Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Wine and Clove Cigarettes, Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about the new Actor's Express musical Love Jerry and the protest against led by Nancy Yoder.

I haven't seen the play and probably won't. I'm only really interested in the debate about it.

Ms. Yoder responded to the post and, more importantly, has written a position paper on the play which I have posted in the comments section of this post.

15 comments:

andisheh said...

Why I Don’t “Love Jerry”

by Nancy L. Yoder, M.Ed.

When I first heard abut the play, I knew that I would protest. For some reason, red flags were popping up about this particular production. Why? I love the theatre; I don’t typically shy away from controversial or thought-provoking issues. Why this? Why now? I didn’t really understand. Then right in the throes of my dilemma, Judge Edward Cashman of Vermont sentenced a child rapist to 60 days in prison. Then I saw the play. Then I heard the discussion afterward. I conducted research and spent hours agonizing and soul searching. Then it all became clear.

Playwright Megan Gogerty of “Love Jerry” is acting irresponsibly and causing irreparable harm by producing her play despite her alleged intentions. The Actor’s Express Theatre’s efforts to justify this irresponsibility by including social service organizations and “discussion” afterward, is irresponsible as well. There is not enough knowledge, perspective or research on child rapists and molesters or their theoretical rehabilitation to consider anyone an expert, and the support for the play by Prevent Child Abuse Georgia and its campaign STOP IT NOW! is reprehensible.

The premise that rehabilitation and therapy for sexual predators is an effective way to prevent child abuse is false. There is an enormous amount of research on the subject, yet there are conflicting statistics and studies at every turn (see www.protect-the-kids.org). By allowing the myth of “therapy-equals-cure” to perpetuate in the theatre while some bleeding-heart social workers chant their mantra and conduct their research on recidivism, we (as a society) give child offenders more opportunities abuse, torture, and rape and kill our children while we wait for the final tally. I am not against therapy for child offenders, but the clear message of “This will NOT be tolerated!” needs to be sent first through harsh sentencing and effective laws such as Jessica’s Law.

Sadly, our society is only at the very beginning of the battle against child molestation and rape. It is difficult to address the embarrassment and shame and stigmas that silence families and victims. Nevertheless, because it views the predator through the eyes of the family, “Love Jerry” has the potential to “humanize” the child molester by giving him a face and a voice and a family who loves him. More importantly, this play blurs the bottom-line that an ADULT is making a CHOICE to hurt a child by providing a possible “excuse” for Jerry who was molested by his uncle. As the actors sang and sometimes wailed their torment and misery, the silent voice of the unseen 8-year-old victim in the play was all I could hear. Where was Andy’s song?

The idea of “catch and release” for predators and the play’s sympathetic message, is unbelievably ENDORSED through the support of STOP IT NOW! and Prevent Child Abuse Georgia. These organizations endorse the myth that rehabilitation, requests for help, and self-reporting for child rapists and molesters is highly possible and that we, as a society, have a responsibility to offer treatment to the offender. This in itself is unbelievable, but Sally Thigpen of STOP IT NOW! leads discussions after the performances and has the audacity to think that it is OK for untrained actors to lead the discussion in her absence!

After viewing the play and hearing the discussion (which on Friday night was approximately 20% of the audience), many theatre-goers will be persuaded to reach out to child rapists and molesters in the name of “curing the ills of our society” and encourage them to seek help and speak up. I can’t think of a more painful way to ensure the continued silence of many victims/survivors and give an undeserved voice to pedophiles.

Indications of this ridiculous approach of focusing on rehabilitation to cure the ills of our society are certainly influencing the decisions in the Vermont courtroom of Judge Edward Cushman. Child rapist Mark Hewlett was recently given 60 days for RAPING a 7-year-old child repeatedly over a 4-year period. Sixty days. Sixty days. Only sixty days. Cushman claims that he “no longer believes in punishment” and that he supports the rehabilitation of the offender. Cushman uses the Hewlett case to send this message. "The one message I want to get through is that anger doesn't solve anything. It just corrodes your soul." I disagree. Hate may corrupt the soul, but righteous anger does not. I’m mad and I am drawing the line here and now.

Molesters and child rapists have the ability to easily manipulate their innocent victims. As responsible adults, are we really so naïve that we believe that pedophiles and molesters will not manipulate the free thinking social workers and incompetent judges in order to get out of adult jail and get back into their personal “playground”?” Are the supporters of this play that stupid that they think that we can create a Utopian society if we just embrace the pedophile in a big therapeutic group hug? That’s not my idea of Utopia.

We, as individuals, often do not agree on an exact moral code for our society. Most situations do not fall into simple black and white categories of right and wrong. Many of us see the variations and shades of gray in our world. Wide chasms of gray area can be seen everyday in the entertainment industry. We can have esoteric arguments over dinner about the themes in everything from prime-time television shows, children’s cartoons, commercials, and Golden Globe winning films such as “Brokeback Mountain”. Fine. Let’s discuss. But sympathetic views on pedophiles and the sanitation of child abuse should not be one of the topics. The reality is too widespread. It is too real. It is too horrible. The stakes are too high. These are our children.

Educated people who have the power to influence others are sending mixed messages on punishment for child rapists, and I, for one, am not going to turn this topic over to the entertainment industry to explore and exploit without a fight. This is a black and white issue. This is where I draw the line.

Child molestation and rape is not a subject for “I’m OK, you’re OK” which seems to be the pervading message artistically sanitized by the play “Love Jerry” and the position of the Actor’s Express Theatre. This is not a subject for empathy, sympathy, voyeurism, or grayness. The topic of child molestation and “rehabilitation” of child rapists must not be turned over to the entertainment industry to “explore” and social workers to “ponder” while thousands of children are molested and raped. Simply put, the topic of child molestation must be off limits to artistic interpretation in the entertainment industry which should not be producing fictionalized accounts of its horror. The play must be stopped. The Actor’s Express Theatre needs to reconsider its support, and the Prevent Child Abuse Georgia organization at minimum needs to withdraw its support of this production, and at best fight it with every fiber of their being.

In my Utopian world (not Megan Gogerty’s), I hope that everyone who sees this play, endorses it, or is associated with it in any way feels as filthy as I did after watching the show. It is emotional voyeurism of the cruelest thing that could happen to a child and the play clearly sends the wrong message of sympathy for the molester. In my perfect world, the money that supports this theatre would be withdrawn…especially my tax dollars that support the Georgia Council of the Arts or other sponsors. In my world, we would inundate PCA Georgia with our message of outrage. In my world, predators are punished to the fullest extent of the law. In my world, the voice of the child who is raped is the loudest.

If this play “Love Jerry” gains a toehold in Atlanta, it will gain a foothold somewhere else, and the chain of events will opens a Pandora’s Box. Yes, it must be extremely painful for families of pedophiles to deal with their conflicting emotions, but that is their real and personal journey…it is not for fictionalizing and applauding and Monday-morning quarterbacking over “free-champagne-with-your-ticket-stub” after the show. The issue of emotional damage for the perpetrator and family should not be the message. Therapy should not be the message. Intolerance and severe punishment must be our strongest message is we really want to implement change.

If Megan Gogerty really wants to “create dialogue” and educate people about child abuse and pedophilia, then she should scrap this piece of emotional garbage and send a clear message that “Child Trumps Brother” in the card game of life. Period. The message that the Prevent Child Abuse Georgia (PCA Georgia) should clearly send is punish the offender, and provide therapy for the victims--not the other way around.

On its website, Prevent Child Abuse Georgia (PCA Georgia) refers to successful media campaigns that have changed public views and been the impetus for legislative change. Quoting from the PCA Georgia website: “These campaigns along with stiffer penalties have motivated individuals to change their behavior.” Do you see the incongruity?

One of the campaigns that they are referring to sends a clear and emphatic message about the crime of drunk driving. The drinking and driving campaign does not say, “Let’s make it our responsibility as enlightened individuals to understand and rehabilitate the drinker who kills, and allow him to be reconnected rather than removed from society.” No. This particular campaign states emphatically “Don’t Drink and Drive” or you are going to jail. Period.

PCA Georgia says “praise clear messages...support stiff penalties.” Yet the message that they send about rehabilitating child rapists directly supports buffoons such as Judge Edward Chapman and contradicts the very strategies that the Prevent Child Abuse Georgia says work. I refuse to allow them to speak out of both sides of their mouth.

We cannot allow ourselves the “artistic luxury” of straying from the strong message we need to send to child molesters and rapists. We need to educate responsibly outside of the complexities and conflict it creates in families and outside of fictionalized entertainment. We, as a society, cannot waver from a resolve to punish, punish, and punish those monsters that prey on our most vulnerable members. We cannot afford to be ambiguous or empathetic or sympathetic.

Just look at the title. “Love Jerry”. No comma. That in itself sends a message that absolutely infuriates me.

I draw the line. Here. Now. Today. If I have to, I will be the lone voice of the child whose screams are not being heard. Won’t you stand with me? Can’t you hear the children? Will you hear the children?

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