Minor crime in Michigan makes major media ogling.

by Patch O'Furr

If you own one, you might experience Othering.

The titles are heavily biased. Sensationalists and moralists have a field day when there’s a weird sex crime, no matter how trivial it is.  Here we get not one, but a pile of luridly embellished epics about a single count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct (a no-contest plea, not admitting guilt.)  It’s a misdemeanor that can apply to behavior as simple as touching someone’s leg“. It covers a wide range of situations that can happen in all kinds of communities.  You can do a murder and get less press than this did.  The story is blown out of proportion because it brings up the topic of weird sex (but no apparent physical harm).  By “weird”, you know where this is going. As a group, furries get to be falsely associated with abuse (as if they do more than general society does.)

The scare effect may only be a result of bad writing, but it’s worth picking apart with criticism, because society needs more reason and less righteousness.  (Then we’d have less puritanical prosecution abuse around the topic.)

The no-contest plea was made by a 30 year old man. The victim was a 15 year old girl. There’s little evidence in the articles that the problem went beyond age as a statutory crime.  How far it went is debatable, but the guy pled to a crime and is punished.  The story should start and end with those details. It doesn’t.  It over-elaborates on the dirt in between. It drools over the dog collar – not a piece of evidence, but a passing reference – and “parties” which don’t sound anything like the headlines imply.  How about care for the victim?  They would have reported the color of her underwear if they knew it.  Too much lurid detail is what the article is really for.

Couldn’t they report it with the single paragraph it deserves?  Of course not, because it could make thrills for repressed people with hairy eyeballs.

The 15-year-old’s older sister was in a relationship with the guy.  The original story doesn’t give her age because that would be inconvenient.  She’s 20 – with her own job and place to live. That’s a WOMAN.  Not a child.  Yet the story quotes the mom: “He’s taken the innocence of both of my daughters.”  

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way with a 20 year old woman. Quoting her: “He helped me to become an individual person.”  She disputes what mom believes, and calls her controlling.  So why reinforce it?  Now, does this help you see what’s wrong with the story?  Did “luring” happen to an autonomous adult?

(The 20-year-old) is a follower and is gullible,” the mother told detectives. “They promised to look after her, she’s closed her bank account through us and opened a new account at their bank.

Oh no, an adult got her own bank account!  Does that show the work of a predator?  More likely, the infantilization shows how an overbearing mom has set the tone for the whole story. If she thinks 20 year olds should be innocent, it makes an editorial perspective like a strict catholic nun’s.

Big_Bad_Wolf_1It has that age-old Big Bad Wolf narrative. Big bad guy, poor little girl.  But wait…  His 28-year-old wife was another partner joining the 20-year-old sister.  THREE adults consentingly participated in a relationship.  So how come only one of three is to blame for “luring” the fourth one under the age of consent?  Why go out of the way to blame him and excuse them?  Well, men are born evil, right?  So give him mystical Svengali powers over other adults. They have to cram the story into a preconceived mold somehow.

From the outside, it seemed Burke and his wife were just another American family trying to scrape by… But further questioning by the detective revealed Burke and his wife participated in a variety of sub-cultural activities such as polyamory, furry fandom and paganism.

Poly, furry, or pagan people are suspicious and unAmerican?  Oh, fuck off, normative scum.

A married Ann Arbor couple first brought a 15-year-old Saline girl into the world of “furry fandom” before the 31-year-old husband coaxed her into having sex with him…

The guy obviously made mistakes about boundaries, which most of us respect.  But the story gives little evidence that sex happened, beyond “inappropriate communication” and one disputed claim made after months of pressure on the teen.  At least it made a few saving gestures towards reporting more than one side.  But lack of proof didn’t matter. The guy was already pre-judged by association. The plea happened under threat of life-crushing penalties.

Even when there was a crime, and even if the story is technically “just news”, I think it pushes far past what the public had a need to know.  That makes self-reinforcing stigma that pressures anyone in the guy’s position to plead like he did. It misleads, mistreats privacy of others, and doesn’t make anything better.  It throws several groups under the bus, to serve the overwrought hate of a mom who frankly sounds like a shrew with no clue about kids. Our loss.

These comments open me to false personal attacks and illiberal dogma about “apologism” for rape culture. But legal consent is different than personal consent when in many advanced countries, the line is lower than Michigan’s. In Germany, Italy, France, and many others, no law would be broken by this story. I have zero interest in testing limits, but as a sex-positive person, I know it’s not black and white. Having two adult women involved opens the topic for questioning.

There are reasons to speak boldly.  Here’s the real culture we’re in – this guy is a pariah on offender lists with the worst Scarlet Letter there is.  That’s enforced by heavy bias in the headlines to imply perverted orgies.  But it’s easily possible that they really were having mild TV watching get togethers with touchy-feely familiarity.  We could go even farther, and say such activities make a countercultural statement against repressed feelings.

Singling out one guy to punish among 3 adults – and poisoning two other consenting relationships in the process, while treating those women as children – says something about double standards and rigid social roles.  At the most extreme, the repression underlies how male suicides outnumber female suicides in every country of the world.  That needs to change. It helps to examine how stigma and media bias unfairly hurts groups, beyond single cases.