Archive for the ‘Sexual Abuse’ Category

Newly Released Documents Show Bishop Egan’s Chilling Disconnect

December 3, 2009


12,000 pages documenting the 2002 investigations into sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic diocese of Bridgeport CT were released last week, after the diocese lost a seven-year legal battle to keep them sealed. The documents include memos, administrative records, and testimony surrounding twenty-three lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by seven of the diocese’s priests. 448 of these pages transcribe the testimony of the diocese’s bishop at the time – Edward Egan.

Egan admitted to shielding accused priests, often relocating, and, at times, promoting them. The lawsuits were settled in 2002 and Egan was subsequently promoted to cardinal and then archbishop of New York.

In 2002, news of the lawsuits broke and, in the wake of the ensuing scandal, then New York Cardinal Egan released a  letter to his current parishioners expressing regret.

”Over the past 15 years, in both Bridgeport and New York, I consistently sought and acted upon the best independent advice available to me from medical experts and behavioral scientists. ‘It is clear today that we have a much better understanding of this problem […] If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry.”

Victims, dubious of his sincerity, regarded the letter as an empty PR maneuver. Paul Mones, attorney for several victims, was especially unimpressed, (as quoted in the New York Times), ”It is getting off easy to say the behavior of the church was a mistake. It was not a negligent, unthinking action; it was a conscious plan to prevent scandal and to protect the interests of the church.” [Em. mine]

In another statement released in 2002  Egan vows, “I will do everything in my power to ensure the safety and security of each child.” Yet, there is no sign Egan has done anything at all to bring truth to light, punishment to criminals, and safety to potential future victims. Justice to past victims seems not even on his radar.

And then there is Egan’s testimony, which was never supposed to come to light, and in which he unflinchingly defends his decision to repeatedly shield and relocate accused priests, neglect to alert authorities, and his disbelieve accusations as a matter of course.

Sound bites include:

Incidentally, these things don’t happen, and we are talking about ifs.”

And when challenged on this,

“These things happen in such small numbers.”

And when questioned about Rev. Raymond Pcolka, who was accused by 12 former parishioners of abuses including forced oral and anal sex and beatings,

“I am not aware of those things. I am aware of the claims of those things, the allegations of those things. I am aware that there are a number of people who know one another, some are related to one another, have the same lawyers and so forth.” [Em. mine]

He seems to regard prevalence of sexual abuse by clergy as minimal at best. The Times article summarizes:

“Bishop Egan, the fact that 19 individuals have come forward and made claims,” [attorney for plantiff] asked about Father Pcolka’s case, “you don’t consider that to be a significant number of individuals?”

The bishop waited while his lawyer quibbled over the number 19, then answered that considering there were 360,911 registered Catholics in the diocese, “I do not consider that a significant segment or factor.”

“Would you agree with me, Bishop Egan,” the lawyer pressed, “that if one person, one individual, has been affected by the sexual abuse of a clergy member, when that person was a child, that that’s far too much to accept in any diocese?”

“It would not be a significant portion of the diocese,” he replied.

He goes further to self-congratulate the diocese for such low rates of abuse

“It’s marvelous, when you think of the hundreds and hundreds of priests and how very few have even been accused, and how very few have even come close to having anyone prove anything.” [Em mine]

How can you prove something that is never investigated? Such deeply twisted logic, denial, and chilling disconnect from reality appears to be shared by Egan’s Bridgeport predecessor, Bishop Curtis, who admitted to keeping, then destroying records on accused priests and who asserted his belief that pedophilia isn’t a a disease, but a “more incidental” condition.

So how does Egan reconcile his promise that “Should any priest sexually abuse a child, he will be removed from pastoral ministry,” with his continuing penchant for uniformly turning a cold ear to the pleas of victims and their families and allowing such soul-crushing abuses to continue?

Copious amounts of skewed logic and denial.

The Washington Post did a piece on the videotaped testimony from a 1997 lawsuit against the diocese when a former parishioner,  Frank Martinelli,  testified that Fr. Laurence Brett had sexually assaulted him three times as a teenager in 1962 and 1963, including biting him during oral sex. Brett was transferred.  In his testimony, Egan seeks to absolve himself (Bishop of the CT diocese at the time) by claiming – incredulously – that under the strict hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church

“…diocesan priests were “self-employed” and not the bishop’s responsibility”

In further testimony

Martinelli’s attorney asked Egan if he would suspend any priest who was discovered to have sexually assaulted a minor.

“I would have to know the complete circumstances,” Egan replied.

The lawyer then laid out a hypothetical case with a fact pattern identical to the Martinelli case. (By this time, Egan was aware of church files showing that Brett had admitted assaulting Martinelli.)

What if this priest was a teacher, the lawyer asked, and sexually assaulted a student and bit the student’s penis?

“That would be sufficient cause [for suspension], I’m sure, in many bishops’ minds,” Egan responded.

Would it be sufficient cause in your mind?

“I would have to know all of the details,” Egan replied.

Egan admits that he met with Brett in 1990, knowing that Brett had admitted to sexual abuses. In a memo immediately after that meeting he wrote that Brett “made a good impression on me, he spoke with grace,” and “I’ll be inclined to write [him] a letter encouraging him to go on with his work.”

Eventually the diocese was flooded with so many accusations involving Brett that Egan was forced to remove him from duty. It is not clear how many children were abused in the interim.

On an encouraging note, although pervasive and far-reaching, this inexcusable minimalization  and denial isn’t quite institution-wide. An op-Ed in the Times last week contrasts Egan’s response with that of Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, following the release of a recent report detailing years of abuse and cover-ups in Ireland:

“The sexual abuse of a child is and always was a crime in civil law; it is and always was a crime in canon law; it is and always was grievously sinful. One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the report is that while church leaders — bishops and religious superiors — failed, almost every parent who came to the diocese to report abuse clearly understood the awfulness of what was involved.”

Martin speaks to what Egan appears to avoid all thought of – the children, the victims, the now-adults who try to refit the pieces of lives that have been shattered.


”A priest’s collar will protect no criminal,” – Dublin Report Reveals Decades of Abuse

November 30, 2009

Last Thursday a 750-page report was released on the secrecy and coverup of  sexual  abuse by clergy in the Dublin archdiosese. This report comes just six months after the groundbreaking  Ryan Report (spearheaded by Irish high court judge Sean Ryan) released last May. The Ryan report revealed endemic, long-term abuses by nuns and clergy against children in Ireland’s catholic institutions including schools, orphanages, and reformatories. Children were frequently sent to these reforming institutions for such crimes as petty theft, truancy, unwed pregnancy, and dysfunctional family life. Chronic beatings, molestation, rape, and humiliation were the norm for more than six decades. The last of these facilities closed in the 1990’s.

The Ryan report found that when confronted with evidence of such abuse, the sole response of Catholic authorities was to  promptly and discreetly relocate offenders.

“There was evidence that such men took up teaching positions sometimes within days of receiving dispensations because of serious allegations or admissions of sexual abuse. The safety of children in general was not a consideration.”

By providing an evidence-based portrait of the sexual, emotional, and physical damage wrought on thousands of children the Ryan report forced the church to acknowledge the reality of sexual abuse. Survivors formerly silenced for fear of being branded as liars by their catholic community, could tell their stories,  in many cases for the first time,  to investigators.

However, although the Ryan Report shed much needed light upon these crimes, many, including the organization Irish Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA), were angry that no persecutions would result from the findings. In 2004, when news of the investigation surfaced, the Order of Christian Brothers, which was involved in the running of most of the institutions, filed and won a lawsuit that guaranteed all of its members, dead or alive, would remain anonymous in the report.

The latest report, issued this week, focuses specifically on the parish of Dublin – home to four million of Ireland’s Catholics – and the fact that not a single instance of abuse was reported to police until 1995, despite the shocking and long-term pervasiveness of the crimes.  From the NY Times article:

Thursday’s report detailed ”sample” cases of 46 priests who faced 320 documented complaints, although the investigators said they were confident that the priests had abused many more children than that. They cited testimony from one priest who admitted abusing more than 100 children, and another priest who said he abused a child approximately every two weeks for 25 years.

It examines the cover-up and consequential perpetration of these abuses by Catholic authorities, singling out four archbishops in particular: McQuaid, Ryan, McNamara, and Connell, and concludes that each of them sought:

”the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities.”

No apology yet from the Pontiff in Rome, although he was reportedly “visibly upset” upon hearing the findings of the latest report. The lone comment came from Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi who stated, appallingly, that this was “a matter for the local church.”

The Irish government, on the other hand, issued an immediate apology to the public. Justice Minister Dermot Ahern promised that never again would the government treat the Catholic church with deference. “A priest’s collar will protect no criminal,” he said.

My question is this – why haven’t we made a similar pledge in the United States? If this were happening in any other type of institution – school, day care, boy/girl scouts, little league… – there would be no secrets, no privilege of keeping files from the court, no opportunity to dole out punishment “from within.” Is it the political entanglements of those in power that keep them from pulling rank on the Catholic Church?  Why did Speaker Pelosi let a call from the Vatican inform her decisions regarding the new health care bill? Why do most states still have a statue of limitations that uniformly prevents most victims from ever seeking justice (as they would do as an adult who has had years to come to terms with, or even so much as admit, what has been done to them)?

A papal apology is nice, but justice, accountability, and the prevention of further abuse matters so much more.

Pontifical Secret: Update

April 18, 2008

In my former post I wrote about Pope Benedict’s comments on sexual abuse in the Catholic church and remarked that the Vatican refused requests for the Pope to meet with victims. Yesterday, Pope Benedict held an unannounced and private meeting with “five or six” Boston-area survivors.

Those who met with the pontiff spoke on CNN last night about the experience, and all felt the Pope to be both sincerely concerned and deeply apologetic. This includes Olin Horne who, abused as an altar boy, remained skeptical prior to the meeting. According to Reuters he said

I am not kowtowing. I will not kiss his ring. If we walk in and we’re served a large plate of platitude, I can be guaranteeing you that I will be the first person to say that this man does lack the moral authority to manage the Catholic Church. I expect more than an apology when I leave that room.

Speaking to CNN after the meeting Horne said

My hope was restored today from what I heard. And I believe we received a promise.

It is unclear what that promise was, however. Joelle Casteix, regional Director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), recognizes the significance of the meeting, yet feels that, more than words, action is most needed.

“This is a small, long-overdue step forward on a very long road. We’re confident the meeting was meaningful for the participants, and we’re grateful that these victims have had the courage to come forward and speak up.

But fundamentally, it won’t change things. Kids need action. Catholics deserve action. Action produces reform, and reform — real reform — is sorely needed in the church hierarchy.”

The very secrecy of the event itself has drawn criticism. An NPR piece notes

…some of those who were abused said it would hurt more to find out about a private meeting after the fact. One victim said it had been secrets and closed doors that allowed the clergy sexual abuse to happen in the first place.

For those survivors who’ve trekked to Rome in failed efforts to meet John Paul II, (none of whom were invited to the meeting) the event must have seemed momentous. However, as stated by Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney who has represented hundreds of victims, “He certainly will need more than a half hour to understand the pain victims are feeling because of being sexually abused by priests.”

SNAP director David Clohessy is distressed by the way the Pope’s meeting and statements are being applauded by the community. Responding to comments by Bishop William Murphy, Clohessy stated

How utterly tragic that even now, after 5,000+ priests have molested tens or even hundreds of thousands of children, Murphy can’t even admit that he and his colleagues have engaged in a decades-old, horrific, deliberate cover up of these devastating child sex crimes.

His remark that ‘there may have been some bishops that mishandled’ this on-going crisis is perhaps the most distressing public comment uttered by a Catholic official in recent years.

In a way, this meeting may have done more for the pontiff’s image than it did in any practical sense for the current survivors and future victims of this unforgivable crime. SNAP recommends a “prudent vigilance” on the part of parents and parishners. Time will tell if the Vatican is “ashamed” enough to do what is right.

Further Reading:

“Pontifical Secret” Why the Pope Isn’t Ashamed Enough Blackbird post from 4/17/08

Deliver Us From Evil – Award-winning documentary on “the most notorious pedophile priest in the modern history of the Catholic church.” Hundreds of victims. Covered up for 40 years. WATCH this trailer!

Hand of God – Documentary on one family’s journey of healing in the wake of sexual abuse and widespread cover up in Boston. Watch online for free.

SNAP Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests – The nation’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims.

Letter from SNAP to UN General Assembly outlining the damaging actions & inactions of Pope Benedict XVI.

Bishop Accountability – Documenting the abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. Info on over 3,000 priests.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2008

April 2, 2008

April is national Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Didn’t know we had one?teal-ribbon.jpg

Here’s a little history…

SAAM sprung from the 70’s “Take Back the Night” rallies, which have a somewhat equivocal origin. Certain sources claim the first U.S. rally, kicked-off by controversial and self described “militant” feminist Andrea Dworkin, took place in 1978 when 3,000 women took to the streets of San Francisco’s red light district to protest violence in pornography. Yet, further research shows that the National Organization for Women first called women to “Take Back the Night” against violence as early as 1975.

In any event, these ideas likely fomented in co-existing pockets of feminist activity throughout the 70’s. By the 1980’s the movement – almost exclusively targeted against all forms of gender-based violence – was roaring with annual marches and by 1990, through coordination efforts led by the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCASA), Sexual Assault Awareness Week came into being. Finally, in 2001 the movement had grown to encompass the entire month of April and SAAM was born.

According to the NCASA:

April brings an annual opportunity to focus awareness on sexual violence and its prevention. It is also an opportunity to highlight the efforts of individuals and agencies that provide rape crisis intervention and prevention services while offering support to sexual assault survivors, victims and their families.


The National Resource Center for Youth Violence Prevention gives the following statistics.

Sexual assault involves sexual acts that are forced upon individuals against their will. These acts can be physical (such as rape or unwanted sexual touching), verbal (such as sexually abusive or threatening speech), or psychological (such as voyeurism or exhibitionism). Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. However, women and girls are more likely than males to experience violence of this type. Sexual assault is most often committed by someone known to the victim such as a spouse, family member, co-worker, friend or acquaintance, although it can also be committed by a stranger.

  • According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), a national survey of high school students, approximately 9% of students reported having been forced to have sexual intercourse against their will in their lifetime. Female students (11.9%) were more likely than male students (6.1%) to report having been sexually assaulted.
  • Sexual violence can start very early in life. More than half of all rapes (54%) of women occur before age 18; 22% of these rapes occur before age 12.
  • The National College Women Sexual Victimization Study estimated that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 college women experienced completed or attempted rape during their college years. [Em. mine]

The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) gives these well-documented stats:

  • 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
  • College-aged women are 4 times more likely to be a victim of sexual assault.
  • Every 2 minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted.
  • 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
  • Only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail.

Get Involved!

Although the “Day of Action” is slated for the 3rd, events are going on all month long. Most of the events are local, so check out the organizations in your area. Here are a few that are particularly active this year:

The DC Rape Crisis Center has a host of activities. Their rally is April 8th, but they have events throughout the month such as poetry slams, informational seminars, healing workshops, self-defense classes, and – my favorite – the “Dragging Out Sexual Violence Benefit Drag Show.” If you’re near the capital, don’t miss it.

As part of SAAM the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault holds SAY SO (Sexual Assault Yearly Speak Out). Described as “part vigil part performance art” it takes place in early May. Plenty of time to sign up!

RAINN has various activities. It also sponsors, along with Peace Over Violence, annual Denim Day in LA, which this year is April 23rd. Other cities and campuses across the country also have Denim Days in April.

The RAINN website explains:

In 1998, an Italian Supreme Court decision overturned a rape conviction because the victim wore jeans [rationalizing that “jeans cannot be removed easily and certainly it is impossible to pull them off if the victim is fighting against her attacker with all her force.”]. People all over the world were outraged. Wearing jeans became an international symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault. Last year, on Denim Day an unprecedented 300,000 people signed up to wear jeans in support of raising awareness about the need to end sexual violence. This year we aim to at least double that amount.

This day in the schools, offices and streets of Los Angeles County we unite against rape of girls, women, boys and men. We stand in support of survivors. We break the silence to end sexual violence.

On Denim Day in LA wear your jeans as a visible sign of protest against the myths that still surround sexual assault!

More information on the case via Denim Day’s site:

An 18-year old girl is picked up by her married 45-year old driving instructor for her very first lesson. He takes her to an isolated road, pulls her out of the car, wrestles her out of one leg of her jeans and forcefully rapes her. Threatened with death if she tells anyone, he makes her drive the car home. Later that night she tells her parents, and they help and support her to press charges. The perpetrator gets arrested and is prosecuted. He is convicted of rape and sentenced to jail.

He appeals the sentence. The case makes it all the way to the Italian Supreme Court. Within a matter of days the case against the driving instructor is overturned, dismissed, and the perpetrator released. In a statement by the Chief Judge, he argued, “because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex.”

Judge Aldo Rizzo defends the ruling in the NY Times by saying

“It should be noted that it is instinctive, especially for a young woman, to oppose with all her strength the person who wants to rape her. And it is illogical to say that a young woman would passively submit to a rape, which is a grave violence, for fear of undergoing other hypothetical and no more serious offenses to her physical safety.”

I can think of nothing to add to that comment. Can anyone really question why more awareness is needed?

“The Greatest Silence” – DRC Documentary Wins at Sundance

January 30, 2008

LisafilmingThe Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo,” a feature-length documentary by Lisa F. Jackson, was awarded a Special Jury prize at Sundance last week. The film is unflinching in the face of the mass rape, mutilation, kidnapping and torture inflicted upon as many as hundreds of thousands of women and children in the Congo. Jackson, herself a survivor of gang rape in the US, interviews Congolese victims and rapists alike to uncover the world where such cruelty thrives.

Since 1998 an estimated 5.4 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a result of ongoing insurgent violence, which has displaced more than 500,000 people from their homes in the last year alone. Most deaths occur from malnutrition, untreated injury, and disease.

The ongoing violence and instability has rent the nation into enclaves of virtual lawlessness, where atrocities are committed with impunity by nearly every side, including rebel factions, Congolese soldiers, and UN aid workers stationed in DRC.

At the very end of a long line of suffering are the Congo’s women and children. After visiting the Eastern Congo, Eve Ensler described it as “hell.” Lisa Jackson describes it as “a literal heart of darkness.”

Yet, even with 5.4 million dead in less than a decade and the ongoing rape and mutilation of hundreds of thousands of women and children, there remains little global awareness about the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Hopefully this film, and the less-publicized documentary Lumo, will raise awareness and much needed funds and aid to this devastated area.

Note: On January 23, 2008 a peace signing took place between Congolese President Kabila and representatives of General Laurent Nkunda, leader of the dominant Mai-Mai faction. The lasting implications of this agreement are as yet unclear.

Further Reading:

The UN Mission in the DRC

The Panzi Hospital in Bukavu

V-Day and UNICEF report: V-DAY and UNICEF Call for an End to Rape and Sexual Torture against Women and Girls in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

Friends of the Congo

The Greatest Silence Link Page

See also Blackbird Posts:

“Like Rwanda But Worse” Rape As a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 1: History of the Conflict

Rape As a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 2: The Savagery]

Rape As a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 3: The Healing and What You Can Do To Help]

Students Active For Ending Rape – Donate Today

December 21, 2007

Safer Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER) is a national non-profit based in NY, and in the next 24 hours you have a unique opportunity to help them raise a good chunk of change. If they receive the most unique donors between now and tomorrow (Saturday 12/22) at 3pm, they’ll win an extra $1,000 in Facebook’s Causes Giving Challenge.

Are you reading this too late? Donate anyway and if SAFER amasses the most unique donors in 50 days, they could win $50,000!

The contest is being run by a Facebook charity group called Causes, which was started by a couple of guys from Berkeley who founded Project Agape: “deploying a platform for large-scale political and social activism on the Internet.”

You have to register with Facebook if you don’t already have an account, and the minimum donation is $10. But the contest isn’t about dollar amounts, just the number of donors.

Still reluctant? Here’s what SAFER is all about. Keep in mind it’s run almost entirely by college students.

SAFER is a national nonprofit organization devoted to training grassroots student activists to win improvements in the sexual assault policies at their colleges and universities. Colleges often fail to provide students with basic services to deal with epidemic levels of sexual violence on campus. Survivors of sexual assault are retraumatized with unresponsive and unfair policies that often recreate the oppressions that lead to sexual violence. SAFER seeks to provide student activists with the tools they need to challenge university complacence regarding sexual assault.

SAFER was founded not simply to combat the problem of sexual assault, but to help reorganize the fragmented progressive movement by training a new generation of grassroots organizers. While right-wing organizations have spent millions training and developing their young leaders, progressive organizers lack the skills to combat a growing wave of rightist social control. Young progressives are often overwhelmed by the number of social problems they face, and find themselves unable to commit to one winnable campaign to improve the conditions of their lives.

SAFER believes that by focusing on one deeply felt issue and allowing young organizers to “practice” their skills within the political microcosms of their university communities, we can not only create a less racist, violent and misogynistic environment on college campuses, but also develop effective and experienced direct action organizers who will take their skills into the larger political sphere when they leave college.

In addition to educational resources that individually target students, faculty, and parents, SAFER has two main projects. The Stories Project encourages survivors to tell their stories, not only to break their devastating silences, but also to demonstrate the depth and pervasiveness of sexual violence on college campuses. The Policies Database Project documents sexual assault policies of campuses all over the country for eventual analysis and publication. They’re looking to hire law students to speed the database along (if you know any), and for that and so much more, they need $$$!

“Like Rwanda, but Worse” – Rape as a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 1: History of the Conflict]

December 7, 2007

Women in the People’s Democratic of Congo have been enduring barbaric sexual atrocities duringCongo2 the country’s violent civil unrest for more than a decade. Yet the western world seems to hardly have noticed. This is the first in an ongoing series documenting the situation in a country where women and children are inhumanly brutalized, where even the most unimaginable forms of rape have become common weapons of war.

Many are questioning how this level of sexual violence grew to such dramatic proportions. Although atrocities and rape in wartime are common, U.N. leaders consider the intensity and prevalence of horrors in the Congo to be “the worst in the world.”

It’s interesting to note that, according to a recent NY Times article

Many Congolese aid workers denied that the problem was cultural and insisted that the widespread rapes were not the product of something ingrained in the way men treated women in Congolese society. “If that were the case, this would have showed up long ago,” said Wilhelmine Ntakebuka, who coordinates a sexual violence program in Bukavu.

Contrarily, an Amnesty International report asserts that it is precisely women’s lower societal status that allows for this type of targeting in wartime.

“When you lift the stone of sexual violence, you will find another stone of the treatment of women more generally, which is effectively slavery. Women do everything: they walk miles for food or water, they care for the children, they cook, they clean, they cultivate the land and they earn the family income… That is the female condition in the Congo. “

— Expatriate woman psychologist working in DRC, interviewed by AI

In the very least, Congolese law leaves nowhere for these women to turn as crimes of rape, torture, mutilation, kidnapping, and sexual slavery are committed with nearly 100% impunity.

A 2002 HRW report summarizes women’s status in Congolese society.

Even before the war in Congo, women and girls were second class citizens. The law as well as social norms defined the role of women and girls as subordinate to men. Although women are often a major-if not the major-source of support for the family, the Congolese Family Code requires them to obey their husbands who are recognized as the head of the household.

Women and girls are also subordinate by custom and practice. A woman’s status depends on being married and girls tend to marry at a young age. It is generally considered more important to educate boys than girls[…] Literacy statistics for Congo (also) show gender-specific discrimination.

Male household heads often settle violent crimes against women and girls outside the courts. Some have “resolved” rape cases by accepting a money payment from the perpetrator or his family or by arranging to have the perpetrator marry the victim. […]

Women and girls who are raped suffer significant loss of social status[…] In cases of the death of women and girls by murder or negligence, the family of the victim sometimes agrees to accept the equivalent of a woman’s bride price as compensation and does not pursue the case further.

Congolese views about women and the issue of sexual violence were clearly demonstrated in 2005 when UNICEF spearheaded the first march against sexual violence in the boarder city of Goma. Hundreds of brutalized women donned black head scarves and nervously took to the streets. In a PBS interview, American filmmaker Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt describes the event:

…the march ended up being more chaotic than we imagined because every one of the bystanders, male or female, heckled the women marching. Their position was, “Why are you doing this? This is stupid. What is sexual violence?” On an official level, there aren’t any adequate laws against rape, and no one has been convicted of rape in 40 years, other than three or four people who were not soldiers.

Let’s take a quick look at how the climate in the Congo escalated to create an atmosphere conducive to these horrors.


What’s Wrong With This Picture? AI’s New Campaign on FGM

December 1, 2007

Genital1_2 Came across info on this on Feministing and Salon. A Swedish ad firm came up with a new campaign for Amnesty International against female genital mutilation. I’m surprised by how many people consider this a great ad campaign. Yes, the images are beautiful and striking, but they are also completely ineffective.

I responded on a couple boards with the following:

Neither the images nor the text come close…

I’m really disappointed in this campaign. Neither the images not the text come close to conveying, or even suggesting, what really happens to these girls.

First of all, they deceptively convey only one part of one type of FGM. (The other part would have been cutting off a good chunk of “petals” before sewing.)

Consequently, the rose isn’t DAMAGED at all! It’s not MUTILATED. It’s a lovely image of a rose that has been sewn in the middle. In fact, the rose is so unblemished it appears that the stitches could be removed and it would bounce back into its former perfection. The text doesn’t describe what female genital mutilation really is and it doesn’t suggest the physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of the act.

Given that the actuality of this horror is beyond what anyone unacquainted with it could or would imagine without being explicitly told, this is just too vague to be of any consequence. FGM is so unpleasant to contemplate and so removed from most of our everyday lives that the only way to get someone to fully experience the stomach-turning, chill-inducing discomfort of recognizing what it really is, is to be BLATANT.

And, I’m sorry but in the pink image the “clitoris” is healthy and thriving and absolutely untouched.

Too artistic. Too (thriving, unblemished) beautiful. Too vague.

What do you think?

…Coming up next “Female Genital Mutilation and Male Circumcision – Why They Don’t Equate”

When Boys Cry: Gender-Bias and Sexual Abuse

October 30, 2007

A recent Associated Press investigation, which exposed a surprising prevalence of sexual misconduct in US schools, also shone light on the little-examined dynamic of gender bias. First of all, thereTeachersxlarge is a bias in the media. Although the five-year study found the majority of victims to be female and nine out of ten of the perpetrators male, female aggressors receive a preponderance of media attention, while cases perpetrated by males too often slip beneath the radar. In fact this graphic, which frequently accompanied the AP article, misleadingly suggests that nearly half of the perpetrators are female.

In this light, what should clearly be recognized as monstrous behavior suddenly becomes fodder for late-night TV monologues and titillating tabloid headlines.

Tampa’s ADA, Michael Sinacore, admitted to “some very real double-standards” in relation to male and female sex abuse, especially when the victim is a teenage boy and the predator is particularly attractive. According to the AP article Abuse Victims Viewed Differently:

Lafaveposter200(Sinacore) prosecuted Debra Lafave, a former Florida middle school teacher who admitted to having sex with a 14-year-old male student. Public attention paid to the 25-year-old blond newlywed quickly went “off the charts,” Sinacore said, after photos surfaced on the Internet of her on a motorcycle in a bikini.

“There’s something wrong with making a celebrity out of someone accused of a sex crime,” he said.

When pretty blond Carrie McCandless was discovered having a sexual relationship with her 17-year old male student, a mother in the community remarked that the situation would be a conquest akin to “climbing Mt. Everest” for any boy.

Too often this type of molestation is described as a “tryst”, “sexual liaison”, or some sort of rite of passage. Often students and adults alike expect the boy to feel pride.

According to the article, “Psychologists who treat boys say they suffer doubly – from the abuse itself, and from the view that they were lucky.”

Jeff Pickthorn was 12 when he began having sex with his 24-year old seventh-grade teacher. As an adult, he explains

“Hollywood, they think it’s such a hot thing when a guy gets laid at a young age. I tell you, it’s not a hot thing…They say that guy’s lucky. I say, no, he’s not lucky at all.”

At the time (of the abuse), Pickthorn might have agreed with them. For several months, he had sex with his teacher until his parents found out and the teacher was pressured to resign. It left him “with no boundaries,” he says now at 54, his life marred by affairs, gambling, and ruined marriages.

New York psychologist Richard Gartner, who specializes in child sexual abuse, says

“A boy is likely, with a female teacher, to claim that it wasn’t a problem, it wasn’t molestation, it wasn’t abuse, he wasn’t hurt by it. Recognition of the damage doesn’t usually occur until the man is in his 30s, 40s or later.”

Even in the justice system, prejudices remain. When New Jersey Judge Bruce A Graeta gave 43 year-old Pamela L Diehl-Moore a probation-only sentence after she confessed to having sex with her 13-year old student, he explained

“It’s just something between two people that clicked beyond the teacher-student relationship. I really don’t see the harm that was done and certainly society doesn’t need to be worried…And don’€™t forget, this was mutual consent. Now certainly under the law, he is too young to legally consent, but that’€™s what the law says. Some of the legislators should remember when they were that age. Maybe these ages have to be changed a little bit.”

Judge Graeta was later admonished for his comments, but the sentencing remained. According to the AP, “at least one academic report found that his view is common.”

Sexual abuse is always manipulative and predatory. For example, how consensual is the following?

A predator will choose a susceptible child, one who is lonely or insecure, and “groom” that child with systematic praising, special attention, empathy, and gifts during which time the adult will introduce what begins as affectionate gestures and progressively grows more sexual. It is a power-play from beginning to end.

Yet, despite the plotting nature of the crime, people are more willing to believe that a woman had some sort of meaningful relationship with the child, and was motivated by good intentions and genuine “feeling”. Mary Kay Letourneau served seven years in prison for the statutory rape of her 13-year old student. Shortly after her release she and the boy, now 21 were married. They have two daughters. She has written a biography of the scandal. It’s called “Only One Crime, Love.”

Media analyst Matthew Felling admits that female perpetrators are consistently treated differently than their male counterparts.

The main dichotomy is in coverage, men are demonized, women are diagnosed,” Felling said. “Men are beasts, but women are troubled, or mentally ill.”

He feels the media coverage is “part crime drama, part Penthouse letter.”

According to Dr Keith Kaufman, chairman of the psychology department Portland State University, “(Boys’) brain maturation isn’t complete. Boys aren’t in a position to give consent to a sexual relationship. Girls see it as abusive much more quickly.” Boys give in to the expected bravdo in part because they don’t ” want to see themselves as a victim.”

I don’t want to dwell on the punishment of the women, but rather on the additional suffering boys experience because of societal perceptions. In the case of teenage boys and female aggressors, there is the expectation of enjoyment and gratitude. There is also the reluctance to admit, or fear no one will believe, that the female was in control, was “stronger” than he.

NOTE: Society has plenty of degrading and damaging expectations about and behaviors toward women. I know. I have and will continue to write about them. But men have societal pressures as well, and in the case of sexual abuse, it punishes them in a way not often acknowledged.

In our current culture, men have the strength. However, this dominant role leaves little room for vulnerability, let alone the utter helplessness of victimization. Men are not supposed to be victims. They are not supposed to be weak. They are not supposed to admit vulnerability, or openly express sorrow.

Yes, they were young boys when the offense(s) took place, but the way this in the least frames and at the most defines a victim’s very identity, in many ways the abuse dictates a victim’s self perception for decades. Perhaps, for life.

Men who were abused as boys generally experience some or all of several common emotional “themes” throughout their life and (hopefully) eventual process of healing. Many of these are common to women as well: anger, betrayal, helplessness, alienation, fear.

Certain aspects of suffering however, are unique to the male experience. Part of this is, according to a 1994 study by David Lisak, legitimacy. Men have difficulty accepting themselves as a victim. Women are victimized. They have the hot-lines and safe houses. They’re physically smaller and weaker (typically). Women, it is perceived, can be victims and still be “okay”, still be “good”. Something was done to them and there was nothing anyone could have expected them to do at the time.

Men question how they could have been abused. They struggle with identifying themselves as a victim and still seeing themselves as worthwhile. They will try to take responsibility for the events rather than admit helplessness. Maybe they liked it, let it happen. Maybe there is something else inherently wrong with them to account for the emotions and behaviors they’ve otherwise been unable to explain.

Women can do this too, but this is more about guilt and assuming the shame. For men it can feel like a survival mechanism. They may refuse to admit victimization because it cuts into the core of their gender-identity. Men are protectors. If they’ve been victims in such a deeply painful way, who can they protect?

I’m not at all trying to compare the quality of experiences. Sexual abuse is devastating and the lifetime of suffering radiates in concentric waves to all of those around the victim.

The plight of boys based on what our culture expects of men is simply something I rarely see addressed and in my opinion it deserved a few words.

If you have any thoughts on the topic – please chime in!

More Resources:
The Sexual Abuse of Males: Prevalence, Possible Lasting Effects, & Resources
Wealth of information from Loads of resources and articles. Controlled studies. And more…
Richard Gartner
Manhattan-based Psychotherapist specializing in gender-specific treatment of sexual abuse.

Long-Term Consequences of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Gender of the Victim
Clinical Study Dube, 2005
Male Survivor.Org
Online support and resource center aimed at “overcoming sexual victimization of boys and men.”
Next Step Counselling
Website of Mike Lew, author of “Victim No Longer: The Classic Guide for Men Recovering from Childhood Sexual Abuse” and “Leaping upon the Mountains: Men Proclaiming Victory Over Sexual Child Abuse.” (Both available through the site.)

Sexual Abuse Part 1: Prevalence In US Schools Higher Than It Seems

October 24, 2007


The Associated Press released a study this week on the prevalence of sexual misconduct in US schools, citing at least 2,500 instances in both public and private schools between 2001-2005, 80% of which involved students. That’s more than 2,000 children in four years. However, a number of factors ensure that the actual number is exceedingly higher.

First of all, Maine has a perplexing law, dated back to 1913, that protects the identity teachers who have been decertified for any reason. The three cases cited in the report are the few that garnered nationwide attention.

Secondly, the report only documents teachers whose credentials have been revoked, denied, or suspended based on accusations (presumed proof) of sexual misconduct. Most accusations result in no action being taken and are never documented.

Now consider that each perpetrator most likely has had multiple victims.

And don’t forget that the majority of cases go unreported for years, decades, or are never told at all.

Why don’t children tell?

The website Prevent Abuse Now has compiled a wealth of information on child and family welfare, including a compendium of studies on child abuse. Here are a few snippets that address motivations behind the silences of child victims.

  • Abuse shatters a child’s ability to trust, especially when suffered at the hands of a long-trusted authority figure. An enormous amount of trust is required to reveal such devastating information.
  • A child may worry that the consequences of revealing the secret will be worse than the abuse itself. They may fear the reaction of their family, feel guilty about the consequences to the abuser, or may remain silence because of retaliatory threats made by the abuser.
  • The child may be experiencing “sexual guilt”, or otherwise feel that they caused or perpetuated the abuse.
  • Young victims may not be able to identify the incidents as abuse. It may be seen as a “secret game” or made otherwise to seem “normal”.
  • The intricate complexities involving a child’s decision to speak out about abuse is illuminated in this 1991 study by Sorensen and Snow: How Children Tell: The Process of Disclosure in Child Sexual Abuse. The study examined 116 confirmed cases of sexual abuse and found that “79 percent of the children
    in these cases initially denied abuse or were tentative in disclosing. Of
    those who did disclose, approximately three-quarters disclosed
    accidentally. Of all those who disclosed, roughly 22% eventually recanted their statements.”

Clearly the psychological and emotional aftermath of sexual abuse is complex and, if not understood, may seem enigmatic. What we do know is that most children don’t tell.The AP investigation sites previous studies that conclude only one out of every ten victimized children will tell anyone who is in a position to do something about it.

We document roughly 2,000 students across the country over four years, yet the unfortunate reality suggests more than 20,000. And these are just the cases in the education system.

Further Reading:

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Behavioral Signs of Sexual Abuse

Parts 2 & 3 coming next … “When Boys Cry: Gender-Bias and Sexual Abuse” and “How the Statute of Limitations Denies Justice in Sexual Abuse Cases.”