When it comes to America’s panic about sex, respect for fact is in short supply.
Blogs, CNN & Fox, well-intentioned family advocates, right-wing “decency” groups, and the whole machinery of the Sexual Disaster Industry continually pour out a single message: there’s sexual danger out there waiting for every child, woman, and man.
In reality, many facts of life are pretty encouraging: the FBI says that rape, child sexual exploitation, suicide, and domestic violence have all declined this past decade. But if you have ears, eyes, or a computer, you’d never know it. Sexual violence and exploitation are what pass for “news” and “public debate” in America.
Understandably, people are upset about their perceptions of danger. But many people are also upset about any attempt to discuss this alleged danger rationally. Here are some common beliefs and behaviors that interfere with clear thinking.
* A story is a trend; anecdotes are evidence
The Today Show, among others, says that sexting “caused” a suicide, leading to nationwide calls for its criminalization; stories are also commonly told about one or two guys masturbating in a library, leading to demands that all public computers be filtered. Tales like these get the public’s juices flowing. But the only danger they really reflect is the danger of creating fear-driven public policy.
* “One is too many”
We’re told that since “one [molest, rape, divorce, hate crime, botched abortion] is too many,” the fact that rates aren’t nearly as high as headlines imply is irrelevant. That’s like saying, ‘since even one kid with measles is too many, let’s abandon vaccination.’
* Victimization creates expertise
A typical example is Congress inviting Miss Utah to testify at a hearing about internet porn. Her expertise? As a teen she typed in “hotmale” instead of “hotmail,” saw an explicit photo, and was scared almost to death. Similarly, Donna Rice Hughes is considered an expert on internet porn because her ex-husband became a “porn addict” and destroyed their marriage.
* Challenging conventional wisdom reflects a lack of compassion
Anti-porn, anti-exploitation, and anti-hate advocates like Morality in Media’s Robert Peters often say things like, “if you’d ever seen a child after he’s been raped, you’d change your tune,” or “if you actually cared about women who are trafficked, you wouldn’t argue about how often this actually happens.”
America is reeling from a decade of aggressively anti-science government and anti-fact blogging and pundit culture. The very nature of expertise and reality are now up for grabs. In a culture aching with sexual alienation, fear, and rage, this is dangerous.