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COMMENTARY
Shortey scandal
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When a sitting state senator’s secret and sordid sex life implodes on him, an American public already fed up with its political process gnashes teeth, seethes at the offender and focuses on that politician’s personal hypocrisy.

What we don’t do well enough, however, is have the uncomfortable conversations about how such secret sexual realities come to bear and what might be done to help others who find themselves engaged in unseemingly sexual behavior.

Sen. Ralph Shortey (R-OKC) was charged last week with three prostitution-related crimes for his attempted Craigslist hookup with a 17-year-old boy at a Super 8 motel. Shortey was found with marijuana residue, lotion, condoms and a phone full of cringe-worthy text messages.

Oklahomans’ reactions mostly took two forms: utter disgust about anal sex with a teenager; and anger at perceived political hypocrisy, specifically about Shortey’s stance on drug laws and a few votes he has made in the past on LGBTQ issues.

National entities ran stories on Shortey as well, the senator’s name popping up in the New York Times and obscure sites like www.SportsBookReview.com, on which someone posted an AP story under a forum headline of: What the fukk is wrong with Okie Sen Ralph Shortey?

Ironically, the author of that casual forum post asked the question that most people don’t want to answer.

We are going to have to try, however, if society ever wants to address the root causes of unhealthy sexual behavior à la Shortey and his young companion.

Root causes impossible to know at present

Before we go any further, it’s important to note that neither NonDoc nor any other publication (of which we are aware) knows specific details about the childhoods of Ralph Shortey and the 17-year-old young man he transported to the Moore Super 8 Motel.

Generally speaking, however, the likelihood that neither Shortey nor the teenager he met on Craigslist has a history of previous sexual abuse or trauma would seem quite low. They were, after all, meeting in a motel for illicit sex and drug use. Messages sent through the Kik app revealed an apparent “daddy” and “boy” sexual fantasy between the pair.

But if you are looking for scientific evidence showing broad victim-to-perpetrator correlations, you may be out of luck. And since his partner was 17 and actively seeking men online, Shortey’s situation does not fit neatly into a stereotypical pedophiliac package anyway. While the FBI has joined the investigation into Shortey, it’s too early to speculate about what other sexual encounters Shortey may have had with minors or when he was a minor himself.

Still, neither Shortey nor the teenager — who told police they have known each other for about a year — can be seen as having a healthy sex life. Moreover, their parents, pastors, teachers and friends would likely have wished different outcomes for them at this point.

Frankly, Shortey and the teen would likely wish the same.

Craigslist: Enabling indiscretions since 1999

Many avenues exist for the exploration of sexual identity, and some are healthier than others. Craigslist is but one forum in which people seek to act out their often hidden sexual fantasies and desires (despite the added risk of scammers and cops). In 2017, Craigslist stands as the easiest sin shack to access at any given time, a recognition few could have imagined when it was created in 1999.

As a result, Craigslist and its mobile app make it far easier for people to feed their sexual predilections than to deal honestly with the potential pernicious elements of their carnal desires.

The site ostensibly enables online users’ real-life bad habits while forcing little in the way of healthy healing (unless court-mandated counseling sits at the end of a law enforcement sting operation).

From online outrage to a mature narrative

To that end, the only way society can limit the number of stories like Shortey’s is to make it easier for people like him and his young partner to get professional help. People with hidden sex lives may find some relief by seeking personal progress in understanding their desires. Often, the first step may be unpacking any past experiences that could still be affecting them.

That, of course, is a whole hell of a lot easier said than done. For it to happen, the national narrative on sexual activity and deviance needs to mature in ways that make most people uncomfortable.

Suspending Shortey’s parking privileges at the Oklahoma State Capitol won’t get it done.

It’s going to require much more from us as a society than mere online outrage.

(Editor’s note: Late Sunday, News 9 published a story concerning Rep. Kevin McDugle (R-Broken Arrow) and his disclosure of childhood sexual abuse perpetrated upon him by a minister. Such a disclosure represents a positive and brave step in the public discussion of sexual trauma and its effects on survivors.)

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William W. Savage III holds a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma. He covered two sessions of the Oklahoma Legislature for eCapitol.net before working in health care for six years. He is a nationally certified Mental Health First Aid instructor.