In National Association of Social Workers (NASW) blog I thought I found a place where professionals and students could discuss important issues. I felt that the silence around human sexuality is a major driver of abuse, and seeing the world as victim and offender was very problematic. Social work education is failing, and I can say this as a former Middle States Evaluator for the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. NASW and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) refuse to take human sexuality seriously and graduate social work students may be unprepared for those clients presenting with sexual issues.
In the NASW world, offenders are untreatable monsters, pedophiles choose there attractions, and survivors are destined for life-long compromise. Children do not ever have sexualities because the sexual is almost always criminal. Even if my interpretation is severe, the profession has a serious lack of knowledge on human culture and history and favors a pro-for-profit, insurance-approved medical model that rushes diagnosis and treatment while potentially dehumanizing its patients. Insurance companies force a diagnosis in 45 minutes.
Good Professions Value Outspoken Advocates
I knew, after three years of graduate study in social work and nearly 8-years on the couch in therapy that social work had a critical problem: an almost complete lack of human sexuality training and a sex-negative approach to child sex education. It allows its student to get licensed even when they trigger over words, like “sex” and “sexual abuse” as a witnessed at Columbia University. How does such not compromise clients?
Many offenders were victims of domestic and sexual abuse as kids, but no mention of this. The vast majority of sex offenses against kids are not by pedophiles but by what we call “normal” people as I cited in my response to the New York Times. Yet, research always focuses on pedophiles. Soon, one after another, my posts were taken down on the NASW blog.
Even though I cited expert researchers and backed my claims up, the message from NASW was clear: their objective was to protect children at all costs (including their own), and that referring to pedophiles as “minor-attracted” a debated but cited term in academic and clinical research, is “normalizing” deviant behavior. Many of my questions to their moderators went unanswered, and two email messages to “the brass” went unanswered. The censorship is so bad that I cannot even respond to those questioning me.
In fact, my noting what many feminist scholars do, that girls are over sexualized in media by men, was also seen as “normalizing” deviant behavior though the American Psychological Association, over a decade ago, published a landmark study on the “Sexualization of Girls in Media” that I pretty much summarized.
Protecting Children is an Excuse to Avoid “Problematic” Research
My post on a sexuality expert that noted stigma that those attracted to kids faced was pulled down for, you guessed it, “normalizing.” I would remind NASW that clinicians need to understand the clinical diagnosis, that pedophilia is not a disorder but that pedophilic disorder is. Most social workers I know have no idea. We cannot get to a diagnosis if we scare a patient to death and they don’t come to see us. Limiting stigma can save a child, a person with a child attraction, and make society better.
If we don’t teach our kids about sex how can they make informed decisions?
My post noting that a CQ Researcher article entitled “Teen Sex” showed that the more kids know about sex, the fewer engage in it, and that if they do, they are responsible and safe, got pulled down also.
Focusing too much on things that don’t matter: clothing, or saying kids dancing is exploitative is not the cause of abuse, nor has it ever been. These are excuses to control those we see as threats, and nothing is more threatening than a pretty girl or one we enslave and treat like an animal that looks a little bit too much like us. Controlling kids has nothing to do with keeping them safe.
In human sexuality training, we normalize people’s feelings by using sex-positive approaches. This lowers stigma and self-hate. The client comes and returns. Social work, by in large, is sex negative. Few get any sexuality training.
Consider this, one can be a sex offender treatment provider without ever taking a single course in human sexuality except sexual “deviance” or pathology. Even that is not required. Is such responsible? If providers need to help those with sex offenses have a positive sexuality, how can they competently do so without any sex-positive training?
My Cancel Culture Article Got Canceled Due to NASW Control
Just today, after a series of messages, I realized the problem. My article on cancel culture got me canceled from the NASW blog (or heavily censored). It is kind of tragically funny. Then, as one supportive social worker noted to me, social work has a history of wanting to control particularly girls’ sexual behavior through family [oppression]. Even the licensing exam notes that the most important thing for family is to “control a child sexuality. I would think it would be the love, empathize and communicate well with them. When I take the exam, I will be sure to mark that one wrong. To the licensing boards: shame on you! We know that “control” is a bad word in therapy because if I tell you not to think of a pink elephant, what do you think of?
I have an avatar of a pink elephant.
We are taking the fear of harm too far, so much so that clinical social workers are not able to handle a debate without feeling harmed. We are asking abuse survivors to expect the whole world to change for them. Such is dangerous.
If a Marine fought in Vietnam and a Vietnamese person triggers him, should we ask all Vietnamese-Americans to go back to Vietnam? As an abuse survivor, certain people trigger me at stores and in public. Should I start demanding that these individuals get canceled out because I am triggered? If I teach a story that has sex abuse in it, should I stop teaching because a student triggered?
If you trigger, that is okay. I will be right beside you. You will not die.
Individualism, Self-Righteousness, and a Nausea for Facts is Killing Us
Maybe we’ve become way too individualistic. In social work schools, it’s totally acceptable to graduate a student that cannot deal with the word “sexuality” in a student caucus title but allow this person to provide treatment for clients. That is the equivalent of graduating an MD that passes out at the site of bleeding. Should the doctor be offended if his trauma patient bleeds? They can if they are a social work student. I think all social work students, including me, should have to get therapy. My critics and I agree.
Such an approach further harms survivors because these things are unrealistic and cannot happen. As one psychiatrist put it, “Sometimes you have to put up with some crap on your glasses” when it’s your job to do so.
I learned from my abuse past of 17 years that there is a time that a survivor has to stop blaming and start taking an empowering initiative. That trigger has nothing to do with the horror they faced. My blogs are not responsible for someone’s harm, nor is this article. Nor is that story, or person, or anything else harming anyone. That event no longer exists. It exists only in the past and can no longer hurt them. To run away from discomfort is to run back to that event.
A famous female psychologist in South Korea handles abuse this way:
A woman came in and said that her parents always favored her brother. Even if she ate, they would get mad at her and tell her that she is taking food away from her brother. It was a sad story.
The psychologist said, “Well, maybe you just have to accept the fact that your parents just don’t like you, and they never will. So you got abused. Many people get abused.”
“Just Deal With it” is Not the Same as the Truth
This is everything a therapist should never say and can, at first, alienate a client. But the reality is the psychologist just simply told her patient the truth. And this is what NASW runs from, what we all do, the truth.
This is why I am canceled and this article will offend so many, because it is the truth, and as the famous line in the movie says, “You can’t handle the truth.” But I can because I faced adult and child murderers in prison and still saw them as human beings that made very bad choices.
Sometimes parents don’t like their kids. Many kids get abused. Maybe making this a big deal, telling ourselves that our lives are ruined forever, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Bad things happen to good people. You are all good people, even if you did a bad thing. A bad choice does not make a monster or survivor. It makes a person. Sometimes good people do bad things, and sometimes people are simply jerks and mean. Some give their lives to save ours.
Abuse is awful. I know. But we cannot protect kids if we control what is natural to them, and we cannot limit child abuse by avoiding the tough questions, the tough truths.
Everyone is Replaceable, I Hate that Too
As Abby Miller from Dance Moms tells her child dancers, “The first thing you learn in my studio is that everyone is replaceable.” And that’s the truth.
It’s a hard lesson, and though we are not replaceable to our loved ones, we are replaceable to the world. In three generations, no one ever existed unless we make an idealized mythic memorial of them. Such a memorial is always a lie, the one generalization that speaks truth.
In the end, we are no different than grasshoppers; even our president is just a common bug to the universe. Maybe our peace from such pain is in the very nature we take so little time in noticing.
Sexuality is natural, not deviant, because it creates the very life and identities we often destroy and degrade. Sexuality is not bad; it’s only people’s choices and actions that make such bad. This future social worker will never advocate for NASW until it learns to move into the 21st Century and take responsibility to educate itself and its members about human sexuality.
There are good social workers, but the question is whether a social work education or NASW has anything to do with it.
Earl Yarington (LMSW) is a social worker and school bus driver. He taught literature and writing for nearly 20 years and spent 3 years working in forensic social work internships with offending populations, including work at Delaware Correctional facilities and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He has a PhD in literature and criticism (feminism/women writers) from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Master of Social Work from Louisiana State University, and an interdisciplinary Master of Liberal Arts from Arizona State University, where he studied the impact of visual image and girlhood in media/social media. He also has an MA and BS in English from SUNY College at Brockport. The opinions and analyses that Earl writes are his own and are not necessarily the positions or views of his employers, the agencies he supports, or that of his colleagues. Reach out with comments or questions.