Monday, October 09, 2006

"Sexual Predator"

The language of our public discourse has been so consistently degraded that it is difficult to even notice the symptoms. A case in point is the use of the phrase “sexual predator” to describe pedophiles and other sex offenders. With the Foley scandal, we see progressives adopting the phrase (which was coined by reactionaries) as a kind of payback for Republican moral hypocrisy, in order to describe Foley and those who covered up for him.
“Sexual predator” is designed to dehumanize a subject, to turn a criminal into a monster. By demonizing in this way, we evade all responsibility to examine the problem, to locate its causes, and thus to find solutions that can help prevent it. This is one of the most basic right-wing methods, so elemental that in most cases it’s probably instinctive and unconscious. When we’re dealing with a monster rather than a human being, we can feel righteous about attacking the monster without having to deal with the complexities of the crime. This has become the standard way of responding to crime, and especially in the case of sex crimes, where the aura of fear and taboo is highly charged.
There is no need in this case to consider prevention. The monster is an inexplicable force, completely alien, and therefore cannot be prevented. In the case of the “sexual predator” we are told that it is not possible for the criminal to ever change, so we are justified in throwing him on the scrap heap and leaving it at that.
The “sexual predator” is a convenient figure by which a politician can win votes. Senator Self-Righteous Avenger can run on the promise that he’ll get “tough” on the monsters and protect us, while accusing his opponent of being soft. Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, for instance, one of Dick Cheney’s favorite tools, is running on this very issue.
To state that pedophilia, or other criminal sexual behavior, is a kind of sickness, is to risk being called “permissive,” or worse. If I were to point out that a sex offender is a human being who became a sex offender for certain reasons, some may assume that I show undue compassion for the offender and none for his victims. But one doesn’t need compassion in order to seek a solution to a problem that isn’t going away. If treatment can help sex offenders, then treatment should be supported, for our own sake. Calling someone a predator is the equivalent of hiding one’s head in the sand.
It’s obvious to me that “sexual predator,” however it may superficially correspond to a description of behavior, is a loaded phrase intended to make us think of a wild animal and not a person.
Of course I’m not excusing Foley, or those who protected him. But when progressives adopt demonizing language, language that turns people into objects, scapegoats for our rage, we are no better than the right-wing hypocrites who do the same.

No comments: