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Now the spotlight is on Penn State University: it’s exalted football program . . . and the revered coach accused of raping at-risk boys entrusted to him for character development. Also of note just now is the exclusive Horace Mann School in New York City, where male teachers allegedly used boys for sex. And . . . the American Boy Choir School in Princeton, N.J., where male faculty members have been accused of toying sexually with some 30 per cent of the students. And . . . the Boy Scouts of America, where volunteers and staff have for years been charged with sexual abuse – with the accusations being hushed up and stashed away in secret files. And . . . then there’s the archdiocese of Philadelphia, where priests engaged in statutory rape of children, crimes that were concealed by their ecclesiastical superiors. But Philadelphia is just one of many Roman Catholic jurisdictions where sex crimes against minors were taken lightly as a moral issue while being taken very seriously as possible public relations nightmares. A policy of strenuous denial not withstanding, American dioceses have been bankrupted by financial settlements paid to sex abuse victims. Of late outrage concerning priests’ secret sex crimes and the Roman Catholic Church’s criminal concealment policy has been spreading to dioceses around the globe.
What is going on? What is the world coming to?
Speaking from my experience as a kid who was raped (and then hospitalized) at age 5, I suspect that what is happening is a moment of truth. An ancient, rancid reality is coming into public consciousness. In times past, nothing much was said and very little was known about rape in general and about rape of boys in particular. I don’t know who, if anyone, abused my abuser. I suspect, though, that he was abused by someone he knew and trusted. People just didn’t share information about such topics. Many would say that the phenomenon of sexual abuse of boys didn’t exist. And if it did, it was just plain nasty, much too nasty to be contemplated by nice, civilized folks.
But besides being nasty, sexual abuse of children – if it is publicized – can be financially disastrous. I know that my abuser was The Provider during the Depression. I was at best an insignificant unfortunate and at worst a potential serious liability. The same can be said for all the institutional cases that I cited above. At risk children or children from elite families, it doesn’t matter all that much. Too bad about them. If their misfortunes pose a threat to powerful individuals and institutions, let them be still, let them be silenced, let them become the accused rather than the accuser. In the Penn State trials, the purported victims are accused by the defense team of making their allegations in the hope of financial gain.
As I have tried to piece together my own experience, I have a sense that I was somehow characterized as the perverse seducer of a good Christian man. And besides, there seemed to be the idea that no Real Boy, no boy worthy of being featured in a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover, would ever put up with being raped. Nor would anyone, man or woman, decent or otherwise, entertain the idea of raping a Real Boy. Perverse juvenile seducers get no worse than they deserve.
I hope that I am not engaging here in the trendy huffing and puffing, the moralizing and denouncing, that is triggered by an atrocity du jour. For indeed I consider myself to be a very fortunate person. All in all, I was well treated as a child. I didn’t suffer any crippling devastations.
I will say that when I was trying to sort out my abuse experience, I was dismayed by a ``support group’’ of which I was briefly a part. My fellow group members gave an impression that they were living under an unappealable life sentence. They seemed to be condemned to substance dependencies, sex addiction, fragile relationships, depression and suicide attempts. The one good thing about my 6 months with that group was learning that I was not the only guy in the world who had ever been raped by a trusted loved one. But it was demoralizing to imagine that such an experience could turn out to be the central event -- the inexorable curse -- that would maim me and dominate my life.
I once knew a psychiatrist whose idea of mental hygiene and psychological public health was for everyone’s secrets to be known by everyone else. No more shame, no more blackmail, no more witch hunts, no more unsolved crimes, no more hypocrisy. When I think of all the admired and respected institutions that have been mired and disrespected in the current wave of shocking revelations about child sex abuse, I think, well, maybe the revelations are a blessing. Presumably abuse is everywhere and always has been. Maybe, like many forms of violence, it will lessen under the influence of heat and light.
In my days of exploring what I feared was an inexorable curse, I read a book about sexual abuse of boys. The author somehow extrapolated that possibly one in seven boys had experienced something of that sort. The author was, of course, against, the powerful overpowering the less powerful. He was against bullying and coercing. But he was also against shaming, conscious or otherwise, of abuse survivors. Those who are paid to protect children can make a huge hullabaloo over youngsters’ misfortunes. It’s their job. The hullaballoo, however, can create the impression of irremediable damage.
And now for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington tie-in. Maybe one in seven males have been victimized? Just an estimate, of course. Perhaps it doesn’t involve anyone WE know, or could care to know. After all, 50 years ago no one most people knew – or knew that they knew -- was homosexual.
Just a thought: who are the abusers among us UUCAVA-ers? Who are the abused? Could be there are none (present company, as stated above, excepted). Does it matter? Who cares? Who flinches from caring?
I’m just sayin’.