Stigmatizing Child Victims
Dennis Lehane's bestseller Mystic River begins with a child being abducted and raped. After the rape, he is ostracized, even subjected to outright hatred and cruelty. People treat him as though it is he who did something shameful.
One might think Lehane is calling on readers to feel sympathy for child victims, but that proves wrong by the novel's end. The message of the book seems to be that raped children should be ostracized.
Since our society first began talking openly about sex crimes against children, there have been many eager to attack the victims. Psychologist Sigmund Freud claimed children who cry rape are liars who secretly want to be raped by adults; but since children can't get that, they pretend.
Later, the evidence of rape became overwhelming, and psychologists had to admit reality. That didn't stop popular culture, however, from doing what psychologists were no longer willing to do.
Some parts of our culture continue to promote Freud's mistaken view. Others admit rape happens but insist children are asking for it, that they really want it. The novel Lolita does this and continues to be embraced as great literature. Less respected novels have done the same. Mystery writer Joseph Hanson considers himself "homosexual" and has said in many interviews that he uses his novels to dispel stereotypes about gays, such as the stereotype "that homosexuals are always on the prowl for young boys to seduce. In the real world, as homosexuals know, it is usually the young boys who do the seducing," and that is what Hanson depicts.
But the latest trend in attacking raped children is to portray them as evil predators. Edward Norton made his acting debut in the film Primal Fear, where he plays a teenager accused of murdering a clergyman. As the story progresses, we're told he was raped as a child and this caused him to develop a split personality. In the end, we're told this rape victim is an evil mastermind who faked the split personality and, at all times, relishes being an evil killer and laughs at anyone foolish enough to give him sympathy.
In Mystic River, Lehane's child victim, Dave, does not twirl a mustache and laugh at people for being kind to him. But he, too, is a dangerous predator. In this murder mystery, Dave grows up to be the main suspect in the murder of a young woman. The fact that he was once raped is supposed to persuade us he is dangerous. In the end, it turns out he didn't kill the young woman, but he did kill someone else. Because he was raped that one weekend, we are told, and only because he was raped, he grew up to be a pedophile, and that in turn led him to murder.
Saturday night, the urge was as strong as he'd ever felt it. The red-haired kid leaning against the light pole seemed to know this. He smiled around his cigarette at Dave, and Dave felt tugged toward the curb…
And then a car had pulled up across the street, and after some talk, the kid had climbed in after giving Dave a pitying glance over the hood.
Dave then kills the other pedophile in what Dave describes as an attempt to subdue his own unavoidable pedophilia, killing it symbolically through his actual kill.
Is it only in Dave's mind that the 12-year-old redhead wants to be molested as implied in the passage above? Dennis Lehane answers 'No' a few chapters later when he has a different character inform us this child was a prostitute who "dug the work." He tells us, "This kid was into it." [Emphasis in original.] (Ch. 23) Sure, Lehane may be following the new fad of stigmatizing child victims as destined predators, but he also respects the old school tradition of calling child victims sluts.
We should not expect Lehane to show much sensitivity to child victims. He pushed similar attitudes in his less popular novel Sacred. Lehane is a talented stylist, but he is anti-youth and is painfully out of touch with reality. In Mystic River's main murder mystery, the culprits turn out to be children who murdered a woman they did not know as part of a convoluted scheme to (wait for it) avoid being grounded. I'm not kidding. And sadly, neither is Lehane. He seriously wants readers to believe that when children aren't busy tempting helpless pedophiles, they are murdering innocent adults with little or no provocation.
The attack on child victims is much more startling, however, when it comes from the likes of Rob Thomas. His "Veronica Mars" is widely hailed as the most intelligent drama in television history, and the show often stands out for the respect it shows young people, as an audience and as a subject. Yet even Thomas went for this cliché.
Kyle Gallner stars as Beaver
"Veronica Mars" spent its second season with the titular heroine struggling to solve a mass murder. As she digs, she learns a pedophile once attacked at least four boys. Two of those four grew up independently to become psychotic killers. (The other two simply became gay.)
The season's final episode (co-written by producer Thomas himself) makes the stereotype even more blatant. The teenager behind the mass murder is, true to the mystery cliché, the one you would least expect. Shy, timid Beaver is not even a suspect until Veronica learns he was once on the little league team coached by the pedophile. That is enough for her to conclude that seemingly innocent Beaver must be, not only the murderer of nearly a dozen innocents, but also a rapist and the one behind other evil deeds. In the final confrontation, we watch Beaver coldly blow up an airplane and then shoot at Veronica. This demonizing goes so far overboard that Television Without Pity now has a page where fans jokingly add to the laundry list of Beaver's crimes.
Hollywood is overdue for a reality check. Yes, some abused children grow up to do bad things. Many more, however, remain caring, decent people despite the pain they have suffered. It is bad enough to be raped. Do victims need to be vilified, too?