Sebastian Edathy, personifying chutzpah on Facebook. In English, no less.
Right now, in Germany, there’s a huge scandal going on. A former parliamentarian, who resigned shortly before his home was raided by police, has been found to have bought and downloaded child pornography, and even pretty much confessed that he whacks off to it. So, why is this self-admitted pervert not behind bars yet? Well, as the Störenfriedas blog has found, the problem lies in German society itself, and their way of addressing — or rather, NOT addressing — the nature of the problem:
On Thursday, December 18, Sebastian Edathy gave a press conference. The 45-year-old Edathy is facing criminal charges for possession of child pornography. An investigation is now under way to find out exactly who knew what, and when, about the accusations against the Saxon state politician. Also to determine if Edathy was warned. SPD parliamentarian Thomas Oppermann and federal delegate Michael Hartmann play a particular role.
It is surely important [to know] who warned Edathy, because it tells us something about the social position of children and sexual violence in our society, and of complicity in their trivialization. Above all, Edathy is using this question right now to present himself on the media stage — and the media are playing along — to push the actual acts into the background and thus whitewash them.
There’s talk of the “Kiddy-Porn Affair”. Just this headline contains an ugly verbal distancing and a further objectification of children for purposes of sexual exploitation. It is not a “kiddy-porn affair”; it concerns actual children, who were and are being made to serve as masturbation fodder for men. These are not some films that have nothing to do with reality, but children with real feelings, who remain forever caught in the net of men’s sexual exploitation. How must a person feel when he or she knows that their own body is serving again and again as wank-fodder, and one can never do anything about it?
Says Adrian P., who was affected, about that: “The pictures of me are horrifying. I can never get rid of them.”
Edathy himself talks of “purchases” when he’s talking about the children to whom he masturbated: “I believe that the majority of the critical public voices on the purchases — to be honest — are right.” In the final analysis, Edathy takes no responsibility for his own conduct.
A reporter asked: “Are you a pedophile, Herr Edathy?” Edathy replied: “Are you homosexual or heterosexual? Maybe you’re a pedophile…you know what, that simply doesn’t concern you.”
This response is very clever because it brings pedophilia down to the same level as homosexuality and heterosexuality. This excuse is symptomatic of Edathy’s position, which resonates with that of the pedo-criminal organizations, such as the “Crooked 13” and others. These have been trying for decades to sell sexual interest in children as normal sexuality, which should be acted upon. Because this is, according to their definitions, normal, and the results of such “normal sexuality”, as they call it, meaning the sexual exploitation of children, is consequently whitewashed and negated. Finally, it’s all the same in fact whether Edathy’s conduct fits the definition of pedophilia or not. On exactly which grounds children have suffered violence is unimportant. The consequences must be borne by those who have exerted sexual violence, and by those who have profited from it (after the fact). The perpetrator-type of one Herr Edathy is, in fact, irrelevant.
This justification of such deeds is socially widespread. The grounds for it will be laid out here, because they have very real effects upon the Edathy case and its medial reception:
The concept of “pedophilia” comes from the Greek and is made up of παῖς (“boy, child”) and φιλία (“friendship”). It seems to suggest that men with sexual interest in children, and those who sexually exploit children, actually act on the basis of a real, genuine friendly inclination. Even in this case, language reshapes what is actually a very gruesome reality. The motive of a friendly inclination can be doubted, anyway, and even if one considers it valid, it could still be laid to rest, at latest, when power relations are used and boundaries overstepped, as in when sexual violence is used against children.
Pedophilia is listed as a “disease” in the ICD-10 and the DSM, and above all, it is a “disease” in the mind of society. That brings much sympathy for “afflicted” men as a result. It has also led to the notion that people are under pressure, and thus “understanding” — for the perpetrators, that is, not the victim — is necessary, and to look at “both sides” when it comes to sexual violence by men against children. “Aware” men, who are “ready for therapy”, are celebrated. And people who are against that celebration are characterized as heartless, without character, and devoid of empathy. At any rate, we must discuss how much of “pedophilia”-as-sickness is a social construct; if we leave out this consideration, we can still at least ask ourselves who has ever celebrated a victim of sexual violence when she or he has gone into therapy (insofar as there is even a slot in therapy for them; the totally inadequate psycho-traumatological care of victims of violence is worth an article in itself).
“Do you even regret anything?” asks a reporter. Edathy replies in a roundabout way. In his opinion, it’s wrong to expect persons in public office to be flawless. He sees himself as a victim of the rule of law. “The children are victims too”, says the reporter. Can Edathy be sure that children have acted without duress? Edathy, again, blames the Criminal Prosecutor’s Office: “I have paid a high price for what I’ve done. I will try to build up a new existence for myself. Maybe someday it will be possible for me to live without fear in Germany.”
The “flaw”, to have had [sexual] contact with children or youths, will always stick with someone — even when such charges are proven false. The Canadian company from which he obtained the films in question has been under criminal investigation without charges for years. Edathy keeps emphasizing that the films are “legal”, but only once does he say, in an aside, that it “was morally not okay”.
Again and again, the question gets asked: Were the nude photos legal? The headline reads: “Harmless nude photos, or criminal child porn?” Edathy himself says: “I didn’t act conspiratorially. I was firmly convinced that the pictures are not criminally relevant.” He also says: “We are not talking here about a capital crime.”
He also says it’s okay to consume such pictures or films whose production “did not use recognizable violence”. In the Stern, it says: “It was wrong to buy the films. But it was legal.” Where is the responsibility on the part of a currently active federal delegate to society, when he sees everything as “okay” and “legal”, but as a consumer he can’t tell if violence was behind it or not? Can he still shuffle off responsibility for that onto others? Or would it not be better to take responsibility in this sense: “As long as I can’t be 100% sure that no violence was used, I am morally and legally obligated to keep my hands off it”?
If everyone were to act that way, there would be no market for prostitution or pornography with adult “protagonists”, because it is simply impossible to rule out force. Aside from that, why should one be absolved if one assumes that no violence was used because that is “not visible”? What does Edathy mean when he speaks of violence? Must violence be “visible”? Does it depend on that? It does not. It speaks to Edathy’s posture, and that of society, that there can be a context of “under normal circumstances” and “violence-free”, a moral-ethical as well as judicially representable one, in which such photos can be produced, distributed and commercialized. Ergo: When it comes to minors, the question of force or no force cannot even be asked.
The manifold attempts of the sex-industry lobby to make even children into “self-determined actors” and to legalize “child prostitution” and “child pornography” (these concepts are real bones of contention), point to yet another way.
A further question should be what difference it really makes whether a politician masturbates to “legal” or illegal nude photos. Doesn’t the whole affair show that there are loopholes in the law, and that as a result, the legal framework for nude photos of children must be urgently evaluated and made stricter? On what grounds does a man (or woman) even need nude photos of children? Is “art” not simply the usual excuse for sexual violators to get off scot-free? It is a sheer insult that politicians, whose job it is to make laws and be responsible for the protection of women and children, to make legalistic excuses for their acting-out of power. So the assertion that people were acting out “sexual urges”, not crimes, calls into question why this is not a crime. With legal silence, society leaves countless victims in the lurch and betrays them. Edathy’s dismay that despite his immunity a search raid took place on his home clearly shows that powerful men enjoy particular protection.
During the press conference, Thorsten Denkler stated that there surely is a difference between legality and moral rightness. Edathy aggressively waved that off: His private life surely doesn’t concern anyone!
This reference to the private sphere is a cheap trick, but it works when it comes to offering criminals protection. It’s self-evident that everyone has their private sphere, and that this must be protected. But it is also self-evident that this cannot come at a cost to others. A collective looking-away from pedocriminality on the part of society doesn’t protect the private sphere, it supports criminals. Edathy is aware that in this society, sensitivity toward dealings with children is very high, but goes hand in hand with hysteria. This perception supports him in his self-portrayal as victim. He would never get rid of that stain. His recurrent aggression when talk turns to the film material is noteworthy. Again and again he attacks the questioner verbally, and sticks to excuses over the legality. He sees this film material as “art”, not child pornography. It is obvious that even here, mostly economically weak children are serving rich men. But when only visible violence is relevant, then economic forces, violent experiences, addictions and other consequences are obviously of no interest to either criminals or lawmakers. To shrug off he exploitation of these children as problematic sexual practice clearly shows the media’s trivialization of the subject. That the earnings of legal recordings obviously also finance criminally relevant materials, is a clear and present danger that is not being debated.
“Is it not humane to warn others?” runs an oft-asked question. That surely depends on the conscience of the person. Whoever has empathy will hardly be in the mood for that. When it comes to sexual violence, it must be clear that there can be no protection for perpetrators. How the many witting individuals still in public office can live with the knowledge that they didn’t care about the fate of the children, and that they let a criminal go on offending, is hard to imagine. “What do you think goes into the making of those posed photos of little boys that you got off on? Have you any idea of what production process takes place, and when did you begin to think about it?” asks Dieter Wonka. Even here, Edathy can’t think of anything but that it was not illicit material, and right away goes on the attack, saying that Wonka has mistaken him for a jurist and hasn’t done his homework. The same thing happens to a female journalist, who points out to him reports of heavily traumatized children from various films. How does he stand regarding that? Angrily, he counters that she wasn’t paying attention for the last two hours, and that the Phoenix TV channel should just send her a transcript. No matter how many times this reporter looks at that transcript, she will look in vain for a sympathetic word for the children. He has no answer either for the questions of a children’s aid representative.
“Pedophiles” are very creative in their use of masturbation fodder. It doesn’t take much, in a pinch, to make their fantasies come alive. One genre, for example, is the use of child models in tights, in various poses. Do children have to be served up for men on silver platters in order to serve their sexual interest in them? Does society want that for its children, and would we want such a society? Is it important and necessary for children to have nude photos of themselves on the Internet?
In the Stern issue of December 17, 2014, the headline reads: “The Edathy Affair”. Even here it’s not about children, but party politics. Nothing is coincidental, and the slogan on the front page reads: “The Power of Forgiveness”. It has to do with other people in another article, but naturally, an association with Edathy is meant to be established here. It is in fact a mistake to believe that forgiveness helps. This idea has more to do with Christian beliefs, which have forced the idea that good people can forgive, and bad and weak people can’t. In fact, for many victims of violence, it is very important that a perpetrator be punished, and in a fitting manner. For many victims and their families, life has become hell on Earth, and just the thought that a perpetrator can go on committing crimes with a smile on his face is hard to tolerate. Forgiveness is a concept, and helps no one other than predators and their irresponsibility. The idea of forgiveness even puts victims under more pressure, because they can’t even face their feelings, because with religious people, feelings like hate and vengeance are seen as “bad”. But victims can and should be able to feel whatever they want. That’s all.
The reactions of the media and many people are explainable, but not very helpful:
Most people see the world through rose-colored glasses, in order to feel good. Otherwise, they would not be able to handle the real proportions of gruesome crimes and violence. At least not without being forced to deal with it. Some even say “there is some good in everyone”. This saying is obsolete and trivial, even laughable, because with many crimes, it doesn’t matter if there’s anything “good” in a person. Who cares here if a man who, for instance, has raped children, cares about his sick wife or children, or likes flowers or animals? In the English-speaking world, sexual criminals, regardless of type, are called predators. They seek out their victims in a goal-oriented way, and plan exactly how to successfully carry out their crimes. In German-speaking spheres, meanwhile, there is much to seemingly legitimize the criminals and their crimes. There is talk of “urges”, which expresses a lack of control, and opens the way for criminals to give up responsibility and suggest to society that these criminals can and should not be accused of anything. A further, very common designation is that of “inclinations”, a further total whitewashing of terrible violence against children. Some people also say “sickening”, which surely comes from the fact that some behaviors make us sick because they are so repugnant and gruesome, which is true in and of itself. But that cannot mean that these criminals are “sick”, because that would mean that they can’t do anything about their behaviors, and that their actions are free of blame.
Many people make the mistake of believing that they can recognize a lie. But people are very bad at recognizing lies, as studies have been showing for years. Even police officers are no better than other people or psychiatrists. All professions had the same results as pure chance. Even in the case of Herr Edathy, maybe some believe that based on their seemingly great knowledge of human beings, Edathy could not have done anything bad.
There are many theories as to why people, almost always men, are attracted to children. But in fact there is no proven knowledge. The modes of conduct, however, are known. There is always a long period of planning and fantasizing in advance. The obsession with children is supported by constant masturbation to fantasies about children, or actual pictures of children.
Maybe we don’t always have an answer to the question as to how to stop men like Edathy, or how to explain their behavior. We, and those responsible for the media, should however stop making excuses for them. It is not our job to explain and justify the actions of criminals. That is, ultimately, a distraction and doesn’t help the victims. We should take an interest in the victims and give them a space. The criminals are responsible for ending their own criminal behavior, and they should have to bear the consequences for it in all regards. Victims must bear the consequences of sexual violence all their lives. Edathy has gotten a lot of space in the media. And there, the victims were reduced to a “kiddie-porn affair”.
So you can see clearly what kind of linguistic gymnastics we’re talking about. Germany has a pedophilia problem in its major media. Germany has to take a long, hard look at itself. No doubt about that.
Well, I hate to say this, but the exact same thing happens all the time in English-speaking media, too. There’s a lot of sympathy for pedophiles who claim to be “aware of their problem” and “seeking help”. On the other hand, one has only to look at how the media covers the acts themselves to see what kind of contempt still exists toward victims. Sexism, racism — you name it, the prejudice is there, coded right into the language. The New York Times, of all “respectable” publications, fudged the gang-rape of an 11-year-old black girl in Texas three years ago. Rather than treating the perpetrators as predators seeking out the youngest, the weakest, the lowest on the social totem pole, the Times report painted them as the victims, and insinuated that the girl was a prematurely grown-up temptress:
…the paper of record speculates on how the small town of Cleveland, Texas, has been rocked by the story, and the torturous question of “how could their young men have been drawn into such an act.” How, indeed? It’s surely a horrifying scenario when 18 young men are implicated in a crime of violence and degradation. The victim’s affidavit says the assault began when a local 19-year-old offered her a ride in his car, and escalated to a protracted group assault, featuring “threats she would be beaten if she did not comply” and participants recording the abuse on their phones. How could these boys have been “drawn into such an act”? Was it drugs, sociopathy, coercion? Or was that little girl just asking for it?
After all, as the Times helpfully points out, “Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.” Gosh, I wonder if she’s pretty or you know, developed, because that’s relevant too.
So you can see it’s not just the Germans who have a language problem when it comes to child rape and sexual abuse. Americans have it too. And Canadians. And Britons. And…you name it.
Any country where sexual assault occurs, you are bound to run into language barriers when it comes to talking about it. Not because adequate words don’t exist to cover the problem; most of us surely have a big enough vocabulary of those. The problem, as the Störenfriedas piece makes clear, is not words, it is the willingness to use the correct ones. To “make nails with heads”, as the German saying goes, implies that you can’t properly hammer a thing together without them. And this is true, for it is the head of the nail that takes the hammer’s impact, and drives the shaft into the boards. Headless nails are just bits of wire that get bent out of shape and won’t hold anything together at all. So it is with language, too: The wrong words, like headless nails, won’t hold together; they distort, they bend out of shape, they are worse than useless.
And that is what all this perpetrator-friendly talk of “being drawn into” gang-rapes, or “purchases” of child porn videos, also does: It distorts a situation, bending our mental view of it out of shape. It is worse than useless to the victims of those crimes; it takes the blame off the perpetrators and throws it right back onto those who have already suffered the most. Especially if, like bad Christians, they refuse to “forgive” those who “trespassed against” them. Don’t you love that phraseology? It makes the body sound like property. Like turf. Only — and this is grist for a whole other article — whose property, whose turf, is it? Surely not that of the victim, since women have long been legally reckoned to be property of men, and children likewise. The horrific implication is that one can do what one wants to them, as long as one owns them. Human chattel, it is still a thing.
And yes, law enforcement has long supported that view, too. I can still remember when the phrase date rape first hit the media (yes, I’m that old), and when police routinely refused to “get involved” when a man beat the shit out of his wife, even if it put her in hospital, because that was “only a domestic matter”. Even now, there are still people who think that if a man buys a woman dinner, he has essentially bought her sexual consent, and she is “a real bitch” if she doesn’t “give it up” to her entitled date. Or that Ray Rice had a God-given right to punch out his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer. She has since married him, believe it or not, and even “taken his name”, i.e. signed herself over as his chattel under the old coverture laws, though she probably has no idea that the slave-era implications of name-changing are still there, wriggling away below the surface of things.
Coverture may have fallen out of legal fashion, but he idea that a woman has a will of her own, which deserves respect, has yet to be adequately — i.e. FULLY — transmitted in English. Can you imagine what that implies for the children?
Sebastian Edathy certainly goes about whitewashing his own actions with a great deal of chutzpah, but he didn’t figure out how to do that on his own. Just as kids learn how the world works by watching the grownups, so a pedocriminal learns how to twist language to his own advantage by watching others do likewise. The media may ask him all kinds of hardball questions, but in the end, they too are complicit in the overall mishandling of the problem-with-the-fancy-Greek-name.
And that’s not just a German thing; it is a problem everywhere. Edathy bought those movies from a Canadian company, so we as a country share in the scandal and the blame of this trans-Atlantic miscreant. Who knows where, in turn, those movies were made?
In the end, adult male supremacy is a global problem, not limited to any one country. And the globalization of capital, the global nature of capitalism itself, has proved to be nothing but a boon for the abusers of children, traffickers of women and girls, and perverts who whack off to not-technically-illegal photos and movies of naked boys. One cannot stamp it out at one end and declare the whole thing dead; it will only look for another, more congenial place to resurrect itself, hydra-headed, worse than ever. The problem is global in nature, and demands a collective, global solution in turn. And it demands that we all, together, change the way we look at women and children — radically. We must, collectively, give up all ideas of people-as-property, infinitely interchangeable, disposable, and exploitable.
Language plays a definite part in that radical change; a wonderful German word comes to mind. The word is both verb and noun: Umdenken. A re-thinking; to re-think. That is what we need to have, and to do. Until then, we’re just spitting into the wind, and we shouldn’t be surprised if it all just blows right back in our faces.