An Op-Ed piece on Curley Family/NAMBLA lawsuit

It’s violence, not sex
Suit should expose indefensible criminality

A jury’s award of 328 million dollars to the Curley family in their wrongful death suit against their son Jeffrey’s killers is a step, a large step, in the right direction. The most significant part of their search for justice, however, has yet to come. It will be their suit against NAMBLA, The North American Man-Boy Love Association.

As the Curley’s lawsuit against NAMBLA, which will be defended by the America Civil Liberties Union, goes forward, we can expect to hear a number of predictable arguments offered to distract us from the horror of what happened to 10 year old Jeffrey and what happens to children all over the world at the hands of their so-called “lovers.” Let’s have a look at these red herrings.

As the Globe reported Thursday, the ACLU will use the argument that the Curleys’ suit against NAMBLA is an attack upon freedom of speech. This strikes a nerve with most of us, as well it should, but a moment’s further consideration reveals this strategem for what it is – a kind of wrapping oneself in the flag. The First Amendment does not ensure that there are no consequences of your speech if someone can demonstrate in civil court that you have done him harm.

The Curleys believe their son was harmed not merely by Charles Jaynes and Salvatore Sicari, but by the propaganda of a group that includes in their materials tips on how to lure and entrap children into what they mistakenly call “consent.” Such materials were found in the possession of Jeffrey’s killer. In just the ways the tobacco industry is now deemed responsible for its cynical campaign to addict children, NAMBLA is vulnerable to the Curleys’ claim.

Be prepared for much talk about “the glory that was Greece,” but do not expect to hear the truth that the consorts of these ancestral “boy-lovers” were slave children, or that their masters were the elite of a phallic hierarchy as misogynist as any that has ever existed. Like propagandists everywhere, NAMBLA plunders the past for anything it can use to forge a ratifying myth. The NAMBLA version of classical Greece is an ideologically driven infomercial.

We will be told that NAMBLA members are gay men who have been abandoned by a movement that has sold out. This piece of sophistry is worse than a red herring – it is apples for oranges. Next those who rape little girls will cry they are being persecuted for their heterosexuality. This bogus claim invites the kind of homophobic and puritanical outbursts we have recently witnessed regarding programs that teach safe sex and provide support for gay and lesbian youth.

NAMBLA claims that it has never advocated violence. Their denial, however, relies on an overly narrow definition. The cognitive and emotional violence done to a child’s psyche has consequences more lasting than the tearing of bodily tissue. To a child, an adult’s wiles can be more coercive than muscular force.

Certainly we have had numerous examples to teach us that sex is the vehicle of violence toward children, not its essence. After all, if a man assaults me with a baseball bat, we are not therefore playing baseball. If a man stabs me with a bread knife, it is not a “baked goods” crime.

What would change if we finally understood that this crime is a human rights violation and not about sex but about violence? Everything, I suspect.

Until recently, according to the United Nations, the center of international trade in childrens’ bodies was post-war Southeast Asia. Child-sex tourism has lately been shifting to the former USSR, the Balkans, and Africa. The pediatric sexual slave trade follows in the wake of war like vermin, continuing the destruction brought about by bombs and guns. Wherever the collapse of civil order has enabled the human rights of the weak to be trampled, traders in children are finding a booming market among “child lovers,” whose self-serving delusions are validated by the kind of propaganda purveyed by NAMBLA.

Those who exploit children for their own genital gratification are slave-masters and tyrants, especially when the child can make no escape from their sphere of influence. And while a person continues to violate children, there is nothing that can be placed in the other pan of the scale – nothing – that can balance it. It doesn’t matter if you are a winning coach, an inspiring teacher, a great provider for your family, an all-pro athlete, a pop star, a priest, or a poet.

The Curley family’s moral victory in this case can lead not only to real safety for our children, but to the reestablishment and strengthening of a community, a body politic, a people, torn apart by deep moral divisions in other matters. Surely the vast majority of us agree, across our many other divides, that adult sexual exploitation of children is wrong. (By the way, contrary to what NAMBLA suggests in its propaganda, there is no nation on this planet where the sexual violation of a child is legally permissible. None. The UN Convention On the Rights of the Child, the first unanimously signed international human rights treaty in history affords all children this protection.) So why not begin there, where – with the exception of those represented by NAMBLA – we all agree?

If we cannot come together across the barriers of race, class, religion, and politics – including the politics of sexual orientation, abortion, and capital punishment – to search for a way to protect our children from this scourge, then truly all is lost. Then we will have failed as a people no matter what else we may accomplish.

We will have to rethink things, rename things, reconsider positions with which we’ve become comfortable. We will have to be willing to admit ignorance, feel foolish, relinquish worn pieties. We will have to be fearless.

Who among our children doesn’t deserve this? And who are we as a society if our first goal is not to protect our children – not your children or my children, but our children? Who are we if we turn our backs?

This article appeared, in slightly edited form, in The Boston Sunday Globe, September 3, 2000.

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