Violence, Children and Women

There seems to be a theme of violence in the news this morning, and before I attempt to wrap my head around the concept of idol-worship (stay tuned!) I want to talk about violence.

The first regards a local story on WSB of an investigation into child abuse because of a Santeria ritual. A daycare called the police after finding cuts on a 4-year-old girl’s chest. Apparently the cross-shaped cuts are made as part of a religious ritual in order to boost the girls strength. This isn’t a ritual I think I would do, but it doesn’t sound particularly horrible. Then again, I was one of those kids whose arms and legs were often covered in cuts and bruises from my tomboyish antics, so my perspective may be different.

What concerns me is that this is only being investigated as child abuse because it’s an uncommon ritual in the US. If the daycare called to report suspected abuse because an infant’s foreskin had been cut of in a religious ritual, we wouldn’t give the claim any merit. Yet this young girls cuts will heal in a week or so, and the male infant will have his sexual health impacted for the rest of his life without ever having been given a choice. Our priorities seem to be out of alignment here.

The second story concerns young people being kidnapped and sent to Evangelical schools in other countries, apparently in an attempt to “cure the gay.” It doesn’t take much pondering to realize that outside of the US it’s far easier to subject these young people to abuse. The idea that a parent would willingly subject their child to this is astounding.

The third story concerns the acceptable level of violence against women on the internet. Female bloggers are far more likely than male bloggers to receive death threats, be harassed, stalked or subjected to other forms of intimidating behavior. ZDNet writer Violet Blue was recently subjected to death threats, organized harassment, and intimidation for repeating a mistake another writer had made, which as anyone on the internet knows, is very easy to do:

This week, “king of the fanboys” John Gruber and Apple evangelist Shawn King were instrumental to an online witch hunt that eventually included threats of violence toward a female blogger.

The witch hunt was based on inaccurate information about Macworld exhibitors that the men had provided to the public.

I know because that blogger is me. And I’m not the first person to have a troubling story like this about these people.

I personally know female Pagan bloggers who have received death threats. Women on the internet aren’t treated very well if they stray into traditionally male subjects, and are even subject to attacks from other women if they aren’t considered to be feminine enough.

I find it rather fascinating that the violence of the second and third stories are commonplace in the US. Violence against GLBTQI people and threats of violence and intimidation against women are commonplace. They fill our news daily. From the young man whose beating by a gang of homophobes was captured on tape, to female bloggers receiving death threats and politicians using language like “honest rape.”

How do we decide which type of violence is acceptable? How do we decide what constitutes child abuse? Obviously logic doesn’t play a role. If so, then we wouldn’t allow young people to be detained in abusive schools in foreign countries simply for being gay. We wouldn’t allow circumcision to happen ever, rather than allowing it to happen routinely. We would treat women online with the same level of courtesy and respect that we would show them in person.

It seems to me that a level of secrecy has a role in each of these stories. The Santeria story is news not because the cuts on the girl’s chest are worse than circumcision or ear piercing, but because Santeria and it’s practices aren’t very well known. The only reason these kids are suffering these abuses in foreign countries is because they have been swept out of sight and hidden away. The only reason female bloggers face more threats, harassment and intimidation than their male counterparts is that the internet can give their attackers a feeling, if not at times a reality, of anonymity and safety. You are more likely to hit someone if you think they can’t hit back.

The Pagan community isn’t immune to these things. We have our own homegrown perpetrators of intimidation, threats and violence. It’s far more common to see a female leader trashed in public than a male leader. If a woman behaves inappropriately in public in our community, we lash out. When a man does, we are more likely to be silent. I have seen people comment very differently depending on whether or not an article or blog post is written by a man or a woman. A woman who writes a spurious book will be trashed far more quickly than a man will.

I occasionally consider this aspect of our community. I’m a bit notorious for being quick to ban someone for commenting on my blog. I didn’t use to be so quick, but I went through a period where I no longer felt safe writing here. Closing the blog wasn’t an option, so clamping down on the comments was the only answer I had.  I don’t feel bad about that.

In the same way I don’t have much sympathy for teens who lament the lack of teachers. In trad Witchcraft I underwent ordeals that had great spiritual significance and did me no harm, but if a minor underwent the same ordeals it could be considered abuse. The reason most Pagan teachers refuse to work with minors is to prevent allegations of abuse, such as the Santerian parents are undergoing. No one will think twice of a teen taking communion, but a teen participating in cakes and ale might have the ritual leaders charged for giving alcohol to a minor.

Progressive as we are, the transgender debate that took place last year proves we still have a way to go when it comes to dealing with GLBTQI issues.

And I don’t really have a meaningful closing today. My mind is still a-whirl with these stories and their implications. I’m worried, and as so often when I read the news, I feel helpless.I don’t like feeling helpless.

What real, effective and practical steps can we take as individuals to end violence, abuse and a culture of intimidation?

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