An ad campaign in Virginia is making some waves. Aimed at preventing child sexual abuse, the ads instead imply that affectionate fathers are predators. The print ad campaign shows a little girl holding hands with a man, and the words "It doesn't feel right when I see them together." The radio campaign is more direct. One radio spot features a woman who is worried because she sometimes works late and her husband then gives their daughter a bath and puts her to bed.
I wish I could find the video online of the news report I saw this on last night. The reporter quoted a spokesperson for the campaign who said it was effective because calls to the abuse hotline were up. Using that line of reasoning, the Salem witch trials were effective because dozens of women were accused of witchcraft. Oh, never mind the pesky fact that most, if not all, of them were innocent.
Preventing child sexual abuse is a very, very good thing. Too many children (and one would be too many) have suffered unspeakable things at the hands of predatory adults. But genuine, appropriate affection between fathers and their daughters is also a very, very good thing. The Virginia ad campaign goes too far and ends up confusing the issue. Seeing a predator behind every affectionate dad is akin to being the little boy who cried "wolf!"
On a related note, I was watching a rerun of Oprah last week that included the story of a football player who has gone public with the sexual abuse he endured as a child at the hands of his stepfather. When Oprah asked the man's mother if, looking back, she could see the warning signs, the mother responded that her husband had not wanted to have sex with her before they married. He was a man of faith and she thought it was noble that he wanted to wait for sex until marriage, but now, in hindsight, she saw this as a sign of his warped sexual nature. Oprah nodded and cut to commercial. Um, what? So now we should be afraid and suspicious of every chaste single Christian out there? The mother clarified, for the record, that she and her husband had normal and regular sexual relations after their marriage. So the clear implication here was that she now thinks their chasteness before marriage was a sign of his twisted sexuality.
So, it occurs to me that we have become so sexually warped as a society that we can no longer tell the difference between good and bad, between normal and twisted. There is nothing twisted about people who want to wait until marriage for sex. There is nothing twisted about a daddy holding the hand of his little girl or doing any of the other routine daily parenting tasks that women have been clamoring since the 70s for dads to share equally in. There is something horribly twisted in an individual who sexually abuses a child.
Perhaps it would be nice if all sexual predators had warts on their hooked noses, or green faces like the meanie in The Wizard of Oz, or weighed the same as a duck. Life is not that simple and most predators are too clever to be that obvious. Identifying the real bad guys takes keen judgment, not hysterical accusation.