I bet you know the answer to this: who is most likely to sexually exploit a child or a teen?
That’s right: a member of his or her family. Dad or mom, sister or brother.
Not a stranger.
You already knew that, didn’t you? Perhaps you’ve seen the studies. Perhaps it happened to you or your lover or a friend.
Most of us know this. But lawmakers act as if they don’t. Judging by acts before Parliament, including the current omnibus crime bill that the Harper government is attempting to ram through the Senate under threat of fighting an election on crime issues, you’d think strangers were exploiting our youth in large numbers.
When was the last time you saw a politician call for closer monitoring of families to protect children from sexual abuse?
Why such dissonance between actual crime statistics and the laws our governments pass?
Many of you will say that it’s about the Harper government. That the Reform-Conservatives have an ideological investment in propagandizing on behalf of the nuclear family along with creating a fear of crime, of our neighbours and strangers.
Fair enough. But that doesn’t explain the Liberals and NDP behaviour over the past few years. The Conservatives are far from alone in this idiocy. It was Paul Martin’s Liberal government that put through the so-called child-luring bill, which they claimed would protect children but instead harasses artists and writers and people having consensual sex. It completely misses the mark. Harper claimed in the middle of the 2004 election that Martin was ‘soft’ on child porn. When the Liberals won, they responded by censoring artists. How brave; that’ll teach the Conservatives to call them names!
And the NDP? They voted for Martin’s censorship legislation, even though artists and librarians, actors and playwrights, civil libertarians and gay activists begged them (and the Liberals) not to. No better than the Liberals. No more concerned with getting it right than the Conservatives.
And now they’re doing it again. Gay youth, AIDS groups, Planned Parenthood and civil libertarians all spoke out against raising the age of sexual consent to age 16 from age 14, while keeping anal sex at 18. A few lonely Liberals and NDPers spoke out against it in Parliament last year.
But only one, gay NDP MP Bill Siksay, had the courage to vote against it. Only one among all the Liberal and NDP parliamentarians. And guess what? The NDP disciplined him for breaking ranks. Only one MP had the courage of his convictions, was able to get real and talk about the causes of crime and the stupidity of criminalizing youth for having sex.
And what about the Liberals and NDPers representing ridings with lots of gays and lesbians, politicians who ask for your support? They weren’t there when the chips were down. Our youth were abandoned by NDP MPs Libby Davies (who abstained) Paul Dewar (who voted in favour) and Jack Layton (who whipped the caucus to support it), along with Liberals Hedy Fry and Bill Graham (who were absent or abstained.)
My blood curdled when Liberal justice critic Marlene Jennings openly endorsed raising the age of consent. And for many the biggest heartbreak was her NDP counterpart, Joe Comartin, who not only spoke out for the age increase, but also quoted Catholic youth in defence of his position. Quoting Catholic youth: is that what the NDP has been reduced to? Comartin’s other main claim to fame is starting a religious caucus in Parliament — so much for separation of Church and State.
Right now, the consent bill is in the Senate. Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs is running an impressive opposition to it. Three queer and youth groups will speak against it, including the Age of Consent Committee, the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario and Jer’s Vision. It will pass anyway.
It will pass, despite the fact it does not address the causes of exploitation of youth by family members. It will pass even though it criminalizes youth sexuality. It will pass even though it will lead to more pregnancy, more STIs and more HIV — and still leave youth at the mercy of abuse by family members. It will pass because no party has the integrity to do what’s right.
We live in a time when politicians of all stripes vote for legislation that does harm rather than address the real issues that dog our society. We live in a time when even those who wrap themselves in the rainbow flag for gay pride parades shirk from the tough issues that require unpopular decisions. And sell out our youth.