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Diddle He Or Didn't He
I just posted another Advice Goddess column -- this one, a letter from a woman who, out of the blue, decides that the boyfriend of a woman whose letter I answered in my column, must be molesting his stepdaughters. Sick, huh?

Here's her letter:

Because I value trusting one’s instincts, I’m prompted to write about your advice to “Uneasy,” the woman whose boyfriend would go into another room to talk on the phone to his stepdaughters from a previous relationship. I feel the woman was expressing suspicion that he still had some interest in their mom out of an unwillingness to believe that he may be behaving inappropriately toward his stepdaughters. One in four women reports having been raped or molested in childhood, and stepfathers play a prominent role in those statistics. He may not be a “molester,” but maybe he’s asking the girls about their bodies in ways that make them uncomfortable. You should have encouraged “Uneasy” to call a truce with her boyfriend: He takes calls openly, and she drops the nagging if there isn’t anything unseemly going on.

--Uneasier

And here's my reply:

Oh, the dark world of people who prefer to take their phone calls in private. Yes, this guy could be a molester, and could be asking these girls inappropriate questions about their bodies. And when I walk away from my boyfriend to take a call, I could be planning the violent overthrow of our government, and arranging to trade my neighbors’ twins for a suitcase nuke -- or maybe I simply see no need for corroborating witnesses when I try to reschedule my cleaning lady.

The woman in question admitted that she had no reason to believe her boyfriend had any interest in an ex-wife he’d divorced over five years earlier, or was anything but a stand-up guy trying to remain a father figure to his very young stepdaughters. Yet, according to you, merely because he preferred to talk to the girls without his jealous girlfriend standing over him, I should have encouraged her to say something along the lines of “Hey, honey, I’ll calm down if only you let me listen to your calls so I can be sure you aren’t raping babies.”

Warped thinking like yours makes me realize how lucky I am to be a woman and white as typing paper. Although I recently got stopped by a cop for going the wrong way on a one-way street (he rolled his eyes and let me go when he realized I wasn’t drunk, just ditzy), I’m generally safe from automatic presumptions of criminality like Driving While Black or Living And Breathing While Male.

Here you are, parroting this outrageous man-bashing propaganda -- “one in four women reports having been raped or molested during childhood” -- maybe because you heard it repeated so often you assumed it was fact. This figure is a common misquote of a survey by radical feminist sociology professor Diana Russell. Although Russell presents herself as a truth-seeking social scientist, her work reflects a substantial bias against men, as evidenced by her claim, based on one of her studies, that “a considerable amount of marital sex is probably closer to the rape end of the continuum.”

The actual figure from Russell’s survey was an unbelievable one in 2.6 women sexually abused before the age of 18 -- a figure she arrived at with substandard sampling techniques and what UC Berkeley professor Neil Gilbert, in his book Welfare Justice, calls “research that lumps together relatively harmless behavior such as attempted petting with the traumatic experience of child rape.” For example, one of Russell’s questions asked, “Did anyone ever try or succeed in touching your breasts or genitals against your wishes before you turned 14?” Well, if you put it that way, even I was a victim of child sexual abuse: It was sixth grade, we were playing spin the bottle in somebody’s basement, and the boy who kissed me tried to feel me up.

Should we really count a quick boob grab I got from some sixth-grader the same as the experience of some other 12-year-old girl who was repeatedly forced to have sex with her uncle? We should if we’re looking to criminalize being male -- and never mind if that poisons relations between women and men, dilutes funding and attention to real victims, and leads to prejudicial policies like British Airways’ that no unaccompanied minor can sit next to a man. (Which -- horrors! -- means some unaccompanied brat is more likely to be seated next to me!)

Women best protect themselves by appraising men as individuals, based on evidence, not by leaping to the assumption that “stepdad” equals sex predator. In other words, my advice to “Uneasy” stands. My advice to you? Pick up Christina Hoff Sommers’ Who Stole Feminism? to get a better idea of the damage done by radical feminist activism tarted up as serious science. Contrary to what the likes of Diana Russell would have you believe, you should come to the conclusion that the answer to “Hey, Dad, how’d you meet Mom?” probably isn’t “While raping her at knifepoint.”

Comments on the original entry are here. And here's a letter from a reader in C-Ville Weekly, the Charlottesville, VA alt weekly that runs my column, and my reply:

Sexual abuse sans sarcasm

The Advice Goddess’s recent column [“Diddle he or didn’t he?” April 24, 2007 (not on-line)] contains outrageous and dangerous misinformation. The letter-writer, “Uneasier,” states that “one in four women report having been raped or molested in childhood, and stepfathers play a prominent role in those statistics.” She is absolutely correct! Amy Alkon, “The Advice Goddess,” is sarcastically dismissive of this data and states that it is a “common misquote of a survey by radical feminist sociology professor Diana Russell.”

The truth is that at least one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18, most often by a parent or step-parent. This is data that has been collected and verified in repeated studies over several decades.

In 2004, the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association and the Centers for Disease Control joined to present the First Congressional Briefing on the Epidemic of Child Sexual Abuse. These are not “radical feminist” organizations, using “substandard sampling techniques.” These prestigious medical and scientific professionals urged our Congress to study the long-term medical and mental health consequences of this serious problem and urged Congress to direct funding toward treatment and prevention.

Our own Virginia Department of Health did an extensive survey about the prevalence of child sexual abuse in our Commonwealth and found the same results.

The irony is that this column was published in April, “Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Month.” Your readers, many of whom are adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, deserve to know that they are believed and supported.

Joyce Allan
Charlottesville

Amy Alkon replies: I have enormous sympathy for victims of child sexual abuse, but I don’t see how perpetuating an untruth helps them in any way. This “one in four” stat has been widely disseminated, and is repeated by some reputable organizations, but that doesn’t mean they checked out the methodology behind it. I did. I dismissed the data because it’s bad data—derived from biased questions and substandard methodology—as is that of others who came up with similar stats (Finkelhor, for example, whose work is used in the Virginia study Ms. Allan mentions). These researchers are respected mainly because nobody looks too hard at how they got their numbers, perhaps because the subject matter makes questioning their numbers taboo. To understand what, specifically, is wrong with their stats, read Welfare Justice by UC-Berkeley professor Neil Gilbert. Child sexual abuse is a terrible thing, but advocacy researchers like Russell trivialize real sexual abuse by giving the impression that nearly all women are victims—in turn, criminalizing being male and diverting funding and attention away from the real victims.

Posted by aalkon at May 10, 2007 10:22 AM

Comments

The whole fallacy behind these so-called studies is that the author(s) were able to correctly interpret the data. There have been plenty of books written about the way statistical data can be "read" so many different ways; just look at the global warming issue. The idea that they can't tell you for sure what the temperature will be in two days but that they can somehow predict the ocean's level 50 years from now is a case in point. Instead of criminalizing men for being men, let's just educate people better. It kills me that I can't pick up and hug little kids that belong to other parents because their programmed knee-jerk reaction is that because I'm unmarried and middle-aged I must be a child molester.

Posted by: Rodger at May 10, 2007 7:06 AM

I love how a mother with a baby in her arms walks into an (extended) family dinner in Italy and the baby immediately gets passed around the room for grandpa and all the relatives to hug and kiss and cootchie-coo. Nobody there is worried that grandpa is going to do something horrible to the baby, and it's my belief that kids there are much better socialized (not terrified of strangers, for example) because they're raised this way.

I read, I think either in Welfare Justice or a study by Paul Okami (I'm not home now, so I don't have my rather file with all the studies in it) that the notion that all men are molesters has meant that men have left the early childcare profession (few nursery school aides are men anymore). With many women being single parents these days, this seems unfortunate.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 10, 2007 8:21 AM

The idea that they can't tell you for sure what the temperature will be in two days but that they can somehow predict the ocean's level 50 years from now is a case in point.

I don't know if Flight 23 Denver to Chicago is on time today, but I know when it is scheduled to depart next week, I think you need a better example.

It kills me that I can't pick up and hug little kids that belong to other parents because their programmed knee-jerk reaction is that because I'm unmarried and middle-aged I must be a child molester.

I won't say it kills me, but yes, I do have to be careful around other people's kids, not because I am a pedophile but because that is the knee-jerk reaction.

What kills me is that I also have to be careful around my own kids for the exact same reason. I have a daughter (6) that likes shoulder rides. I was told my a "marriage counselor and divorce mediator" that I could not give her shoulder rides because and this is an exact quote "her vagina was too close to my neck."

What a sick world.

Posted by: anon at May 10, 2007 8:53 AM

> most often by a parent
> or step-parent.

A theme emerges!

> Nobody there is worried
> that grandpa is going to
> do something horrible to
> the baby

Right. He's the grandfather! It's his own flesh and blood. It's not just that that condition seems to almost magically protect the child from abuse --although it does. It's that a patriarch who can pull the family out for a meal in a public restaurant where the grandkids will be presented for greeting is probably a loving, sane, normal guy anyway.

(How many of you thought of an Olive Garden commericial when Amy mentioned this?)

> I was told my a "marriage
> counselor and divorce
> mediator"

Anon, I can feel sorry for you, but one component of the "sick world" you describe is that people can't keep their families together. So then the shitty government sends shitty social service workers to offer shitty advice about shoulder rides. John Q. Public doesn't care, because he's too busy raising his own kids to care about what happens to yours.

This gets to Amy's adjacent post about renewable marriages... If it's just for the grownups, that's fine. But when there are kids involved, the "delivery room through dorm room" contract should be mandatory. I don't have numbers to back it up, but I strongly believe that most of this abuse is happening because single moms are bringing weird stepfathers and transitory "uncles" into the home... Social stumblers with no genetic or emotional bond to these children who are running around in their underwear.

Does anyone doubt that girls are sexually safer with their real, in-home fathers than with any other male?

Posted by: Crid at May 10, 2007 9:26 AM

How many of you thought of an Olive Garden commericial when Amy mentioned this?

Siena main square actually, beniamino

A multi-generational Italian group at lunch did a hug-and-pass-the-parcel with our blonde two-year-old - and that included the dodgy, gnarly uncles and all!

I just loved it - since it was safely in public, lots of fierce older women there too. (Similar to the conditions Crid mentioned, basically)

Anon: I also feel pained for you. That sounds like the tip of a very ugly iceberg.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at May 10, 2007 10:22 AM

"Does anyone doubt that girls are sexually safer with their real, in-home fathers than with any other male?"


Yep. My mom was molested by her own father from the time she was 2 years old until she was 15 and learned how to protect herself. Her mother did nothing, because she was terrified of him too. He beat the shit out of my uncle on a regular basis. He was a very sick man. My parents kept my brothers and I under strict supervison when he was around. He passed away when I was in 6th grade. My grandmother was quite relieved, and married a man that I consider to be my "real" grandfather. He has always shown us nothing but caring and kindness, even since my grandma passed away 3 years ago. We (my mom, daughters and I) went to see him earlier this year when we were in Florida. He gave my mom a hug and said "I still miss your mother." I damn near cried.


Ever seen the movie "Dolores Claiborne"? My mom and I saw it together. She cried almost through the whole thing, because the character did her best to protect her daughter, something my mom's mother never did.

Posted by: Flynne at May 10, 2007 11:10 AM

> Yep. My mom was molested
> by her own father from
> the time she was 2 years
> old

BZZZZZT

Read carefully: Do you think children are at greater risk from their own fathers than from other men? Credulity is strained: You're too glib, and your response came too fast.

> He was a very sick man.

Oh, OK, right. Keep going.

> did her best to protect
> her daughter, something
> my mom's mother never did.

Any idea what your grandmother's childhood was like? Could we guess? The "sick man" part needs to come long before the "Yep" part.

Look at that first response one more time:

> but maybe he’s asking the
> girls about their bodies

Is there any reason to believe so? If not, isn't the fear almost as creepy as what it seeks to protect the girls from?

My admiration for radio host Dennis Prager was already badly scuffed. Then a few months ago I learned that he'd again divorced a woman who'd borne him children. And with this second family, he'd adopted a child as well! This puts him squarely in Tom Cruise territory for advice about personal conduct. (Offhand psychotherapeutic speculation: The emotional squeeze from this family crisis is what triggered the irrational response to Ellison's oath on the Koran last winter.)

Still, we take wisdom where we can find it. Years ago Prager said he never told his kids not to talk to strangers. "I want them to talk to strangers!" Strangers are almost everyone you'll ever meet. And half of them will be men, and they're not going away, so children had better learn to deal with them. We admire Jody's "fierce" attention to her little girl's safety, even as she's introducing them to new men. Does anyone doubt that it's good for Anon's daughter to ride on his shoulders, even if she only sees him on weekends at Disneyland?

Hey look! There's Gramps right over there, feeding the pigeons!

http://tinyurl.com/32n5fc

Hi, Gramps! Come and have some pasta with us!

Posted by: Crid at May 10, 2007 11:50 AM

Crid, you don't have to believe me.


"Read carefully: Do you think children are at greater risk from their own fathers than from other men? Credulity is strained: You're too glib, and your response came too fast."

My response came to fast? Says who? I don't think most children are at greater risk from their own fathers; my daughters aren't, I wasn't, my mother's case was totally different. You know nothing about my family's situation. The fallout from what happened to my mother strained a LOT of family relationships. I wasn't personally attacking your statement, just stating fact. The vast majority of us were relieved when that man passed. He was severely messed up in the head. Years of counseling provided my parents with a lot of insight as to the reasons why they were having difficulties. It was hard for my mom to trust my dad. I trust him implicitly.

Posted by: Flynne at May 10, 2007 12:10 PM

Whether Amy is right about the statistics or Joyce is, people who freak about stuff like shoulder rides and hugging need to get a grip. A guy who hugs his daughter or his niece or even his girls' soccer team goalie in public isn't a molester--they do their dirty work behind closed doors. (Yeah, yeah, I'm sure there's an exception somewhere, but what are the odds?)

And whatever the statistics are on fathers vs. stepfathers, it's real important for a mother to focus on her individual case. If the man she's with molests her kid, she needs to get either the kid or the man out of there, whichever can be done quickest. Doesn't matter if it's the natural father or a step. Once that's done, she can decide whether to call the cops or go the Lorena Bobbitt route. . .

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I doubt that a single act of molestation is likely to cause permanent harm if the perpetraror is quickly removed and rendered harmless. The molesters who ruin lives are the ones who carry on with the same victim for years while Mom knows perfectly well what's happening but turns a blind eye.

Posted by: Rex Little at May 10, 2007 4:30 PM

Also, Jody, I think you're wrong on Mefi about Tammy Faye. I'm sorry she's so sick, but she ought to pay the money back.

Posted by: Crid at May 10, 2007 5:32 PM

Flynne: I'm so sorry about what happened to your mom. What a nasty experience. Glad the mofo is dead.

IIRC, the two culprits most likely to molest children are stepfathers/boyfriends of the mother and uncles - i.e., men who are around children and often trusted with them, but who are not fathers. Do biological fathers molest children? Yes they do. And the ones who do should be beaten into a pulp and castrated. But, statistically speaking, your children are more at risk from stepfather types and uncle types, despite the fact that, in televised fiction, fathers are typically the molesters.

One thing I've heard from various types in the know about such things...if your child shows a sustained aversion to being around someone, take it seriously. Try questioning the child (gently!), but if that reveals nothing, just try to keep the kid away from the person in question. The aversion could just be one of those weird kid things...or it could be something more. (I am using the term "sustained" to differentiate such aversions from the not-infrequent toddler habit of hating something/someone one week and liking that thing/person the next.)

anon, what an idiotic social worker. Does she freak out when fathers change their daughters' diapers?

Posted by: marion at May 10, 2007 5:51 PM

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