By Colleen Sulsberger
Protecting the Innocent
I read trial transcripts of child abuse cases from time to time, and am often amazed both by the actions taken by abusers to groom victims, and the fact that no one is recognizing these actions for what they are: predatory and abusive. Even the young victims are often unable to recognize that they are being victimized – even when the acts they are subjected to are painful and cause terrible feelings of fear and shame.
In a 2012 hearing, an abuser told the grand jury that he typically took showers with children, kept them at his home overnight and slept in the same bed with them, and groped them in his car.
“I didn’t think of it, certainly, as predatory,” he told jurors.
Many times abusers insist that they “loved and cared for” their victims, and never intended to harm them. Really? Raping a child seems loving and caring to these people?
In so many of these cases, the abusers were protected. Even when victims, who were anywhere from grade school students to pre-teens at the time, told their parents or a trusted friend what had happened, the facts were swept under the rug until the drama blew over. Many times the child victims were blamed, or told to keep quiet. No one acted to rescue or protect these victims.
Why do so many adults – parents and persons in authority – when the facts of an abuse case come to light, fail to react appropriately? Why does sexual abuse of a child seem like a minor thing to some, compared to the scandal that a report would cause? Would these same people fail to report a burglary or some other crime that does not involve sex? Are crimes that do involve sex somehow less egregious?
I’m reminded of a recent case I read about involving the brutal rape of a woman on the campus of a major university, where the rapist testified that he “was just trying to show her a good time.” Where did this type of thinking come from?
Sexual abuse of a child is a deeply evil crime, one that requires the abuser to justify in his or her mind that it is somehow OK to use a child’s body as a “thing,” a means to provide the abuser with physical pleasure. A person who can think this way cannot be rehabilitated and has no place in society.
So let’s call a spade a spade: Anyone who knows that abuse could be or is occurring, yet chooses to cover it up, protect the abuser, and contain the scandal rather than rescue the child is guilty of cooperating in the crime. I cannot come to any other conclusion.
Colleen Sulsberger is coordinator of the Office of Safe Environment for the Diocese of Sioux City.