Children: the people we love to hate
I was saddened to hear of the decision in the case of the adolescent girl in BC who was assaulted by her parents on Valentine’s Day 2015. One year’s probation for both mother and father which, upon successful completion, would result in no criminal record. They were also forbidden to use physical coercion on any child in their care. But given this is against the law in any case for those aged 12-17 it hardly seems an appropriate judicial response to their behavior; wanton assault with weapons. Quite aside from being criminal, it appears rather that such an act is also dishonorable, despicable – even unchivalrous especially given the gender of the victim, though this may sound sexist in these our days of false equality – and simply lazy parenting to boot. Laziness is not against the law, mind you, and neither are a surfeit of other actions that would perhaps equally qualify under the adverbial categories I have so listed. But assaulting a child, any child, let alone your own, is at least, illegal. The parents claimed ignorance of this, but as is proverbially cited, such is ‘no excuse’. The parents also claimed Christianity but this is also irrelevant. The law is the law. Well, not quite.
It is difficult to know how to interpret the decision given that a harsher verdict would likely mean foster care for the victim, which is also an unfair outcome. When my wife and I first heard of this case when the parents were publicly sentenced, our first thought was, ‘give her to us, we’ll take her right now!’. We are planning on adopting an older girl, just somebody nobody wants as it is well known that the older the child in the human services system the more difficult it is to find a home for them. This fact must have entered into the decision-making process. In spite of this, however, one wonders if the victim’s interests will be served. She herself is on record saying that she did not want her parents to have a criminal record. Now that is chivalry etc., but perhaps it is misguided as well. So while the action was clearly a violation akin to rape, the reaction, given the legal and child service rationalities and bureaucracies, was ambivalent at best. So I am going to interpret this decision in this way: as a call to arms.
Can the parents now be trusted to actually take care of their daughter? Is there a manner in which trust and love can be built out of this debacle? Will the parents, in a moment of anger, laziness, or yet self-styled ‘righteousness’, offend again? The community at large has no responses for the victim. All of us, most especially her, will have to wait and see. Somehow I am uncomfortable with that.
Now we also all know that none of us asks to be born. Living on as a human being with others equally human is no mean feat, and there are risks at every step along the way. We like to think that we preserve the dignity of our children in the face of the world as it is. I’d rather share the world with them then attempt to control their world. I’d rather help them explore human freedom as it is and can be than coerce them into this or that box of unthought. Loving one another, whatever the relationship, is indeed that aspect of the human condition wherein there is presented to us the gravest risks. We know that the death of the beloved is the event that endangers our own mental stability more than any other, for instance. How ironic that the victim was expressing her own love for her youthful mate when the parents appeared to exhibit another kind of feeling to her, their lust for control; sexual, logistical, ideological. A New York based journalist recently published a book explaining that the furor and anxiety concerning ‘sexting’, so-called, is nothing but a moral panic. The phrase is sociological in origin and the author’s interpretation is quite correct. Of all the thousands of ‘sexts’ sent daily by people of all ages, how many result in blackmail or even humiliation and bullying? There is some small risk, no doubt, for putting yourself out in this manner, so to speak. But the ‘expert’ opinions on the matter constitute a projection based mainly in ressentiment. A moral panic is just something to give people a decoy for their own errant behaviors about which they have bad conscience. And ‘religious’ people are hardly the only ones who do so.
Quick comparison: the judge in Alberta who made misogynist remarks in a recent sexual assault case has been officially rebuked by a peer, and feminist groups have been in on the fracas. Rightly so. But where are the supporters of the adolescent victims? Do they have networks and groups to call upon to defend them in the face of adult criminality and judicial ambivalence? If you can’t trust your own parents – and we know that the vast majority of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of children and teenagers occurs in the home and by family members; perhaps this is rather the great moral scandal of our suburban days, not on-line eroticism etc. – then who are the adults that are trustworthy?
That’s why I am going to say to the adolescents of Canada, those between 12 and 17, that this decision from BC represents a call to arms. This is what it means: you need to use every legal means at your disposal to defend yourselves against any adult who transgresses your space, mentally, physically, emotionally etc. You have a right to do so, even if you can’t rely on the system to always back you up. Fight back, call the police, social services, your friends and neighbours. Use the internet to construct support and action groups. Let your youthful comrades know they’re not alone. Make it as public as possible. The wave of community opinion regularly alters its course. You can, with organization and persistence, alter it in your favor, as apparently the still recent election of the new government in Ottawa has in part presented itself regarding children’s rights. You have to think of yourselves first, and not what the going rate is, or what adults might say about you, or even your own peers. You’re old enough to be learning about what love can be, but the first step in doing so is learning how to love yourselves.
Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of over two-dozen books on such diverse topics as ethics, education, aesthetics, religion and science. He was a professor for a quarter century in Canada and the United States.