More than a sexual abuse crisis — it’s a mis-use crisis

Has anyone else been playing “Guess the Pervert?”

Sometimes, when I’m bored, I try to figure out who I think we will be the next celebrity/news anchor/congressperson to be exposed (pardon the pun) as a sexual predator/deviant/lecher.

There is a part of me that is thrilled that this is happening.  This is one “swamp” that can’t drain quickly enough for me.  Of course I don’t want innocent men to suffer if they have been unjustly accused.  But I’m happy to see the guilty ones being relieved of their jobs and their prestige and their opportunity to victimize others.  And I’m even happier that the world is being put on notice that we are through tolerating this kind of behavior.

But, of course, this won’t be the end.  It will, unfortunately, take a lot more than a few incidents of public shaming to stop to strong from preying on the weak.

How did this happen?  How did such sexual degradation become so widespread?  And, most importantly, how do we prepare our children to function in a world so fraught with sexual abuse and mis-use?

It’s not difficult to see how we got here.  We lost the sense of sexual meaning.  If sex means nothing — if it’s no more than an urge, an itch to be scratched — then groping an employee should be no more significant than grabbing her by the elbow.  And then we add porn to the equation — where (I’m told) the men are always aggressive and the women are always (eventually) willing.  According to Matt Walsh’s research of relevant surveys, almost 80% of American men between the ages of 18 and 30, 70% of men between 31 and 49 and half of men from 50 to senior citizen admit to watching porn regularly.  And those are just the ones who admit it.

Is it any wonder we’re in this mess?

So what do we do about it?  How do petrified parents go about pervert-proofing their kids?

Well, I hope the basics go without saying.  Teach your kids about the meaning, the beauty and the dignity of sexual expression. (My book Real Love can be helpful with that.)  Do everything in your power to stand between them and the scourge of pornography.

Beyond that, I think one of the most important things you can do for your kids is to encourage their sense of shame.

I’m not talking about “shame” in the bad sense, as in “you should be ashamed of yourself.”  I’m talking about shame in the sense that St. John Paul II used the term in the Theology of the Body. Shame is the instinct to protect that which is sacred from a world which would abuse it.  It is our reticence to discuss the details of sex — not because it is somehow dirty but because it is holy, sacred, set apart.

Kids have a natural sense of this healthy “shame.”  That is no accident.  It is God’s protection, alerting them that something is wrong when someone is crossing boundaries they shouldn’t be crossing.  And when someone is “grooming” a potential victim — child or adult — one of the first steps is to break down that natural reaction.  They tell them that they have “hang-ups” they need to get over.

I am a big believer that kids’ natural sense of healthy shame needs to be reinforced.  Which, ironically, involves discussing sex, the very thing they don’t want to do.  But the family is a sacred space, and hence where discussion of sacred topics should happen.

Tell your kids that their natural reluctance to discuss the details of sex is a good thing.  Make sure they understand that it’s a response to something sacred — that it’s because this gift is so important and beautiful that God wants us to protect it in this way, and that protecting it is protecting us.  Tell them that anyone who tries to break that down — at any age — is someone who doesn’t have their best interests at heart.  Those are people to run from, and nothing these people could be offering — no job or opportunity — is worth compromising themselves or their dignity.

We may not be able to drain the entire swamp. But there is still a lot we can do to keep your kids up on dry land.

Featured image by Chris McNew | Getty Images

COMING UP: More than a sexual abuse crisis — it’s a mis-use crisis

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!