De-sexing the Language of Sexualized Violence against Babies & Children

By Jeanne Sarson | Oct 6, 2011

Why can't reporters get it? Why can't they become aware that when writing about sexualized violence committed against children, including babies, that their wording must not be described as babies and children engaging in "sex acts" with adults? Such wording—"some as young as babies, engaged in sex acts"—was recently stated in an article written in the Eyewitness News. The article disclosed the arrest, by U.S. State and federal authorities, of 17 people who were later arraigned and released on their personal recognisance. Their arrest and arraignment was for downloading images of sexualized violence against children including babies.

As bad news as this is, it is not new news. Because, for example, in January of 2002, during Toronto police raids and arrests, half a million "child porn" images that included images of six month old baby victims were found. Before this, on September 2, 1998, CNN.com headlined that 14 international police forces joined together to raid homes of men and women from 14 different countries suspected of being involved in an "Internet child pornography ring". Images of toddlers as young as two years of age were victimized. Connected to this same ring identified as the "Wonderland Club", UK detectives, in 2001, made similar arrests, "the youngest victim was about three months". In 1984, the Child Pornography and Pedophilia Hearings before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate had many speakers testify that homemade images of pedophilic violence were being made by parents who used these images of violence committed against their own children for distribution purposes. It should come as no surprise when readers are alerted to more bad news when the LATimes reported, on April 9, 2004, that 200 homemade pedophilic pornographic images were found in the home of a couple. Bad also was how the reporter wrote that the violent images showed "the couple having sex with children".

Such descriptive wording provides support for pedophilic perpetrators; it also, in my opinion, shows a vital devaluation of the personhood and human rights of children to be protected from sexualized violence whether perpetrated by family members or other like-minded individuals or groups. Their right to such protection is written in Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that governments should ensure that children are properly cared for and protected from all forms of violence whether perpetrated by their parents or anyone else; if children cannot be looked after by their own family then others have a responsibility to do so. This responsibility stretches beyond their local community to become a global responsibility because, as shown in these newspaper articles, violence against children is borderless, and relationally endemic and pandemic.

The first historical relational taboo that developed during our social evolution was stated by White [1] to be the incest taboo—a taboo regarding sexualized violence against a child. The relational context of a taboo generally has translated into not only silencing the victimized child but also to social blaming-the-victim responses while creating impunity for the perpetrator(s). For example, the women and men who were child victims of perpetrators who were Catholic clergy have been, in the past decade, increasingly breaking their silence, they are refusing to take victim-blaming and are seeking to dissolve the perpetrators' impunity. Additionally, the historical taboo has facilitated social denial and a wilfulness to look the other way. This, in effect, has supported the patriarchal political position, at least in Canada, to persist in not criminalizing acts of torture perpetrated by private individuals/families/groups (non-state actors). Adults and children can be victims; girls and women, however, are the predominate victims of sexualized abuse and of sexualized torture. Abuse and torture are two distinct acts of violence just as neglect is differentiated from abuse, and femicide is differentiated from neglect, abuse or torture.

But wait! There is "good' news when such articles appear.

1. The good news is that articles such as the ones shared above provide factual evidence that sexualized violence—abuse or torture is committed against children, including babies therefore it becomes no longer just to deny the reports of persons so victimized as being unbelievable.

2. The good news is some reporters are getting it, when, for example, Jana G. Pruden wrote, "One of the real-life images depicted the torture of an infant child" in the Edmonton Journal on December 3, 2010 and when Angela Pacienza, writing in The National Post on the 22nd January, 2002, quoted the Toronto police as saying that some of the 2000,000 images of child pornography seized showed children "being tortured in the most unimaginable ways".

3. The good news is that such articles make on-going socio-cultural and political denied increasingly impossible; therefore, this makes the commitment to enact appropriate laws to address sexualized violence including the appropriate naming and criminalization of torture by non-state actors more relevant.

4. The good news is all such articles, because these are based on police investigative findings of such violence images, provide international credible evidence for the persons Linda and I have supported since 1993 who reveal suffering sexualized violence, including sexualized torture by non-state actors such as their parents, grandparents, their parents' friends and neighbours or other like-minded individuals. Many report the NST victimization began in their earliest of childhood years which news media is also revealing to be a relational reality.

5. The good news is a victimized person's reports must no longer be denied as being impossible; a victimized person must not be told they are "crazy" or labelled as being crazy because the listener refuses to accept the undeniable reality; the victimized person must not be told they are lying or making up their reports of terror, torture and horror. They must be listened to respectfully and appropriate actions taken for support, for protection and for the opportunity to seek justice.

6. The good news is that all professionals must become responsible to internalize the full continuum of the forms of sexualized violence that can occur, including sexualized torture that a person as a child had been subjected to, or that a child might be at risk of being subjected to, has been or is being subjected to. A failure to gather such professional knowledge must be increasingly considered unprofessional and unethical practice.

7. The good news is that the role and goals of social activists to have sexualized torture victimization criminalized is enhanced when such police evidence can be presented.

So, there are actions that can be taken, such as:

1. De-sexing language when describing or referring to acts of sexualized violence committed against children. Adults do not have 'sex' with babies, or with toddlers, or with older children—it is always a crime of violence against the personhood of the child and a violation of the child's human rights.

2. Write or email reporters who persist in using sexualized language to describe acts of sexualized abuse or torture perpetrated against a child including when describing so-called pornographic images.

3. Check out national laws to see if children have/are protected against non-state torture victimization and perpetrators do not function with impunity.

4. Email politicians highlighting their social responsibilities to protect children from being victims of non-state torture. If national laws do not criminalize torture by non-state actors as a specific and distinct criminal offence—which in Canada it is not—it must be made so. Not only in Canada but globally because torture victimization is a specific and distinct human rights violation and a crime differentiated from all others.

[1] White, Leslie A. (1975). The Concept of Cultural Systems (pp. 28-33). New York: Comlubia University Press.

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Comment Archive

Posted by Cold North Wind on Oct 19th, 2011

This is a fabulous text. My interest, along with my friend, Elizabeth Cook, is to try to increase awareness of mothers losing custody to abusers. Happens easily.

Posted by Lilian Nattel on Oct 19th, 2011

Yes! Well said--and that is one of the reasons I wrote Web of Angels. As a novelist, I can bring readers to an experience in a way that non-fiction can't: the reality and the hope. I could convey the crime that this is, the tenderness and vulnerability of victims, the heroism and creativity of survivors, the violence and self-engrandisement of perpetrators.

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