Emotional Health

Sexual Abuse of Children—Holding Those Who Know Responsible


There are further difficulties in deciding these questions, besides our natural tendency to deny the unimaginable. The victims, children, are literally “unreliable witnesses” insofar as they are vague, often confused and subject to fantasy, and easily influenced. But that doesn’t mean what they say isn’t true, yet sometimes it isn’t. And of course, many, perhaps most victims don’t come forward right away, if at all. Activists in Pennsylvania are currently fighting to eliminate the statute of limitations on these crimes because so often victims do not find the courage to report them for many years.

Another problem is the universal shame that victims experience. Whether by the hands of a boss during adulthood, and especially when it is by the hands of a trusted adult, victims feel guilty and complicit. Abusers understand this, and they count on it. It is one of the reasons why some perpetrators are allowed to get away with it for years and years.

We live in a country where Bernie Madoff, who was convicted of financial crimes, was sentenced to 150 years in prison. While not excusing him, or saying his crimes were victimless, unrepentant child molesters should face consequences at least as bad. Furthermore, it is time that people who cover for them face legal consequences. Not just shaming and tarnishing of people like Joe Paterno, but actual jail time. When faced with the choice between winning a football game or protecting the church, those in charge might be much less willing to protect abusers if they knew their own futures were on the line.

It’s sad, however, that it has come to this. We would like to believe we live in a world where those in power, especially in our most trusted institutions, like the church, the educational system, and the government protect us by virtue of their own commitment to virtue.  Instead, we must remind them that if they don’t, they will face consequences.

There’s no question in my mind that both the abusers and those that cover for them are guilty. Studies have shown that when people are held individually responsible rather than hiding behind the power of a group, they often behave more ethically.

Until we hold them both responsible it will remain hard to keep this under control. Even if the public is educated and sensitized to the dangers, little can be done without further steps. Many parents complained about the Pennsylvania priests. They were not heard.

Meanwhile, the consequences of child abuse will continue to be lifelong, and even deadly to the victims. As the Times writes,

“The report says that one of the victims who had testified before the grand jury tried to commit suicide while they were deliberating. ‘From her hospital bed, she asked for one thing,’ the grand jury wrote in the report, ‘that we finish our work and tell the world what really happened.’”



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