On That Salon Piece

[Content Note: Pedophilia; rape culture; descriptions of sexual violence.]

So, yesterday Salon published a very long and very detailed piece by a pedophile, who asserts to have never harmed a child, in which he argues that pedophilia is a sexual orientation akin to homosexuality (without so much as a passing reference to how that comparison has been used to demonize LGB people), details his attraction to a 7-year-old girl, describes being molested as a child himself, and asks not to be seen as a monster, but for society to make space for people like him to talk about how they are pedophiles, if they claim to be non-offenders.

He discusses at length how difficult life is for him, describing his "most unfortunate of sexual orientations" as "the final insult the universe would deal me."

I'm not going to link to the piece; it's easy enough to find if you're so inclined.

If my criticism of this sort of piece sounds familiar, well, that's probably because, I regret to say, that I've had occasion previously to criticize pieces making the same argument that pedophiles just have an unforunate sexual orientation.

I will reiterate that I've no issue with the idea that sexual predators of any stripe should not be treated as "monsters," for a couple different reasons, not least of which is the fact that monsterizing sexual predators abets predators, because they know that merely not seeming like a monster underwrites their freedom to do monstrous things.

So my issue isn't with the author's plea to not be viewed as a monster. My issue is with literally everything else about the piece, including and especially the fact that it was written at all. As I have said before, with regard to humanizing abusive men, as if the only choices are to monsterize or humanize people who commit heinous acts of violence: Humanzing abusers abets abuse.

(You'll also note at that link my observations about how equivalent confessionals from survivors are thin on the ground. And I'll come back to that.)

Now, perhaps the author of this Salon piece does not hope to exploit the humanizing of pedophiles in order to personally perpetrate abuse. But he doesn't exist in a vacuum, nor do his words. Which, frankly, read to me as though they were written by a skilled predator, who is "grooming" his readers to normalize his predilection every bit as much (and in many of the same ways) as offenders groom their victims.

That, of course, will be dismissed by apologists as the overwrought hyperbole of a vituperative survivor who just looks for things to get mad about. Which is entirely the problem with this piece, and all the others like it: Those of us most versed in the language of predators, by virtue of our misfortune at having encountered them, are deemed too broken to be objective interpreters.

Salon printed a profoundly coercive piece that is indistinguishable from the self-pitying pleas of sympathy predators, and they don't even seem to be aware that they have, because they're taking him at his word. Meanwhile, survivors who will identify the nature of this piece for what it really is will be dismissed out of hand as hysterics.

Who does that serve? Not survivors, that's for fucking sure.

This guy pleads with us not to see him as a monster, without seemingly a trace of awareness (or concern) that survivors of men like him are monsterized, because of the things they do to us.

Anyone who has read one of our unmoderated threads on the subject of rape, in which commenters have been free to call me a liar and a man-hating manipulator who should be killed, in response to my simply disclosing having been raped, can hardly deny that public survivors, who overcome the stigma and shame of sexual violence to share their stories, are deemed inhuman monsters. And that's before we even get to the vast array of cultural narratives that describe us as broken and tainted, living with tarnished souls, like we're all China dolls with cracks in our faces, to be cast aside from a collectors' otherwise unblemished collection.

Where is the petition that we not be monsterized?

Those don't get written, because we don't collectively acknowledge that we monsterize victims of sexual abuse. And because a survivor writing an equivalent piece to this pedophile's wouldn't make for terrific clickbait.

I started rewriting this guy's piece from the perspective of a survivor. Not as a parody, but a straightforward piece. I tried to mimic it as closely as I could, even down to his exact writing style, just to show what that might look like:
I'm a Rape Survivor, But Not a Monster

I was raped when I was 16 and have been a survivor of sexual violence for 25 years. Before judging me harshly, would you be willing to listen?

I was born a female human. As a child, this quickly set me apart from my male peers. In public, I was treated as less valuable than they were—less smart, less capable, less strong, less funny—and at the same time I was sexually objectified from an age so young I wasn't even sure what it meant. I had a vague unease with how lots of boys and men looked at me, spoke to me, touched me, but I didn't even have sophisticated enough language, or a developed enough sense of sexuality, to articulate what was happening to me. All I knew was that I didn't like it.

Still, I didn't have any escape from this increasingly intense objectification and resulting unease, so I just tried to ignore it. I tried to get along with the boys and men who made me feel uncomfortable and unsafe, because I quickly learned that to push back against the things they said and did would only invoke more terror and harm. Plus, there was an entire culture telling me that boys who hurt me were doing it because they liked me, and that girls who didn't like attention from boys had something wrong with them.

I spent more and more time in my own head, long hours alone in my bedroom, wrangling my stuffed animals and pretending to be a zookeeper who lavished care on and provided safety to them. Or pretending to be a teacher with a room full of imaginary students to whom I offered all my talents and compassion. Being a child whose escapism was play-acting empathy and care would ultimately prove to be a good thing for me later on in life, when I needed to find ways to care for myself in moments when that would seem impossible, but, at the time, they only served to further peg me as a vulnerable, sensitive, weird sort of kid who was a perfect target for harassers.

On top of it all, I started developing early, and by age 9 I was already wearing—and needing—a bra. I had a body that looked like an adult woman's by age 11, and the comments from boys and men made me keenly aware of that body, and what they wanted from it.

But none of this would compare to the final insult the universe would deal me. And by "final insult" I mean "being raped," and by "universe," I mean "a rapist."

I've been stuck with the most unfortunate of sexual experiences: I was raped by someone I trusted. A person who was legally, morally, and psychologically depraved, and who was never held to account for his actions. It's a completely unworkable state in which to exist, in many ways, and it's mine. Who am I? Nice to meet you. My name is Melissa McEwan, and I'm a survivor of sexual violence. Does that surprise you? Yeah, not many of us are willing to share our story, for good reason. To confess having survived sexual violence is to lay claim to one of the most reviled statues on the planet, one that effectively ends any chance you have of ever being seen as anything else. Yet, I'm not the monster you think me to be. I've never hated all men because of what one man did to me and never will, nor do I advocate "playing the victim card," whatever that is supposed to mean.

But isn't that the definition of a survivor, you may ask, someone who hates men and plays the victim card and spouts rape statistics and invents ludicrous fantasies about a rape culture? Not really. Although "survivor" and "anti-rape advocate" are frequently attributes found in the same people, and lumped together as towering strawpeople of mythic hostility, at base, a survivor is someone who's been a victim of sexual violence. That's it. There's no inherent reason that any of us become public activists. Some survivors certainly do, but many of us don't. Because the powerful stigma and shame attached to sexual violence keeps us in hiding, it's impossible to know how many survivors of sexual violence there really are out there, and how many of us are advocates against rape, but signs indicate there are a lot of us, and too often we suffer in silence. That's why I decided to speak up.
I could have done the whole thing, had I been willing to sit with his piece for an entire morning, but it wasn't even worth my time, because we all know how it would go. People who get it would get it, and people who don't would prove the point in spectacularly revolting fashion, because that's what they do. And survivors don't need any more public demonstrations of how much rape apologists hate us to illustrate a point about decency extended to predators that is rarely extended to us with the same visibility.

What I wrote is not what was published at Salon. What was published at Salon was virtually the same sentiment asking for understanding and compassion, but written by a pedophile.

The editors there should be ashamed of themselves for publishing it.

I wonder if they even know that they are being played by a predator. Are any of the editors who worked on this story familiar enough with the rape culture to have handled this story responsibly? (Like, you know, making the decision to not run it.) Sexual violence is a serious subject that requires expertise, just as any other, but I find it unlikely that any experts could have been involved, given that no one flagged a passage about a group of admitted pedophiles coalescing around a support board on which they talk about their kids with one another, which should have been a huge red flag when many child predator rings are centered around abusing each other's kids.

Did anyone at Salon raise the point that abusers know exactly how to play people in order to abet their abuse? Maybe I'm being uncharitable, ahem, but it seems to me that a pretty good way to ensure access to victims is to assure people that you don't and won't ever have any.

Was there any consideration, at all, for the issues surrounding this story, beyond its capacity to be amazing clickbait?

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