Children: Death and Abuse

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goya.jpgSongs on the Death of Children

Sully innocence. Squash naivete. Extinguish potential. Abscond with goodness. Self-loathing is a party in its own destruction. Self-annihilation extends to nascent life. Priests do it, policemen do it, “hicks” and “white trash” do it, alas, even stars do it. Child abuse knows no socioeconomic differences.

The American media, in spite of itself, has sensitized society to the horrors of missing, neglected, abused, and sexually assaulted children. Crimes against kids provide shock value and drama favorable to news consumption. Certainly, this is not an American aberration.

Germany, not to be outdone, reported a case of child cannibalism. The French government has instituted measures to control child pornography and internet seduction by sexual predators. According to our State Department, Belgium is both a transit point and a destination for trafficking in children.

According to the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, child sexual abuse is reported up to 80,000 times a year. The number of unreported instances is far greater because children are afraid to relate the experience. The legal procedure for validating an episode is difficult. Instant celebrities John Coney, Earl Richmond, David Onstin, Wayne Williams, Harell and Michelle Johnson are now inextricably connected to the plight of their innocent victims. Sensationalist coverage has concentrated on the human tragedy and police investigative acumen; it has failed to find common characteristics among the offenders. No serious inquiry exists of their childhood experiences or proneness to act on their fantasies (impulse control disorder).

The DSM IV argues that paraphilic fantasies start late in childhood and could be the result of past or present abuse, sexually deviant behavior, or sex as a requisite for affection. Interpreting survey study data, Professor Jan Looman claims that child molesters are more likely to fantasize about children while in a negative emotional state or under stress. There is a marked trend to fantasize about a child as an inappropriate way of coping with dysphoric moods, thus enhancing dysphoria and leading to further inappropriate fantasies. A bizarre rock star stands accused of pedophilia after several multi-million dollar arrangements to buy silence from alleged victims. No sexual abuse case among the economically privileged finds its way into newsrooms. Does an Upper East Side address guarantee virtue and love of children? Wealth provides a way to hush these cases. Are childhood sexual traumas confined to Freud’s Viennese fin-de-siecle patients? Suffering, abuse, and neglect explain why 85 to 90% of the criminal population in the United States comes from foster care. Treatment of psychological cruelty and estrangement is confined to the bourgeoisie, able to afford the luxury of therapy. The sources of candidates for foster care do not provide an environment conducive for kids to go through the stages of moral reasoning. If not directly victimized at home, there is an exposure effect at the socioeconomic margin that makes violence a possibility. Lacking access to psychological treatment, healing and moral values come with religious experience.

While there has been a slight decrease in sexual abuse cases, mistreatment accounts for the death of three children a day. A child is reported missing or abducted in the United States every 40 seconds, 2,000 children per day, 800,000 a year (Department of Justice). Of this number 40% are killed, 4% never found, 71% taken by a stranger and 29% by family or a slight acquaintance. Family abductions stem from power struggles, quest for punishment, or incest. Most are abducted within a quarter mile from their home and, if ultimately murdered, 74 percent are dead within three hours of the abduction. A study by Becker and Murphy provides evidence that sexual offenders of boys have higher rates of abuse in their histories. Sexual victimization is not the necessary condition for this type of aggressive behavior. Most sexual victims never perpetrate the same crime against others. Abuse or murder of children voices rejection, isolation, sexual dysfunction, and social anger.

Alice Miller, a psychotherapist, argues that corporal punishment coupled with a Victorian early upbringing where sex is not discussed make the child ill-prepared for puberty. Psychosexual development is therefore a random product of hormones, social learning and conditioning. The contradiction between rearing practices, silent on matters sexual, and the media-supplied flood of erotic and violent imagery is a trite but necessary issue for discussion. Some could see a media-induced link between eros and thanatos. Powerful economic interests will keep this debate as a First-Amendment problem. Under what circumstances could children be “obscure objects of desire?” They become cathectic in their proto-sexual “purity” and powerlessness. The risks involved in breaking taboos can prove liberating and stimulate desire. An element of revenge and subversive social disruption is present in the abduction and sexual abuse of children.

Jonathan Pincus, an American neurologist, maintains that this type of aggressive behavior constitutes a form of retaliation: “systems of terror that get directed back at society… Even previously non-involved members… are being hurt and consequently have to suffer in the very same way the former child suffered.” Lives of rejection, fear, and paranoia beget today’s Saturns (devouring their clildren as in Goya’s opus). Their effort of survival, like Saturn’s, is through primal murder. Our cannibal gods devour children, symbolic castration of an alienating society (Ouranos) and punishment of a cruel family (mother Gaia). Our present-day infanticides act on the self-perception as “the most terrible of sons: the crooked and scheming Kronos.” Self-loathing turns lethal.

In this weather, in this roaring, cruel storm
they rest as they did in their mother’s house
they are frightened by no storm,
strong and are covered by the hand of God
Ruckert, Kindertotenlieder

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1 Comment

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    July 7, 2007 @ 3:27 pm

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    Thanks for this thought provoking post. It is very unfortunate how children are subjected to these kinds of torture. Horrible…!

    Thanks so much
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