Lourdes, Lifeboats, and Bounded Choice: Part III (Raised in a Totalist Institution)

This excellent post by Cindy K explains how Second Generation Adults (SGAs) in ‘total institutions’ (such as the Christian homeschooling movement) do not have a ‘Realistic Right of Exit’. SGAs do not have the opportunity to experience the psychological, educational, and social development necessary to thrive in the outside world.

I find this concept – SGAs not having a ‘realistic right of exit’ – fascinating because it is something both SGAs and their perpetrators can, and do, agree with.

SGAs know how challenging it is to survive outside the ‘total institution’ – for many it is in fact impossible and literally their only opportunity for survival is to stay within the abusive community.

The perpetrators, however – (Christian) homeschool leaders, homeschool convention speakers, homeschool support groups, homeschool pastors, and even homeschool parents, openly discuss how essential it is to condition SGAs one has power over (i.e. daughters, sons) to not leave the movement, and to not permit SGAs to develop skills that could lead to ‘independence’ (another word they openly despise).

When a ‘Quivering Daughter’ / SGA leaves the fundamentalist movement, she is a victim of severe, long term trauma. But our culture has failed to provide a social safety net for these survivors, who are not yet officially recognized as survivors of domestic abuse or human trafficking, and whose perpetrators are rarely even prosecuted, let alone convicted, of any crime. And yet, not only did their perpetrators remove the SGA’s realistic right of exit *in effect*, they also did so knowingly, purposely, and with intent.

As we continue to raise awareness of the SGA homeschooler problem, it is my hope that access to social and legal resources will be opened to survivors.

Do children’s rights end where the sidewalk ends?

In a recent online discussion, someone said that ‘children’s rights end where the sidewalk ends’.  This is a variation on a common argument: children’s rights must be limited for their own protection.  If we allow them to make their own decisions, they will hurt themselves.

That this argument seems prima facie true is a symptom of our cultural prejudices.  It can be revealed as a prejudice through a simple allegory.  Imagine an intelligent adult from a culture without cars is visiting your area and you have been asked to show them around.  You are walking down the sidewalk together, and this individual suddenly steps into the street with oncoming traffic.  What do you do?

Your response wouldn’t be any different than it would be if a child did the same thing.

This isn’t because an adult from a different culture should have their rights limited for their own protection.  It’s not because if we allow them to make their own decisions, they will hurt themselves.  It’s because an individual unused to our world hasn’t yet gained the experience and knowledge to protect themselves from our technology.

And you wouldn’t respond by limiting this individual’s rights.   You would respond by taking immediate steps to protect them (despite their being an adult) and, in the longer term, educating them on how to protect themselves from the dangers of traffic.

You wouldn’t project from the fact that the individual needed protective intervention in this instance to limiting their freedom to set their own values or make their own decisions.

To intervene to protect the life of another human being is normal, no matter what age that person is.

However – if that same adult individual makes different life choices than we think they should make, we let them do so.  We try to understand and respect their differences in values.  We listen to them when they express an opinion and engage them in respectful dialogue instead of silencing them.  If they tell us they feel we have done something unjust to them, we take the allegation seriously and consider whether we have and if we should make amends.  We don’t think we have the right to coerce them into behaving in a certain way or engaging in certain activities because we value them or think them important.

Any individual deserves that respect, regardless of their age, and regardless of the fact that we’d intervene if they stepped off the sidewalk.

A statement on the rights of a child

I’m about to share something very radical and very close to my heart.

It’s based on a simple belief I have: All humans are created equal, regardless of age – men, women, children, and babies – all with the same inalienable rights.

For the purpose of this statement, “child” is defined as a human between birth and reaching the age of legal majority.

A better world would be based on these principles:

A child is fully human.

A child should be afforded every protection afforded to adults. Children are more vulnerable than adults, so should not be afforded less protection.

This includes protection against bodily injury, mutilaton, and assault, regardless of the agent of these crimes.

The child may seek restitution for these crimes. The state may prosecute for them.

The child has the same right to health as does an adult. Therefore, her right to medical care should not be obstructed, any more than an adult’s should be.

Obstructing a child’s access to medical care is equally a crime as obstructing an adult’s access to medical care. If his mobility is reduced to such an extent that he does not have independent access to medical care, those reducing his mobility has a responsibility to ensure that he recieves medical care when in need.

The child has the same right to choose those with whom he associates as does an adult. If a child chooses to change his place of residence, he may not be obstructed.

In the primal state, a child comes into the world with immediate access to natural resources that enable his survival. Due to legal implementation of property law, he no longer has access to these resources. Societies have an obligation to ensure that restituation for this is made to children.

In addition, those who bring a child into the world are responsible to protect and provide for him in his his period of dependence. They do not have any right to make any choices for the child as a condition of this responsibility.

I’m not sure how we can make this world a reality, but I think that when we do we will transform the world – first for children, soon after for everyone.

Invisible Women

Last winter I polled a particular group of women.   I asked them about their experiences as young adults over the age of 18.  Here are some of the results.

56% I was not allowed to own a car and/or get a driver’s license.

50% I did not have access to transportation.

69% I did not have freedom to dress as I pleased.

38% I believed or feared that going against the/some rules would result in physical punishment.

13% I was spanked (after the age of 18).

44% I believed or feared that going against the/some rules would result in homelessness.

81% I was not allowed to spend time with some people or in some social situations that I desired to be in.

56% I was not permitted to pursue a romantic interest I had.

44% I did not receive either a legally accepted high school diploma or a GED or equivalent.

69% I spent more than 20 hours a week cleaning/cooking/taking care of the home and was unpaid.

The women I polled were not captured by strangers or taken to a foreign country.  These were women who had lived at home with their families their entire lives.  They did not go to school, watch TV, or listen to the radio.  Although they lived in the U.S., they were unfamiliar with American customs and culture.

92% had believed that “if I were to call the police about a family matter something bad would happen to me.”

75% had believed that they could be physically obstructed from leaving their home without legal recourse.

Only 9% had been aware that “if I were to move out of my parents’ home, there were shelters and other non-profit and government assistance programs to provide shelter, food, basic living necessities, and training until I was able to support myself.”

The women I polled were born into and raised by controlling families in the U.S. and had their access to information severely limited from an early age.  As children and young adults, they had not been much aware of their legal rights.  They had feared the government and the legal system instead of believing that it could help them.

These women are not rare, but they are invisible.  There may be tens of thousands of them in the U.S.  Only the minority make it out.  The majority continue in this situation or marry and repeat it with their own children.

At the time they answered this poll, these particular women had recently exited and were establishing lives for themselves.  The challenges and difficulties they faced is fascinating and worthy of a post devoted to it.

I believe that these women were victims of human trafficking even though they don’t meet the standard profile of a foreigner held captive by strangers.  I believe that these women have fallen through the cracks in the system.  Non-profits and NGOs are not reaching out to help them.

What I would like to see: public awareness, outreach from support networks to these victims, and the working out of the legal system on how to approach these situations and what recourse and protection women who have been victimised in this way have.

Without the Category of Minor, How Do You Protect Against Sexual Abuse?

I had to write this one offline – with a chai – and save to post later…

My friend Shal commented on my Intro to Children’s Rights:

Discriminating on capacity/ability rather than age, and eliminating the category of ‘minor’ would make children even more susceptible to abuse.  Our court system would become mired with cases of adults and their child victims (willingly or under duress) attempting to argue that the child’s capacity/ability makes him/her a consensual participant. And that is only in cases where there are individuals who are concerned enough to report it, because after all, it is not technically illegal anymore for an adult and a child to have sex because there is no such thing as a “child.”

This raises an important consideration – prevention of sexual abuse.  When Shal says ‘Our court system would become mired with cases of adults and their child victims (willingly or under duress) attempting to argue that the child’s capacity/ability makes him/her a consensual participant’, she brings up a legitimate concern about eliminating the category of minor in the real world that is in existence today, without changing anything else.

In this case the current category of minor partly makes up for the unsatisfactory nature of policy, practice, and consciousness of in the area of sexual assault.  Non-consensual sexual interaction is sexual assault no matter who it happens to, of whatever age.   Unfortunately, our culture is confused about recognising and prosecuting non-consent.

When it comes to child sexual assault, here’s the quick answer: the power imbalance between an adult and a child is too great for sexual consent to be possible.  If courts could recognise imbalances of power, we wouldn’t have to worry about having rules about age.

If courts opened their eyes to the difference between genuine consent (a freely made – unpressured, active desire and decision for) and the misogynistic construction (the lack of a no, or an unconvincing no) we’d be protecting children and many other vulnerable individuals unprotected in practice today.

Child sexual assault is objectively wrong.  It is not so as a product of our definition of under-18s as minors.

My favourite book on the topic of sexual consent is Yes Means Yes; Visions of Female Sexual Power and an Era Without Rape, and the corresponding blog is also excellent: the Yes Means Yes blog.

Why I Don’t Believe in Parental Rights

This may be news to some of you, but people in and connected with the homeschool circuit in the USA are working to add an amendment to the US constitution and have a surprising amount of traction.  The professed aim is to protect ‘the family’ from the likes of the U.N.Convention on the Rights of the Child.  (I’m actually not kidding.  See parentalrights.org)

The “Parental Rights Amendment” reads:

Section 1.  The liberty of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children is a fundamental right. 

Section 2.  Neither the United States nor any state shall infringe upon this right without demonstrating that its governmental interest as applied to the person is of the highest order and not otherwise served.

Section 3. No treaty may be adopted nor shall any source of international law be employed to supersede, modify, interpret, or apply to the rights guaranteed by this article.

The U.N Convention on the Rights of The Child, pioneered by the founder of Save the Children, and ratified by all members of the U.N. except the U.S.A. and Somalia, is longer, but here is some of UNICEF’s summary of the relevant content:

Article 3.  The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children.

Etc…. perhaps most upsetting to the ‘Parental Rights’ advocates –

Article 9. Children have the right to live with their parent(s), unless it is bad for them. Children whose parents do not live together have the right to stay in contact with both parents, unless this might hurt the child.

‘Parental Rights’ supporters claim to be trying to protect the family, but they’re really just trying to protect one class in the family – the parent.  The other class in the family – the child – would actually have less protection under the amendment.

The ‘Parental Rights’ amendment says the right of the parent to direct the upbringing of the child is a fundamental right.  My main issue with this is that it protects the strong, powerful, and resource-rich (the parent) from the weak, powerless, and resource-poor (the child).  It lessen’s the child’s recourse to civil and legal protection and advocacy, when it is against their parents.  It would make corporal punishment and parental genital mutilation more difficult to eradicate.  And it most certainly does not empower children to make their own decisions about their lives and education.

My understanding of the purpose of defining rights is that it is meant to protect the weak from the strong, not the strong from the weak.

That’s why I definitely support the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.  It’s statement that the child her or himself has rights – to life, care, family, education, identity, opinions, information, expression, and freedom from violence.  It’s also a statement that the government will protect the rights of a child the same way that it protects the rights of an adult.  And it’s a statement that as adults, we are responsible for the well-being of children.

I can see how these things would be offensive to adults who are satisfied in their adult privilege and feel that children owe their parents something for giving them life and sustenance.  I’m not one of those adults.  I feel that people who adopt that mindset are at best unthinkingly accepting the cultural assumptions handed down to them and are no different from those who unthinkingly accept cultural prejudices towards racism or patriarchy.  Children are human beings, just as adults are, and if we truly believe that all humans are created equal and are endowed with equal inalienable rights, we had better include children in that statement.

p.s. It was chai at Blackwell’s again.

Against Discipline – Why I Wouldn’t Care to Have a Compliant Child

I’m sitting down to a chai in Blackwells.

So far I’ve been drinking a lot of chai but not typing anything.  Oops.

Some thoughts on disciplining children.  I’m against it.  I think it does children a disservice and makes them ill-prepared for life.  If that doesn’t immediately ring true to you, read on as I explain.

Take the kid who is throwing a tantrum because his mother is telling him to take a bath and he was just playing.  She threatens all the privileges she will take away if he does not take a bath right now,  and he only cries louder and argues harder.  But they must go buy him some new shoes that afternoon, so the bath cannot wait and the argument continues until the child concedes and tearfully bathes himself.

Some common assumptions for adults to make are that this kid just has an irrational dislike for baths that needs to be cured and he is going to become a stinky, smelly, dirty kid if his mum doesn’t threaten him into bathing.

But we were all kids once.  Think back to when you were that kid.  Tears were streaming down your face.  You were crying until your lungs hurt.  Do you remember?  You felt that some huge injustice was being done.  You weren’t scared of the bath (or whatever it was you were commanded to do), you were resisting because you felt that something was wrong with what was happening.  And that feeling wasn’t irrational.  You were right.

Let’s do another thought experiment to determine what that was.  Imagine you are an adult (this one shouldn’t be too hard).  You are doing something – reading a book in a bookstore, having a cup of coffee, working on a presentation, working out at the gym – take your pick.  Another adult approaches you and tells you to immediately go home and take a bath.  He yells that if you don’t he will impound your car and freeze your bank accounts.  How do you feel?   You can’t even imagine this scenario because you’re saying – ‘wait, how is he going to freeze my bank accounts?’  Let’s just say he can.  You’d feel like something unjust was happening.  Your autonomy was being compromised and he held so many cards that you were forced to comply against your will.

That kid who throws a tantrum has not yet given up his hope of being an autonomous human being and his belief in his right and ability to successfully stand up for himself and defend himself.  The kid who has ceased to throw tantrums, on the other hand, has.  The kid who has ceased to resist the violation of their autonomous will is ill prepared for life.  He is more likely to be successfully molested or kidnapped, more likely to be successfully sexually harassed or taken advantage of by his boss at work.  It’s this type of compliance that made the Nazi army possible.

When we teach a kid to ‘obey authority’, we aren’t thinking about that kid’s well being.  We’re thinking about having an easier time living with that kid.  We aren’t thinking about the fact that we are making him vulnerable to the child molester down the street or eroding his ability to stand up for himself as an adult.  We are thinking about the fact that we’ll be able to buy him new shoes that afternoon, and get him to school on time tomorrow, and he won’t come home with a horrendous tattoo in a few years’ time.  Those are thoughts about our well being.  They aren’t about what’s good for the kid, they’re about what we want for the kid.

If you disagree with this, please notice that it doesn’t matter what kid you are thinking about, you want the same thing for them – getting to school on time, not coming home with that horrendous tattoo.  Now consider all the adults you know and how they are all different.  Kids are all different, too, and when you’re trying to force them all into the same mold, you aren’t treating them as people.

Here’s how I would address the bath situation given at the beginning of this post:  The kid is playing in his room.  I would address him and give him a few seconds to switch his attention to me, instead of talking to him before he even realises I’m there.  I’d remind him that he wanted to buy new shoes and let him know that this afternoon is the only time I have this week to take him shoe shopping, and ask if he’d like to go shoe shopping this afternoon or wait until next week.  If I was picky about his bathing habits I’d say that if he took the bath before the shops closed we’d go shopping.  But as I probably would judge that he wasn’t dirty enough to get me arrested if he were seen in public, I might instead ask if he would like a bath before we go out.   I’d also apologise for bringing this up at the last minute and promise to try to give him more advance notice next time.

My point is – if he doesn’t want to stop playing (and perhaps, if he doesn’t want to take a bath), we wouldn’t go shopping, and I don’t have to fight with him.  He will just have to wear his old shoes until next week and I will have the afternoon off to do as I please.  Or he will decide, given perhaps a while to think about it, that he wants new shoes and he’s willing to make the sacrifice to achieve his goal.  Either way, I haven’t violated the kid’s autonomy, I haven’t taught him a horrible life lesson, and I haven’t prioritised having control in the moment over the long term welfare of my child.

I’d rather have a child with beaten up shoes than a compliant child, any day of the week.