I can’t say that I’m all that surprised to read the allegations against Kevin Clash
, the puppeteer behind Sesame Street’s most beloved character, Elmo, who has been accused of having a sexual relationship with a young man that started when the individual was 16.
I don’t have any inside information about whether the allegations against him are true or not – I’ll just wait for the investigation to conclude before totally disavowing a crucial part of my childhood (i.e. Elmo). But I will admit that whenever I hear these stories of adult men, who spend their time in the company of children, being the subject of some sort of inappropriate conduct involving children, I say, “yeah, I can see that.” In fact, I know a few women who are outright hostile to the idea of leaving their children in the company of men, including teachers, coaches, even among family members. “As a woman, a mother, a concerned citizen and mostly a survivor, I am very skeptical of men being around children,” said one friend via Facebook.
Statistically speaking, men are the gender most represented among offenders
of sexual assaults, abuse and violence. That fact alone is probably the best argument to be made for our skepticism. But is this a healthy attitude to have towards men in general? Is it fair to assume all men are potential predators of sexual abuse and aggression until proven otherwise?
Recently, I saw this provocatively titled documentary, Are All Men Pedophiles
, which as the title suggests, raises the question of whether or not we are being conditioned to assume that all men are sexual predators and pedophiles. According to Jans-Willem Breure, director of the film, all men are potential “hebephiles” — that is, attracted to pubescent children. Our society is built on idolizing youth, he theorizes, and usually sexualizes children through the media, fashion and through music. Therefore, you can’t necessarily blame men for finding teens sexually attractive. Breure’s other theme in the film is that since the age of consent is arbitrary and has been culturally and throughout history, maybe it is time to retire the archaic belief that frowns upon adult and teenage relations.
I don’t know if I am quite ready to have sympathy for pedophiles (nope, don’t see that happening), which is why I can’t totally co-sign this documentary. Breure, who said in an interview
that his inspiration for this film came from his own attraction to teenage girls, might be playing fast and loose with the technicalities and gray areas. Overall, the documentary is very one-sided and narrow in scope. Sexuality is reduced down to a fetish as opposed to an expression of genuine love and affection. We are lead to believe that age is nothing but a number, but missing from the documentary are voices of the teens and children to articulate how they feel about being the object of a grown person’s sexual desires. Instead, we only get to rely on the opinions of “experts,” some of whom are pedophiles and people with pedophilic thoughts and tendencies.
But not to throw the baby totally out with the bathwater, Breure does raise a compelling point about how society is almost always hush about female pedophiles.
The way stories of female abusers are presented in the media tends to take on a more mocking tone or looked upon as a farce. The female offenders are treated as seductresses and their young male victims as “lucky boys.” No wonder woman-on-man sexual assault is less likely to be reported than the reverse.
As we become increasingly more suspicious of the male sexual predator, the more it becomes socially acceptable to excuse, or flat out ban men from certain corners of society – you know, for the sake of the children. Recently I read a story about a play center in the UK, which absolutely banned boys/men over the age of nine
from its facility. A couple of days ago, I read another story about an Australian man, traveling on Virgin Airlines, who was asked by a flight attendant to change seats with a female passenger so he would no longer be next to two unaccompanied minors. In his blog post titled My Virgin Experience as a Pedophile
, Johnny McGirr wrote of his experience:
“Men are policemen, doctors, social workers, teachers… people who are entrusted to the care of children but according to Virgin once you step on one of their planes you are a pedophile or a potential pedophile.”
Even in my own personal prejudices and biases, if a woman was sitting alone in the playground, I would probably guess that she is enjoying nature or her alone time. But if it was a man sitting alone in that same playground, I might assume more dubious motivations. For that, I kind of feel sorry for men. However, for every falsely accused man in the world there are dozens – if not hundreds of heartbreaking stories of folks doing God-awful things to children. So it is best to always air on the side of caution and pay attention, regardless of gender, to who these people are that we have around our children.