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How Journalism Abuses Children

by Andrew Vachss
Originally published at The Zero, August 1996

Also available in Russian (

As far as journalism is concerned, child sexual abuse didn't exist thirty years ago. Once its existence was acknowledged, journalism made up for lost time—indeed, journalism has been the single greatest force for justice and progressive social change. But a sordid undercurrent to modern journalistic language has undermined those gains, resulting in nothing less than the decriminalization of child sexual abuse. Certain pernicious myths—not, it should be noted, "clichés," which often contain at least a core of truth—have so permeated journalism that they have become, in the minds of many Americans, "facts." Here are some glaring examples:

  • A Wisconsin judge spares a child molester a prison sentence on the ground that the five year old victim was "seductive."

    There is no denying that children are sensual—not "sexual"—beings. Their physical senses are a major means of determining the limits of their world. But some of those limits must be taught by adults. A child's natural desire is to please those who assume the parental role. This drive may be deliberately perverted—children may be easily "trained" to please their abusers by "initiating" sexual activity. And when corruption of sensuality doesn't work, there is always the pedophile's other option: pain so unremitting that its avoidance becomes the dominant drive–force in the victim's life. To blame the child (or excuse the molester) for the "performance" that results is to compound the perversion.

  • Actor River Phoenix, in an interview given before his drug–overdose death, describes how he "lost his virginity" when he was three or four years old.

    Infants don't "lose" their virginity—they are molested or raped. The damaged adult who continues to see himself as a "participant" in his own childhood victimization is tragic—for journalism to endorse it is inexcusable.

  • A teacher is arrested for sexual intercourse with a tenth grade student.

    The news accounts describe him as "having an affair" with the girl. The reason children can't "consent" to sexual activity—the reason we have so–called "statutory rape" laws—is because of the vast power differential between victim and perpetrator and the emotional dominance inherent in such situations. "Affairs" are between adults. The term implies not only consent, but the capacity to make informed decisions. The imbalance of power between students and teachers is so profound that all sexual conduct between should be reported for what it is: sexual exploitation.

  • Incest is reported as a "non–violent crime" (that is, of course, when it isn't being described as a "social problem" requiring "counseling" instead of incarceration).

    In fact, incest, even when no physical force is used, is rape–by–extortion—a major abuse of the deepest power relationship of all; a gross violation of a species–specific duty to protect one's own child.

But perhaps the greatest journalistic offender of all subsumes and exalts all the foul myths about children and sex: the term "child prostitution."

"Prostitution" is the exchange of sex for money. Often called a "victimless crime"—in itself, a moronic statement—the public perceives the word "prostitute" as pejorative. Indeed, we call a person who "sells out" their moral convictions in exchange for personal gain a "prostitute." The essence of "prostitution" implies consent. So when pedophiles talk about "child prostitution," they (deliberately) further the lie that little children are "seductive" that they "volunteer" to have sex with adults in exchange for cash (which, of course, they never see); that they "lose their virginity," and they "have affairs." Pedophiles know if they can succeed in placing "prostitution" on a continuum of sexual activity involving children, they will have established a beachhead from which to launch their other assaults. Once the public accepts that children can "consent" to sex for money, it will be easy to accept that they can consent to sex for "love."

If we allow the term "child prostitution" to gain a sufficient foothold in our language, we surrender precious, hard–won ground to the enemy. There is no such thing as "child prostitution." That term contradicts itself, "proving" a lie. Trafficking in prostituted children as done in Thailand and the other "kiddie sex tourism" countries is slavery—any other description is a grotesque euphemism or an outright lie.

Soon there will be a national boycott against all goods made or manufactured in Thailand. Its goal will be to stop the reprehensible "kiddie sex tours," and punish those countries which continue to provide a safe harbor for predatory pedophiles. And a good way to start is to banish the term "child prostitution" from our language.

If journalism has a God, it is Truth. If child sexual abuse is the ultimate evil, to continue to perpetuate child–destructive myths so beloved of predatory pedophiles is the ultimate sacrilege.

It's time for the truth.

© 2000 Andrew Vachss. All rights reserved.


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