One of the most disturbing and unpleasant things I've had to do in a long time was to spend three hours on a Monday evening at a training program for volunteers at our parish school. This training program is mandated by our Archdiocese -- along with a criminal background check -- for anyone who wants to volunteer at the school, even parents like me whose volunteering is limited to two or three stints a year as recess monitor, field trip chaperone, or helper at a school party. For three hours, I watched videos in which victims of child sexual abuse talked about the experience of being abused, abusers described about their techniques for getting children into situations in which they could be abused, and experts told me how to protect my child, and all children, from such abuse.
Now, I'm going to describe my reaction to this experience, not because I think my reaction is necessarily a justified reaction, but rather because my reaction causes me to wonder whether we need to seriously question the extent to which the Church -- and its lawyers (our students?) -- are contributing to the sexualization of children. Can all of the blame for the sexualization of children can be placed on those who it's always easiest to blame -- in the words of Robby's recent post: "mainstream advertisers, . . .the entertainment industry, and . . . sex "educators."" ?
For three hours, I was forced to think about my child -- indeed, all children -- as sexual objects. Of the many emotions evoked by that experience -- disgust, sadness, pity, fear, hopelessness, horror -- the overwhelming emotion I felt was anger. But, quite honestly (and again, I freely admit this may not be justified, but it's what I honestly felt), it wasn't anger at the abusers. It seems to me that people with tendencies to abuse children have always been around and will always be around in our fallen world. I was mostly angry at the Church, which by its initial mismanagment of the sexual abuse crisis, got us to the point where parents have to be forced to sexualize their children before they can volunteer in their children's schools. I understand the "lawyering perspective" here -- the Church has been financially devasted by these lawsuits and has a financial incentive to build as strong a buffer as possible against future legal liability. But these attempts at insulation from future lawsuits come at a significant cost. Some parents will simply not volunteer. Those who do are forced to do so with the mandate (the strong message from the training session) that we should be constantly aware of our children's identities as sexual objects, because we are all responsible for making sure no child is sexually exploited on our watch.
Is that really what's necessary to protect our chldren? Or is it overkill by a Church that's being over-protected by its lawyers? I honestly, truly, do not know the answer to that question. Any thoughts on this? If increasing the awareness of our children as sexual objects is, indeed, necessary to protect them, then I frankly think we're going to have a tough time with any larger social campaign against the sexualization of children.
September 29, 2009 in Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink
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