Are Recent Sex Scandals about Abuse, or Homophobia?

By Lewis Whittington
Philadelphia City Paper
November 1, 2006

When ex-Florida Congressman Mark Foley named Father Anthony Mercieca, his childhood priest, as his sexual abuser, it was another stick of dynamite in an already explosive scandal. More startling were the priest's comments from his home in Malta to "let bygones be bygones." Mercieca admitted to "fondling" Foley, but was adamant about there not being any "penetration."

Foley's rehab confessions echoed the common observation that the abused becomes the abuser, even though he stated that his experiences with Mercieca were not causative. Sexual forensics aside, the priest, and perhaps Foley, both have value systems that accommodate sexual advances toward people who are not consenting adults.

One of the dirtiest open secrets woven into the fabric of American life is a knowledge and tolerance of the sexual collusion of minors. Many families have quietly dealt with it for generations, sweeping incidents under the rug or denying that they occur.

I was sexually "fondled" and put in sexually compromising positions at the hands of an adult male relative in the 1960s, starting when I was about 8. I was coaxed into oral sex and I have one distinct recollection of being anally penetrated. Only years later would I understand that these activities would be considered molestation and rape.

My father alluded to childhood sexual abuse growing up during the Depression as a common family experience — especially in the orphanages and foster homes that he and his brother were bounced around in. People may laugh nervously about airing dirty laundry in public, but that is often code for hiding inappropriate sexual activity like incest, child abuse and sexual exploitation.

The Foley scandal taps into a social mechanism that keeps sexual matters hidden in an attempt to control their consequences. The victims of sexual abuse are always left to fend for themselves. Sexual coercion in any context should be exposed, and when it involves a person in a position of power, it is vital that the whole truth is known.

Foley, the head of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, was in charge of investigating Internet activity, and even backed a presidential crackdown on child pornography. On the face of it, explicit text messages to a former 16-year-old congressional page couldn't be more lurid, exploitative and contemptuous, but it may not be concrete evidence that a pedophile is on the loose.

Not helping in the Foley matter are grandstanding pundits crowing about children being at risk. Bay Buchanan referred to Foley as a "known homosexual" on CNN, speciously equating pedophilia with homosexuality. Sixteen-year-old males are not children; it is not shocking to think that they were flirting back with Foley. Even if the teens did not identify themselves as gay, it is normal for adolescents to be sexually curious and heterosexually or homosexually active.

I have been asked if same-sex molestation made me gay. In my heart and mind my answer has always been a resounding no. My sexual orientation was already set and the molestations had no impact on my own sexual development. I was lucky. Even in a rabidly homophobic society, I believed in my truth.

Nevertheless, adults who have sexual urges for anyone under the age of consent should seek counseling. That Foley lived his life in the closet, whether for his career, his family or because of internalized homophobia, is a sad testament to our institutionalized homophobia. Repressed sexuality can result in acting-out in desperate ways. Anyone with knowledge of the incidents should be held equally accountable.

A comprehensive, realistic sex-education campaign is a starting point. It is ironic that we have no national leadership on this, even while our culture is awash in pornography and misinformation about sexual issues As one person who "let bygones be bygones," I hope that this scandal will get past sensationalism and the issue turns into an active national discussion about sexual misconduct of minors past cultural denials.

Lewis Whittington is a CP contributor.


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