Much has been made over the last three months about a new epidemic sweeping the nation. Everyone knows and everyone's worried. And everyone's looking in the wrong place.
It seems like each week a new kid is reportedly pulled from a house and raped and beaten and thrown in a dump. NBC recently aired a several-part series which depicted producers luring child molesters to public stings with promises of willing, nubile ass for free. When the suckers showed up they met a camera crew and an NBC talk show host instead of a mark. (One part is up on YouTube under the title "To Catch a Perv.")
On the internet, MySpace has morphed into the boogie man, loaded with sexual predators hanging around in the wings, viewing kiddy profiles, and jerking off all over their keyboards. "PARENTS REMINDED TO KEEP THEIR KIDS SAFE ON INCREASINGLY POPULAR SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES," the FBI's Los Angeles division March 9 press release reads in all caps. Among the healthy FBI tips to stay safe: "place your child's computer in the family room to facilitate monitoring of online activity." And, "Even if a minor does not post personal information on their (sic) profile, a predator may track him or her down by perusing the profile of one of his or her friends, on which your child might be featured."
Your child is not safe is his own room, the FBI warns. His own friends will unwittingly sell his colonic virginity down the river.
As Bill O'Reilly pointed out in February, citizens are now taking the law into their own hands with programs like Family Watchdog, a website that shows sexual offenders near your house. The brain child of an Indiana man named Steve Roddel freaked out by yet another media report of some child abduction, Family Watchdog uses Google Maps to locate the address of most convicted sex offenders in almost every state. Type in your address andbamyou get your own neighborhood creep lineup, complete with photos and the details of their crimes.
What was once an experiment in public information database management has morphed into a business with 10 employees maintaining 26 servers to handle up to one million unique visitors a day. Fifteen million people visited Family Watchdog in the heady O'Reilly month of February, and a paid subscription service sends you updated alerts on new child molesters in your neighborhood for a small fee. After all, child molesters move around a lot, so 20,000 people have signed up. Americans are collectively freaking out and checking their block, looking for the next big diddler.
Yet the rapes continue. Why? Why are we apparently in the throes of the biggest sacking of innocent ass since Nanking? Why, despite all the news and all the cops and all the websites, does it continue? According to the Rape & Sexual Abuse Center, the numbers are as high as one in four for girls, one in six for boys.
The answer is too taboo to talk about.
In a spring 2005 article (PDF) in the Thomas Jefferson Law Review, Jennifer Siverts quotes some of the most authoritative statistics from the Department of Justice on who child molesters are, who they target, how often they get away with it, how rarely they're caught, and how likely they are to repeat the crime.
Among the most salient findings from the DOJ:
•Almost half of victimized children were molested by a family member.
•Only seven percent of inmates serving time for a sex offense against a child reported their child victim was a stranger.
•In one-third of cases where a convict molested a kid, the kid was his own child or stepchild.
And once released, "child molesters are actually more likely to repeat the crime, and probably against a family member to whom they have ready access."
"The offender often does not have just one victim," Siverts writes, "but rather preys on a number of vulnerable children, often suffering from broken homes, lack of attention and emotional neglect."
The greatest majority of kids getting molested aren't being pulled out of their windows in the night by some MySpace freak. Some guy in a mask is not dragging them into the park bushes. They're getting raped inside the most sacred institution in America: the family.
Steve Roddel, Family Watchdog's creator, readily acknowledges that 90 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knew. So I ask him if he thinks he's perpetuating the myth of the stranger in the bushes, if he's actually running interference and PSYOPS for America's molesters.
"No, not at all. We limit our search to a five mile radius of your house. We really are concerned with the people that might be your grocer or your dog walker," Roddel says.
"We had a 55 year-old woman call a few months ago who said, ‘My new husband who I married about a year ago had been in prison for child molestation and I learned from your site.' "
"A few weeks later," Roddel says, "I got a call from the same family, from the daughter of this lady saying, ‘My kids are over there all the time. He tells them to, ‘Call me Uncle Jack.' "
Roddel has tons of stories about people who thought they knew someone, only to find out they didn't at all. Family Watchdog saved them, he says, and I'm sure it did. But what it also perpetuatesalong with "To Catch a Perv" on NBC, and those dumbass MySpace amber alertsis a very sublime, idiotic, preconscious fear drilled into each and every child from a very young age: "Don't take candy from strangers."
In fact, strangers are the least statistically likely to rape you. It should be something like, "Don't take shots with your new stepdad. Especially while Mom's working a double at Rite-Aid."
The American family is scared, broke and overworked. Parents are around for their kids less now than in any time in American history. Should we be surprised that such a lack of supervision is resulting in the most heinous of crimes? How many people know their neighbors anymore, or know their kids' friends, or their kids' friends' parents and the soccer coach? The minister?
I agree with the libertarian streak of Roddel when he says this is a family issue, not a government one. "By the time the authorities step in, my child's innocence is lost and I can never get that back," he says.
True, but despite the sentiment, the job of preventing molestation continues to be punted to the state, which is happy to take responsibility for children at the expense of liberty and privacy and tax dollars. It's an easy trade. Keep worrying, they say, we'll handle it.
For example, Google is currently in court over a separate issue with the Justice Department over the right to a month of its search queries (New York Times). The DOJ wants the queries to use as evidence that kids can easily see porn on the Net. They need this evidence because they are being sued by the ACLU over the Child Online Protection Act, which is supposed to prevent little kids from being corrupted by the filthy porn of the internet. The Act is also unconstitutional and makes inroads on the First Amendment protections to free speech.
This is not the first time the DOJ has used kids as a means to their own ends. The FBI does it, the media does it, Family Watchdog and Bill O'Reilly do it. In pursuit of power, prestige and money, waving the flag of child protection is the quickest way to hide your true intentions. Even if they did care about protecting kids, perpetuating a false fear vector can be as criminal as the crime itself. MySpace and the dude down the street aren't the problem. Your Uncle Bill's the problem.
Yet this massive company called Google can, in fact, do something more to help kids. For the record, most child molesters are white males age 30 to 50: perfect middle adopters of technology. I propose we use the bogeyman of technology for our own good. I'm not talking about something as crass as perveted-justice.com, which attempts to bait molesters. Something more modern, subtle, and self-empowering.
If Google can somehow deduce from my internet usage that I want to run away to Peru, even though I haven't told a soul, I don't think it would be that hard to run pattern-recognition algorithms on IP address behavior.
For example, a particular IP address visits a lot of Nickelodeon kids' sites from the hours of 3 to 5 p.m. Then at midnight, the same IP address is trolling for kiddy porn on virginalassesareours.com. It can't be that hard for some Google employee to use some of his famed 20 percent free time each day to come up with an alert code based in IP-address behaviors and web-content viewing.
When the little kid is looking at his SpongeBob SquarePants site he might get a little pop-up window that warns, "You Gonna Get Raped."
Maybe even a little wiki-link to a non-profit "So You think you might be getting raped sometime soon.com" checklist site.
•Age 30 to 50?
•Mom works all the time?
•Feeling lonely and down?
•Well, you might get raped, so watch out.
The less invasive solution is, like, you know, being a good parent and knowing who the fuck you are dating, where the fuck that dude came from, where your kid is and who the fuck he's with until he's old enough to perfect the famed, "Testicle Punt Return."
But in our culture, I suppose that's just too damn hard these days.
David Downs is a full time freelancer with Wired magazine and the East Bay Express. He's based in San Francisco and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Eric Lister is a full-time artist when he's not editing gay pornography and snowboarding. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Related on the web
•The New Yorker looks into Bill O'Reilly's fascination with child molesters.
•According to The Onion, a lame MySpace page can be a turnoff to pedophiles.