Innocents at Home
Innocents at Home
How Sex Panics Reshaped American Culture
This chapter examines how American culture was reshaped by sex panics. Full-blown sex panics were slower to develop. Outlines of modern sex panic also were taking shape in discussions of race. Ideas about sexuality and its proper disciplining were displacing expressions of overt racism in the construction of moral hierarchies. The figure of the white child stood at the center of the transformation from racial to sexual politics. Exposés about teenage male prostitution and involvement in pornography evoked earlier sex panics and embodied, in another sort of way, the nascent backlash against gay liberation. Overtly homophobic sex panics of this period turned on the idea that youth was a time of sexual innocence. The most spectacular of these modern child sex panics were the “satanic ritual abuse” (SRA) scares of the 1980s. These panics have been associated with the fear of strangers, suspicion of strange ideas, and the dread of mysterious economic power or uncontrollable social changes. The established culture of child protection actually harms children psychologically and socially. By the late 1980s the SRA/day-care panics were burning out. But the broad civil, media, and government apparatus left in their wake did not cease to sound alarms about sex.
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