Friday, July 24, 2020

Who Will Defend the Children?

This post reflects my personal views and opinions, and not those of anyone or any organization I have worked for or with. However, my career has influenced my views, and as a fully integrated person, I don't just leave my work and my thoughts about the people I serve at the office. 

Child sexual abuse, including child sexual assault, molestation and exploitation is devastating to its victims. It not only impacts someone physically, it leave emotional and psychological damage, and wounds the soul.

I have sat with child and adult survivors of child sexual abuse. I have listened to shattered children sob as they have recounted to me what happened. I have read allegations aloud in court. I have counseled adult men and women still reconciling what happened to them decades later. I have provided consultation, support and recommendations to other professionals working in this arena. It has been my honor and privilege to be trusted with these stories. 

Child sexual abuse is also one of the least prosecuted crimes. Only 1 in 5 child sexual assault cases are reported to the police in the US and only half of those result in a guilty verdict or plea. (Block, S. and Williams, L. “The Prosecution of Child Sexual Abuse: A Partnership to Improve Outcomes.” 2019. National Criminal Justice Reference Service.) That means that only 10% of survivors of child sexual abuse, assault and exploitation receive legal justice. 

Add to this studies that researched the truthfulness of testimony by victims of child sexual abuse. These studies revealed that between 93 and 99% of the testimony by child sexual abuse victims was true. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau. (1999). Child Maltreatment 1997: Reports from the States to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.) 

With that background, you might imagine that I feel strongly when I hear or read of accounts of leaders who defend perpetrators. In my line of work, unfortunately, I see this frequently. Someone is credibly accused or even convicted of the sexual abuse of children, and civic, government or church leaders rush to defend the alleged perpetrator, hope the best for them, and completely disregard the survivors. I've witnessed this in various forms - denial that the person could have done it, casting doubt on the victim, or focusing solely on the positive character of the perpetrator. The narrative is influenced when you focus on the alleged perpetrator and not the survivors of child sexual abuse. When only 10% of perpetrators are ever successfully prosecuted, leaders defending the prosecutor casts doubt on the truthfulness of the survivor's account, making it even less likely that justice will be served. 

These remarks also revictimize the survivor, casting them as the "crazy," or the evil individual intent on ruining the reputation of the "good person" wrongly accused. 

This is wrong.

That brings us to today. 

The President of the United States, in response to the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell, the woman charged with trafficking children in the sexual exploitation ring Jeffrey Epstein was convicted of running, said "I wish her well." No mention of the survivors - children as young as 14 years old. 

The appropriate comment would have been "I've known Ghislaine Maxwell for a number of years. But rather than comment on that, I want to focus on the survivors of this traumatic situation. I wish them the best, and that they would be able to heal from this horrible crime. I have faith the legal system will hold people responsible for these crimes responsible, and will deliver justice." 

But no. There was no comment about the people who have been established as victims. No acknowledgement of their experience. Rather, there was a well wishing directed at someone that, because she is a rich white woman in a world that already is unwilling to understand that women can and do commit sex crimes, is already more likely to escape justice for her actions. 

This is morally indefensible. 

In other situations, I have counseled that those who would prioritize the perpetrator over the survivor have abdicated their responsibilities as leaders, of their duties to protect the vulnerable.

In the case of the President, where there has been a clear pattern of disregard for the rights of others, of multiple credible counts of sexual harassment, this was an opportunity for redemption - of putting the concerns of victimized children (now traumatized adults) first. Instead, the President has yet again proved there is no moral bottom for him to scrape against.

For the sake of our children, Donald Trump MUST GO.

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