An excellent post here by Suzy Byrne, on last week’s coverage of an alleged paedophile ring. I wasn’t really paying much attention to the news for the past few days, so consequently took the story at more or less face value, insofar as I thought of it at all. It now seems that the reality was, while still disturbing, a little more prosaic:
14-year-old boy goes online in gay chatroom, pretending to be older than he is and looking for sex. 14-year old boy, unsurprisingly, finds sex. The partners were a good deal older than him, but all sex was consensual. Mother finds suggestive text messages on 14-year old boy’s phone and calls the police. I don’t know what kind of messages these were, but I feel this was a poor reaction on her part. On Tuesday 22nd February, RTE News tells us that “Already a large quantity of information is emerging from the investigation, which is less than a week old???. Note the use of the passive voice here. Information does not simply emerge by its self but is provided by sources. In this case there can only have been one source. We now know that this information was wildly inaccurate. These statements come from a police force with a point to prove about its ability to deal with paedophile rings. Recently embarrassed by their failure to deal with a child-porn ring last summer, despite having the case handed to them on a platter by Austrian authorities, Gardai decide that this case will make a quick win, and thus the spectre of a dozen or more paedophiles repeatedly raping a child is evoked.
The underlying assumption behind the initial moral panic is, as Suzy points out, a homophobic one. The sexuality of gay men is assumed to be predatory before it is anything else. Adult males with an interest in teenage girls are seen as fairly seedy, creepy characters, but the tag of paedophile is rarely attached to them. Switch the sex of the object of desire to male, and you have what the Sunday Tribune’s tacky “exposé??? describes as “astonishing stories of depravity??? (a phrase that combines faux disgust with genuine prurient excitement in a manner redolent of B-movies or pulp fiction of the 50’s).
It is a common piety that at a young age, people don’t know what their sexuality is. But the fact is that most boys think of sex all the time at the age of 14. They’re not confused – they know exactly what they want. I can’t imagine that being gay makes much difference in this regard. So I won’t say that this media firestorm was unhelpful to a boy coming to terms with his sexuality, because he may have come to terms with it without any great struggle. However, it is the case that in their rush to join in the orgy of self-righteousness that now seems to accompany every news story regarding children, the Gardai and the media between them can have done him no good. If comfortable with his sexuality some time ago, he is probably a good deal less comfortable now. Suzy notes that “Mainstream media outlets need to also reflect on their reporting of the story???. That is, as they say, the understatement of the week.