Sunday, August 21, 2005

Fight your battles...follow-up from The Chapel Hill News

My efforts in getting The Chapel Hill News to re-evaluate their reporting about a local sex offender paid off. This week the newspaper published several letters criticizing their reporting, and today the editor Mark Schultz wrote a special editoral reply. I was very happy to see the newspaper take this issue seriously enough to give it a full reply.

I am excerpting Schultz's editorial here:

Sex Offender Story Raises Important Questions
by Mark Schultz

The Chapel Hill News, August 21, 2005

"It took a few days, but several letters arrived last week about our story on some Coker Hills residents' reaction to a registered sex offender moving in. "The piece ... perpetuated dangerous myths," wrote Amy Tiemann. It's important to know that readers care, and the letters page is the best barometer of just how much you care.

Still, I was surprised -- if only because in deciding to cover the story, I thought we were showing we did consider the neighbors' concerns to be newsworthy....

....But the letter writers have a point. If the story fell short, it was in letting the detective's statements go unchallenged. That can happen when we're up against a deadline. So Friday morning I asked Sabrina Garcia, the domestic violence and sexual assault specialist for the Chapel Hill Police Department, about the "consensual" controversy.

For the record, the law doesn't buy that sex between adults and children can be consensual. Having sex with a child under 13 is statutory rape, as long as the perpetrator is at least 12 years old.

That's what the sex offender in Coker Hills had originally been charged with. He was convicted of second-degree rape, and in a statement said he never had sex with the girl, but did fondle her with her consent.

That word again: consent.

It comes up often, Garcia says, which is why the law steps in. It recognizes that children don't yet have the maturity to give consent. But that doesn't matter to a child molester, Garcia explains.

"In their mind, as an offender, they can justify the act," she says. "That's what offenders do: they can minimize, they can blame, they can put it in a context that avoids [taking] responsibility."

"We have individuals who have committed these crimes," Garcia says. "That is a reality across the nation. In reality we're never going to be free to live in a world isolated from sex offenders."

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Pick your battles, and FIGHT them

Usually when we use the phrase "pick your battles," especially in the parenting realm, we think more about letting go of the battles that are unimportant, rather than digging in on those issues that matter.

Today I felt very frustrated as I crafted a response to an insensitive, poorly written article in our local newspaper, The Chapel Hill News. The article minimized the concerns that local parents had about a convicted sex offender that had moved into the neighborhood. I felt so tired, seeing yet another instance of our culture and media not taking child abuse seriously. I somehow found the time to write a letter to the editor, and I wondered if they'd print yet another letter from me on gender issues.

In the midst of my frustration I realized I have to keep fighting this battle, because no one else is going to fight it for me. This is one of the great lessons of growing up: if I want something to change, I have to work to make change come about, because there is no father/authority/prince/white knight who is going to show up to fix things. As mothers, we are the grown-ups now. We can't let the fear of stepping on someone else's toes--heaven forbid they might not like us--keep us from speaking out.

When you think about what is truly important to you, you will discern the important work that won't get done unless you get involved. How can you get started by taking small one step to create the world you want your children to grow up in?

Here is the letter I sent to my newspaper, with a link to the original article--

Careless reporting perpetuates rape myths
by Amy Tiemann, founder of SPARK Seminars

If you are looking for evidence that the danger of child molestation is still routinely dismissed in our culture, you need look no farther than The Chapel Hill News' August 14th article entitled "Sex offender upsets residents." To be sure, the article covers the worries and objections of residents who found out that a registered sex offender had moved to their neighborhood, but what really struck me was the extent to which the piece minimized those fears and in fact perpetuated dangerous myths about sexual assault.

The body of the article states that the offender "was originally charged with first-degree statuatory rape of a child under the age of 13." The convicted offender himself, James Michael Walters, is quoted to rebut this as saying "he never raped the girl but merely fondled her with her consent when she was 13." This dangerous rationalization from an admitted child molester goes unchallenged by the rest of the article and is in fact supported by the article's subheading: "Detective says man was 21 when he had a consensual relationship with an underage girl."

The fact is that a 13-year-old girl cannot give consent to sexual contact with a 21-year-old man. Molesters frequently use a process of coercion and seduction to draw victims into their web, cementing their compliance with a bond of secrecy and shame. Nowhere in the article is there any acknowledgment that children are not to blame for abuse. No interview with a representative from the Orange County Rape Crisis Center. Just outraged parents being told that the authorities "didn't think there was anything for the neighbors to be extremely worried about."

Our children will never be safe as long as our society, law enforcement, and media insist on minimizing the harm done by all forms of sexual exploitation.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A working vacation Up North

Life, work, and play are all combining this week as my family is on vacation in Northern Michigan. It is beautiful up here, and such welcome relief from 104 degrees in North Carolina. (Here a heat wave means its 88 degrees and you just jump in the lake.) When I say family vacation, I mean FAMILY VACATION as we are gathered at my grandfather's house with 26 aunts, uncles, and cousins. We come here every year, and I feel like we've really turned a corner this year now that my daughter is almost 6. She can run around with much less supervision, and the little cousins (7 kids ages 6 and under) are totally interactive and playing together.

Yet more proof that parenting does get easier! It was so hard to watch her here when she was a toddler.

I am combining work with play this week as I do two book events. Today I am signing books at McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey from 1 to 3 pm. Then on Saturday, August 6th, I'll be speaking at Horizon Books in Traverse City from 3 to 5 pm. This is part of my worldwide "opportunistic book tour." I can't leave home for a long tour, so I am setting up events wherever I go on my family's travels. So far they've been fine with it, though it feels really weird to have work responsibilities up here.

My day was made yesterday when I walked into McLean & Eakin and saw a woman buying my book! I hope we can turn out a crowd today and Saturday.