Soft-Pedaling Child-Rape

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This is a post about sexual assault and children containing some graphic description. Please understand this before you proceed.


There's some interesting reporting in this Gawker piece on pedophilia. Unfortunately it's undermined by a bizarre lack of sympathy for children who've been sexual assaulted This is not a minor problem. This starts from the from the very first sentence:

It's not easy to listen to Terry talk about the time he had sex with a seven-year-old girl.

I am sure it is a lot easier to listen to Terry to talk about this, than it is for the girl whom he raped to talk about it. Which is what it's called, by the way. Rape. Continuing on:

But after his psychotherapist put us in touch, he agreed to lay it all out for me during a phone call and email, and I was enthralled the way one might stare at a man falling from a bridge. Terry is 38, a small-business owner, and deeply religious--he ends all our correspondence by saying, "Blessings to you, Cord"--but back then when it happened Terry was 20 and a meth head. He was living with his then-wife, his marriage to whom had made him the co-guardian of her two nieces and a nephew. The one niece was a baby, but the other was seven, and it wasn't long before Terry, addicted and in a marriage he calls "abusive," fell for his niece and began a sexual relationship with her.

I am saying that this is bizarre because I can't really understand how one writes that a 20-year old man "began a sexual relationship" with a seven year old. This is not the worst thing about this opening. The worst thing is toward the end when it is implied that the seven-year old girl consented to sex. How do we know this? Terry told us. There would be something to be said for verification when practicing journalism, except that there's no way to verify consent from someone who can't give it. 

A vague rape apologia runs through this piece--the implication of "men who have sex with children" as an oppressed group, the equation of pedophilia with other sexual orientations, and little to no consideration of victims. What bugs me is this is a topic that could use some mature journalism and thinking that goes beyond "hang them all." (The talented Jennifer Gonnerman does it here.) But this isn't it. It's poor journalism, and an insensitive attempt at being edgy. 

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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