The Subtle Danger of QAnon

QAnon is a dangerous conspiracy theory about the so-called deep state, or really, an entire host of conspiracy theories all mangled into one incomprehensible mishmash of aliens, worldwide pedophile rings controlled by the rich and powerful, the Queen of England surrendering to the United States several years ago, Donald Trump as a hero who was groomed from an early age to come in with his white hat and destroy the bad guys (along with John F. Kennedy, Jr., who is still alive and also a “white hat”), and much more. When it’s looked into, it’s stunning that anyone would believe that a single person (Q) hidden deep in the United States government, knows so much about so much, and relays that knowledge to followers with enigmatic posts that are translated by people desperate for answers about their desperate lives. Of course, like all conspiracy theories, those who doubt or dismiss it are simply not awake enough yet to comprehend the truth.

It would be easy enough to dismiss QAnon as a bunch of people who will believe anything, but it has begun to infiltrate into our lives and politics, and its followers are so taken in by it that they are ready to take up arms to #savethechildren, a hashtag developed by QAnon believers. It is dangerous enough that its adherents would do things like the man who traveled to Washington, DC with a gun in hopes of killing Satanists like Hillary Clinton who he believed were kidnapping children to molest, kill, or drink their blood. The poor children were supposedly kept in the basement of a pizza parlor (which, it turned out, had no basement). The man ended up firing the gun in the restaurant, but fortunately no one was killed. Other believers sent death threats to the owner of the pizza joint.

But there is also a more subtle danger with QAnon’s theory of a worldwide cabal of elite pedophiles. It hearkens back to the age-old idea of stranger danger being the greatest worry for parents of young children. It is believable enough because occasionally a Hollywood actor or respected politician will be investigated or arrested for child molestation or child pornography. Think of Great Britain’s Jimmy Savile, or the former Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. High-profile cases like these reinforce the belief that there is a worldwide ring of high-profile pedophiles. It makes people frightened that their own child might be taken in by a Jeffrey Epstein or kidnapped by the cabal.

The reality, though, is that the vast majority of child sex abusers are men (and sometimes women) who are known and trusted by the child victims and their families. According to the child sex abuse prevention program, Darkness to Light, 90% of abusers are known to their victims. 30% of victims are abused by family members. Focusing on famous abusers draws attention away from the real issue, that child sex abuse has always been with us, not as a result of some deep state conspiracy, but because we live in a worldwide rape culture in which women and children have not been historically respected, believed, or given control over their own bodies.

We are more aware of child sex abuse now because we are finally talking about it, and it scares people. It has always been there. We just didn’t really talk about it before the last couple decades.

When I was a child in a small town in southwestern Wisconsin there was an employee at our school that everyone in town knew was touching girls inappropriately. There was a store owner who hired a series of girls who were given expensive gifts and worked at his store, and everyone in town talked about what was going on, yet nobody did anything about it. I was sexually abused for almost eight years and nobody knew about it. Once when I was a young adult and drinking with friends I mentioned it and it turned out that the other two at the table also opened up and admitted they had been sexually abused as children. These were not instances of rich and powerful influencers kidnapping children to molest. They were the untold stories of millions of children. I only started talking about it publicly decades later when I wrote a play and then a memoir about it and started speaking to groups about male survivors.

Children who were abused decades ago didn’t tell anyone. They were warned about stranger danger, but they weren’t warned about their older brothers or fathers or uncles. They weren’t warned about priests or Boy Scout leaders or other trusted adults. If a boy or girl found the courage to tell someone, it was quickly covered up and kept within the family because no one wanted that shame. Often the child would be blamed for tempting the adult in some way. The cabal was a family or a community that turned the other way instead of dealing with the issues at hand.

Things have changed because we are talking now in our communities and in our country. Survivors are speaking up to let others know they are not alone and to let parents know the real dangers facing their children. We have a long way to go to end child sex abuse, but we are at least facing it now. We are beginning to peel back the layers and uncover the dark secrets of countless victims and survivors.

The more subtle danger of QAnon is leading people to believe that child sex abuse is some kind of far off danger, when in reality it is the neighbor, associate, or relative who has easy and regular access to a child. This is not to say that there is not the occasional creepy man in a van, or the rich and powerful abuser like Jeffrey Epstein who lures young people with promises of fame or wealth, but that is incredibly rare. QAnon would have us believe that the only worry is losing your child to those kinds of people and that is not the reality. The reality is closer to home. We cannot forget the lessons we’ve learned and we have to continue talking about the real issues of child abuse, or we will slip back into the denial of decades ago.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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