Nannies, adultery, class and consent: some thoughts on Pal Sarkozy

Briefly back in the office with a non-April Fool’s post.

Christine caught my attention with this post about something I’d managed to miss: French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s father, Pal, and his story of having sex with his nanny when he was eleven. The anecdote appears in the new autobiography from the elder Sarkozy.

Christine is struck by the circumstances of the encounter that Pal relates. Though only eleven, the father of the French president recalls himself as the initiator, and the nanny as silently acquiescent. Lots of power dynamics are at play. She is older, but he is male. She is his nanny, but he is the son of her employers. She is an adult, he a child — but he is the aggressor. Christine notes that today, we might charge the nanny with a crime for failing to stop Pal’s overtures. But the story raises the troubling reminder that aggressive sexual behavior, and a disdain for consent, is not limited to adolescents or adults.

It is not hard to imagine that Pal’s nanny weighed the cost of resisting the boy’s advances. He wasn’t an infant; if he made his displeasure known in one way or another, she might well have feared for her job. His capacity to consent was vitiated by his age, but hers was no less vitiated by her subordinate economic status. Given that all we have now are the recollections of a man describing an event that took place before the Second World War, there’s little more we can say definitively.

There is one thing that we do need to point out, and that is that even pre-pubescent boys can be sexual aggressors. Their targets are usually those who are, for reasons of age or status, vulnerable. An eleven year-old boy who is sexually assaulted by his thirty year-old female teacher is in a very different position than an eleven year-old boy who initiates sex with his thirty year-old nanny. Age compromises the capacity to consent, as we all know. But we must also acknowledge that class, status, and fear compromise consent as well.

There is also this much-reported related nonsense: Do Nannies Really Turn Boys into Future Adulterers? Based on a thoroughly unproven theory by an English psychiatrist, the discussion centers around the hypothesis that a little boy, “abandoned” by his mother for his nanny, develops the idea that multiple women are required to meet his needs. His mother’s “infidelity” to him (by having a life or a job of her own) leads to his own future infidelities years later. It’s a clever notion, nasty enough to add an extra frisson of guilt and anxiety into the lives of working mothers.

I didn’t have nannies growing up, but I spent a great deal of time with an au pair or two. I can vaguely remember that when I was five or six, I had a young woman named Sue (who must have been college-aged), whose job it was to take care of me one summer we spent on the family ranch. I am quite clear on the memory of the time she tried to teach me origami. It didn’t end in tears, but very nearly.

I had a great many women taking care of me when I was small: mother, aunts, babysitters, au pairs, grandmothers, and so forth. I am quite confident that I would have ended up a rotten husband (which I was in my first two marriages) no matter who it was who had raised me. One thing that I did bring out of my childhood, however, was a genuine liking for women as people. Women weren’t just my caregivers, they were my first friends and my best interlocutors. And my feminism, as imperfect as it was for so many years, was in no small way rooted in those early experiences.

43 thoughts on “Nannies, adultery, class and consent: some thoughts on Pal Sarkozy

  1. As usual, that article places the responsibility for child care solely in the mother’s domain; fathers are assumed to outsource all of THEIR child care needs onto mothers, but their absence barely has any effect on a developing child at all. The framing of boys’ and girls’ reactions to being cared for by a nanny is also sexist — boys become adulterous when they grow up, but girls become “needy” (read: promiscuous). Promiscuity means that girls are broken. Boys may be promiscuously adulterous, but they’re not described as “needy” although the behavior, as described in the article — seeking sexual gratification to salve childhood wounds — is the same. Blah, blah, blah. It’s discouraging, at times, that this type of retrograde thinking just never seems to go away.

  2. Hugo, it is unfortunate that you appear to condone adult women having sex with prepubescent male children, particularly as we both know you would never state that an 11-year-old girl who had sex with a male caregiver was the aggressor, regardless of whether the man risked losing his job if he continued to resist.

    You do a great disservice to boys who are raped by women, although I understand that you do not believe such acts happen, and apparently believe the boys are the actually predators.

  3. Pingback: Concerning sex with children « Toy Soldiers

  4. Indeed, I have to echo Toysoldier here. Men representing themselves as the aggressor is a pretty common coping mechanism for when they’re not. Commonly the only vocabulary they have for any kind of encounter necessarily paints them as the aggressor. To take a story like that at face value is extremely dubious. Without any kind of narrative available to him to understand things in any other fashion, of course he adopts that narrative. We should be smarter.

  5. “It is not hard to imagine that Pal’s nanny weighed the cost of resisting the boy’s advances. He wasn’t an infant; if he made his displeasure known in one way or another, she might well have feared for her job. His capacity to consent was vitiated by his age, but hers was no less vitiated by her subordinate economic status.”

    If my boss told me that henceforth one of my job responsibilities was to repeatedly molest an 11-year-old girl, how concerned about my vitiated capacity for consent would you be if I complied?

    “Age compromises the capacity to consent, as we all know. But we must also acknowledge that class, status, and fear compromise consent as well.”

    But they do so in qualitatively different ways. There is a difference between having a weak bargaining position that leaves one forced to choose between undesirable options and lacking the rational faculties to give meaningful consent to sex at all. The boy and nanny are only analogous if you believe that poor people have the same limited capacity for reason and volition as preteen children.

  6. Mr Schwyzer…

    I will be forwarding this link to Mike Lew, author of Victims No Longer, for his perusal.

    Your permissiveness toward female perpetrated child sexual abuse has been noted and will be discussed in two weeks time by Mike, myself and numerous survivors and counselors at an upcoming workshop.

    You will be hearing more.

    You act to marginalise victims of child sexual abuse. When you do this you contribute to the harm victims endure as a consequence of their experience. You may as well be a participant abuser.

    I will thank you to refrain from future comment regarding male victims and victims of female perpetrators. The prejudices they confront are pervasive enough without your acting to reinforce them.

    There is NO EXCUSE for the harm you do.

  7. Oh for the love of Peter, Paul, Mary, all the angels and the saints… the “women are perps and men and boys the real victims of sexual violence” crowd really comes out of the woodwork at times like this.

    Boys can be molested and abused. Women can molest and abuse. But just as age compromises the capacity to reason, so too do class and gender roles compromise the capacity to resist aggressive advances. And eleven year-old boys can be perpetrators, not just victims. Pal Sarkozy’s recollections are all we have to go on. To suggest he was a victim is preposterous. Do a search — I’ve spoken harshly about Mary Kay Le Tourneau and her abuse of the child in her care. This doesn’t seem analogous.

    I stand by my point. The adult-child dyad is not the only one at play in relationships like this — class and sex roles play their part as well, and we make a mistake when we assume that they don’t.

  8. Hugo, if all you had said was that “class and sex roles play their part as well” then, well, the above would probably still have come across as an apologia for the nanny, but the (rather trivial) point would have been hard to dispute – class and sex roles probably play *some* role, however small, in almost every interaction between people.

    Instead, however, you made the much stronger statement that “His capacity to consent was vitiated by his age, but hers was NO LESS vitiated by her subordinate economic status.” (capitals mine). This sounds very much like an assertion of moral equivalence – she might have been an adult having sexual relations with an eleven year-old, but she was worried about her job and hence no more at fault than him! I think John Markley’s counterexample above rather aptly points out the absurdity (not to mention that her job worries are only, as you admit, speculation on your part).

    Oh, and on top of that you’ve just rather airily dismissed the concerns of commenters, at least one of whom has previously stated that he’s been a childhood victim of female sexual abuse, with the somewhat bizarre accusation of their being part of the “‘women are perps and men and boys the real victims of sexual violence’ crowd”. The real victims of sexual violence are those to whom it has occurred, both male and female. If you’re suggesting they think there are *only* female perpetrators and male victims, where do you think this was stated or implied? And, given all the above, plus the fairly common societal trope that underage boys having sex with adult women are getting lucky (rather than being victims as their female counterparts are), and the difficulties for abuse victims this can cause, are you really surprised people have a problem with this post?

  9. This is an interesting subject. As one who was both sexually abused by both a male, and a couple of females, and also as one who was well aware of sexual attraction by the age of 8yo, and trying to understand and placate those urges by playing “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”(and trust me this was more than simple childhood curiosity, that found reciprocation with more than one girl my age), I can see both sides of this issue. Yes, Pal was the sexual aggressor and he was almost certainly aware that he was at least able to make advances toward his nanny because of his likely pampered and priveledged sense of self, but was he in fact aware of the ‘wrongness’ of his actions? Hard to say, but knowledge of, and understanding of, the wrongness of an act is needed to infer guilt.

    We don’t have the nannies side of the story, and God only knows if she lived in abject fear of losing her position, or if she was a willing victim in this situation. Her position was undoubtedly tenuous. Pal certainly was an aggressive ‘willing victim’, but whether his ‘aggressiveness’ was the prduct of sexual curiosity or more prdatory urges we cannot know.

    I can personally attest to the aggressiveness of girls, women and men when it comes to sexual assault. Whether these acts are committed with assumption of compliance from the victim, or perpetrated as an act of pure violence, the gender of the aggressor matters not. Men rape and assault, women rape and assault. The methods differ in my experience, but the act is the same.

    BTW, my voluntary entrance into sexuality as child started many years before being dragged into the world of sex by, as I saw them then, adults.

  10. Oh for the love of Peter, Paul, Mary, all the angels and the saints… the “women are perps and men and boys the real victims of sexual violence” crowd really comes out of the woodwork at times like this.

    Hugo, that statement is incredibly insensitive and dismissive of male victims of sexual abuse. Again, I understand your personal opinion on this topic, but I hope you realize your statement mocks abused boys and men, particularly those abused by women, and in this instance is directed at people who are victims of such sexual violence. As I stated above, I cannot imagine that you would say anything like that to girls or women.

    Yes, class and gender dynamics can impact a person’s willingness to resist advances, although it is extremely difficult to believe any adult would have sex with a child over fear of losing their job, and it is downright preposterous to suggest adult women cannot fend off the sexual advances of 11-year-old boys. Again, I do not believe you would suggest the same thing about class and gender dynamics regarding female victims.

    As for your post about Letourneau, it post comes across as somewhat disingenuous. I would certainly like to believe that we are in agreement about the wrongness of sexual violence against boys, particularly since you occasionally work with boys. However, statements like the one above make that very difficult.

  11. I’ll say it one more time. I do believe boys and men can be abused by women. I believe that cases of women abusing boys are only a fraction of those of men abusing girls. I am not sentimentally blind to the capacity of women to be cruel.

    While we’re on the subject of sentimentality, I will say that we sentimentalize children, in a very Victorian way. As Christine’s post to which I linked point out, children (particularly boys by the age of 11, but girls as well) are capable of tremendous sexual aggressiveness towards those whom they perceive as vulnerable. (The number of instances of pre-teens raping and assaulting other young children is high.) And that aggression can also be directed to vulnerable adults.

    Thought experiment: if Pal was an 11 year old “young massa” in Georgia in 1835, and his nanny was a black slave, would she still be in the wrong in this instance, given that she could be beaten badly at any time on his word? Are we so willing to give priority to the notion that young boys are incapable of agency, while the poor and the exploited adults who serve them always are responsible?

    You bet your socks I’m making the argument of moral equivalence between vulnerability thanks to age and vulnerability thanks to poverty. In this complicated scenario (of which we only have one account), I don’t think it’s irresponsible to argue that the nanny is also a victim too.

    My credibility in fighting to protect young people from predatory adults is backed up by years and years of youth work, and I’ll put my activism and my reputation on the line here.

    Moderation will be on for this thread.

  12. Really? Let’s approach this logically.
    1. A large percentage of “cheaters” have never had a nanny.
    2. A large percentage of men who have had nannies do not become “cheaters.”
    3. Even if we assume that, as a child, the boy misconstrued societal boundaries on relationships with women, it is important that, as a man, he acknowledges receipt of information from our culture about what is and is not acceptable, and he accepts responsibility for the decisions he has made since becoming an adult. In other words, even though he may have misconstrued boundaries as a child, he has since had societal clarification of boundaries, yet he decided to cheat anyway. Thus, the decision to cheat has less to do with childhood misconstructions and more to do with adult decisions to act with disregard for societal convention (not to mention the feelings of his wife or significant other, any children they may have, and any other negative consequences he may experience for his infidelity).

  13. Hugo, you’re excusing Sarkozy with grand sweeping statements that apply to a small number of young children and pretending that we can generalize to any 11-year-old boy. Yes, there are 11-year-olds who are sexually aggressive. There are also 12-year-old girls who are sexually developed and ‘aggressive’ about sex; somehow I don’t think you would excuse a 40-year-old man who said “Yes, I had sex with her, but SHE came on to ME.”

    You’re also making the ludicrous comparison between a black slave in 19th-century America – a nanny who would have been the legal property of the 11-year-old boy and his family – and a paid servant. And both you and Woodman are filling in a lot of details (she must have been afraid for her job! she would have been fired if she’d avoided letting an 11-year-old grope her!) to justify this.

    I find Woodman’s post particularly unfortunately for a number of reasons. She makes the opposite mistake her mother does. Instead of assuming a 9-or-10-year-old couldn’t behave that way, she assumes a 9-or-10-year-old behaving that way is perfectly normal, that he is simply a smaller version of a “drunk middle-aged man”, and that there is nothing about that behavior that raises a red flag. Such as, oh, I don’t know. That inappropriate sexual acting-out is a very common symptom of sexual abuse? (This is not to say that Woodman, or her daughter, should have tolerated the behavior. But she says, in effect, that the kid was just being a typical grabby male.)

    Which I guess is a long-winded way of saying that speaking for my son, who is 11 years old and like most of his peers thinks the main difference between boys and girls is that girls are less likely to want to play with Bionicles, kindly soak your head.

  14. Hugo, for what it’s worth, I think that you make a cogent argument. I am not sure the extent to which I agree with you; perhaps vulnerability due to age is somewhat greater than that due to poverty. However, I don’t think that there is any way a rational person acting in good faith could read your argument as a defense of female child molesters. I also think your thought experiment is useful and appropriate.

    I am kind of interested in your response to mythago’s (unfair, because he doesn’t build in an equivalent power scenario) gender-switch scenario. If a wealthy a 12-year-old girl initiated sexual contact from her male gardner, an illegal immigrant, would you think that he could be an innocent victim of sorts, “consenting” only out of vulnerability? This is not a gotcha question. I tend to think as you do that sometimes “gender roles compromise the capacity to resist aggressive advances,” and will not cry sexism on you.

  15. Hugo, It’s not irresponsible to argue that the nanny is a victim too, but there’s clearly a disparity in, if nothing else, life experience. One cannot believe that the nanny had full knowledge that what was happening was against every legal and moral code of the time. I also find it hard to believe that the nanny was so bereft of inventiveness that she could not find a way to evade the peurile attentions of an eleven year old boy without raising his suspicions; and be dammned if she did anyway! The threat of perhaps loosing her job really is no excuse unless one posits that she had absolutely NO other options in life, or was mentally deficient in some way. Yes the pressure to comply with Pal would perhaps have been enormous, but we can suppose that she was not entirely helpless. and in that regard must be held accountable.

    Thought experiment: Male nanny, female 11yo charge, same scenario, except we know for a fact that the male nanny is the sole caretaker for his sick mother, grandmother, nine children abandoned by his faithless missus, and he has no access to any form of transportation.

    I *might* go 80:20 on this one, but no further.

  16. I think that what makes the gender switch scenario more difficult is that a girl would likely get into big trouble just for being sexually active, regardless of with whom, and that girls tend to have less power in general and be given less credibility, especially in sexual scenarios. So I think you can construct a gender reversed situation of equal vulnerability, but not just by switching the genders here.

  17. Another point which ought to have occurred to me earlier – for someone such as a nanny left in charge of children, shouldn’t an ability to say “no” to unreasonable requests be a fairly fundamental part of the job? I doubt people would have difficulty blaming the nanny if, say, she’d let the boy stay up until 3 AM eating chocolate all the while, just because he wanted to.

  18. Exactly, Jebedee. The idea that a child complaining to his parents that the nanny wouldn’t let him do something totally unreasonable means they would actually fire the nanny is laughable; a family that took that attitude would run through nannies rather quickly. Hugo admits he never had a nanny, but manages to avoid telling us whether, throughout his childhood, the babysitters quailed in terror that Young Hugo’s displeasure would cost them their livelihoods. I’m guessing that wasn’t the case. (And any child who ever did have a nanny probably remembers the first time they went storming off to their parents to tell them about how the evil nanny forced them to eat all their vegetables, or made them apologize for hitting a child at the park, and was shocked to learn that instead of sharing that outrage Mom and Dad agreed with the nanny!)

    Yes, class and status can compromise consent. The idea that an 11-year-old boy has the power to rape his nanny merely by dint of the fact that a) he is a boy and b) she is the nanny is, frankly, insane. Can we imagine such a scenario where such is true? Probably. Is there anything to suggest Sarkozy’s father was in such a far-fetched scenario? No.

    If you read Hugo’s post alone, you would get the notion that Sarkozy père actually had intercourse with his nanny; if you read the description of the anecdote, he put his hand up her skirt.

  19. Oh for the love of Peter, Paul, Mary, all the angels and the saints… the “women are perps and men and boys the real victims of sexual violence” crowd really comes out of the woodwork at times like this.

    How dare you invoke the names of biblical personages to silence victims.

    Yes, that’s right. It was victims responding Mr Schwyzer. You should contemplate your own contribution to their being in “the woodwork” to begin with. Make no mistake you are a contributor.

    Serious request Mr Schwyzer…

    In future please refrain from any commentary regarding male victims. It serves no purpose and has no possible positive outcome. It’s time we stopped playing politics with the lives of victims. I can assure you that the consequence of your continuing to do so will be increasing numbers of victims making their displeasure known to you. I WILL see to this.

    You are NOT qualified to speak to their issues regardless of your claimed track record. It seems you’ve learned nothing and you prove this time and again.

    I was raped by an aunt as a seven year old. One of the shaming devices used to shut me up on numerous occasions has been an assertion that I “must have wanted it”. Your performance over years – and I have been watching – shows you to be no better than any one of those hypocrites.

    Leave them alone. You do them harm. Leave the victims and those who work with them and for them to do what they need to do unmolested by your ignorance and your silly politics.

  20. Woodman writes, “…This passivity in response to sexual advances seems likely a learned response.” And then also states, “No un-traumatized women I know would sit idly while being molested by an eleven year old.”

    In those statements she seems aware that the nanny was probably a victim of child sexual abuse herself, despite being an adult. How conscious or unconscious she would be of her own trauma would be speculative given how little we know other than his account of the incident.

    At the same time Woodman doesn’t question her nephews behaviors—the acting out is a common symptom of sexual abuse. It would raise a red flag to anyone who is aware of the nature of sexual abuse. It’s very common for victims of child sexual abuse to reenact unconsciously repressed trauma in repetition compulsion.

    Other than recognizing symptoms of sexual child abuse, I wouldn’t feel comfortable speculating about anything else with the limited amount of information that was given.

    Are you aware of Dr. Alice Miller? She’s authored several books including Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child. Actually, the incident that Pal Sarkozy recalls sounds very similar to one described in the book of Louis XIII’s childhood.

    “While we’re on the subject of sentimentality, I will say that we sentimentalize children, in a very Victorian way.” I’m not certain what you mean by this. Much of what is detailed in the book about the sexual games that were commonplace in Louis XIII’s childhood, also occurred and were similar to the games that took place in the Victorian Age, only in secret and in the dark. Historically speaking it isn’t that long ago given the nature of abuse and repetition compulsion.

  21. Pingback: A Note On Pal Sarkozy & Power Dynamics (Or, Child Molestation Is Always Wrong) « Dear Diaspora

  22. I’m not sure that I’d have a lot to add here that hasn’t been said, except to say that if we’re going to get into the foggy territory of “compromised” consent, “vitiated” consent, and so forth based on socio-economic or cultural circumstances, we shouldn’t be surprised to see concepts like “gray rape”, “soft rape”, “not rape rape” and the like follow such mysterious ciphers into our understanding either. Consent, for purposes of rape, has to be a bright-line issue (the existence of consent, not the mens rea for it) for us to credibly treat the crimes of rape and sexual assault with the seriousness that they are due. In this case, an 11-year-old would be incapable of consenting at all (their consent would not be “compromised”, it could not legally exist in the first place).

  23. Hi Hugo, I think it is a massive mistake to enter into judgements of incidets of child molestation that blame the victim, or vindicate the perpetrator (because, make no mistake, the child was a victim, regardless of who first initiated the sex). I think this is especially true in this case because these events took place at a far distant time and all analysis so far is based on conjecture.

    Male survivors face horrific pressure and judgement, already; being open enough to heal from their past traumas is made cripplingly difficult, largely by frequent assumptions that male involved in sex crime = monster/guilty party/possible future perptrator, and this piece fuels that assumption. Men suffer this on top of the usual responsibility survivors carry with them for their abuser’s crimes, and the mangled self worth which accompanies that burden.

    Please do not do this again Hugo, it is not worth the pain and grief you are causing to the men who are pursuing the up hill struggle to heal from the devastating crimes that have been brought against them.

  24. Hugo, your readers are right: I never even considered that my nephew might have been the victim of sexual abuse. The comments here and elsewhere, prompted our branch of the family to discuss at some length both the possibility that my nephew was abused and why none of us had even considered such a scenario before now.

    We came to three conclusions: first, we doubt that my nephew was sexually abused in the classic sense of the term, but it now seems glaringly apparent that he was psycho-sexually traumatized by the heavily patriarchal environment in which he was raised in ways I will describe in a moment. Second, (and we are all smacking our foreheads on this one) we assumed that a child who successfully bullied almost all of the adults in his world was highly unlikely to be abused. This was a particularly stupid error, since allowing such behavior is, in itself, a form of abuse. Third, my nephew’s story is far more important than I had originally thought and for different reasons than I had thought. He was raised with a level of gender-based privilege which I have assumed that Sarkozy enjoyed and which continues to be very common in very heavily patriarchal cultures, but it is almost completely unheard and certainly almost never discussed in contemporary America

    Boys in heavily patriarchal cultures are raised with assumption that their gender entitled them to make demands on the women who cared for them. While I understand that most Americans cannot conceive of a world in which men are so dominant that even male children dominate their caregivers, this is the case in many cultures around the world and it was the case in the family into which my nephew was born. While his father and grandfather could refuse his demands or discipline him for bad behavior, they were not his primary caregivers and they rarely exercised their power to keep him from harming the women who cared for him. So my nephew grew up a boy-tyrant who did as he pleased, and usually bullied the woman in our family, into doing what he wanted as well. And here is where my reasoning took me astray: I had assumed that my nephew’s legendary nuclear tantrums together with the inordinate power his parents and grandparents had bestowed on him would protect him from abuse since it had certainly shielded him from most forms of discipline or accountability. Obviously, I was wrong, and I am sad now that I never saw him for what he was, a scared little boy who desperately needed good parenting.

    However, my nephew’s gender and the sense of entitlement it carried on that side of the family, meant that I and most other female relatives could not correct him, could not even say, “No, you cannot have that.” or “No, I will not do that for you.” or as I really wanted to say, “If you do not stop that right now, so help me you will not watch Blue’s Clue’s again until you are in college!” It also meant that if my daughter was visiting that side of the family, she did not have any “right” to enforce her no. Even though she was considerably older than my nephew, she was not allowed to correct him, chide him and had she physically enforced her no, the censure she would have received would have cost her greatly. She had to appeal up the chain of command to my mother, who would then have approached the child’s grandfather. As I think about it now, I realize the futility of such an effort. My daughter one tried to plead her case directly to the child’s grandfather and for her trouble received as stern lecture about her inviting sexual contact because she wore jeans and t-shirts rather than a long skirt.

    This environment likely led my nephew to be psycho-sexually traumatized in at least two ways: First it is likely that he witnessed some male relative engaged in sexually harassing behavior on a female relative. Both his father and his grandfather had a reputation for using the same sort of “grabby” behavior – one part sexuality and two parts gender-contempt – on female relatives. It is reasonable to assume that he believed that this was a legitimate way for men to use their power. If this is the case, then his outrage at my daughter’s assertion that she and she alone had the right to decide who touched her body must have been insulting to him. Second, the privilege accorded my nephew meant that he was allowed to trespass the bodily boundaries of the adult women in his family. Specifically, my nephew’s mother allowed him to sleep in her bed until he was well into middle-school This was not a cozy “family bed” situation, nor was it what the child’s mother wanted. She saw him as an intrusion but one she did not have the right to refuse. My nephew’s father occupied his wife’s bed only occasionally and for a brief period in the early evening to exercise his conjugal rights, and then would leave to sleep in another room. I am told that as he left, he would call out to his son, “Okay, it’s all yours now.” Whether the “it” was the boy’s mother or her bed seems open for debate.

    Sometimes it takes the views of outsiders to make a person realize how truly sick or bizarre their world is, and I as I write this I am struck by how far this situation is from our concepts of mainstream behavior. Seeing it now as an outsider, I am angry at myself that I even allowed my daughter to visit that side of the family. But having grown up in such a heavily patriarchal culture I still considered it wrong but not evil. It also makes me aware of how far removed most of us are from the world in which our not-too-distant ancestors grew up and that it is the world still inhabited by millions of families around the world today. We forget, sometimes, how much a sever skew in the balance of power can change everything in society.

    What I can state with absolute certainty is that in cultures where women are systematically oppressed, such situations are inevitable and we need to have a conversation about what happens to children when they are placed in the care of adults whose social power is dwarfed by the child’s. This is not only an issue for those cultures in which women are still considered chattel; it is also a consideration in a nation which employs illegal immigrants to care for its young.

  25. I wrote the previous comment in sections, and had intended to ask rhetorically if my son who visited had been scarred and if my nephew who acted out on my daughter was prompted by his own wounding. I did not mean to write that my son acted out on my daughter in any way. I have felt quite a lot of regret, as I have been responding, and my emotions have led me to be sloppy with my writing and proofreading. I apologize.

  26. I’m so sorry to hear about what has happened to the children in your family, Christine. I wish you well in the future.

  27. On other blogs, a somewhat convincing case has been made that perhaps my nephew was a sexual abuse victim. In which case, it seems important, to shield his privacy. I have removed this discussion from my blog and I am asking that you remove my last name from yours. It seems highly unlikely that such a discussion would ever reach that side of the family and in any case, I have tons of nephews. But still, it seems wise at this point to shield him from any possibility of identification.

  28. Auntie,

    Your focus was on your daughter, which is understandable given your history and own experiences. I can only imagine that it must have been difficult to write what you did. I’m also glad that you decided to clarify as well. My only concern now is that you are not too hard on yourself. The last thing that I would want to see happen is you beating yourself up about this. It’s good that you can consider these viewpoints here without getting defensive, which can be difficult. Likewise, it’s good that it prompted a family discussion. I sincerely hope that you have someone to talk too.

    “He was raised with a level of gender-based privilege which I have assumed that Sarkozy enjoyed and which continues to be very common in very heavily patriarchal cultures, but it is almost completely unheard and certainly almost never discussed in contemporary America.”

    It is not unheard of, although it may be hard to detect. In fact, just because it may appear that it almost never is discussed in contemporary America, I can assure you that it doesn’t make it necessarily so. Unfortunately, people still deal with these issues in all kinds of insidious ways. This reverberates in successive generations and change is slow.

    “Sometimes it takes the views of outsiders to make a person realize how truly sick or bizarre their world is, and I as I write this I am struck by how far this situation is from our concepts of mainstream behavior.”

    This isn’t outside of how most people begin to experience their own families with histories of child and sexual abuse. I say this so you will know that you’re far from alone. It’s more pervasive than what you may realize.

    “I wrote the previous comment in sections, and had intended to ask rhetorically if my son who visited had been scarred and if my nephew who acted out on my daughter was prompted by his own wounding.”

    Yes, he could have been prompted by his own wounding. I’m very sorry for the emotional pain that you must be feeling and I sincerely hope that you have someone to talk too about this.

  29. Hugo, I’m a reader of Bond’s and I left a comment on her post about this and clicked over to see what you had to say. I hadn’t intended to comment until I saw that the overwhelming number of comments have been pretty vehemently opposed to your stance.

    And I just wanted to say first, that I agree with you, and second, thank you. I write from a place of personal experience, and the knowledge that it is so much more complicated than just “he’s a child. period.” As you say, 11 years old is more than just a child; male children at that age can be sexually aggressive, and women — particularly women who lack social power(s) such as race and class — are socialized always to not speak up, to let sexual things happen. And I might also add that she might have been the best nanny in the world at saying “no” to things like staying up past bedtime. But when there’s a violation of personal or sexual space, it IS DIFFERENT. When SHE is the one being touched BY him first, it is an entirely different scenario from if she were the one touching him first. Because speaking for myself here, my own reaction to unwanted sexual advances is *always* to freeze and appease. No matter how much I tell myself “next time it will be different, next time I will say no.” My parasympathetic reaction — before I have a chance to think about it — is to freeze and appease.

    And I know that you’re not giving any excuses for female assault of male children. To touch ANY CHILD inappropriately is assault, period. But in the Sarkozy case, it was the child who initiated, the child who carried everything through. And that *does* change the situation.

    So, thanks.

  30. Thank you, alphafemme. I stand by what I wrote, and do not retract any of it. Some of the disagreement has, like Bond’s, been thoughtful and helpful. Some has been neither.

  31. Matey… what are you getting at? Lolita may have initiated intercourse with Humbert, but he had been touching her inappropriately for some months and was her sole guardian. Plus he kept her from communicating with the outside world and took advantage of her grief over her mother’s recent violent death. Lolita really doesn’t belong in this conversation.

  32. I stand by what I wrote, and do not retract any of it.

    I also stand by what I wrote, and I find it disturbing that someone harboring your views about sexual abuse against boys works in youth ministry. You provide an excellent example of the depravity that leads to the recently exposed sex abuse cover-up in the Catholic Church.

    Again, I would certainly like to believe that we are in agreement about the wrongness of sexual violence against boys, but it appears we are far from agreement.

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  34. Rachel, I think what you have said illustrates exaclty why Lolita is relevant to this conversation.

    Children act like this when they have been innapropiately touched or exposed to other damaging sexual behaviours. That is my point exactly. The Lolita myth, held by many abusers, including Lolita’s own, and some filmmakers who have interpretted this story, holds the child responsible.

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