Other voices: The very real harm of sexual predation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Stephen Shipps deserves every bit of punishment coming to him and more.
Shipps is a former violin teacher who admitted last year to sexually abusing one of his violin students when he taught at the University of Michigan in 2002, as the Journal reported last week. Federal authorities arrested Shipps in 2020 after the student told investigators that Shipps had twice taken her to New York and sexually abused her in 2002, when she was just 16 years old.
Initially charged with two federal counts of trafficking a minor for sex, he pleaded guilty last year to one charge. He’ll spend the next five years behind bars, a federal judge decided last week, and three years under probation.
Shipps got off easy — partly because the crime took place before federal mandatory minimums were implemented for child sex trafficking convictions. Under current law, the Journal reported, he would have faced 10 years to life behind bars.
Considering the harm he caused, a harsher sentence would have been more just. And more satisfying to those who are rightly outraged by such predatory behavior.
Shipps is also alleged to have molested four women who studied violin with him at the UNC School of the Arts when they were teens, the Journal reported. He taught at the prestigious school in the 1980s.
His lingering shadow is just one of several facing UNCSA. There’s also a pending civil case in which 56 plaintiffs have accused its leadership of sacrificing students’ safety to keep its reputation intact.
To its credit, the school’s current leadership seems to be doing its best to confront the allegations head on and make amends. We know it’s no easy task — especially for an organization in which the community otherwise takes so much pride.
Child sex trafficking, sexual predation and adjacent evil acts use power and authority to manipulate youth for perverse pleasure. They can involve coercion, deceit and/or force. They’re often inflicted by trusted family, political, educational or religious figures who use their relationships to twist and distort their victims’ real world into an evil mirror universe of torture and shame. The detrimental effects can last for life.
And some goes beyond personal perversion into the realm of organized crime: forced labor and child prostitution.
Fortunately, many trustworthy organizations are fighting the scourge, along with federal and state authorities. They include Polaris, which runs the national human trafficking hotline, and the century-old charity Save the Children (as opposed to the conspiratorial “Save Our Children” — we’ll get to that).
Unfortunately, some efforts threaten to do more harm than good. They include outspoken acts performed by the adherents of the nonsensical QAnon conspiracy theory, who claim with no evidence that a cabal of Hollywood celebrities and D.C. political figures secretly exploit children for sex — and for their blood. They follow the mysterious Q despite the repeated failures of Q’s announcements and prophecies.
We know. It sounds crazy. It is crazy.
The real, established, transparent organizations that fight child sex trafficking have warned that these QAnoners dilute their message and damage their attempts to stop child sex trafficking, including by siphoning resources — donations, potential volunteers, etc.
In 2020, dozens of anti-trafficking groups signed an open letter to Congress declaring that supporting “QAnon conspiracies related to human trafficking actively harms the fight against human trafficking.”
QAnoners — who march under the banner “Save Our Children” — sometimes wind up violently threatening those who are working the hardest to stop child sex trafficking. Some have quit as a result.
Their intentions may be pure, but they create more problems than they solve.
The same is true of the recent Republican affection for the loaded word “groomer” — generally understood to be a sexual predator who builds a relationship with a potential victim. Republican activists have been using it promiscuously, instead, to describe parents, teachers and other educators who are following and promoting the most sound medical advice to keep LGBTQ children healthy and free from the temptations of self-harm and suicide. By conflating the term with caregivers, activists dilute its meaning and provide cover for true offenders.
Some things should be beyond political strategy — and if anything should be, certainly our children should be.
There are plenty of real demons in the world who prey on vulnerable children without inventing more for political gain. Strategists who employ such cynical and deceitful strategies need to reconsider before their slurs result in violence and death.
The rest of us need to soundly reject their hateful appeals.


— Winston-Salem Journal