Workers Vanguard No. 1030
20 September 2013
Rulers Fuel Deadly Witchhunt
State-Branded Sex Offenders: Pariahs for Life
(Women and Revolution pages)
Over the past several decades, the sex police in this country have swept up some one million people. They are thrown in prison, publicly humiliated and endangered by Internet “sex offender” registries, tracked by GPS ankle shackles, hounded out of their communities, driven to live under bridges and in the woods. They are turned into total social outcasts, modern-day lepers.
Even as gay marriage—and (openly) gay Boy Scouts—find wider acceptance, the capitalist rulers’ effort to legislate sex and “morality” is a seemingly endless project. Its latest expression is the frenzy whipped up against an alleged rash of incorrigible “sexual predators,” especially those supposedly targeting children over the Internet (i.e., fantasyland) and via pornography (again, pure fantasy). There is no such epidemic, although there do seem to be an awful lot of undercover cops lurking in chat rooms. Untold thousands have been victimized just for viewing porn or trying to communicate with others, not to mention engaging in consensual sex with minors—none of which would be crimes in a rational society.
As with the hysteria in the 1980s and ’90s over supposed satanic child-molestation rings in daycare centers, the Internet predator is a government- and media-manufactured myth. Bolstering and manipulating fear and backward social attitudes, its underlying purpose is to legitimize and strengthen the powers of the capitalist state. While Democratic and Republican politicians prate about “protecting our children,” the U.S. imperialists bomb children across the globe even as millions go hungry in this country, where the infant mortality rate ranks 51st in the world.
Some of the more pernicious legal innovations, designed to further government control, are the federal laws signed by Democratic president Bill Clinton in the mid 1990s that require online registration and community notification of the whereabouts of released sex offenders. A further statute requires state law enforcement authorities to transmit their data and fingerprints to the FBI for a national database. There also is “civil commitment,” which is used to keep prisoners institutionalized after their sentences are served. With these laws, people convicted of sex crimes are plunged into a Kafkaesque labyrinth of presumed guilt, social ostracism, preemptive punishment, fear and violence—usually for life.
For Charles Parker of Jonesville, South Carolina, and his wife, his registration as a sex offender was a death sentence. In July, Jeremy Moody plucked Parker’s name off the registration list that located the Parker home on a map, walked in and shot and stabbed the couple. “I’m not here to rob you, I’m here to kill you because you’re a child molester,” said Moody, who has the word “skinhead” tattooed across his neck. (Parker had not been convicted of child molestation.) Moody later admitted that he was preparing to kill another person off the registry.
Case Study: The Friedmans
Recently back in the news was the case of Arnold Friedman and his teenage son Jesse, which was documented in the chilling, Oscar-nominated 2003 film Capturing the Friedmans. The film shows how the two Long Island men, victims of police misconduct, community hysteria and judicial bias, were coerced into falsely confessing to dozens of counts of child abuse that supposedly occurred in Arnold’s computer classes, where Jesse assisted him. A teenage friend of Jesse’s, Ross Goldstein, was also convicted and served 13 months in jail after he was coerced to confess and make false accusations against Jesse.
The charges in this witchhunt ranged from the outlandish to the impossible. As Jesse Friedman pointed out, one ten-year-old boy who attended class once a week alleged that he was forced to have anal or oral sex 30 times in a ten-week period and—after re-enrolling—was raped 41 times in class the next year. One charge described group molestation exercises, including “Leap Frog,” in which Arnold and Jesse supposedly sodomized an entire class of naked boys by leaping from one to the next. Despite tales of physical violence, verbal abuse and forced sex in front of the whole class, not one bit of evidence was mustered—no bruises or bloody clothes. No parents voiced a murmur of suspicion until the cops arrived at their doorstep to interview their kids.
The only indisputable fact is that in 1987 customs agents intercepted a packet containing child pornography addressed to Arnold Friedman, leading to a police raid on the Friedman home in the affluent Great Neck suburb of New York. There, police seized perhaps 20 kiddie porn magazines from around the house and a list of children who attended Arnold’s classes.
In possessing pornography, Arnold Friedman committed no crime! Pictures, fantasy sex, entertainment: porn hurts no one. How many of us could avoid prison if we stood to be jailed for our “deviant thoughts”? As opposed to some feminists and the Maoists of the Revolutionary Communist Party who want to clamp down on porn on the specious grounds that it causes violence against women, we recognize that anti-porn laws hurt everyone by legitimizing censorship and unleashing state interference in private lives. We oppose anti-porn laws and all laws against “crimes without victims,” such as prostitution, drugs, gambling. The government should keep its eyes, ears and nose out of the bedroom and out of people’s private lives!
In accord with the twisted logic promoted in this society that Arnold Friedman, viewer of pornography, must therefore also have been a child molester, he was sentenced to 10-30 years and died in jail in 1995, an apparent suicide. Jesse got six to 18 years behind bars. He was released in 2001 after 13 years, only to face a life sentence of legal and societal persecution.
Even before the trial began, authorities promoted the view that every one of Arnold’s students should be considered a victim. Hundreds of hysterical parents massed in community meetings demanding advice on how to counsel their children. They were told to seek therapy. Many supposed victims in such cases have testified years later to the vast harm done to them and their families by the state’s coercing them to invent stories and by the subsequent “therapy” premised on these fairy tales.
This year, the same prosecutor’s office that convicted the Friedmans reviewed the case in response to a searing critique by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 2010. The court wrote: “The record here suggests ‘a reasonable likelihood’ that Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted.” For the prosecutor’s review, Ross Goldstein (known as Kenneth Doe in the legal papers) spoke up for the first time in 23 years. In a nine-page statement to the district attorney, he stated: “None of the events allegedly described by or attributed to Kenneth Doe ever took place.” Goldstein joined numerous former students who now affirm that absolutely nothing happened in the classes and that police intimidated them into providing false statements. Nonetheless (and not surprisingly), the result of the self-examination was that the prosecutor’s office acquitted itself of any procedural wrongdoing.
and the State
The Friedman case, an ongoing tragedy for an entire family, highlights several important political issues. The Spartacist League’s approach, derived from our Marxist worldview, puts us at odds with bourgeois moralism and often also with many self-styled socialist groups. Human sexuality is broad-gauged, but its practice is conditioned by the particular society. U.S. bourgeois society, with its fanatical religious component, pours a good deal of energy into restraining sexual appetites in the name of social order. With its cops, judges and prisons, the state’s intervention into private sexual relations is aimed at imposing the morality professed by the bourgeoisie, and it often transforms a harmless or even positive experience into a nightmare. The bourgeois state is not a neutral arbiter or protector of the whole citizenry; it exists to assure the maintenance of capitalist rule.
A premise of many anti-sex laws is that children are asexual beings. Absurdly, adolescents and teenagers with raging hormones are considered children. In fact, sexuality is part of the makeup of humans from infancy. As extensively covered in “Unholy Alliance of Feminists and Christian Right—Satan, the State and Anti-Sex Hysteria” (Women and Revolution No. 45, Winter-Spring 1996), children are inquisitive little animals who engage in sexual and other types of experimentation and observation on their way into adulthood. As among other primate species, sex among humans has a large learning component. Today, in much of the country ready access to contraception and sex education is routinely denied, leaving youth vulnerable to unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. If they try to act on what they see on TV and the Internet, they’re in trouble.
Statutory rape laws vary widely from state to state, but they all criminalize activity deemed sexual by the court simply on the grounds that a minor (someone below the “age of consent”) was involved, regardless of whether or not whatever happened was consensual. The law willfully conflates consensual sex with violent sexual assault and rape. Anyone convicted of having sex, or of something considered sexual contact, with a minor is automatically labeled a violent offender. The designation “predatory” can be given when a court decides that a relationship had been established or promoted for the primary purpose of “victimization.”
The only guideline for any sexual relationship should be that of effective consent—that is, mutual understanding by the parties involved—regardless of age, gender or sexual preference. Granted, making the most basic determinations, e.g., whether anything really happened and whether it was consensual, can sometimes be tricky. And there are certainly plenty of cases of violent abuse and rape for which victims might seek legal recourse. At the same time, as Irish playwright Brendan Behan once commented in a different context, “I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn’t make it worse.” Furthermore, disentangling issues of human sexuality from the web of social prejudice is almost impossible in this class- and race-divided society. Freed of the cruelty and cold indifference arising from the profit drive, a socialist society would strive for a scientific approach to these knotty questions.
Lock ’Em Up…
The anti-sex laws have created a huge mass of potential targets, fueling dragnets with huge cash outlays for undercover work and encouraging frame-up trials using sketchy psychiatric constructs and “expert witnesses.” As a result, ever more victims have been shoveled into the maw of the U.S. prison system, already the largest in the world. The toll of the war on sexual “deviants” has added to the earlier “war on crime” and ongoing “war on drugs”—code words for racist legal persecution that quadrupled the prison population to some 2.2 million people today, nearly half of them black.
From the 1970s to now, the number of people locked up as sex offenders has mushroomed. Sex Panic and the Punitive State (University of California Press, 2011) by Roger N. Lancaster provides a useful survey, describing the development of such panics and delineating just how vast the archipelago of victims of state sex persecution is. Lancaster wrote: “Nationally, reports of child sex abuse leaped from 6,000 in 1976 to 113,000 in 1985 and 350,000 in 1988—a fifty-eight-fold increase in twelve years.” Pointing to an irrational dread of “the lurking stranger,” he noted in a New York Times (20 August 2011) article titled “Sex Offenders: The Last Pariahs”: “A child’s risk of being killed by a sexual predator who is a stranger is comparable to the chance of being struck by lightning.” Lancaster also made the point that “most perpetrators of sexual abuse are family members, close relatives, or friends or acquaintances of the victim’s family.”
The anti-sex witchhunts have been used to trash basic tenets that Americans are taught to believe are inherent to a democracy, similar to how the “war on terror” has eviscerated a range of constitutional rights. As seen in the Friedman case, privacy is the first to go, then presumption of innocence as the accused are demonized. The convicted are then marked for the rest of their lives. Nearly 750,000 people are currently on the Web registry mandated by the Clinton-era “Megan’s Law,” which was enacted after seven-year-old Megan Kanka was brutally murdered in a sexual assault in 1994.
Upon release from prison, Jesse Friedman—who did not do anything to begin with—was categorized as a “level III violent sexual predator,” that is, deemed to pose a high risk of repeat offense and a threat to public safety. As such, he was driven out of his home three times. He wrote on his Web site regarding residency restrictions that prohibit proximity to children: “If you look at a map you will discover that means almost everywhere. In some states and cities I would be banned from any place ‘where children are known to congregate’ that includes libraries, museums, aquariums, beaches, and even public sporting events.” “Megan’s Law,” he wrote, “is social exile.”
Thousands of others have similarly been made into pariahs. In Southampton, a summer playground for New York City socialites and Wall Street sharks, some 40 men convicted of various sex offenses are forced to live in two trailers located away from population centers. Only one trailer has a shower—“offenders” in the other trailer have to take a bus there to bathe a couple times a week.
Lost Memory of Skin (HarperCollins, 2011), a starkly realistic novel by Russell Banks, explores the horrifying world of the new outcasts. The hero is a shy and naive young man referred to as “the Kid” whose faithful companion and only friend is his iguana Iggy. The Kid goes to meet “brandi18,” whom he met on the Internet, only to find Brandi’s father and five cops at her house. After he is arrested and convicted he finds himself homeless and living under a bridge with other “sex offenders,” scrounging for food in dumpsters. Even this tiny, dirty, half-hidden space is raided by cops at the behest of headline-seeking politicians, with tragic results. These bridge men are relentlessly forced to keep recharging their ankle monitors:
“It takes half an hour to fully charge his monitor battery and during that half hour the Kid feels intimately connected to the millions of other convicted sex offenders young and old and in-between…all of whom at this moment have plugged their electronic shackles into outlets and are sitting in the bedrooms, living rooms, and basements of houses and apartments and mobile homes, in garages, homeless shelters, public parks, in airports and train stations, in waiting rooms, offices, and the back rooms of fast-food restaurants and under causeways and overpasses—as if they were all trembling leaves on the branches large and small of a vast electrical tree that casts its shadow across the entire country.”
…And Throw Away the Key
Making a mockery of the notion of “serving your time” and the pretense of rehabilitation are the various state and federal “civil commitment” laws passed since 1990. For example, the 2006 “Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act” provides for indefinite detention of any federal prisoner—even those never convicted of a sex crime—who has completed his sentence but is considered mentally “abnormal” and likely to commit a sex offense in the future.
In an article in The Atlantic (20 May 2010) titled “When the Feds Decide Who’s Sexually Dangerous,” Wendy Kaminer stated: “People who trust the federal bureaucracy and believe officials will use this power accurately, fairly, and in good faith may feel protected by it; others should worry about a government authorized to detain its citizens indefinitely, without jury trials, based on speculations about their future dangerousness.” Speak to the prisoners in Guantánamo about that.
Under some state laws, those tagged for civil commitment may be entitled to a hearing in front of a judge but not a trial with the possibility of mounting a defense. Most people do not undergo “treatment,” and hardly anyone ever gets out even if they do. There is even a case of a 102-year-old Wisconsin man who could not undergo his treatment due to memory lapses and poor hearing!
As of 2007, 2,700 men were being held in civil-commitment centers. To escape the clutches of the penal/“therapeutic” institutions in which they are entombed, some prisoners even request castration, as the article “The Science of Sex Abuse” by Rachel Aviv (The New Yorker, 14 January) relates. The first person detained under the Adam Walsh Act, Graydon Comstock, challenged the legislation in a 2010 Supreme Court case. Aviv observed: “By the time the case was heard, four years after Comstock’s criminal sentence had expired, Comstock was sixty-seven and was suffering from heart disease, diabetes, and incontinence. He had twice requested to be castrated, thinking that the operation would help his case, but he was told that it wasn’t medically justified.” In recent years, the Supreme Court has consistently upheld civil-commitment statutes.
Aviv’s powerful examination of the horrors of civil commitment revolves around the real-life story of a lonely soldier named John, who befriends “Indy-Girl” in a chat room. Yes, an undercover cop. The soldier, enticed to a sweet-sounding outdoor picnic, was promptly grabbed by the Military Investigations Unit and the FBI. John was sentenced to 53 months in federal prison for possessing child pornography and “using the Internet to persuade a minor to have sex.” But then his troubles really began.
After getting out on probation, John slipped up and looked at some more underage porn—and was promptly sentenced to two more years in prison. Still incarcerated when Congress passed the Adam Walsh Act, John was transferred to a medical prison in Massachusetts and, without a legal hearing, determined to be “high risk.” Four years passed. In 2011, his civil-commitment hearing began. A year later, the judge ruled that John was too dangerous to release and condemned him to indefinite “therapeutic confinement” in the federal prison system. He remains in this living limbo, where daily “therapy” encourages inmates to spin ever more fantastic stories to win approval from the psychiatrists, stories that only further incriminate them. Living in a tent under a highway seems a preferable fate.
New Witches, New Witchhunters
In the U.S., with its deeply puritanical streak and insidious racism, the combination of sex and race has long been used as a means of social control. The myth of the black male predator stalking white women and children was conjured up in the service of keeping the black population terrorized as lynch law reigned in the Jim Crow South. Anti-sex laws have frequently been wielded to try to put black men behind bars, including famous ones like boxer Jack Johnson in 1912 and Michael Jackson in 1994 and again ten years later.
Anti-sex crusades were one of the weapons for rolling back the gains of the civil rights struggles and to dampen the wider social turmoil of the 1960s and early ’70s, especially that arising from opposition to the Vietnam War. Coming to office in 1977, the Democratic Party administration of Jimmy Carter kicked off an onslaught of domestic social reaction while bringing “born again” religious fundamentalism into the White House. Under the watchword of “human rights,” he also launched U.S. imperialism’s Cold War II aimed at the destruction of the Soviet Union.
The next decade saw one of the most peculiar, terrifying witchhunts in American history: the hysteria over “satanic abuse” in daycare centers, in which hundreds of men, women and children had their lives ruined. Extending into the early ’90s, this panic peaked at the height of Reagan reaction, which among other things sought to drive women back into the home. Funds for welfare and other social programs like preschool and daycare centers for working mothers were slashed, causing enormous hardship and injury to women and children. The “satanic abuse” panic provided cover for this actual abuse by the government.
In the longest trial in U.S. history, lasting from 1986 to 1990, the McMartin preschool case saw child witnesses recount stories of animal sacrifice, orgies, secret underground passages, mutilation of corpses and other fantastical tales. The case started in 1983, and the following year a grand jury handed down 354 counts involving as many as 369 alleged victims, with cops warning of an enormous criminal conspiracy. More than 70 people were wrongfully convicted. Meanwhile, dozens more “satanic” cases swept the country, from Kern County, California, to Fells Acres in Massachusetts and Little Rascals daycare in North Carolina. No evidence was ever found in these cases. The accused were completely innocent, as we (unlike virtually every other group on the left) pointed out at the time in defending the daycare workers. The Friedmans were arrested in the midst of this witchhunt.
Bourgeois feminists and liberals helped this insanity gain traction. They promote themselves as protectors of women and children, but their remedy is to appeal to the state for more or stronger laws and more vigilance by police. A more extreme version of the same politics was Susan Brownmiller’s 1975 Against Our Will, which famously contended that rape or threat of rape is the main way in which all men control all women. Her proposal: more female cops.
In the 1970s and ’80s, the burgeoning God squads, led by the likes of Catholic fundamentalist Patrick Buchanan and Moral Majority head Jerry Falwell, campaigned against abortion and declared AIDS to be God’s punishment of gays. As right-wing bigots besieged abortion clinics, the feminists took aim at pornography and imaginary satanic abuse. In pushing this anti-sex agenda, the “progressives” forged a temporary alliance with the evangelicals.
The state was more than happy to oblige. In 1974, Democrat Walter Mondale sponsored the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which mandated that therapists, teachers and social workers report indications of abuse to the police. Thus, hundreds of thousands of social workers and educators are supposed to act as adjuncts of the repressive machinery of the capitalist state. Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese launched a major anti-porn campaign in the 1980s, with a lot of help from liberal allies. With the Internet, things have only gotten worse. In the last 15 years, federal sentences for possession of child porn have increased in length by over 500 percent and can carry a maximum term of life in prison, the typical sentence for first-degree murder.
Among the most prominent feminists pushing reactionary anti-porn campaigns was Ms. magazine founder Gloria Steinem, who began her career as a witting informer for the CIA. The despicable Steinem also jumped on the satanic ritual/repressed memory bandwagon with a vengeance. In the mid ’80s she gave financial support to a dig organized by McMartin preschool parents searching for (nonexistent) tunnels and dungeons that coerced children had testified about. In 1993, Ms. headlined: “Cult Ritual Abuse Exists—Believe It!”
In 1995, Steinem narrated the HBO documentary The Search for Deadly Memories. Apocryphal “recovered memories” of abuse played a pernicious role in numerous cases. These “repressed memories,” as quack social workers called them, were the secular liberal version of religious hysteria. Being tough-minded materialists, we didn’t buy it. As we pointed out in “Satan, the State and Anti-Sex Hysteria,” techniques that supposedly reveal repressed traumas have been shown to be excellent at inducing false memories, especially in susceptible young children. Sometimes, so-called memories are implanted by cops in the course of interrogation, as in the Friedman case. Actual traumas do traumatize people, and so people tend to remember them.
Sex, Marriage and the Family
How is it that an expanding tolerance (except among hard-core bigots and religious zealots) for gay marriage today can coexist with an unrelenting anti-sex witchhunt? Because marriage, a legal contract, is one of the main social props of the bourgeois state. In a presentation this May, David Thorstad, cofounder in 1978 of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), noted of the demise of the radical gay liberation movement:
“The earlier challenge to heterosupremacy, with a view to liberating the repressed sexuality of everyone, has been replaced by a conservative, conventional focus on winning acceptance by that heterosupremacist, capitalist society. This is most obviously reflected in the quest for marriage and open participation in oppressive institutions such as the military, as well as in appeals to strengthen the state’s repressive forces through so-called hate-crimes laws.”
So, in the quest for bourgeois respectability, gay pride marches welcome contingents of gay cops, whose job includes busting “sex offenders.” Meanwhile, march organizers ban the likes of NAMBLA, which calls for the decriminalization of consensual relationships between adult men and minors.
Unlike the feminist and gay establishments and, disgustingly, most of the “socialist” left, we have always defended NAMBLA and its members against state repression and victimization by employers. This is more than just a “free speech” issue. Many a young boy, tortured and confused by his own feelings and the conflicting and repressive strictures of this society, would find it reassuring to talk things over or experiment with a more experienced person, as generations before them have done. But these days, engaging in cross-generational intimacy of any sort is playing with fire.
In an article titled “Youth, Sexuality and the Left,” Sherry Wolf of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) brandished her pitchfork at Thorstad for being “the most vocal long-time defender of pederasty on the left” (socialistworker.org, 2 March 2010). Upholding the reactionary premise of age-of-consent laws, she quoted from her book Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation: “It is incompatible for genuine consent devoid of the inequality of power to be given by a child to a man of 30.” Wolf’s article continued: “Adults and children do not approach each other as emotional, physical, social or economic equals in our society. Children and young teens do not have the maturity, experience or power to make truly free decisions about their relationships with adults. Without those, there can be no genuine consent.”
Never mind that most relationships between adults would not meet this standard for consent. As for Wolf’s professing that “teens mature at different ages,” just who is to determine the proper age for sexual activity for a species that for some 99 percent of its existence has been into it well before hitting today’s putative “age of consent”? Under the vicious capitalist status quo, the default is the state. For communists, it is ABC to oppose government intervention into people’s private lives and to defend any group that is persecuted for advocating more freedom in sexual relations. This is an expression of the ideal of the Leninist vanguard as a tribune of the people. The ISO & Co. march to different drummers, accommodating to bourgeois values and the witchhunt against those with sexual proclivities deemed verboten.
In The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), Friedrich Engels traced the simultaneous rise of the family and the state as means of consolidating and carrying on the power of the possessing class as it emerged from primitive human society. The monogamy of the wife was required to ensure paternity for the inheritance of property. Today, the family is still the main source of the oppression of women. For children, the family is meant to instill submission and respect for authority, often engendering frustration and violence. As we wrote in “Satan, the State and Anti-Sex Hysteria”: “The sexual proclivities of a group-living mammalian species such as our own are patently ill-suited to the rigid heterosexual monogamy which forms the ideological foundation of the institution of the family, reinforced by organized religion.”
Much of the terrible damage that is inflicted on youth and women occurs within the bosom of the family. But in this capitalist society, the family is most often all you’ve got. Society provides scant alternative services for nurturing children or caring for the ill or aged.
Anti-sex bigotry and vicious state repression will persist as long as private property and production for profit hold sway. The capitalist state cannot be reformed to serve the interests of the exploited and the oppressed. It must be swept aside and a workers state based on expropriation of the means of production must arise on its wreckage. To eradicate women’s and gay oppression requires building a socialist society in which the functions of the family are collectivized—communal childcare and kitchens, free quality health care, and so on—freeing women from the burden of child rearing and household slavery. As to what such a rational society will hold regarding sexual relationships and social relations in general, Marxists share the broad vision expressed by the late (and very much missed) Gore Vidal, who wrote in “Pink Triangle and Yellow Star” (The Nation, 14 November 1981):
“Whatever social arrangements human society may come up with in the future, it will have to be acknowledged that those children who are needed should be rather more thoughtfully brought up than they are today and that those adults who do not care to be fathers or mothers should be let off the hook.”