There’s a new battlefield in America’s culture wars; Netflix. The popular streaming service is taking a lot of heat recently for the American release of a French film, Mignonnes. You’ve probably heard of it by its English title, Cuties. The film, which French-Senegalese writer and director Maïmouna Doucouré has positioned as a critique of both the repressive nature of Islamic fundamentalism as well as the hyper-sexual nature of Western pop culture, seems to be a movie everyone has an opinion on. Even (or perhaps especially) if they haven’t seen it.
The film’s American release comes at an interesting time for our nation. The revelations of Jeffrey Epstein’s and Ghislaine Maxwell’s very real child sex-trafficking among rich and powerful men around the globe has resulted in outrage, and calls for justice for their victims and punishment for anyone who solicited their services – and rightly so. At the same time QAnon conspiracy theories, which build on earlier, debunked conspiracy theories like Pizzagate, have successfully politicized child sex trafficking and pedophilia.
While no one in their right mind could ever defend such repugnant concepts, that hasn’t stopped the internet outrage machine from claiming that their political opponents, whichever side of the spectrum they may fall on, are trying to defend pedophiles. Often accompanied by hashtags like #SaveTheChildren, memes and articles from the right claim Democrats and LGBTQ organizations want to normalize pedophilia. Those on the left turnabout and claim the current administration is helping shelter those associated with Epstein, pointing to photos that show the President with both Epstein and Maxwell. Defenders of President Trump, in turn, point to Epstein’s association with the Clintons. Folks on either end might also opine about Epstein’s suicide, wondering if their particular political boogeyman might have been involved in the death so he couldn’t name names. And so it goes, back and forth, both sides trying to blame the other and neither doing very much to address the very real issues of child sex trafficking or the even more widespread problems of abuse, neglect and hunger.
There is a problem with child sexual abuse and trafficking in America, make no mistake, and it has nothing to do with partisan politics. What it is often associated with, however, is the drug addiction problems that also plague our country.
In nearby Wheelersburg, Ohio, for example, police recently arrested several members of a family involved in trading drugs for access to the children of addicted parents. It was apparently an open secret in the community that 69-year-old Larry Dean Porter would trade drugs for access to children. When the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force eventually arrested Porter it was in a sting where he thought he was getting time with a seven-year-old girl. Not only did Porter traffic in children, he produced child pornography. It’s claimed he also forced parents to sexually abuse their own children on film before giving them the drugs they craved, in order to save the footage for future blackmail and discourage them from going to police. Following Porter’s arrest a cousin, his adult daughters, and several other family friends have been arrested for their parts in the trafficking ring. Since those arrests the parents of several of his victims have also been arrested.
It’s enough to make anyone with half a conscience ill, and unlike the contrived internet outrage and conspiracy theories, it’s sadly all too real. Unlike the high profile, high dollar clients of Epstein, it’s much closer to home too. But we don’t have to cross the Ohio River to find problems with child sexual abuse. Read through the indictments and court dockets for any given month and you’ll see local instances of child rape and incest. While an indictment is simply an accusation, not a conviction, and some of the cases prove to be untrue, even one legitimate case is too many.
While it may also seem this is a recent phenomenon for anyone who only pays attention to social media – a recent symptom of America’s slide into decadence and indulgence – there is nothing new about it. Sexual abuse of children is older than Epstein and Porter. And the overt sexualization of children too young to understand what is going on is older than movies like Cuties. Those who lived through the 1990s will remember the abduction and murder of JonBenet Ramsey, and the criticism her parents faced for dressing her in provocative clothing and adult makeup for child beauty pageants. Vladimir Nabokov also confronted the issues of adult men with designs on young women in the 1950s with his book Lolita. Nabokov is even famously name-dropped in the 1980s hit by the Police, Don’t Stand So Close To Me.
These aren’t problems that should divide us along political lines. The issue of child trafficking is something Conservatives and Liberals should be working together on instead of trotting out as another political football to kick around during campaign season.
The safety of our children isn’t something that should have a partisan bias.