Last week our local media in New Zealand published an item under the banner, “Man sent to jail for watching ‘pixie sex’.” Friends made jokes about how this story might impact our local pixies, and yes, some stated quite simply, “Have the New Zealand police and our court system gone crazy?” Even Roger Bowden, the man’s lawyer, said the conviction for possessing objectionable material was “the law gone mad.”
If this wasn’t about real people, I too would laugh. But it is not the pixies who are at the centre of this story. Very serious events have unfolded for “an Auckland man“ – and it’s not over yet. Having been convicted of a crime, he has served his time in a New Zealand prison and has now been released, under the supervision of the Probation Service. Usually after such a supervision period ends the ex-inmate is expected to fit back into society – find a job, get himself a place to live. It is my expectation that this man’s future prospects look nothing like that.
What assumptions can we make regarding the man? On a personal level his psychological state/mood would be moving ever closer to snapping point. The public media tell him who and what he is – social messages that are reinforced in his interactions with others. Inside these images, narratives and exchanges, the social identity of the ‘pedophile’/sex abuser is constructed.
Not only do these imposed narratives make it virtually impossible for an individual to maintain an integrated sense of self, but they block all attempts at resistance, be it political struggle or romantic heroism. The very idea of ‘legitimate’ resistance for a sex offender is a no-no.
One form of resistance is available for the sex offender – it has two modalities, and both involve lies and deceit. First, the sex offender is expected to tell lies: he’s a liar before he opens his mouth. But there is also the potential for such a person to tell themselves it is in their best interests to avoid telling the truth. Prisoners will often disclose, after their release, how crucial telling lies was to their survival. Sadly, this is likely to include the inmate failing to take responsibility for what they have done.
There is something profoundly ironic happening here. Sex abuse narratives have truth telling as a central issue, but that process is a bit more complex than may at first appear. It is my belief the stigma of the sex offender and the pedophile is so powerful it feeds invitations to tell lies and do whatever it takes to keep out of harm’s way.
Telling the truth seems almost foreign for modern-day narratives of the sex offender – most see the offender as the one who misleads; I would argue speaking the truth is indeed a great need inside this situation, but lying is endemic, and the act of truth telling far from straightforward.
What sex offenders tell others, and what they tell themselves, constitutes a very deep problem. My decision to write seems infected by this problem of speaking the truth – how will my writing impact others?
In a fundamental sense, each of us owns our own story. That ‘truth’ is as valid for members of sexual minorities as it is for the rest of us. When writing any piece for this blog the author is challenged to take into account how the person or group being discussed might be impacted by what is offered. Anyone who has studied in the area of the social sciences will be aware that ethics and methodology are crucial aspects of how serious research ought to be undertaken these days.
Recent posts on this site can be lensed through such questions. The piece about prisons, for example: How might that piece impact on inmates, their friends and families, the victims of the crimes linked to why a person is in prison?
The more recent post – which discussed children in art – considered how those children would be impacted by public discussion of Graham Ovenden’s work? At first, British society viewed his works as positive, placing them in such prestigious art spaces as The Tate Gallery. When those images were recently taken down, and this move written about in the public media, how were the children in those art works impacted?
A number of items on this website have discussed the social profile of the pedophile. The intent of these texts was to urge the reader to consider the profile of ‘the pedophile’ and ‘the sex offender’ in terms of how they are currently positioned in New Zealand society and culture. How would minor attracted people (a term I use in place of pedophile and sex abuser) view my text? How does the talk I invite impact on them?
A pattern is emerging in New Zealand: men socially profiled as sex abusers and pedophiles are increasingly placed under extended supervision for periods of up to ten years, with a range of special conditions imposed. I know of a person who has been through this situation; his experience gave me a window into how this works. In such a situation as this the probation service will make specific recommendations. The person will often be blocked from owning or having access to any device that links to the internet. Ask people these days to do without such items as our computers, tablet devices or smart-phones for a week and watch panic set in.
I argue that when a person is ‘managed’ by the state it is difficult for them to be open about how that process happens. What choices do they have when telling the story? The biblical account of David and Goliath is not usually applied to the situation of a pedophile facing a courtroom. Perhaps that is the point: culture restricts the narratives we can choose when creating our personal stories – and not every story is offered to every person.
The David and Goliath image is something I have used; I argue the sex offender is prevented from doing so – his every attempt to characterise himself as another David battling Goliath is blocked and discounted.
There is the issue of power here – how can the story be told, and by whom? We are not him; what questions are we free to ask? Is it okay for us to focus on the process unfolding for the man in Auckland, and not limit our questions to issues of guilt or innocence?
Is the Probation Service being over-zealous? Is the state exercising ‘prosecutorial overreach’? Returning to our earlier question, how do our comments impact on this man? If we inquire into what the authorities are doing, the man is likely to become concerned about how they are going to react, and more to the point, what they will do to him.
There is a lobby group in New Zealand that seeks ever increased punishment of those who come before our courts. One can also speculate government staff who see themselves as ‘doing a job’ can become nervous – they fear being viewed as sloppy or lax. Another group in play here are professionals called on by courts to offer opinions – psychologists for example. They are not exempt from these power dynamics. If a psych report is asked for, and I dare say it already has been, how will it be written? It will take up a position, and it will be very likely ideologically driven.
My prediction: an escalation of this case is likely.
As things currently stand this man’s life is in public space, albeit a highly stigmatized version of his life. Media items that point to the pixie story extend beyond New Zealand. Having been to court and spent time in prison, he is already a person deeply affected by what has unfolded. I argue he continues to be at risk.
For some, this pixie story seems like a joke. It is far from funny. In addition to having served a prison term, the man may well have to endure extended supervision for as many as ten years.
Early on, this post pointed out each person owns the narrative that is their life story. Again I feel compelled to stress not only that this matters, but also for some, it is very difficult and complex.
Some are arguing this is a reasoned accusation and a punitive response with a feel-good factor. The view being put forward is this man’s sexual orientation – that of being a pedophile – means that having viewed this pixie material he may then go on to carry out acts that harm children.
It is an argument that turns on the notion of child protection. What it fails to show is any in-depth understanding of what having a sexual orientation means. Even if we have an adult who is not a pedophile, sexual assault of a child, I argue, demonstrates the sexuality of the person acting requires analysis. It is my intention to write on both sexual orientation and the presence of adults inside that group who sexually abuse children and are not pedophiles.
- Cohen, S. (1972). Folk Devils and Moral Panics (Third Edition). London and New York: Routledge.
- Foucault, M. (2001). Fearless Speech. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), Distributed by MIT Press.
- Goffman, E. (1986). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity.
- Steward, I. (2013, 21/04). Man sent to jail for watching ‘pixie sex’ [Newspaper] [Electronic version]. In Stuff.co.nz (National). Stuff.co.nz(Online Story).