, soul theft and performance pressure that has for so long fascinated me.

In each of these examples, real problems – that some girls are engaging in too-young, risky and degrading sex, that some children are being stressed excessively and stifled by nonstop structure, that some boys (poor and minority boys) are doing badly in school, that some children are getting really reckless mental health services – are grossly simplified and, via the magical thinking of dogma and ideology, are elevated to the level of myth. Real complexities and nuances – details concerning exactly which children are suffering, flailing or failing, and in what numbers, and how and why, and what we can do about it – are lost.

That’s no accident. After all, moral panics – particularly those concerning children – always serve some hidden purpose. “Modern ideas about the innocent child have long been projections of adult needs and frustrations,” Gary Cross, a professor of modern history at Penn State University, writes in his 2004 book, “The Cute and the Cool: Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children’s Culture.” “In the final analysis, modern innocence has let adults evade the consequences of their own contradictory lives.”

All the examples of child myth-making that I’ve mentioned here have to do, at base, with the perceived corruption of childhood, the loss of some kind of “natural” innocence. When they depart from kernels of reality to rise to the level of myth, they are, I believe, largely projections that enable adults to evade things. Specifically, the overblown focus on messed-up kids affords parents the possibility of avoiding looking inward and taking responsibility for the highly complex problems of everyday life.

In the case of the allegedly lascivious Lolitas, Kefalas sees this flight from reality very clearly: “People don’t want to hear about the economic context, the social context” to young teen sexual activity and teen pregnancy, she told me. “For a 14-year-old to be having sex it’s usually a symptom of a kid who’s really broken and really hurt. Those who are having sex without contraception are a distinct set: they’re poor, from single-parent households, doing poorly in school, have low self-esteem. Teen pregnancy is so high in America compared to other places not just because of access to contraception but because we have a lot of poverty. But Americans don’t want to see themselves as a poor society. They want to make a moral argument: if only teens had better values.”

Certain kinds of children have certain kinds of vulnerabilities that make them particularly susceptible to the toxic elements of our culture. This is true of those who do or don’t fall victim to stress and anxiety, and it’s true of those who do or don’t engage in too-early, too-risky sex. Certain kinds of policies can help children. (Abstinence-only sexual education clearly does not help in combating teen pregnancy.) Certain kinds of parenting can help or hurt, too.

Having a family life that’s so atomized and disconnected that children have the physical and emotional space to upload nude pictures of themselves onto the Internet, and lack the self-esteem and self-respect to know better is obviously undesirable. Being a stressed and frantic, frazzled and depressed parent is harmful, too. (“We are a mess,” Suniya Luthar, the Columbia University psychologist, once told me, explaining why she saw overscheduling as a symptom rather than a cause of family distress. “We are the ones running around like freaking chickens without a head…. It’s the situation where the captain of the ship has lost control.”)

If we parents hadn’t created a world this high-pressured, if we hadn’t, for decades, voted in policymakers who stripped away regulations that protected us, we wouldn’t be so certain that other parents are “drugging” their kids to make them more high-performing, and we wouldn’t have to be so fearful of the influence of Big Pharma.

Luthar is right: we – the adults in this society – are “a mess.” I think it’s time to stop projecting our dysfunction onto our children.

'That paedo is going to get it': Drunken vigilante's threat to police moments before he knifed child porn suspect to death

Victim: Geoffrey Harries, a former policeman charged with child pornography offences, was allegedly stabbed to death by Daniel Williams

A former police officer facing child porn charges was stabbed to death by a drunken neighbour, a court heard today.

Geoffrey Harries, 49, died after Daniel Williams attacked him in the street with a heavy-duty hunting knife,a jury was told.

Williams, 30, had drunkenly boasted to police that he was going to 'get' Harries moments before carrying out the crime.

'That paedo is going to get it. I'm going to have him,' he reportedly told officers. 'If you don't do something about it then I will.'

Head of N.D. S.V.P. Program Sentenced to Seven Years

From Dr. Karen Franklin's blog,  Forensic Psychologist.

Those of you who followed the case I reported on in December 2007, involving the sexually violent predator evaluator who was addicted to child pornography, may be interested in the outcome:

Joseph Belanger, who ran North Dakota's Sexually Dangerous Individual (SDI) civil commitment program, has been sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of receiving and possessing materials involving the sexual exploitation of minors.

The arrest of the state psychologist prompted a review of more than 100 cases in which he had opined that sex offenders were dangerous and should be civilly committed, and an appeal before the North Dakota Supreme Court.

An interesting but possible unanswerable question is whether Belanger's work in the field somehow triggered his interest in child pornography.

The Associated Press story is here

Man found dead in cold was turned away from shelters in past because he was sex offender

Ed: Of course, most people won't care, convinced as they are that sex offenders are necessarily beasts undeserving of living or, for that matter, any of the rights everyone else in the U.S. enjoys. Not only is this predictable (I did so here several months ago at the onset of winter amid reports that S.O.s were being refused entry to homeless shelters) but what is also certain is that these policies will continue into the foreseeable future without the slightest concern for their murderous consequences. It's just as certain that states like California, in the midst of its worst fiscal crisis in decades, will continue to imprison sex offenders whom they have permanently detained in Coalinga State Hospital after they have completed their long prison sentences at a cost of nearly a half million dollars each PER YEAR. One no longer expects rational public policy when the topic is sex offenders. For too long we have been under the spell of the hysterics. And able deprogrammers are nowhere on the horizon...

GRAND RAPIDS -- A man found dead on the streets Monday had tried in recent weeks to gain admittance to at least one of two Heartside missions, but was denied a bed because he is a registered sex offender.

Officials say its possible Thomas Pauli might be alive today except for a state law prohibiting him from establishing a residence even for one night within 1,000 feet of a school, in this case, Catholic Central High, also located in the Heartside district.

"It's heartbreaking. I have a hard time even talking about it," said Marge Palmerlee, executive director at Degage Ministries.

Palmerlee said she had talked to at least two people who told her Pauli had tried earlier this month to secure a bed at one or both missions.

Bill Merchut of Mel Trotter and Bill Shaffer of Guiding Light agreed that Pauli may have tried to gain entrance, but that their missions risk fines and loss of license if they admit sex offenders. They do not track everyone who applies for a bed, only those who are admitted, so while they were sure Pauli had not been admitted, they couldn't be sure if he had tried.

They both decried a system where there are no exceptions to the so-called Megan's Law, which sets boundaries and restrictions for those on the list.

"We have to follow the law, but ethically, it feels like were responsible," said Merchut.

Added Shaffer, "These men and women are clearly 'The Scarlet Letter' folks of our day. And where do they go? I have no answer."

Pauli, 52, served 11 years in prison for a 1991 conviction in Grand Traverse County for second-degree criminal sexual conduct, state records show. He was released in 2003 and was required to register as a sex offender.

Results of an autopsy are not yet available.

How the faceless and amoral world of cyberspace has created a deeply disturbing... generation SEX

Ed: You're NOT a prude? You are the DEFINITION of a prude! And I think the shocking behavior exhibited here was by your own daughter who felt justified in physically assaulting the lad engaging in entirely voluntary sex with her friend. I shudder to imagine what your hypocritical reaction would have been had the BOY slapped around your DAUGHTER! While you, no doubt, fail to recognize in yourself your own prudishness, let's be clear that that is the moral panic with which you are afflicted. And the motivations behind your moral outrage are deeply suspect, as they have always been for ALL prudes. Adolescents HAVE sex; now GET OVER IT! And tell your damned daughter to mind her own business. The same goes for you! ]

How the faceless and amoral world of cyberspace has created a deeply disturbing... generation SEX

By Olivia Lichtenstein
Remember that Hilaire Belloc cautionary tale - Matilda told such dreadful lies, it made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes? I used to love it as a child when telling lies was one of the naughtiest things you could do: Matilda ended up getting burned to death.

These days, however, everything has changed and it’s the truths that children tell that make one gasp and stretch one’s eyes.

A couple of years ago, my daughter Francesca, then aged 13, told me about a party she had been to one Saturday night. Insight: Olivia (left) and daughter FrancescaIn the course of the evening, she came upon one of her friends, also aged 13, performing oral sex on a boy in the garden. The boy was standing and videoing the event on his mobile phone.

My daughter, in whom the feisty gene has always found strong expression, pulled her friend off the boy, knocked the phone out of his hand and slapped him round the face.

I apologise for shocking you, but then there are a number of things shocking about this event: the casual nature in which such an intimate act is performed in public, the young age of the participants and last, but by no means least, the fact that it is being filmed.

This not only signals the boy’s disassociation from the physical experience, it also indicates his intention to replay the event and, no doubt, to share his triumph with his friends as one might brandish a trophy above one’s head for all to see.

Nor was this the only such event on this particular evening. I am no prude, but Francesca painted a picture of Bacchanalia that certainly made me gasp.

Brutal Murderer Of Sex Offender Sentenced

A Macclesfield dad of three has been jailed for life for brutally murdering his 60-year-old flatmate after learning he was a convicted paedophile.

Ex-butcher [Ed: I'd say that he's a "current" butcher] Lea Mason, 33, formerly of Turnock Street, will serve a minimum of 17 and a half years after launching a "violent and frenzied attack" on his victim.

Mason used knives to stab, and a frying pan to bludgeon, Darren Presley – until they bent or broke – then stamped on his head, which left "huge gaping holes" and soaked the killer’s trainers in blood, a judge heard.

Mason and co-defendant Stephen Brian Kidd, 37, originally from Stoke, both pleaded guilty to murder at Preston Crown Court and were sentenced last Thursday (January 22).

Mason was a thug well-known to police in Macclesfield through a string of violent offences stretching back 15 years.

He admitted the murder after being captured by police in Blackpool.

New Bill Aims to Force Cell Camera Sounds, Protect Children

No, we're not joking. The Camera Phone Predator Alert Act (H.R. 414) is the real deal. Fresh off the legislative desk of New York Representative Peter King (R), the bill--currently cosponsored by goose egg--would require an audible tone to accompany all cellular phones with an installed camera that are created in the U.S. This tone, likely a clicking noise of some sort, would sound, "within a reasonable radius of the phone whenever a photograph is taken with the camera in such phone." And don't think that evildoers would be able to conceal their predatory ways by flicking an iPhone-style audio toggle switch. Any mobile phones built after the bill becomes a law would be prohibited from including any way to eliminate or reduce the volume of said noise.

And the reasoning for this legislation? But a single sentence: "Congress finds that children and adolescents have been exploited by photographs taken in dressing rooms and public places with the use of a camera phone."

While this bill might very well age into irrelevance within the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, it's not as far-fetched as it might sound. Camera phones in Japan already have features like this enabled by law: A rude awakening to new phone owners that would like a way to turn off--or turn down--shutter noises that have had their volumes jacked up for this reason specifically.