The LA times today had an article about an Orange County “hockey mom” who has confessed to having had sex with several boys on the team. One of the responses to the article stated, “Where was she when I was in high school?”.
This represents for me a really serious issue of the failure of our society to understand the nature and consequences of sexual abuse. The common tendency to either blame the victims as we saw with Herman Cain’s accusers and the victims at Penn State and Syracuse. And the other common response is to ‘normalize’ the crime by framing it in a macho sexist comment such as the reader from LA did today. Sexual molestation, rape, unwanted physical contact, unwanted verbal comments are all of the same spectrum and are all damaging. It is certainly more damaging to young people but it is damaging to all who encounter it.
In fact sexual abuse has been with us for all of time. It is only recently that attempts have been made to understand the nature of such pathological interactions and to seek ways for victims to heal and society to prevent them from happening. However there are great stumbling blocks to resolving these things. There are people who have been victims who feel very alone (especially when confronted with the common responses I mentioned above) and there are people who simply don’t want to know, would prefer to deny that such heinous things occur and that they are deeply hurtful and damaging to the victims and to our society. They tend to believe that these perpetrators are “too nice”, “too intelligent”, “too good-looking” to perpetrate such an act. Well the ugly stupid ones rarely get in the door in the first place.
I am a psychiatric nurse and I have worked with quite a few clients who have been sexually abused and with people who perpetrated sexual abuse. And I find this lack of understanding and this resistance to understanding extremely frustrating. Imagine being in a room where there is a bomb and, despite all your efforts to warn people, they refuse to see that it is there. You try and occasionally there are some who believe you and will leave that room but there are far more people who will deny its existence and ultimately be harmed by it. Perhaps some people cannot be saved?
I was particularly incensed reading the latest Sandusky interview in the New York Times and subsequent commentary by television news outlets. I read with increasing familiarity the comments of the high-profile Sandusky saying things that I have heard from every sexual perpetrator with whom I have worked. The interesting thing is that, regardless of age, gender or culture, the lies and rationalizations for their abusive behaviors is much the same. And the victims, if they are heard from at all, are ridiculed and marginalized. How many times can you “accidentally” touch someone’s genitals? Do you really believe that such “accidents” can occur with such frequency? Isn’t an accident by definition something which occurs rarely?
Now I know that Sandusky has yet to be tried and I do believe in the principle of innocent until proven guilty. But when I see this man receiving high-profile and incredibly sympathetic interviews I am concerned about this media manipulation tactic (sanctioned by Sandusky’s attorney who was present at the interview) which will easily bias the public and likely any potential jury pool. This is a deplorable use of the media to circumvent the legal process and help to minimize or eliminate the possibility of a fair trial and justice for the victims.
In fact, in my experience, victims rarely lie, especially children. But the response so far has been basically to vilify these folks who are seen as bringing down a beloved football coach. There is very little sympathy or understanding for the victims. The Catholic Church still fails them as do most of our institutions which should be expected to provide moral leadership and to protect those who need protection.
Perhaps some will read this blog post and judge it to be self-righteous, the rantings of a bleeding heart liberal. Well judge it how you wish. But until you have shared in the revealed pain of a sexual abuse victim and seen the damage that is done you might not be able to understand. If you are a victim you have my sympathy as well as my apologies for the shortcomings of our society which has failed you and will fail you again.
But for those of you who have at least a glimmer of understanding it is my hope that you will advocate for the victims and for society as a whole. We need to learn some mighty disturbing and ugly things and we need to confront these things in order to help both victims and society heal.
For the perpetrators I have little or no sympathy. While I understand that you are ill and, in many cases, a victim of abuse yourself I have seen little hope that you can be fixed. This is especially so with our criminal “rehabilitation” system which gives comparatively little prison time and frequently fails to keep track of sex offenders. Murderers and sex offenders often spend less than 5 years behind bars. Most sex offenders re-offend.
I don’t have an answer or a clever comment to summarize this issue. I just had to say that I am ashamed of how this society which ostensibly supports family values continues to fail most successfully around this issue. And I see very little that gives me hope that this issue will ever be successfully addressed.