Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On, Wisconsin! The Sex Prosecution of the Month

Despite everything I had to do today, I could not help but read this article in today's New York Times. As a historian who is working on late twentieth century federal campaigns against pornography in the United States, I read anything with the phrase "Sex Predator" in the headline. When that headline also includes the word "Wisconsin," as in "Sex Predator Accusations Shake a Wisconsin Town" -- well, hold onto your hat, Harry.

Anthony R. Stancl, a good student who particularly loved political science, was expelled from Eisenhower High School last fall when he emailed a bomb threat to the school. Oh yeah. Can we spell "federal domestic terrorism laws?" Left with time on, and perhaps something else in, his hands, Anthony set up a Facebook page, using a female pseudonym and a fake profile (also actionable, as a recent verdict in a cyberbullying case establishes.) As a "woman," Anthony then solicited nude pictures and videos from male classmates: 39 folders full of these images were found on his computer, although there are only 31 counts against Anthony and 31 boys from Eisenhower currently being "counseled."

"But," as the Times write, "the authorities said Mr. Stancl did not stop there. In addition, they said, he threatened to release the photos to the victims’ friends or even all of Eisenhower’s 850 students if the youths who had sent them to him did not agree to perform sexual acts he demanded. The tactic was successful, officials said. Mr. Stancl is accused of using it to sexually assault seven boys."

Not surprisingly perhaps, as it is Wisconsin, folks at Eisenhower High, "opened in 1969 and known for its championship sports teams and above-average test scores" (not, I guess, for raging homosexuality) don't have much to say. What is quite peculiar is that none of this would have come out if Anthony were not a guy soliciting guys: in other words (and read the article for yourself, folks) teenage girls and boys emailing nude pictures of themselves to each other, as well as videos where they expose themselves, seems to be Standard Operating Procedure in boy-loves-girl land.

Not that this is a surprise.

I understand the focus on criminalizing Anthony: he has a very peculiar sense of humor. And he's not what you would call a nice boy, although I would argue that enough faggy men in United States history have suffered from the humiliations imposed by "normal," supposedly nice, boys that there is a kind of cosmic justice here. I would also say part of what I find peculiar about Anthony being charged as a sex predator is that the seven boys who are admitting to having had sex with Anthony had another choice. They could have gone to Mom and Dad and admitted what a humongously stupid thing they had done by mailing beefcake to a total stranger in the first place. But they didn't. They thought it was a better idea to have sex with Anthony instead. This means that these boys are either dumber than anyone wants to admit, or that they actually wanted to have sex with Anthony when given the opportunity. Anthony is not, after all, being charged with assault, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or felony rape.

Which leads me to my main point: it is a big, nasty, open secret in American high schools that there are more gay boys in any given student population than will reveal themselves until they are much older; and that there are lots of straight boys who think it's hot to have sex with gay boys.

And in looking for illustrations for this page, I discovered just how many boys and young men upload naked and semi-nude pictures of themselves to web pages, I guess because they think it is fun. Some pages let you vote on who is the "hottest guy." It seems to be a common practice, even beyond Wisconsin, that our Anthony tapped into: try Googling phrases like "Beefcake," "hot boys," and "hot men" and see what you get. My favorite was a calendar featuring Mormon boys back from their two years of evangelizing. There is a picture of each one in his normal black tie, white shirt and nameplate getup, accompanied by a bunch of photos of them bare chested! Yay! The calendar is called: "Men on a Mission." Buy it here. Isn't that hilarious? Well, the Elders don't think so: apparently the creator of the calendar, Chad Hardy, was excommunicated by the LDS church.

But back to Wisconsin. Unfortunately for Anthony, he is eighteen, and I suspect that several of the seven boys who had sex with Anthony are not. This means that Anthony is also not as smart as he thinks he is, and will be charged under a set of enhanced statutory rape, internet and child pornography laws that make this bit of trouble at least as serious as the bomb threat to the school (how did he beat the federal terrorism rap? Enquiring minds want to know.) Fortunately Anthony has an attorney who, presumably, is pleading down these charges in exchange for not publicly exposing (heh, heh) the defensive backfield and/or the senior class president and/or half the student council of Eisenhower High as a bunch of raving queens. But Anthony's lawyer will have to agree to something in order for the many law enforcement agencies now in pursuit to forget about this. My recommendation is that all charges be dropped in return for the following:

a) Anthony stops telling people he is from Wisconsin;
b Anthony goes into therapy;
c) Anthony leaves town immediately;
d) Anthony gets an agent and attends to his true calling, writing memoirs for Oprah's book club.

40 comments:

dance said...

Just a quibble...it sounds like their other choice was not going to mom and dad but rather, feeling totally humiliated when naked pix of them popped up all over the web with links sent to every facebook group their high school classmates belong to.

Unless you are suggesting a confession to parents would have resulting in the cops seizing Anthony's computer really fast.

Tenured Radical said...

I guess I am wondering why any of these boys thought sending a nude picture to a stranger was private in the first place, why *that* idea didn't embarrass them enough not to do it, and why the the publicity of being complicit in such a scam was really so unendurable that they were willing to be more or less raped (we are told) to cover it up. And then, that perhaps trading sex for your lost privacy -- as opposed to containing the damage by telling Mom and Dad, an having them go to Anthony's parents or the cops -- really qualifies as having been sexually assaulted.

Just a question.

Moria said...

More stridently: let's be really, really, really clear here, TR. You are not suggesting, are you, that deceiving people in order to blackmail them for sex is ever anything but coercive, reprehensible, and very possibly violent? This post reads as though you are suggesting that.

I thought I'd go there before the trolls do.

That said, I dig what you say about the complicity of homophobia and anti-pornography legislation. I dig that frightened gay boys might resort to recrimination when confronted with the publicity of their sexuality, and that such legislation gives them the tools to do so. I appreciate, too, the notion that the alleged victims must take some degree of responsibility for their decisions.

But blackmail for sex? Let's be a little quicker to condemn it, no?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Moria above. I thought it was pretty well established that coerced sexual activity was more about power than pleasure. (And, yes, the fear of humiliation is often adequate to keep victims in line.) The reason "why any of these boys thought sending a nude picture to a stranger was private in the first place" is because they thought they were sending it to someone they knew. Are they ignorant? Clearly. However I don't think they were deserving of a forced sexual encounter.

Tenured Radical said...

Oh Moria: There's no doubt that the perp is a real prick, but who I choose to condemn is the New York Times for writing such an out of it story. And yes, I think there is something quite strange that has happened to the world if teenagers send off endlessly reproducible nude pictures of themselves, or videos of themselves masturbating, without ever thinking it's a potentially bad idea, or that they might be embarrassed by having done it. Why does it matter whether the recipient is a real girl or not -- unless it is the homophobia of the community that represents the greater coercive force?

If what happened was violent, it is violent in a symbolic realm that you and I recognize as feminist scholars, not that the town of New Berlin, Wisconsin has on it's map -- certainly the Times doesn't seem to. And maybe it's just my age, but this is not your conventional sexual violence scenario, ethically wrong though it may be. Rape scenarios with women usually don't include alternate choices -- like being allowed to go home and confess to your parents that you got really drunk in exchange for not being raped.

Tenured Radical said...

Anonymous 10:25: they sent it to someone on a Facebook page who solicited them. That doesn't count for "knowing" someone.

John McKenzie said...

"If what happened was violent, it is violent in a symbolic realm."

Wait, seriously? This kid raped a bunch of people - they gave him actual sexual favors, not symbolic ones.

If the situation was with older people, and the threat was made that a bunch of sexual photos would be distributed to colleagues from work (grown-up equivalent of fellow students = coworkers and employers) if sex wasn't given, we would call that blackmail and even if the victim gave in first and reported it later, we would still call it rape.

I get the link between anti-pornography laws and homophobia, but that has absolutely nothing to do with this case. Yes, it's treated as more "sensational" because it's between males and not heterosexual (and this sensationalism is reflective of homophobia), but it's still rape and I can't see any other way we should frame it.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear John:

I get the point hat you and Moria are trying to make. And yet my point seems to be acting itself out in this discussion too: that when sex walks in the door, reason flies out. First of all, there is nothing in this story to indicate that anyone -- the DA, the police or the anonymous boys who had sex with Anthony -- believe that the sex was rape, so I think we should stop assuming that what happened was rape in any sense of the word, actual or figurative. Anthony is being charged as a sexual predator, not a rapist. And much as we in the cultural realm might extend the idea of "rape" to cover a range of ethical and physical breaches against others, that *isn't* a legal definition of rape. And given what a scandal this is, don;t you think that if anyone could find the grounds to charge this kid with rape, they would?

And I'm just curious as to why the choice of being, as dance puts it, "totally humiliated" in front of parents and school friends was an unacceptable choice (endorsed as clearly unacceptable in this comments section), but having sex with Anthony (someone who had already proved himself to be a liar, a blackmailer, and an all-around snake who was likely to expose them anyway) in exchange for his silence was somehow less humiliating and the only possible option. I mean, what is our definition of coercion here?

GayProf said...

As I recall when I read this story, he kept up the subterfuge and claimed to be the brother of the imaginary woman, who, via email, demanded that they have sex with her brother. Complicated.

Nonetheless, I do agree with the above commentators that the sex was given as a result of a form of extortion. I would be hesitant to make claims about their internal desires.

But I also take your point that having sex with another man did apparently seem the better option than being exposed on-line. The news coverage also seems to be blurring the line between whether the issue is that they were extorted for sex or if they were traumatized because it was same-sex sex. I find it hard to imagine that there aren't hetero versions of this occurring everywhere on Facebook.

It's also more evidence that Facebook allows for some mighty questionable decisions.

dance said...

True that we all know intellectually that you can't trust a blackmailer to hold up their end of the deal. Yet full-grown adults with money and power let themselves get blackmailed anyhow. You expect 15 yr olds to make the intellectual decision here?

Re unacceptable choices---the first kid to stand up and fight back by going *super*-public probably had a 90% chance of two difficult days and then hero status (and a damn good college application essay). Again, I'm not sure I expect a 15 yr old to make that analysis (although 15 yr olds might well be better at media-savvy fight-fire-with-fire than we are)

A 15 yr old who's had classes on safe internet use may also be paranoid that the results of not giving in would still be showing up on google when he applied for college, applied for jobs, etc. I might choose private humiliation over public in that case too.

I just think that there are lots of ways to explain the kids submitting to the coercion other than a secret desire to experiment with gay sex. Your post didn't seem to even recognize any of them. I think the best argument in favor of that point, actually, is that Anthony--clearly very intelligent and scheming--very likely targeted boys he thought would submit, either because he saw them as weak characters or because they tripped his gaydar.

dance said...

PS. But actually, if I were a journalist, I would feel bad hinting at that. These kids are clearly victims of blackmail--even to be coerced into acting on desires you've been trying to pretend aren't there is a difficult space for a high school kid. You know the kids in school would be turning this same comment into a taunt--"you wouldn't have done it if you hadn't really wanted to." In this world, for the NYT to make the kind of analysis you are suggesting I think would possibly be unethical.

gebranntes kind said...

What's really annoying is the NYT coverage of Wisconsin, which seems to be limited to sex, corruption, and drinking, with a salting of stereotypes from Praire Home Companion, which many actual people in Wisconsin find condescending and redneckish.

JackDanielsBlack said...

TR, I don't understand your tone here. By your account, Anthony would appear to be guilty of multiple serious crimes. Do you think that sexual predation by an adult against children is funny? And where do you get off assuming that the victims were gay? Sounds to me like they were coerced. If a lesbian is coerced into having sex with a guy, does that make her straight?

Anonymous said...

I posted several reasonable criticisms and honest questions of this post. And what does TR do? She takes them down. Why TR? Again, (1) your claim that Times ran this only because it involves homosexuality doesn't hold water; (2) asserting that there is some cosmic justice here is indefensible; (3) what privileged access to the private sexual fantasies of straight boys permits you to make unsupported claims that they think its "hot" to have sex with gays boys?, and (4) why are you making light of this ... do you find this funny and entertaining?

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Jack,

Since you are one of my favorite conservative correspondents, I am allowing you pride of place, event though I have deleted other flaming remarks that take my post out of context. I just want to respond by saying: you aren't reading the post well, or the NY Times piece for that matter: you are reading it through the lens of your own preconceived notions of what counts as a sex crime. My humor -- although I would call it sarcasm -- is aimed at the NY Times, which published a story that has enough holes in it to drive a truck through: in other words, there is a ton of information missing, and a lot of ambiguity, which I am pointing out. But the story relies on common homophobia for it to make sense to anyone as an account of what really happened, and the main point of argument is that Anthony is a predatory queer (a common stereotype) and the boys who thought they were going to fuck a woman by sending their nude pictures were helpless victims. And in relation to the real people here: the boys targeted by Anthony were his age more or less, not children. Or, if they are children, so is he. And what "child" mails nude pics of himself in hopes of having intercourse with a woman *or* a man? That is an adult at, I'm afraid, no matter how ill considered. It's not like these boys were being groped on a bus without their consent.

And my other point -- which nearly everyone is ignoring -- is, in what world do teens think sending nude pictures and videos to someone is *not* deeply risky behavior that has a good chance of producing humiliation? Or that having sex with a complete stranger is not dangerous? And in what world (and I get it, teens now take fuck buddies and booty calls for granted as a normal form of sexual behavior) does it count as having been "forced" to have sex when you have another viable choice -- tell an adult what you did and let them protect you from some very scary consequences?

Tenured Radical said...

Anonymous:

"Why, TR?" I cite these lines from my profile:

"Comments made out of sheer cattiness or venom toward me or anyone else will be deleted, and name-calling is expressly prohibited. "

Your comments were nasty, and your criticisms -- cogent as they may have seemed to you -- utterly misrepresented the piece and me. So try again if you like: I think your summary works quite well as a substitute.

JackDanielsBlack said...

TR, in calling this a sex crime, I am relying on the law, as I understand it. In my state if you are over 18 and your victims (whether male or female) are minors, you are guilty of statutory rape. Is the law different in Connecticut?

And even though these boys were foolish, I still think that you are guilty of blaming the victim here. Maybe school sex ed classes should cover this topic in addition to the joys of abstinence and effective pregnancy prevention. Yes, the boys had a choice between two types of humiliation, and chose the wrong one (though I think it is cruel of you to assume that their motive was that they secretly wanted to have sex with a guy).

As far as the New York Times is concerned, from what I read in the business press it will have vanished into the maw of "creative capitalism" soon enough. Will you be happy then?

Jo said...

TR,

I wish you would re-read this post and consider the intersection of rape culture with what you have written.
These boys were underage and blackmailed. Giving in in those circumstances in no way meets the moral standard of "informed, enthusiastic and meaningful consent." Your points about the number of gay or gay-curious boys and the effect of homophobia in reporting are lost because you have buried them under victim-shaming.
I have been enjoying your other writing and am looking forward to the History Matters cross-blog discussion -- but I hope that you'll retract what you've said here.

Anonymous said...

TR -- Your post suggests that Anthony has not been charged with assault, but from what I have read it appears that he actually has been charged with multiple counts of 2nd and 3rd degree sexual assault. Just to clarify, are you suggesting that he should not have been charged with assault based on what we know about what happened?

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Jack:

You and I may differ in thinking that age-transgressive sex is necessarily harmful or should be criminalized. I can accept that -- a lot of people disagree with me on this, so let's put that aside. But it never was my central issue. My issue is that you and anonymous -- who I keep deleting because s/he keeps asserting the same criticisms without actually going back to read what I wrote or moving the conversation forward a jot --are extrapolating what you read into a set of false assumptions about what I think -- or even what I have actually written.

Neither of you understands the phrase "cosmic justice," apparently: cosmic justice is never about the real people and situation before us, but a more abstract realm where longer histories play out. Cosmic justice is neither legal or social justice: it's fantasy justice. Here, that phrase invokes a much larger narrative of the vast physical and emotional violence that has been perpetrated on gay teens by their supposedly "straight" counterparts over the long history of heterosexuality.

Cosmic justice is not real justice: it is, in fact, false justice, and that's the point. It has no specific object. So I am not saying that it is *ok* for Anthony to have created a false online identity, or to use that identity to hurt people. In fact I think it is ethically very wrong, and does damage people: it is not the same thing, however, as criminal violence, and I think eliding these categories -- particularly when we give so very little attention to the violence done to children and teens by actual adults, rather than legal adults like Anthony -- is very dangerous.

But when was the last time you read a story in the newspaper about a gay or trans kid who was hounded and physically abused -- sometimes actually raped -- until s/he left school in despair? Because the online GED programs are full of them, and so are the graveyards, since being gay and being made to suffer for it is one of the leading causes of the isolation, depression and despair that leads to teen suicide. Schools would rather dispose of the queer kid than address the homophobia of the student culture that makes his or her life not worth living. Same with pregnant teenage girls -- they are a bad example to everyone, aren't they? But if a "straight" boy has a troubling sexual experience -- well than , that's a different matter, isn't it?

In relation to the repeated charge that I condone or think rape is funny, I repeat: there is no rape mentioned in the original piece. If there had been, Anthony would have been charged with rape. And there is a difference between being raped and having had bad sex that you consented to for complicated reasons: fortunately the law, when applied properly, recognizes this, or the jails would be full of young people at the end of every weekend.

The exception here is statutory rape -- which again, Anthony has not been charged with, although I speculated that he might be because of the kiddie porn charge. In answer to your question, the age at which otherwise consensual sex becomes statutory rape is more or less arbitrary, has historically varied by gender but hasn;t since 1981, and it varies from state to state (in CT it is 16). But again, I don't think you are reading carefully. The point is, we don't know how old the 39, 31 or 7 boys are, and Anthony has been charged as a sexual predator and as a pornography trafficker, not a rapist. So stating repeatedly that *I* think it is ok that sleazy Anthony has raped people is not only false, but misrepresents two separate accounts of this event, mine and the account in the Times.

Second, these "victims" offered themselves for sex when they sent their pictures in: they, in fact, were responding in the affirmative to having been solicited by Anthony's female alter-ego on Facebook. When it became an issue, apparently, was when they discovered that they were offering themselves as sex partners to a man, not a woman. That's the point at which normally, if you didn't want to have sex, and were not imprisoned, tied up or physically overpowered, you would say, no, this is not what I had in mind, and walk away. Most of these boys apparently did.

But a subset of these guys had sex with Anthony anyway, for reasons we do not know. Whatever reasons you might want to muster, this was a choice. It doesn't mean that Anthony's lies and threats are less reprehensible. But there is no evidence in the Times article that the boys who had sex with Anthony didn't think it might be a fun option after all: to reject this as a possibility because they are "normal boys" is profoundly homophobic. The assumption that the boys *must* have been forced is only plausible through the homophobic notion that those "normal" boys were straight and Anthony is a predatory queer who turned them by secret, twisted powers that exceeded their capacity to resist.

Why is it a reasonable assumption that they were just "foolish" to have sex with Anthony -- rather than taking an opportunity to explore queer desire that they had accidentally stumbled into? And why is it "cruel" of me to speculate that this might be the case, but not homophobic to suggest that no "real boy" would have sex with Anthony unless he was desperate not to be humiliated?

Finally, criticizing the NY Times for homophobic reporting is not the same as wanting it to go out of business. If every institution that failed to match my intellectual and political values were to disappear from this earth, we would have no world to live in.

The rape of women used to be referred to dramatically, in a pre-feminist era, "as the fate worse than death." Fortunately it isn't anymore, and that has been a really important step in empowering women. For those of you who believe these kids were actually or symbolically raped by Anthony, I repeat: there is no evidence to demonstrate the choice *not* to have sex with him was not fully available, in return for doing something smart that demonstrated self-respect -- admitting they had responded to his female persona's solicitation in the first place by sending the nude picture. If you believe that they didn;t have this choice, I must conclude that you also believe that rape is a fate slightly better than both death and admitting to your parents that you sent a picture of your dick to a woman you don't know in hopes that you could have sex with her.

This is my last word on this topic -- I need to move on. And anonymous, if you want to acquire "most favored conservative critic" status, along with Jack, you need a pseudonym, so at least I have a clue who I am talking to. And you should try being more polite. Jack can be forceful and occasionally frustrating, but he is polite and his ideas are usually original and to the point.

And Jo, I'm not even going to start on "rape culture" where you are getting your moral standard, or what makes you think the actual sex did not -- could not -- fall into this category. Do I think these kids deserve to be embarrassed for send nude pictures and videos of themselves to strangers? Darn tootin.' And I think it's a good thing they got caught before they ran into someone even more dangerous than Anthony.

JackDanielsBlack said...

Well, TR, as Stanley Fish would say, I guess you and I have different responses to what we read. But lets try a little thought experiment:

Suppose that instead of sending his solicitations to guys, Anthony had sent them to female students who he thought had lesbian tendencies. Something along the lines of "I am a female classmate of yours and I have a crush on you. Because this stinkin' school is so homophobic I don't dare come out to you, but if you write me back that you are really gay, I will reveal myself to you and we can take it from there".

Now, suppose that several girls fell for this and wrote back that they were gay, and Anthony threatened to expose them unless they had sex with him, so they did.

Would you still suggest that these young people must have really wanted to have sex with a guy because they did? Or would you be outraged at what happened to them? And what would you have thought of dear Anthony in this case?

Anonymous said...

TR, there is no indication from the comments made by anonymous that this person is a conservative. Can a liberal not raise the same questions and launch a similar critique?

Jo said...

Of course there's rape mentioned in the original piece -- he tricked them and blackmailed them. That's clearly coercion. The legal, as well as moral, recognition of that is why the NY Times article mentions the "dozen felony charges, including sexual assault on children."
What is described in the Times article is not "exploring queer desire." Exploring involves mutual willingness and curiosity. Being tricked, threatened and pressured into sex is not exploration, it's rape. The eloquence of your description of the "isolation, depression and despair that leads to teen suicide" felt by kids persecuted for being gay belies your argument that these kids weren't raped. That's exactly what these kids felt threatened with, not a merely embarrassing conversation with their parents.
The validity of your other points is overshadowed by the wrongness of the rape denial here. You have blamed the victims, suggested that they wanted it, claimed that they deserved it. It's an indefensible position. Please, rethink it.

drfantastic said...

wow - I think you've really missed the boat here.

Which really, really surprises me.

I'm with JackDanielsBlack.

John McKenzie said...

"The assumption that the boys *must* have been forced is only plausible through the homophobic notion that those "normal" boys were straight and Anthony is a predatory queer who turned them by secret, twisted powers that exceeded their capacity to resist."

Or, you know, the fact that Anthony is facing a handful of sexual assault charges. "They must have wanted it" is the oldest rape defense in the book, and I'm disappointed that that's the conclusion you came to.

Tenured Radical said...

OK everyone, I said I was done, but I am truly shocked at the ideological conformity on this issue, and the need to vilify me for not succumbing to public pressure on this issue. I think you are wrong, ethically wrong and wrong about the basic facts in the newspaper article, the meaning of which you extrapolate to declare as truths things that are either not true or that you can't know.

The article says that Anthony has been charged with:"sexual assault on children and possession of child pornography." He has not been charged with battery or felony assault. This is an important point that you keep ignoring as you assert that those who were duped by him are helpless rape victims. Let me explain why, in the law, this can and does occur with the consent of those who were duped.

Child pornography=*any* naked picture of anyone below the age of consent, even if that picture was taken by the kid and given freely. Which it was.

Sexual assault on children=statutory rape, even if it is a kid not of the age of consent willingly performing a sex act with a kid a year older who is of the age of consent. In other words, all partners can agree to the sex and it is unforced, and it is still a felony. There is nothing in the article that suggests this is not a possibility.

Really, I think all of you have lost your minds, and are a perfect example of the power of the moral panic around child sexuality. The ideas in my post -- while not necessarily 'true" are, in fact, a plausible interpretations of the information and the silences presented in the story. None of you have yet addressed the question of why these high school boys would send nude pictures and videos of themselves to anyone, or why they would offer to have sex with *any* stranger. Do Anthony's reprehensible actions actually erase any culpability these kids have for getting in this fix in the first place, or the dumb decisions some kids made once they realized that Anthony was not who he said he was?

I find it terribly troubling that even asking questions about rape that do not conform to a model of predator-victim has prompted this kind of sexual McCarthyism. You are all making assertions for which you have absolutely no evidence, only charges that have been filed that -- because of stringent and punitive age of consent laws -- make the actual fact of coercion or physical force irrelevant. And yes, I find these remarks -- and the obsessive need to shore of the masculinity of the boys who have suffered harm through Anthony's scam -- by articulating everything they have done as natural, normal and reasonable -- deeply homophobic and reactionary.

JackDanielsBlack said...

TR, believe me, you are no more shocked than I am. Back when I was a young man (which was, unfortunately, some time ago) I was taught that you avoided having sexual contact with minors no matter whether they were gay, straight, bisexual,wanted it, didn't want it, or whatever. If you did not avoid this, your ass was grass and the law was a power mower. Given the disparity of power between adults and children, I think this is a good rule. In any case, it is the law everywhere in the U.S.

Based on the newspaper accounts, I believe that Anthony is in for a long spell in jail, and if he did what is alleged, in my opinion he deserves it -- whether he is straight, gay, bisexual, or whatever. Judging by the same accounts, the others involved are victims, plain and simple. According to the statutory rape laws, whether they "wanted it" or not is irrelevant; however since they are victims I find it shocking and cruel to speculate that they did. If this is your idea of homophobia, so be it. But I believe that you couldn't be more wrong.

JackDanielsBlack said...

p.s. In your last post you state that none of us have addressed the question of why the boys sent in naked pictures of themselves. I would think that the answer is obvious from the accounts -- they thought they were going to have sex if they did. (Sex with a female I might add, which sort of argues against the interpretation that they were gay, latently or otherwise). Have you never encountered horny adolescent boys?

ripley said...

"Anonymous 10:25: they sent it to someone on a Facebook page who solicited them. That doesn't count for "knowing" someone."

this seems to me to be the weakest part of your argument. To me it reveals more about what you think of Facebook than anything else.

You have a particular understanding of Facebook as a "public place" and thus anything done there MUST be mean to be public. I disagree with that rationale anywhere, and think it's rather dangerous, and here I think it's especially problematic.

Many many people think they are socially connected to other people on facebook. They act as if they are. They say, in various direct and indirect ways, that they are or think they are. They believe it.

There are studies on youth (and adult) behavior that suggest young people believe (rightly or wrongly --however you would judge that) that they have different kinds of meaningful social connections on Facebook.

It sounds here like you are saying even though they acted like they thought it was private, they must have known better, because YOU know it is not private.

There is a real difference between the technical and legal reality of facebook (that it is not private) and the reality of people who USE facebook, many of who really, really believe they are more private than that. But that disconnect doesn't lead me to discount people's sense of their own integrity and privacy in favor of the technical reality. (the technical reality which always changes as technology changes - especially because Facebook does have privacy settings that for all I know were used in this case, that would narrow who the images were sent to - at what point would you grant that the kids involved were actually violated? if they met the person? if they mailed the pictures? To me that matters less than whether they FELT it was private, really, I think legally and ethically that matters more.)

thetravellor said...

TR -

I'm actually on your side. I understand your point about choice in this context.

The pictures that were emailed, were done under the assumption that they were being sent to a girl, and then if I'm understanding the NY Times article correctly, Anthony used these pictures to blackmail the boys into having sex with him.

I agree that there are 2 viable choices here (besides having sex with Anthony). The kids who sent the pics could clearly say no and walk away, no harm done and wait for the public exposure or they could talk to their parents about what had happened. I see the humiliation only coming from the fact there would be nude pictures posted and possibly some teasing about being fooled by a man posing as a woman (the bigger humiliation obviously being the nude photos). Any kid who has a decent relationship with his parents should be able to talk to his parents about a situation like this.

However, because all rationality goes out the window when we start to talk about kids having sex, most kids likely aren't that comfortable speaking to their parents about this. This weakens my point above, but does not vitiate the choice for the kid. Having an uncomfortable conversation with your parents versus being forced to have sex clearly offers a choice to the kid.

I also agree that rigid consent laws generally do not protect kids effectively. These laws can too easily be used to punish boyfriends/girlfriends who are disapproved of by the parents. It is unfair to label an 18 year old a "sex offender" and force him/her to register when the crime was having sex while seriously dating someone below the age of consent (which in some states is still 18). So an 18 year old can break the law for sleeping with a 17 year old. There is a difference between actual adults and "legal adults".

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think anyone should be forced into having sex, nor should highschool students have sex with actual adults. I also think that Anthony is a jerk and deserves some punishment.

But- I think TR's original points are valid. If not for the homosexual angle on this, there would not have been an NY Times story.

David said...

In some ways I align more with TR's analysis of this than her many critics. First, the age issue to me is utterly irrelevant. It is a unique characteristic of our own culture that we have so arbitrarily (and stupidly) defined adulthood in such a way that we can call sex between an 18-year-old and a 15-year-old child molestation. It is absurd, a reflection of our society's anxiety about the power discrepancies which are really inherent in almost all sexual encounters to various degrees. So we focus on the one thing we can quantify precisely and we criminalize it.

Second, I agree with TR that the story's logic relies on a certain assumption of homophobia. The story has juice because it is about teenagers being "coerced" into gay sex. Stuff like this happens all the time with heterosexual sex, but it doesn't get covered by the Times.

Third, I would even question the criminalization of posting a "false identity" on the Internet. People do this all the time to varying degrees, and anyway, whatever happened to the idea that gender was a malleable social construct? I don't care how old these kids are, if they are sending naked pictures of themselves to a Facebook account, they know they are rolling the dice. Anyone with any level of Internet savvy would understand this. The hope, presumably, is that this really would be a woman who would want to have sex with them. The danger, naturally, is that it is someone else playing with you.

I would drop all the charges against this guy and then have him publicly flogged.

JackDanielsBlack said...

David, if you think the statutory rape laws are absurd, then the smart thing to do is to work to change them, not to defy them. When I was 18 years old, we had a term for 15 year old girls who wanted to have sex with older guys (yes, they had them, even back then). That term was "jailbait". I remember my brother checking a girl's drivers license in a bar, to make sure that she was of age.

JackDanielsBlack said...

By the way, TR, if you were to disinterestedly apply your guideline that "name calling is prohibited" you would take down your last comment. I am sure that if someone accused you of losing your mind, or of McCarthyism, their comment would vanish in a heartbeat.

Anonymous said...

JackDanielsBlack,

Don't forget the she also called those who disgreed with her on this "ideological," driven by a "moral panic," "homophobic," and "reactionary." These in addition to accusing us of "sexual McCarthyism." Talk about nasty name-calling!

David said...

Jack,

I do not wish to defy age-consent laws. I wish to ridicule them. My general point with all this is that there are plenty of cultures around the world where women will marry at the age of 15 (or younger). It's only in the West that we have sought fit to define adulthood in such a precise yet arbitrary manner. It simultaneously denies the sexual agency of "children" while also defining, and thus giving legal, ethical, and moral cover to, "normal" heterosexual relationships, so defined. Such processes result in the "barely legal" porno phenomenon, as well as the (rather absurd) practice of men checking the government-issued ids of women at bars before deciding if they will have sex with them.

JackDanielsBlack said...

David, too bad for Anthony (and his victims) that he didn't confine himself to ridiculing these laws. I think these laws are there for a good purpose. But I don't see much point in arguing about them here. NAMBLA never really did take hold in the U.S. (thank God!) and (to their credit in my opinion) many gay organizations opposed it.

In any case, even if statutory rape were not a crime, in my opinion Andrew would still be a duplicitous and despicable human being who is well deserving of incarceration (always assuming the newspaper accounts are true, of course). Gay or straight, our kids should be free of the attentions of folks like him.

David said...

NAMBLA is beside the point. The organization has no interest in an 18-year-old having sex with a 15 or 16-year-old, and anyway the organization is, in my view, the inevitable byproduct of the fetishization of age in sexual relationships that our culture indulges in. (And for the record, I doubt Anthony was particularly interested in defying age-consent laws. That doesn't seem to have been his motivation here.) I'm not in any position to judge whether Anthony is a "despicable" human being (he clearly has serious psychological problems), but there is little logic in throwing him in jail for having sexual intercourse with someone two or three years his junior.

But if you want to perpetuate these discourses on protecting "the children" in order to buttress contingent norms of sexual behavior, be my guest. I have no interest in joining the outrage party. And no interest in throwing anyone in jail.

alice said...

"None of you have yet addressed the question of why these high school boys would send nude pictures and videos of themselves to anyone, or why they would offer to have sex with *any* stranger."

Young people who have grown up with social network sites send naked and sexually explicit photos w/ equally explicit comments to one another all of the time. Many people also have explicit photo albums and/or a personal photo attached to their network page.

As someone who works with young people, including/especially queer youth, and whose youngest sister has both a facebook and myspace page full of images sent to her from boys who think she is hot, I can tell you both anecdotally and with statistical assuredness that this behavior is common. I currently have a graduate student working on internet culture and social networks and from the chapters I have seen there is statistically significant evidence that:

1. sending sexually explicit photos is common
2. exchanges about sexual desires is common
3. the sense that images and text are transitory is nearly universal amongst a certain age range of participants and most common among people who have grown up online
4. the fear of having ones images or desires made public is often used in a coercive fashion (tho not always sexual) - especially when the "friendships" are over

According to a study adapted for a PBS special on youth and internet culture that aired last year (sorry, don't have the citation) most youth are more afraid of the social stigma of being targeted online or having their images or comments circulated without their consent or knowledge than they are of any other kind of bullying or peer pressure in school. They are also generally dismissive of their parents' knowledge and ability to understand their online lives and more afraid of the consequences involved in sharing that part of their lives, especially when in trouble, than they are in dealing with the issue.

So it is entirely plausible that youth sent naked and/or sexually suggestive images of themselves with both the intent of hooking up (common) and thinking they were transitory and private (common); that they were coerced into engaging in sex acts they hoped would remain private rather than have their sexual desires (hetero or otherwise) exposed to their parents and classmates; and that Anthony was entirely aware of how this culture works.

Within the realm of cyberculture then, we have youth acting in a way that is considered normative with someone that they assume is being truthful. When that person then demands sexual favors in exchange for not circulating images that will surely have lasting embarrassment at school, sanction at home, and, b/c this is a small town, impact on their regular daily activities that is coercion. This coercion is no doubt exacerbated by homophobia both in terms of the boys who feared not only the circulation of their images and desires but also that they would be perceived of as gay, called gay, or otherwise humiliated by being duped into something felt to be gay AND the boys who may or may not have had latent or unexplored or closeted queer desires. I disagree with you in the sense that we can say any or all of these boys fell into the latter category but do agree with you that it is possible.

Neither the homophobia of the boys in question nor the homophobia of the New York Times however negates the false female persona Anthony created in order to solicit sexual images of classmates, the use of those images to extract sexual favors, or the documented way in which cyberbullying works in heterosexual, homosexual, and homosocial (by which I mean girls bullying other girls into engaging in sex acts with a chosen male) that go on regularly and are reported in the news quite often.

sorry to be so long-winded, but at least this answers your question about image exchange.

alice said...

PS. If this case really does dovetail in anyway with your research, you may also be interested in the case of Beau Breedlove who posted sexually explicit pictures of himself to his myspace page. When he later found himself embroiled in a gay politician scandal, his photos (both the explicit ones and the ones of him in a speedo in Hawaii) were taken from his page and circulated/posted by a gay porn site. Breedlove gave several interviews including to LOGO about how he felt violated by the circulation of his images without permission and how that was negatively impacting his life more than the sex scandal. The images ignited a blogswarm in which his photos and comments about his sexuality, his desires, and his person circulated globally on the internet and forced him to shutdown his myspace (make it private) and change his email and phone number.

It is an interesting case b/c it also contains issues of age, consent, and images online. It differs radically in the sense that both parties claim Breedlove was overage when they had their first penetrative sexual encounter (tho they "fooled around" prior) and that the gay porn site made no offers to anyone involved to keep the images private for a fee. (At least not that was reported).

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Alice,

You rock: what an outstanding comment. If you want to talk about research, drop me a line at my gmail account.