Thursday, November 10, 2011

We all need to put the victims first

Joe Carter over at First Things is saying what a lot of people are thinking in regard to the Penn State child sex abuse scandal:
For the past few days I’ve been trying, without success, to make sense of the disgusting spectacle at Penn State. My reaction can be summed up in one word: inexplicable. The actions of Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Mike McQueary, the rioting Penn State students—all of it is inexplicable. I tell myself that it must be an anomalous event, for I can’t bear the idea that it may be symptomatic of our larger culture. [...]

If you are the kind of person that can leave a child to be brutalized than you have lost your humanity. May God have mercy on your soul.

And if you’re a student at Penn State who is more upset about a coach being fired than a child being raped then please make that opinion as broadly known as possible (rioting is a good means of communicating your viewpoint). Your peculiar take on moral priorities needs to be made public so that the rest of us can avoid coming into contact with you in the future. [Link in original--E.M.]

There have been so many things written about this, that I don't want to add to the verbal clutter. Still, there are a few things that need to be said.

First, yes, the Penn State situation is proof that the culture of child sexual abuse and the coverup of such abuse does not exist solely in churches, let alone solely in the Catholic Church. The truth is that most institutions reflexively try to protect their image when they find out that someone they have trusted, someone whose fall would shame the institution, has been committing serious crimes, especially the crime of child sexual abuse. This is morally outrageous.

Second, child abusers, pedophiles especially, know very well that institutions have a horror of being exposed as a place where someone in a trusted position was getting away with the sexual abuse of children. On the occasions, however rare, when pedophiles are careless enough to get caught--even caught so graphically as Jerry Sandusky is alleged to have been caught--the pedophile will use institutional horror and fear of exposure to his benefit. These people are lifelong manipulators, and children aren't the only ones they manipulate.

Third, the first and second points do not in any way exonerate specific Catholic authorities, most especially bishops, in situations where they knew that children were at risk from a pedophile priest and did not take sufficient action--or, sometimes, any action--to protect the victims. We are not wrong to expect people of faith to act differently from mere secular authorities when children are at risk. We are not wrong, in fact, to demand that they do.

Fourth, we all need to put the victims first. To that end, I ask the following questions, expecting no answers, of course, but just asking readers to reflect on them:
  • Have you, yourself, or someone who is close to you, ever been tempted to the sexual abuse of a child--or acted on such a temptation?
  • If so, have you (or the person close to you) sought the appropriate help or been turned in to the proper authorities?
  • Have you or someone close to you ever been sexually abused? Did the abuse happen when the victim was a child? Is the abuser still at large, and still putting children at risk?
  • Have you ever encountered a victim of child sexual abuse? If the victim was still a child, did you report the abuse? If the victim is now an adult, did you listen respectfully, avoid blaming him/her for the abuse, and do whatever you could to help him/her locate help if needed?
  • Have you ever been dismissive toward those coming forward to talk about abuse? Have you, especially if the accused abuser was someone in your immediate or extended family, "tribe," school, church, etc., been inclined to believe the abuse did not happen, or acted as though the story was a fabrication without any evidence supporting that notion?
  • Have you shared the popular, and thoroughly deplorable, cultural opinion (which I saw displayed recently on a secular news website's comment thread) that boys who speak out about being sexually abused by older female authority figures (teachers, etc.) are not really victims at all but are "lucky" to have had such experiences? On the other hand, have you been inclined to dismiss the abuse of girls by older men as something almost "normal" and nothing much for a girl to get over?
  • Have you, in any other way, enabled a culture of the cover-up and dismissal of the sexual abuse of children as "no big deal," something that did not need to be opposed with strength and conviction?

Like I said above, I don't think these are questions demanding immediate or public answers--just quiet, thoughtful reflection.

Something else worth thinking about: this article:

If the allegations are true, this much is clear: They’re all at fault. McQueary knew exactly what he witnessed and didn't call 911. (Why hasn't he been fired yet?) The others either knew and are covering it up, or didn't ask the right questions.

Here’s what isn’t clear: At least six men could have called 911. Not one did. Why?

It starts with the obvious: “People don’t want to be pulled into conflicts with others,” says Roy Lubit, M.D., Ph.D., a forensic psychiatrist in New York who treats victims of sexual abuse. “They especially want to avoid potentially difficult situations in the future, like going to court. So they tell themselves it’s not their business, or they cannot be sure what is going on, or convince themselves that someone else will take care of it.”

But this situation is more complicated than that. “Organizations are also very self-protective,” adds Dr. Lubit. “The number-one rule is, Don’t embarrass the organization. Whistle blowers are often treated very badly.”

Read the rest here.

I can't help but wonder: what does it say about our society that this is true?


angela said...

It says that our society is beyond selfish. So sad that this selfishness is shown over and over in so many ways. And a a parent I have to figure out how to convince my children that what all their friends and society do/think is so often morally wrong.

Anonymous said...

A couple of (probably unilluminating) anecdotes--I had only heard about this scandal in broad terms (abuse, cover-up, firing) and happened to catch on TV a glimpse of the rioting. My first thought that they were either rioting against the coach, or rioting against the administration for not acting fast enough. I suppose in the back of my mind was the thought society in general is taking sexual abuse and covering it up more seriously these days. Color me naive.

I was getting the rat's nest trimmed at Great Clips today, and my hairdresser was filling me in on some of the details and gave a somewhat muted defense of Joe. In other words, it was acceptable that these things were handled internally ("the way these used to be done" as she put it) and as long as he kicked it upstairs so to speak, he did all that could be reasonably expected.

Rebecca in ID said...

I just read an article on this which said something like "allegedly had sex with a ten-year-old in the showers". Excuse me??? That is how you describe what happens between consenting adults. The appropriate description is, "sexually assaulted", "raped". The fact that these actions are described in such terms is shocking.

Anonymous said...

I find it really strange that when it is the Catholic church doing this everyone (media /secular world) goes nuts! When it's football it's okay? What the he**? That is incredibly scary and telling.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

All true, but one word of caution is in order. I recall reading several years ago about a man on a long drive who stopped by a pond to wash his son. A woman half a mile away thought she saw a couple having sex, then later recognized that one of the people in the vicinity was a young boy, called the authorities, and a boy was taken away from an entirely innocent father pending years of legal action, all wrapped around a hostile divorce that was already underway.

That's not what happened with Sandusky, by any credible account. People close up saw exactly what he was doing, and it was not innocent. The caution is, there is a tendency to react to a situation like this by assuming guilt in far less definite circumstances, just to be safe. That has equally devastating consequences.

I don't think anyone knows whether anyone at the McMartin pre-school was guilty or not, but it seems increasingly unlikely as time goes by. I recall a case of a teacher who was accused by at least a third of his kindergarten class and firmly supported as innocent by another half his students or parents.

THIS situation was clear and outrageous. Some others will be too, even situations where people will implicitly feel pressured not to rock the boat. Some other situations will NOT be clear-cut, and may even be entirely innocent. It is a difficult balance to maintain. (SOME accused priests may also be innocent... some.)