Thursday, December 30, 2010

Prey or Play

I looked up the definitions of "stalking " and "predator" today before writing this post, as the words were on my mind and I wanted to make sure I was using them correctly.

Predator refers to an animal which survives/exists by killing and eating other animals. It has become common language to talk about sexual predators, those people who seek out vulnerable unknowing others for their sexual use, perhaps not for their actual existence, but certainly to fulfill some sick need. It is unfortunately easy to think about the most extreme examples that we read about in the news, but the everyday predators are who are on my mind today.

I just learned about an instance of sexual abuse by a parent i knew. Horrified, I began to investigate, and learned that it is common when a marriage is going sour for children to be at risk for inappropriate sexual behavior from the parents. Asking or demanding sexual favors from a vulnerable child in the course of a game seems to me like predatory behavior in the guise of play. Maybe that's too strong a word, but inexcusable and tragic nonetheless when a parent crosses the line into abuse. How do we protect our children, those who trust their parents to be their safe place? Is there really anything we can teach our sons and daughters to armor them?

In addition, I recently learned about the online stalking behavior of someone I know, behavior which this person sees as playful, social, and flirtatious, but which I am beginning to think of as predatory. The dictionary defines stalking as steadfast and stealth watching of an intended prey or victim. Today we talk about online stalking more casually, using the word to mean the following of our posts, thoughts, and whereabouts, whether on an online dating site or Facebook, by reading blogs or tracking public online interactions with others. But more sinister, I believe, is the stalking to harass and coerce, often in the guise of play, stalking when someone does not wish to be in communication, when someone is unaware of being observed. And this really bothers me. It bothers me when it is done selfishly and with the intent to harass or inflict harm in the name of flirting or friendship.

Privacy issues abound today, but I am beginning to think that the real moral issue to be confronted in personal privacy is understanding and respecting lines which should not be crossed. A child opens up a door to her heart through play with a parent she trusts, not expecting that trust to be abused. A person crowdsources for advice on Facebook, hoping for help from his friends, not expecting to be harassed. I open up my thinking through this writing hoping to share the human experience, not expecting to be publicly humiliated.

Humans are not supposed to be predatory animals, yet stalking, bullying, abusing and harassing are far too common, often done under the pretense of play, and I just can't stand it. My hope is that by talking about it, we can name it, shame it, and grow less and less tolerant of every example of treating others like prey. We are humans. We know better.

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