Thursday, August 16, 2012

Blast from my USENET Past: Sexual Abuse and the Pillars of Society

[[Another in an occasional series of republishing some of my old USENET essays (in this case, someone reminded me about this as I'd forgotten it). Sadly, its even more relevant now than it was back in 1992, particularly when you think of the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State. Some attitudes never change]]

Last week, a former Catholic priest admitted to a reporter that he had raped between 50 and 100 children in Massachusetts churches in the early '60s. This week, a local minister goes to court, accused of raping three exchange students living  in his house. 

We, as a society, have a terrible time dealing with child abuse, especially child sexual abuse.  We may admit that sexually-warped characters exist in the seamy underside of society, among the poor, the drug abusers and the prostitutes.  But when accused sexual abusers are among the "pillars" of society, among the clergy, doctors, police, and educators, people become apoplectic.  The accusation of sexual abuse, especially when the accused is a "good man," forces most into absolute denial of the issue.

As a society, we have to be willing to listen when our children or our friends tell us that they are being abused.  We have to support the people bringing the allegations, and, when the allegations are proven in court, we must be willing to sentence the perpetrators to long jail terms and to develop programs that attempt to rehabilitate them.

We must all do what we can to stop the attitudes that promote sexual abuse. These attitudes include:
  • the idea that people own one another. A husband does not own his wife, parents do not own their children, and youth leaders do not own the children in their care.
  • the "blame the victim" mentality. Children do not seduce adults, and a woman in a miniskirt is not an invitation to a rape.
  • the "if I want sex, I'll get it" mentality. Sex should be an act between consenting adults, not a power play between individuals, one of whom may be too young or too scared to resist.
  • the "pillar of society" trap. In a community's haste to "be fair to" the accused, the victim is often ridiculed, harassed, and blamed for the situation
Our society makes it almost impossible for victims to come forward. But the consequence of our silence is tacit permission, leading to even greater tragedies. A few years ago, in Massachusetts, a middle-aged man took to picking up teenaged hitchhikers and exposing himself to them. He raped at least one of them. No one ever reported him. When his 13-year-old neighbor vanished, he helped to search for her. The teenager's body was later found in his cellar. If one of his previous victims had felt comfortable coming forward, Melissa Benoit might still be alive, and Henry Meinholz might have gotten into treatment. Instead, this ex-church deacon has been sentenced to life in prison without parole, and the judge regretted the lack of a death penalty. Sexually abusers are sick, but they are not usually insane. Sexual abusers need to be held accountable for their crimes, and they need to be rehabilitated. And we, as members of this society, must take a more active role in discouraging sexual abuse, encouraging its prosecution, and supporting sexual abuse survivors.

Related postings:

  • They Said/They Said
  • Creeps in Society
  • Dealing with Anonymous and/or Abusive Comments
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