It all started with an editorial titled, “Proud Mom of Two Teenage Sluts.” The piece was a tribute to Georgetown student, Sandra Fluke, whose defense of contraception had incited Rush Limbaugh to foam-at-the-mouth slut shaming rants. It was also a tribute to my feisty daughters, who at the time were more enthralled with brash young feminist superstar Jessica Valenti (He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut) than with boys. And it included a 30 question slut test.
In the weeks after the article was published, I noticed that traffic to my website was changing. The most searched term? Teenage sluts, followed by a smattering of terms like mom sluts, proud sluts, and mother daughter sluts. I was annoyed. I check traffic to my site because I want to know if I’m making a difference in the world. Pulling together ideas and information takes work. Is anybody listening? Those porn trawlers were messing with my statistics!
I could have simply changed the title, but I was feeling stubborn. When my articles get picked up by online news and opinion sites, paid professional title writers caption them as they please. Often I like their title better than my own, in which case the article goes up at my blog with their caption. But sometimes their titles just suck. They aren’t me. Or I remain convinced that my initial stroke of genius is simply too brilliant to drop, as in this case. Besides—I rationalized—maybe some of those porn seekers would hit my post, hear my motherish voice, be embarrassed by their search for pubescent girls, and give up. Months later, I was the one who gave up. I replaced my title with the one AlterNet had used, “30 Signs You’re a Slut.”
Then things got worse. In the fall of 2012, Republican candidates were experiencing a severe epidemic of rape Tourette’s, spewing such wildly varied rape apologies that an enterprising Kossack created a GOP Rape Advisory Chart in three volumes. Now, as anyone who has bumped into me knows, when I’m not talking or writing about women’s issues and contraception, I’m talking and writing about Christian fundamentalism. Thanks to the fine education I got at Billy Graham’s alma mater, Wheaton College, I suspected that Republican candidates were getting stuck saying awful things about women and rape because they actually believed them. (Anyone who thought the Bible was the literally perfect word of God and was forced into a corner by a hostile journalist would be screwed.) So, I wrote an article I called, “What the Bible Says About Rape and Rape Babies” (which is, basically: Nonconsensual sex? No problem). And then, as the rape controversy swirled around us all, I wrote another article, about my own sexual assault.
At that point, my self-obsessed ego boosting exercise in statistics became instead an exercise in disgust. rape stories, doggie style rape, young rape stories, daughter rape stories, raping my daughter, I raped my daughter, how I raped my daughter, I want to rape my daughter . . . EEEEEW.
A few months back, a Facebook administrator blogged about the horrible things she and her colleagues have to read when posts get flagged for inappropriate content. In the midst of all of the trivial shit, they had missed a plea from a desperate child who wanted someone to stop a relative from molesting her. The article was haunting, and whenever I see the words, I want to rape my daughter, her words come back.
It’s just a fantasy, I tell myself. Research on violent fantasies shows that they are common. Violent offenders, especially violent sexual offenders, indulge violent fantasies–no surprise. But so do a surprising number of normal people. About two thirds of sexual murderers report rape fantasies. So do a third of college males. Psychologists and criminologists have long struggled to predict who will and won’t commit violent crimes, and so they pay close attention to threats and fantasies. But the crimes are extraordinarily hard to predict. Violent thoughts and talk are common; action far more rare. Many factors play a role in separating one from the other including empathy, conscience, impulse control, means, opportunity and things we can’t measure. Time and again, experts have concluded that “there is no evidence that [criminal] sexual fantasies, by themselves, are either a sufficient or a necessary condition for committing a sexual offense.”
It’s just a fantasy. But what if it isn’t? In early November a Missouri father was arrested because he had posted an ad on Craigslist, seeking someone to rape his 11 year old daughter with him. He brought the daughter to a restaurant, so that his potential child-rape partner (mercifully, an undercover police officer) could check them both out.
Technology is blurring the boundaries between sexual fantasy and sexual exploitation in ways that we don’t fully understand. A Dutch child rights organization, Terre des Hommes, recently sounded the alarm about a rapidly growing form of child sex abuse, webcam child sex tourism. After discovering the trend, they created a virtual child, Sweetie, aged 10, to enter forums where pedophiles prowl. Their program flooded with men offering to pay her if she would take off her clothes and touch herself while they masturbated on a video link. Over the course of a ten week sting, the identities of 1000 now known pedophiles were turned over to Interpol. Would the men have been willing to do the same thing with a child in their neighborhood or in their home? We don’t know. We do know that the sense of anonymity and distance afforded by the internet disinhibits antisocial behavior.
The science fiction body horror film eXistenZ (Cronenberg, 1999) played with layers of virtual reality. As viewers followed Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh down the dark rabbit hole, it became increasingly unclear what was real and what was not. At some point as I watched the film, struggling to know which layer I was in, I began to ask myself whether it matters.
Fantasy works for us only because we are able, however briefly and tenuously, to suspend our sense that it isn’t real. Functionally, it probably exists for the purpose of exploring and rehearsing what we want to be and do in the real world. Which layer we’re in matters to a person on the outside, who will wake up to live another day or not, scarred or not; it matters in the blood and bone world that is governed by social contract and law. But on the inside we govern ourselves, and—I say this as an atheist–what matters is whether a person is deforming his or her own soul, the part in each of us that endures beyond the present moment and is shaped by it.
Our choices matter, regardless of which layer we are in, even the fantasies we cultivate. As the Native American parable says, the dog you feed is the one that wins. Those anonymous lurkers who troll the internet for pedophilic rape porn—what are they feeding? Who are they in the process of becoming? I wish that the next time one of them came to my site his screen would simply turn into a mirror.
And I hope this article inadvertently becomes the most popular pedophilic rape porn destination on the web.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Subscribe to her articles at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.