By Patricia Wilson-Smith
In a move representative of the “more of the same” politics we’ve come to expect from the fledgling 2008 Presidential race, the Governor of Massachussetts and Republican candidate Mitt Romney took aim at Senator Obama this weekend over remarks he made regarding sex education for young children while speaking to a Planned Parenthood Action Fundraiser .
Senator Obama, who is as you know pro-choice, told the crowd that he supports the idea of providing “age-appropriate sex education to kindergartners”, and called it “the right thing to do”. In typical right-wing fashion, and in an attempt to tongue kiss the conservative right to bolster his standing in South Carolina, Governor Romney upon learning of Senator Obama’s remarks immediately lept to the most lascivious of extremes, characterizing his stance as lewd, and attacking him with such fervor that you would think Senator Obama had tried to sell us on the idea of handing out condoms in Happy Meals.
It would be easy to see this as just early election season rhetoric, and dismiss Governor Romney’s attempt to demonize Senator Obama by intentionally taking his comments out of context for his own political gain if it weren’t for one thing; there is an important issue buried in this seemingly innocuous debate that a hurried dismissal might overlook; an issue that Senator Obama was brave enough to bring to the fore, and one that I believe as President he would also be brave enough to tackle in earnest.
We know that in these treacherous days, small children are too often the weak and innocent victims of pedophiles, and in increasingly alarming numbers. Even worse, we know that we only have to turn on the news to hear story after story about the brutal abduction, sexual assault and murder of young, innocent children. These incidences both terrify and sicken us; but they unfortunately only shine a light on the problem in one extreme. There exists a much quieter, more insidious form of this problem, and it has been played out for years in homes and communities all over America – hidden acts of molestation being perpetrated against young children by people that they know, and who way too often are related to them. People who get away with it.
According to TheAwarenessCenter.org, about four of ten sexual assaults on children take place at the victim’s own home. Two in ten take place at the home of a friend, neighbor or relative. Only one in ten take place outside away from home. In making the remarks that he did, Senator Obama attempted to broach a very serious and sensitive subject with the American people – the subject of children and abuse at the hands of others. His remarks were about teaching the very young the bare minimum that they need to know to protect themselves, and perhaps prevent themselves from becoming victims of inappropriate touching or worse. For some unknown reason, Governor Romney has irresponsibly chosen to take pot shots at the Senator by harping on the notion of teaching “sex education to kindergartners” (just as Alan Keyes, failed presidential and senate candidate tried to do during Obama’s senate bid), rather than dealing with the issue and the remarks in the context in which Senator Obama made them.
I wish I could completely agree with Governor Romney’s assessment, but I just don’t. It is, of course incumbent on us to do all we can to rid ourselves of the scourge of sexual predators of all kinds, no one would disagree with that. But to think that it is enough to make a meaningless stump speech, or even to think that by going after abusers we could protect every child is just plain naive. The sad truth is, many young children who are sexually abused never tell anyone. I know, because I was one of those children.
I was sexually abused as a five year old, by a teenager in my neighborhood. I remember the incident like it was yesterday, and I always have. Back in the early seventies when I was a kindergartner, it was a normal practice for five and six year old girls to walk themselves to and from school, and in my neighborhood, it was common practice for kids to “stay with a neighbor” until a working parent came home. My abuse came at the hands of a teenage neighbor who I was very familiar with. I can remember the shame and confusion as if it happened just this morning, and yet never having been told about what was appropriate and what was not when it came to touching caused me to stay silent about it almost my entire life.
The ugly reality is, many young black women have fallen victim to abuse at the hands of friends, family and neighbors as children. More often than not, they grow up with the shame, and if they’re lucky, it just tarnishes their ability to have healthy, meaningful relationships, and plagues their self esteem. For those of us that are lucky, with help and a great deal of self-introspection, we can go on to live happy, productive lives.
But many are not so lucky. Children that are abused are far more likely to turn to drugs and prostitution; women who are abused as children are more likely to commit crimes, and of course people who are abused may often go on to become abusers themselves. Governor Romney, how do you propose we “clean up the cess pool of filth in which our kids are swimming” if we don’t deal with the issue as early as possible? It is infantile to say the least to think that we can moralize from a pulpit and change what has proven to be a deeply rooted societal problem like child molestation with words and little action. And though I agree wholeheartedly that in the end it is the parent’s duty to protect their children and make the appropriate decisions about what they learn and when, is it really asking too much to expect that as many of the people who spend time with our children as possible should get involved in educating them about something so important, something that could mean the difference in a life of painful shame, and a life of freedom from abuse?
I say no, Governor Romney. Play politics if that’s what you feel you must do to get elected, sir, but please don’t do it with the future of our children. The children of this country will one day be the working men and women who will shape the 21st century and set the pace for the continued greatness of this nation. Protecting them should be our first priority, not winning elections. Senator Obama understands that, and is brave enough to make the tough speeches, even knowing that men like Romney and others will take his words and use them against him. Only an uninformed and ignorant electorate would let him get away with it though, and the people of the United States of America are neither.
To teach a five year old what is appropriate and what is not, or to teach them how to understand their personal boundaries and keep people out of them is just good sense in a world where there is no way to control the sick and twisted. Call it “sex education”. Call it a really strange episode of “Barney and Friends” – who gives a crap. If it prevents one single child from being abused, then it is just as Senator Obama said – “the right thing to do”.