“If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:6 (NIV)
This morning, a police department in Michigan announced that it will hold a press conference tomorrow, February 1, 2018, to apologize for doubting a 17-year-old girl who reported that USA Gymnastics sports medicine physician Larry Nassar had sexually abused her during a medical appointment.
Over the past year, scores of social demigods have fallen from their lofty perches under allegations that they used their power to sexually abuse those over whom they held power. With the voices of a few courageous women, the #MeToo movement has, finally, opened the floodgates, washing the skeletons out of the closets of the influential and exposing them.
As University of Pennsylvania law professor and founder of CHILD USA, Marci Hamilton, explains in a recent blog, many abusers are skilled in earning the trust of those around them, isolating the victims, and living double lives.
Hamilton writes, “The perpetrators fervently believe that they are wonderful men who don’t deserve to be brought down like this—regardless of the sexual misconduct they perpetrated. Their power is boundless, even God-given! In their self-referential world, they have magical powers to treat women and children as objects and to never be held accountable.”
As a result, the victims and those who support them in their quest for justice have traditionally been shamed and humiliated. “Victims of sexual misconduct rarely make it up and often cannot come forward immediately,” writes Hamilton. “They have been accused by some of fabricating their claims either for publicity or because they are seeking a ‘pay day.’ This is patently ridiculous. First, it is a matter of fact that people rarely make up sexual misconduct. This is a humiliating event, not something you want to announce from the ramparts. And the perpetrators know how to convince their victims that telling others is risky, whether it is the priest telling the kid his parents will go to hell if he tells or Weinstein threatening a young woman’s career prospects.”
The victims, “feel small, ashamed, humiliated, worthless, and intimidated all at once. The misconduct can come to define them in their own minds and lead to a dramatic shift in their self-worth, confidence, and even their career choices. All the while, the powerful abuser struts around in the public square proving his immense worth.”
These situations can hit churches and religious institutions particularly hard, particularly if the accused perpetrator is a popular spiritual leader. Parents who want to trust their church might doubt that their children have properly understood the situation, and may fear that if they do speak out, they may be shunned and face retaliatory accusations.
In recent years religious organizations who face huge fines and potential shutdowns because they shielded perpetrators or used their power to silence victims, have openly fought attempts to expand the statute of limitations for filing lawsuits even though victims have been shouldering the cost of the abuse for years.
The long-standing practice of downplaying abuse allegations and shielding perpetrators while implying that victims have fabricated or embellished the stories must come to an end. Institutions that presumably exist for the children must protect the children at all costs. Institutions that knowingly allow children to abuse or sexually harass other children are liable.
While it is impossible to prevent child abuse in all circumstances, there are some things parents can do.
Parenting magazine gives some helpful preventative advice, and I would recommend reading this article which describes these recommendations in much more detail.
First, talk to your children and let them know what is acceptable and unacceptable touching. Certain body parts are private. Parenting gives some tips on how to bring it up.
Use real names for body parts so children are able to describe what is okay and not okay.
Most cases (estimated 80 to 90 percent) involve people that the child knows well and maybe loves. Who is spending time with your children?
Remind your children that no adult should ever ask them to keep secrets.
Believe your child and trust your instincts.
Be wary of one-on-one time.
Parenting has many more ideas and is must reading for parents.
But what do you do if you suspect that something has happened?
Several websites provide some hints. The most important thing is to keep an open line of communication with your child and keep a diary of what they tell you with dates and times. Find out from other professionals such as teachers (assuming it not a teacher you are suspecting) whether your child has had recent behavioral changes. Talk to a trusted friend or family member, or an abuse helpline counselor and ask what they think. The National Child Abuse Hotline is an excellent resource (1-800) 4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453. ( https.www.childhelp.org/ )
Don’t be afraid to hire a qualified lawyer to help you navigate what comes next. Often initial “investigations” are conducted at the request of the institution and are designed to minimize their risk, not to help your child. Having a qualified legal warrior in your corner is good. In some cases, the parents who bring up the case are defamed, harassed, and threatened by the accused and his or her supporters. In a recent case, which is currently under investigation by state authorities, an accused teacher and pastor unsuccessfully attempted to obtain restraining orders against parents for speaking out. Even if the outcome is not yet clear, parents who have had the courage to report an incident on behalf of their children should anticipate that the accused will hire an attorney, and they should do so as well.
At the same time, there are things that organizations can do to prevent abuse. Hamilton, who is an expert on these issues, has proposed the following model policy for the government to adopt, but I would propose that individual organizations should adopt it now. Parents should look for this kind of thinking when finding schools or organizations for their children, even if the parents will probably be around. After all, Dr. Nassar often secretly molested patients with parents present in the room. An organization that refuses to implement these safeguards is sending up warning flares that should not be ignored.
- Every adult who suspects a child is being sexually abused must report it to the authorities before reporting it to the organization—whether or not the relevant state’s law requires it. This move takes the issue out of the self-referential center where organizational self-interest thrives.
- No adult, other than a parent or guardian, may be alone with a child in a closed space in the performance of the organization’s mission. This means, for example, a classroom, an examination room, a bathroom, or a car. Doors need to be open, meetings must be visible to passersby, and organizations need to plan to have two adults on hand in many circumstances.
- No adult who has sexually abused a child may have a leadership role in the organization. Ever.
- Every adult affiliated in any way with the organization must be trained annually on spotting sex abuse, how to report, and dealing with children who have been abused.
- Every child affiliated with the organization must be trained annually on spotting sex abuse, how to report, and respecting their cohorts who have been abused.
- Penalties need to be severe for failure to follow these modest but necessary principles to child protection.
- No organization is exempt, whether religious, or otherwise.
From “The Child Sex Abuse Scandals Are All the Same and they Demand the Government to Act,” Marci Hamilton, Justia (3/22/2017) https://verdict.justia.com/2017/03/22/child-sex-abuse-scandals-demand-government-act
For the sake of your children, act now to prevent and stop sexual abuse.
Photo: DepositPhotos.com / Symbolfoto