The Subtle Danger of QAnon

According to QAnon, I should have been kidnapped and held against my will while rich and powerful people trafficked me and abused me sexually. But that’s not the way it happened. From the age of ten to almost eighteen I was sexually molested, but it was not at the hands of a famous Hollywood actor or powerful Washington insider. It was my oldest brother, who was 16 when it started and almost 24 the last time it happened, and he was not part of an international group of powerful pedophiles. He was my brother, someone I looked up to and trusted. My story, like many others, does not fit the QAnon narrative.

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 Q, a single person hidden somewhere 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 simpletons who will believe anything, but it has begun to infiltrate into our lives and politics, with followers running for public office and winning races, Trump and other Republicans acknowledging them in subtle ways, and the movement gaining traction with followers all over the globe. QAnon’s believers are so taken in by it that they are ready to take up arms to #savethechildren, a hashtag developed by them. QAnon 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) because he believed they 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. Adherents are willing to destroy people’s lives if they believe those people are pedophiles, even if there is no proof or even any evidence but a meme, online gossip, or a mere suggestion.

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 might possibly be 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. But it also may cause people to ignore the danger that is more present.

The reality 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, but it has always been there. We just didn’t really talk about it before the last couple decades. We couldn’t face it as individuals or as a culture and families preferred to keep the sins of their family a secret.

It is incredibly difficult to face the violation of child sex abuse, and that is true both for victims and for witnesses. 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. People talked about it in hushed whispers, but he held his position at the school for years. 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 years and nobody knew about it. I tried telling my mother and she told me I shouldn’t let him do that to me and it was never discussed again. Once when I was a young adult and drinking with friends I mentioned my experiences and it turned out that the other two at the table also opened up and admitted they had been sexually abused as children. None of these were instances of rich and powerful influencers kidnapping children to molest. They were the untold stories of millions of children in towns like mine and in neighborhoods everywhere around the world. It is another kind of pandemic and many people do not want to talk about it.

There are two people I’m aware of in my circle who are QAnon adherents. One of them has just recently started posting tidbits that are clearly QAnon ideas, so perhaps he is just starting to delve into the quagmire. The other—I’ll call him John—is deep into it. He posts regularly and has hundreds of followers who believe every one of his “researched” theories. Interestingly, both of these individuals were sexually abused as boys. And dozens upon dozens of John’s followers were also abused as young boys and girls. Is it possible that they were abused by someone they trusted and loved so much that they cannot accept that reality and find it easier to transfer the experience onto a paranoid delusion? Could it be easier to blame shadowy figures in an international plot than to acknowledge that your father or some other trusted figure did unspeakable things to you as a child? For many, that is probably true. Perhaps they still cannot talk about or face the horrible reality of what happened to them as children.

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 back then was a family or a community that turned the other way instead of dealing with the issue at hand.

Today children know more and there is more support for them. 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. I only started talking about the abuse I suffered after years of silence, after more than a decade of alcohol and drug abuse that was self-medication to hide the pain, and after suicidal ideation and attempts. I opened up publicly about it decades later when I wrote a play and then a memoir about my survival and started speaking to groups about the experiences of male survivors. 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.

It has been on my mind that 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 ignore the truth, we cannot forget the lessons we’ve learned, and we must continue talking about the real issues of child abuse, or we will slip back into the denial of decades ago. For the sake of today’s children, we cannot let that happen.

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 Amazon.com (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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