Sexual Abuse, Not Homosexuality, Deplorable

Sami Mericle, Opinions Editor

Last week, prosecutors accused former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert of sexually abusing at least four boys while he was a high school wrestling coach. While Hastert should face jail time for his actions, the media must resist using homophobic undertones when condemning his alleged crime.

Hastert pled guilty in October to evading bank-reporting laws in connection to hush money he was paying one victim. However, it was not until this week that the motivation behind the payments was revealed. With the public revelation came a media storm. Hastert’s actions have been condemned by various outlets as “disturbing,” “squalid” and “tragic.” But would these same words have been used if the victims were girls?

There are two issues at play here. One is the invalidation that women repeatedly face when they go public with sexual abuse stories. The truthfulness of the victims’ stories was never questioned in this case. No one suggested the boys were “asking for it” or asked what they were wearing when they were abused. This is how it should be.

The other issue is coded homophobia, which causes this manon-boy abuse to be taken more seriously than other sex crimes. Queer men have long faced discrimination for unwarranted associations with pedophilia, and it is this stereotype that prosecutors called to mind when they described how Hastert “violated the special trust between those young boys and their coach.” In media reports, the players are constantly referred to as “boys” and rarely called “children,” “kids,” “minors” or other non-gendered terms. Their maleness, as well as Hastert’s, is key to establishing the legitimacy of this alleged crime.

John Kass, a columnist for The Chicago Tribune, wrote that “it was his appetite for boys … that brought Hastert down.” This language places the blame on Hastert’s desires rather than his choice to act on them. Again, it is not his desire for children that has brought him under fire but his desire for boys. Greg Hines from Crain’s Chicago Business wonders, “Was he a troubled man from a conservative small town in the 1960s, trying to deal with a sexual orientation he tried to suppress but ultimately couldn’t control?” Hines is not being intentionally homophobic, as he concludes his article with criticism of North Carolina’s new discriminatory law against transgender people. And yet, homophobic discourse still sneaks into his writing. In the media and society at large, homosexuality is portrayed as a disease that must be suppressed lest it emerge as pedophilia.

Hastert’s actions, if true, should be condemned. However, they would be deplorable, not because a man took advantage of boys, but because an adult abused minors. The media must remember the true atrocity and not taint its stories with coded homophobia.