With institutions covering up rampant sexual abuse, it is clear that there are vital conversations we aren’t having as a society.
After The LA Times reported that between 1965 and 1985 The Boys Scouts of America took very little or no action about suspected child sexual abuse, it announced it would review 5,000 cases spanning the past fifty years. The Times investigation found that Scouts’ officials did not report to police hundreds of cases of alleged sexual abuse and that as many as 1,662 male child victims were impacted. This scandal will continue to make headlines as hundreds of files are released from the BSA’s own collection of cases known as “perversion files.”
It is increasingly difficult to comprehend the enormity of the continued unfolding of inaction and unwillingness to protect children through intentional cover-up and denial. Indeed, these revelations are worse than denial, these are acts of institutional betrayal. The protection of predators and the preservation of reputations supersede a most fundamental human impulse of caring for children. Part of me screams ”What were they thinking?” while another part seeks to understand how and why major respected institutions like The Boy Scouts of America, Penn State University, The Catholic Church, public school districts and elite private schools (and the list goes on) could betray their own missions and reasons for existence. Leaders seem to have no problem compromising their own integrity when faced with the issue of child sexual abuse.
As a longtime advocate for sexual assault victim/survivors, women, men and children I have thought a lot about this. Perhaps we are not yet asking the right questions. Perhaps the cultural restraints of talking about sex and sexuality play a deeper role than we wish to acknowledge on the topic of child sexual abuse and sexual violence. It seems that there is a huge gap between being able to discuss sex frankly and in healthy ways, while at the same time the wider culture supports the early sexualization and commodification of girls and boys in media and advertising.
During this prolonged recession the one industry that is thriving is the porn industry. On the one hand, sex is exploited commercially to sell every product imaginable, yet youth in high school are deprived of being taught the facts about their own biology and about healthy sexuality. Parents continue to lack the support and guidance to discuss these still quite sensitive topics with their children. I am entertaining the notion that until we break through our personal discomforts, cultural taboos, and reluctance to talk about sex and sexuality in all of its complexity in healthy ways, we will continue to see the proliferation of sexual abuse along with inappropriate, ineffective and harmful responses to it. For an issue like child sexual abuse—where no one is for it and everyone is against it—it is curious that we do so little to prevent it.
There are questions we are not asking, conversations we are not having. The Boy Scouts of America had a rule of excluding gay men and boys from participating while at the same time collecting files on alleged abusers and doing nothing about it. I am wondering about this but have seen little reporting on this conundrum of the organizational culture. For sure, homophobia prevents honest discussions and explorations of sexuality. What are the other discussions that we are not having? Until we break through these fears and denials, I am afraid we will continue to witness and suffer betrayal from our most trusted institutions.
Patti Giggans is the Executive Director of Peace Over Violence. Peace Over Violence is dedicated to building healthy relationships, families and communities free from sexual, domestic and interpersonal violence. She is also the Vice-President of the Board of Directors for 1in6.
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