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Reality of Sexual Victimization Obscured by "Predator" Label

(Reprint of letter to the Seattle Times) Thomas Shapley in his column on sexual predators (Focus, April 7) does a disservice to the sexually abused and sexually assaulted. He reminds me of the man in the Mae West movie. When he offers to protect her, Mae West asks: "Who are you going to protect me from?" The fury directed at the tiny class of individuals we are inventing and calling "sexual predators" obscures the horrifying reality of sexual victimization in this culture. Children and women do not have sexual predators to fear most. The threat to our safety comes from our fathers, husbands, boyfriends, brothers, uncles. One in every group of four women knows this from experience and knows that locking up every so-called sexual predator will not protect us in a society where the sexual violation of women and mostly female children has been approved and tolerated.

In a recent case, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled a teenage girl could not sue her father for repeatedly raping and sodomizing her because the traditional doctrine immunizing parents from suit by their children - a doctrine designed to protect the integrity of the family.

Only recently has rape of a spouse been declared criminal. The prosecution of individuals for sexual abuse of their children is a recent development. I know it's much more comfortable for Shapely and others to identify as the problem a tiny group of criminals to relegate monstrosities to monsters. To examine the reality and its causes requires participation in a real solution, which means we look to the pervasive sexism of our culture.

Sexual violation supports male dominance as much as foot-binding and other forms of physical mutilation. In our culture, the restraints are not so obvious, but they are as real.

Every woman in this society is shackled by fear. Every child grows up with an experience of power that offers two choices: be brutal or be brutalized.

The criminal justice system cannot remedy a problem so enormous and so endemic. The courts would collapse under the weight if we prosecuted every perpetrator of a sexual crime.

To suggest, as Shapely does, that locking up sexual predators will make children and women safe distracts our attention from the work that actually needs to be done. We have rather suddenly declared criminal what has been deemed customary. But we haven't changed the customs. If you want an end to sexual abuse, end sexism.

Scape goating "sexual predators" will only shield from scrutiny the far greater numbers of those who commit sex crimes.

Patricia Novotny

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