The Internet puts the world at your child’s fingertips. With a few clicks of a keyboard, the swipe of a phone, or the tap of a iPod or tablet, your child can bring the beauty of the world to the palm of her hand. Unfortunately, this same power allows your child to invite predators directly into his bedroom.
Online predators target victims who are susceptible to grooming—good kids from good homes, with good parents, and good futures ahead of them. Don’t lull yourself with a false sense of security by thinking, “My kid would never fall prey to someone online.” It can happen and it does happen every day.
But don’t stress out or immediately throw away everything in your home that receives a wifi signal. There are safe and simple things you can do to make your child a “hard target” for online predators.
Here are five tips to get you started:
1) Monitor, monitor, and monitor.
Your kids should not have an expectation of privacy when it comes to technology. Make it perfectly clear that you will and do read their texts and emails. Tell them that you will track where they go on the internet, and if you use monitoring software, don’t keep it a secret. Also monitor all social media and know exactly what apps are on your kid’s computer, phone or tablet.
2) Set house rules and stick to them.
Some of the rules can and should include:
- No technology in bedrooms, especially technology with cameras.
- No cell phones in rooms at night. Not only will this take away opportunity for a predator to engage in “private” conversations with your child, but taking the phone away at night will allow your child to get undistracted sleep.
3) Understand grooming
Online grooming is very similar to grooming that occurs in person. And since online grooming takes place at home—maybe even in the child’s room—the victim already has her guard down. She may be more likely to open up to someone online and divulge secrets, impart trust, and fall victim to a predator.
What are the signs of online grooming?
- The child is given money or gifts, including cell phones.
- Flattery and manipulation – The predator may write things like “No one loves you or understands you like I do.” Or they may always side with the child when there is conflict between the child and her parents.
- Sharing and keeping secrets online
- Sexualized conversations or sending and receiving nude or sexualized photos.
If you see any of these things, contact the police.
4) Remember: Unless you know the person in real life, assume that no one is who they say they are.
If your child gravitates towards sites like Disney, Nick Jr., and other sites where kids can “talk to their friends,” where do you think that predators who like children will go? Also be careful of multi-player games where your child can play online with people he or she does not know.
Tell your older children that the “hot” guy or girl who just friended them on social media is probably a 45-year-old, overweight dude living in his mom’s basement. And no matter how caring, sexy, or fun that person is, they are probably not who they say they are, ESPECIALLY if they want a teen or pre-teen to send photos, make videos, or talk about sex.
5) Have a frank discussion with older children about photos, sexting and the permanence of the internet.
The Internet is permanent. Be perfectly (and age appropriately) frank with your child. Tell him that any photo he takes and sends over the internet, anything posted on social media, and anything said via text or email will last forever (even if an app promises to make things “disappear”). Tell your teen that no matter how much they love and trust a boy/girlfriend, NEVER take or share nude or semi-nude photos. There is a strong chance that those clearly identifiable photos will end up on pornography sites.
Make it perfectly clear that you do not want your child’s digital legacy to be nude or graphic photos or videos, photos of drinking or drug use, criminal behavior, or anything that can jeopardize your child’s safety and future.
Hollywood couldn’t have written a better plot: an all-American man plays a respected pastor and father of seven. Add in good looks and charm, and you’ve got the makings of a beloved television character.
And the perfect cover for a predator.
Stephen Collins, who played Eric Camden, the dad/pastor on the long-running TV series 7th Heaven, has allegedly admitted to molesting numerous children. The admission, made on tape during a 2012 therapy session with Collins’ now-estranged wife, Faye Grant, was publicly released last week, resulting in dramatic fallout, including criminal investigations in California and New York.
But this story is bigger than Collins himself. It’s not just about whether or not he is guilty; it’s also about what he represents—the stereotype of the cunning and untouchable offender. A man who could not be brought down by his victims, a complicit Hollywood community. Or the police.
It took a taped confession—and TMZ.
The Collins case should be a wake-up call for parents to recognize that even under the trusted, respected, suave veneer of a TV star, your child can still be in danger.
Here are five lessons from Collins’ case to help parents protect children against abuse:
1) Abusers are cunning, using power, prestige—even fame—to groom victims and their families. According to the allegations, Collins used his popularity as an actor and his connections to Hollywood elite for “grooming,” the process by which a predator flatters and manipulates a child, isolates that child from family and friends, and creates a “compliant” victim. Add celebrity status to the mix, and the grooming process is even more enticing. After all, when a celebrity predator pays special attention to a child, gives the child special access to people and events, and seduces parents and family members with stardom, it’s easy to isolate the child for sexual abuse—and silence her for a lifetime.
2) Families often protect alleged offenders, even if it defies logic. Collins’ estranged wife recorded the confession in a therapy session in 2012, a full two years before it was made public. News reports have claimed she suspected Collins has abused children for decades. But she didn’t report. Why? No one wants to believe that someone they love and trust is an abuser, be it a husband, aunt, grandfather, priest, scout leader, coach or teacher. The lesson in all of this: The needs of victims must ALWAYS trump protecting alleged offenders. If you suspect abuse or if someone tells you that they have sexually abused a child, report it. Period.
3) It is difficult for victims to come forward. Collins allegedly has molested numerous victims. Why didn’t they report? Think about it: How powerful does an 8-year-old child feel after being carefully groomed and sexually abused by a handsome, charming television star? It’s likely, too, that the child thinks no one will believe her or that she did something to “ask for” the abuse. And even if that abused child does come forward against a prominent, respected member of the community, she may struggle to be heard and believed. And then there’s always a chance for victim shaming. If a child is abused by a celebrity, as in this case, the victim and her family may be portrayed as “money grubbers” and “publicity hounds.” Such name-calling can be as damaging as the abuse itself, so the victims remain in shame and silence. If the predator is a woman, it becomes even more difficult for victims to be heard and believed.
4) Organizations may turn a blind eye until there is a scandal. Once the story leaked, it didn’t take long for Hollywood to react: The Academy for the Performing Arts swiftly jettisoned Collins, reruns of 7th Heaven have been shelved, and he has been dropped by his talent agency and from numerous upcoming roles. (Collins also resigned last week from the Screen Actors’ Guild Board.) Yes, it was a sufficiently quick reaction. But none of these groups has said that they will reserve judgment until after a verdict (such as with the Michael Jackson case). So what’s the problem? The reaction was so swift that we can’t help but wonder: Did all of these groups have suspicions or know about the abuse but refused to do anything until it became a public scandal (á la scandals in the Boy Scouts and Catholic Church)? The lesson? No institution or organization will protect or advocate for your child better than you, the parent or caregiver.
5) All states need firm, victim-friendly civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sex abuse. It can take victims decades to heal enough to report the abuse. One of Collins’ victims came forward in 2012, for example, but police were unable to pursue the allegations because the criminal statute of limitations had already expired. If New York had a strong civil law for victims—like states such as Minnesota and Hawaii—the alleged victim could have used the civil courts to expose Collins, warn others about the risk, and encourage younger victims to come forward. And while New York is on track with a bill currently in the legislature, other states have a long way to go, including my own, California. Our Governor, Jerry Brown, just vetoed a civil bill for victims, paving the way for alleged predators like Collins to abuse more victims.
UPDATE: Grisham apologized. Looks like he finally read the memo. And he got people talking ….
Child pornography is criminal for a reason: It’s gross, vile, and extremely damaging to the children who were exploited. But someone didn’t get the memo.
John Grisham (yes, THAT John Grisham) said recently in an interview that men who look at 16-year-old girls in sex acts are not pedophiles and should not be punished.
If you are sexually aroused by watching minors being sexually abused and/or forced into sex acts, you have real issues. But I am not going to get into that in this post.
What I AM going to talk about is why these photos are illegal and why people who create, sell, and/or look at them should be punished.
Here are reasons why John Grisham is horribly mistaken:
1) The actions involved in the photos are criminal. Child pornography is not “art.” It includes photos of children (boys, girls, toddlers, and teens) being tied up, raped, drugged, sodomized, and violated. It’s disgusting stuff. Talk to prosecutors—they will tell you.
2) All of the children in these photos are victims of sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is when a child is sold for sex—including prostitution and child pornography. The children in the photos—whether they be 10-year-old boys or 16-year-old girls—are being sold for sex. Period. Bad people are making money off of this. Yes: They are making money off of pictures of children being raped.
3) Let’s talk about the kids in the photos. How do you think that pornographers get the kids? They don’t do a casting call and abide by union rules. Instead, they exploit and imprison runaways, force kids into drug addiction, or take pictures of children they are already sexually abusing. Other children are isolated from friends and family, marked with tattoos to show that their pimp “owns” them, and then are forced to comply if they want to eat, sleep, or get a hit of drugs to keep them from going into painful withdrawal symptoms.
The kids in the photos are not wiling models. I repeat: THE “MODELS” ARE BEING HORRIBLY EXPLOITED.
4) One of the best ways to STOP child pornography is to kill the market. That’s done by aggressively punishing the people who buy these photos. If the market dries up, less children will be forced into these violent and criminal photos. Hence the long prison terms.
5) Grisham is trying to minimize the issue by saying that his friend “innocently clicked” on one of these links. Let me tell you this: If the RCMP came knocking on Grisham’s friend’s door and threw the guy in the pokey for three years, he wasn’t looking at 21-year-old girls in cheerleader outfits. He was looking at the gross stuff. (The rapes, the sodomies, the bondage) The RCMP cannot successfully prosecute a case if there is any cause for doubt. Grisham’s friend apparently left no cause for doubt.
6) There is a very small gap between looking at photos of children being sexually abused and actually abusing a child. There is a gap, but it is very small.
Need more proof? Child pornography is so vile that Missouri prosecutors got a guilty plea from Kansas City/St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn. His crime? Covering up for a pornography-producing priest. Instead of immediately turning over to the cops a priest’s computer full of images of children porn, Finn “minimized” the problem, didn’t inform the parents, and let the priest hide.
Sorry, Mr. Grisham. You are very, very wrong.
With the recent news about 7th Heaven star Stephen Collins, everyone is talking a little bit more than usual about child sexual abuse. As the Collins story is unveiled and we learn more details, chances are that many adult victims of child sexual abuse—victims who were too scared or ashamed to come forward earlier—may confide in you or someone you know that they have been abused.
What do you do?
1) Tell the person that you are sorry and that the abuse was NOT his or her fault.
2) Openly acknowledge that what happened was a crime.
3) Do NOT say things like:
“Why didn’t you tell earlier?”
“You WERE 16. You should have known better.”
“Where were your parents?”
“But you were a boy and she was a woman. That’s not abuse.” (Note: IT IS)
“Why didn’t you fight/say no?”
“But you DID have a crush on the teacher/coach/priest.”
“Are you just after the big payout?”
4) Do not blame the victim for coming forward, breaking down, or triggering at big events (such as weddings or parties) or at a time that is inconvenient for you. It’s not because the victim is being manipulative or trying to “ruin things” for everyone else. Usually, it’s because the person finally feels safe enough to talk. Embrace the victim, tell him or her that s/he has your support, and work on finding a time that you can really devote your attention to the survivor.
5) Set boundaries. Tell the survivor you can help him or her get treatment, find support groups, and/or call the police and report the crime. But remember that you cannot “save” or “cure” the victim.
6) If the crime is recent or a child tells you he or she has been sexually abused, dial 911. If the crime is not recent, but you suspect that children are still in danger of abuse, report to law enforcement. The best places to start are ChildHelp and the National Child Abuse Helpline and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). They will ask you questions about what you know, guide you through the process, and help you report the crime to the right authorities. You may also want to research the criminal and civil statutes of limitations for child sex crimes in your state. There may be a possibility that you can help expose a predator and/or put him or her behind bars. If other victims of the predator have come forward, call the law enforcement agency that has been investigating the crimes.
7) Understand that you may also need to talk to someone. Vicarious trauma (the pain you feel when you deal with others who are hurting) is real. If you find that you need to, talk to a counselor.
8) Finally, tell the survivor that he or she is brave and that you are proud of him/her. I know of men and women who did not disclose their abuse until they were in their 60s and 70s, because they were wracked with shame, self-hatred, fear, and guilt. Other victims wait for their parents to die because they don’t want to be the one to tell that a beloved priest, friend, sister, or uncle was an abuser. Affirm that the victim is a good person and that you are happy that they are talking.
This list is not complete, but it is a good start. For more information, visit RAINN, MaleSurvivor, SNAP – The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, The National Center for Victims of Crime, or other groups that focus on survivor healing and justice. And consider donating to these groups, so that they can continue their wonderful work.
In case you were wondering who Jerry Brown REALLY wants to protect: Yesterday, Brown vetoed SB 924, a bill which would have given victims of child sexual abuse until age 40 to file civil lawsuits against organizations that cover up and abet child sexual abuse. The bill was entirely prospective, meaning that it would only apply to victims who were abused AFTER the passage of the bill.
He did, however, lengthen the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. This is good news and it will put criminals behind bars. But by vetoing the civil law, Brown is ensuring that organizations that cover up abuse—groups like the Boy Scouts, US Gymnastics, US Swimming, and his beloved Catholic Church—will never be held accountable for their crimes. With that being the case, what deterrent will these organizations have to change their behavior? Because common decency and morality have not been working thus far. We know that Brown habitually meets with representatives of the Catholic Conference. Too bad he’s never met with a victim of the church … or US Swimming … or the Boy Scouts … Shameful.
Journalist and blogger Heather Mundt and I discuss: A Back-to-School Rule for Kids: Trust Your Gut, 5 Guidelines to Help Kids Self-Protect
A very good friend of mine pointed me to a recent review of Eimear McBride’ novel A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING. The author of the review, Paige Reynolds, includes this very intuitive and honest description of some of the reasons why the sexual abuse of teens can be so damaging:
The novel thus showcases the genuine complexity of sexual abuse as experienced by someone in her teens. It acknowledges the fact that sexual abuse can feel good physically … if not psychologically or socially appropriate, that it is a perceived exercise of power … that it appears to give immediate access to the coveted world of adulthood, that the secrecy demanded by abuse becomes something that belongs to the victim and sutures him or her to the adult abuser, even as it enables more harmful abuse. The novel depicts the convoluted nature of sexual abuse, even as its distressing conclusion confirms that this abuse is fundamentally harmful and can have deadly consequences.
What the reviewer does not discuss, however, is that the glimpse into the “coveted world of adulthood,” the “secrecy,” and the “convoluted world” are keynotes of grooming – the way that a predator flatters and manipulates a child or teen into becoming a “compliant” victim. The adult does this by gaining the child’s implicit trust and love, blurring sexual boundaries, sexualizing behavior, and convincing the child or teen that a positive physical response (even though the child or teen is hurt, confused, shamed, isolated, or disassociating) means that the child or teen wants and needs the abusive behavior.
If a predator can use grooming to create a world that confusing and convoluted for an adult book reviewer, how can a child or teen stand a chance?
The excerpt above also shows some of the reasons why teen victims of abuse experience such profound feelings of shame – because this “convoluted world” makes a teen feel that abuse was his/her fault, he/she wanted it or asked for it, or that the teen is fundamentally flawed. Add in layers of religion (as in cases of sexual abuse by clergy in Catholic or Protestant faiths) or the manipulation of incest, and this convoluted world becomes even more tragic and wrought with shame.
Although this review focuses on a female character, grooming is just as confusing and damaging for boys. I also want to make it clear that it does not matter what the sex of the abuser is. A boy sexually abused by an adult woman can be just as damaged and hurt as a boy abused by a man.
Note: Guilt is the nasty and usually appropriate feeling people have when they have DONE something bad. Shame is the nasty and usually inappropriate feeling people have when they believe that they ARE bad. In cases of slut-, fat-, victim and political shaming, the “shamer” is telling the target that he or she IS a bad or inadequate person.
Social media only adds very public fuel to the fire—in places like Twitter, 20 people with the proper hashtags can suddenly sound like they number in the millions. On Facebook, it can get far more personal.
Sex abuse victims, especially those in the Catholic Church and other religious organizations, know shame and shaming firsthand. Many victims who reported to church officials were told that their accusations were sinful and brought shame upon themselves and their families (unfortunately, this is still very true and common in the Latino community). Even now, Catholic spokespeople try to shame advocacy groups into silence through name calling, minimizing abuse, and victim-shaming. In the Protestant community, victims have been met with physical threats and even child victims of convicted sex offender Greg Kelly are being openly shamed on Twitter.
And there is a reason that people LOVE to use shame: It works. Want to know the #1 reason child sex abuse victims don’t come forward? Shame. Want to know the #1 reason many victims become self-destructive, addicts, violent, depressed and/or suicidal? Shame.
Shame is a powerful weapon. And for anyone who is not a narcissist or sociopath (or a cat), it’s a huge weight to carry. That’s why we need to stop using is as a motivator. Children who are wracked with shame (whether through parents’ words and actions or the words or actions of other important adults) are VERY vulnerable to the flattery and attention of grooming. A child who feels shameful will do anything to feel “on top of the world,” and a child predator knows exactly how to do it … right before the predator sexually abuses the child.
And more importantly: Shameful children are not happy children.
So now what? It’s time to take shame out of the equation. Here are a few ways to raise a child free(er) of shame.
- Don’t use shame to punish your children. There is a big difference between an age-appropriate punishment as a result of your child’s bad ACTION and a punishment that is shameful and tells your child that HE or SHE IS BAD.
- Don’t use guilt trips on your children.
- Never tell your child that he or she is the reason you and your partner are fighting. Never tell your child that he or she ruined your day, a vacation, etc.
- Never tell your child or allow another adult to tell your child that he or she is a bad person, has “brought shame on him/herself and others,” or is “shameful in the eyes of God.”
- Never call your child names (ugly, stupid, evil, bad, hateful) and discourage name-calling in general. Name calling is demeaning to the caller, as well as the target.
Life is hard enough. It’s time to give shame and shaming the boot.
Upcoming speakers will include experts on Bullying Prevention, Child Sex Abuse Awareness and Prevention (read: me), and Substance Abuse
The event is free and open to the public. Hope to see you there.
It’s that time of year again. You’ve made the rounds to the local big box and office supply stores. You have scoured every children’s clothing section in a 20-mile radius for “fashion-forward”—yet “tastefully modest”—school wear. You have soccer snacks, cleats, football gear, cheer uniforms and a brand new lunch box.
But there is one more thing your child MUST HAVE, and it’s not in any store, hand-me-down box, or school supply bin: Trust in his or her gut.
How your child USES and trusts his or her gut can be the first and best defense against child sexual abuse.
Child predators try to carefully manipulate children using flattery, gifts, lies, and threats (this manipulation is called grooming) so that the child does not follow his or her instincts and becomes a “compliant” victim—a victim who does not fight and won’t report to the police.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that prizes the use of logic over intuition. We value procedure over instinct. We ask our children to tell us how they solve problems, but we don’t allow the answer: It just felt right. And with that, we are doing our children a terrible disservice.
Unfortunately, it’s also how tens of thousands of children become vulnerable to child sexual abuse by people they know and trust—teachers, coaches, relatives, and ministers.
I have worked with approximately 1000 adults who were sexually abused as children. And while there are many unique reasons that each child was vulnerable, there is also one over-arching theme: when their gut told each victim to turn around and walk away, their minds and the predator talked and manipulated them out of it.
Your child does not have to suffer the same fate.
Experts often call the gut the body’s “second brain.” In fact, with 500 million neurons, the gut is an amazing organ—it reacts to stress, mood changes, and millions of potential toxins that come into our bodies through our mouths. Since many scientists believe that the gut is, in fact, our original brain, it’s no wonder that we have coined terms like “gut feelings” and “gut reactions” for our initial (and often correct) reactions to situations. It’s our original survival instinct.
You want your child to follow this survival instinct and react properly when adults blur boundaries, act inappropriately, or groom children for abuse. You want your child to follow her gut and talk to you if she sees, hears about, or has a feeling that a child is being hurt. You don’t want a predator to con your child into being his or her next victim, and your child’s gut is his or her first defense.
So how can you show your child how to use his gut without scaring him or giving her age-inappropriate information about sex abuse? It’s easier than you think.
1) Talk to your child about gut feelings. This is a very easy discussion to start. Whether your child is a kindergartner or a teen, there are dozens of situations every day where your child has to make a decision that is a part of the gut vs. brain paradigm. Explain how the gut reacts to situations—a great example is talking about stomach “butterflies” during times of excitement or stress. You can talk to your kids about peer pressure, and how peers will try to convince them to do things that go against “gut feelings”—gut feelings that later prove to be correct. Encourage your child to make decisions based on thinking and feeling. I’m not talking about basing decisions on emotion, but telling your child that it’s okay to embrace that “inner instinctual pull” they may feel towards a specific decision.
2) Don’t force your child to hug or kiss adults if he or she is uncomfortable doing so. This is especially important for younger children. When we force toddlers to hug adults when they don’t want to, we reinforce two bad behaviors: we are telling our children that we don’t respect their body boundaries; and we are telling them that it’s okay for adults to touch them in ways they don’t like. We are also implicitly telling them to go against their gut feelings about creepy adults, which will lead to trouble later if another adult tries to groom the child for abuse.
3) Don’t dismiss your child when he or she says that an adult is creepy, even if you like the adult. It’s very easy to tell your child Don’t be silly when she comes to you and says that a particular coach, teacher or neighbor is creepy. But don’t do it. Respect your child’s feelings, ask them why he or she thinks that way, and tell them to steer clear of that adult, while remaining respectful.
4) Tell your child that mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow. Enforce the fact that you want your child to talk about mistakes, even if they are embarrassing. Your child is going to mess up. You are going to mess up. Your child is going to make mistakes that infuriate you. As a parent, it’s your job to create proper consequences if rules are broken, but it’s also your job to be an ear. The more you reinforce to your child that he or she can come to you and talk about mistakes, ask for help, ask your opinion, or just be an ear, you are telling your child to trust his or her instincts. You are also raising a child who will be more likely to come to you when an adult acts strangely, tries to blur boundaries, or is inappropriate.
Child protection officials in Rotherham, England are facing worldwide scorn for saying that they did not report the sexual abuse of 1400 children because they feared being branded “racists.”
The child victims were horrifically molested and trafficked by men of Pakistani descent over a 16-year period. At the time, government officials knew about approximately a third of the abuse allegations … and did nothing (or impeded arrest and prosecution).
The news and subsequent fears of “racism” made by police, child protection officials, and other social service workers are appalling and disgusting.
Unfortunately, it’s not surprising.
For victims, the cry of “racism” is only the latest of a stream of obstacles that children face in seeking justice, accountability, and—in this case—rescue from gang rape and sex trafficking.
Child sex abuse is a crime of shame and secrecy. It is a crime of power. It is a crime of dominance. In the vast majority of cases, the children who are abused lack the ability or the words to describe what happened to them. They live in fear of their perpetrators, whom, they believe, will come after them and hurt them for telling. They are helpless, which is why child sex predators are often confident that they will never be caught or prosecuted.
And this is before children are betrayed by the system. The next hurdle they face is fear. Not their own fear, but the fear and cowardice of adults who should have reported the abuse.
We have seen this in the Catholic Church, where for decades, witnesses and church officials didn’t report abuse because they feared that the church would punish them or that they may besmirch the name of a “good priest.”
In the UK, victims of Jimmy Saville had to fight the now-dead man’s fame and the bastion of the BBC, who protected the legacy of a prolific predator instead of calling the police or reaching out to the hundreds of children television personality may have abused.
Then there is the scandal at Penn State, where child sex abuse victims were forced to confront three huge institutions: A university, a football program, and a coaching legend. All three of these institutions betrayed the children who were sexually molested by Jerry Sandusky. Anyone who stood up for the children ran the risk of “betraying Penn State Football.” And no one was brave enough to do it.
Child predators are smart and cunning. They put themselves into positions where they have limitless access to children. But they also make sure that they make a name for themselves in their communities. That way, child victims are less likely to report. Those who do are even less likely to be believed. It’s a part of the pattern called “grooming,” where a predator uses flattery, fear, manipulation, affection, and twisted logic to con children into becoming compliant victims and con communities into become welcoming supporters.
Did the predators in Rotherdam intentionally do or say something to make child protection officials believe they would be called racists for reporting? We don’t know. But we can assume they did everything possible to keep up the “racist” narrative once they learned of it.
These predators used fear to ensure that they got the implicit support of the people whose job it was to protect the child victims.
Men and women who molest children cause immense damage to our most precious resources: our children. The damage caused by cowardly men and women whose job it is to report abuse—but who are too scared because they fear being called names or hurting feelings—is immeasurable. They will never know or understand the extent of the pain and damage they have caused.
The bravery of one person 16 years ago could have saved 1399 children from abuse.
Being called a racist does not carry one iota of the pain of gang rape or violent sex trafficking. Cowardice must never be an option.
My op-ed in today’s Lafayette Advertiser: Releasing priests’ names a matter of public safety
A couple of things struck me about the recently released clergy file of St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese priest Thomas Stitts. I saved the best for last, so be sure to read to the end.
There is the 1985 “mystery letter.” The letter, which became known around the time of Stitts’ death, allegedly “named names” of scandalous priests in archdiocese. Rumors abounded that details in the letter were licentious and detailed. Priests all over the archdiocese begged Archbishop Roach to keep the document a secret.
Where did the letter go? According to the file, it mysteriously disappeared and was allegedly destroyed. Something tells me that copies are still floating around. Stitts knew he was dying and had nothing to lose by writing the letter. He also had nothing to lose by making lots of copies.
But what really gets me is the severe, archdiocese-wide case of memory loss.
It starts in 1995, when the first lawsuits against the archdiocese and Stitts became public. At that time, an archdiocese spokesperson told the public and the press that they had NO PREVIOUS knowledge of allegations against Stitts. Kevin McDonough says the same thing to priests in the archdiocese.
The problem: it’s a big fat lie. Documents in the files date back to 1979. Not to mention the 1985 bombshell letter, and at least one investigation.
But if you read the letters closely, it gets worse. The archdiocese, including Archbishop John Roach, had knowledge as far back as 1973 that Stitts was abusing kids (page four). This isn’t a new issue in 1993. By the time the archdiocese made its 1995 claim, they had known for 22 years that Stitts was a child molester and that he had admitted to molesting children in every one of his assignments.
By 2013, when the Archdiocese finally publicly disclosed Stitts name, they had known for 40 years that Stitts was a child molester.
And yet the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis claims “transparency”?
40 years. Just think about that.
1) Call the cops, not your college president.
There has been a ton of press about the problem of sexual assaults on campus. Recent government intervention—telling universities that they must have better “policies” and “procedures” to handle the crime—is ALL wrong.
Why? Check out this article from (the most unlikely of places) the Harvard Gazette. Funny that the author didn’t put two and two together about universities’ investigations of sexual assault. But I have, so consider yourself warned …
The same goes for ANY internal investigation of sexual abuse, whether it be a high school, the Boy Scouts, a church, or sports club.
An institution’s first job is to protect itself. If you need an example, take a look at the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. The very recent scandal in St. Paul, MN is a good place to start. This isn’t from 10 or 20 years ago, this is right now.
The moral of the story? If you or someone you love is a victim of sexual assault or child sexual abuse, call the police, not your college president or bishop. And read the article above.
2) The problem isn’t the faith; and it’s not the good people in the faith. It’s the bad people who can smell an innocent soul a mile away.
I recently gave a talk at a local, large Christian Church. One of the topics I mentioned was why predators are attracted to jobs in the clergy. I was approached by a woman afterward who told me something that has stuck with me since: “People need to know this. Bad people are attracted to good people, BECAUSE they are good. Then bad people exploit good people, because good people forgive too easily.”
The topic came from this excellent article by Joe Navarro, MA. If you attend any kind of church, no matter your faith or the record on sexual or financial abuse, you will find it a very interesting read.
I teased last week that I had secured an agent for THE WELL-ARMORED CHILD. Now that the paperwork is signed and the deal is sealed, I am very excited to disclose the big news that Katie Reed at Andrea Hurst and Associates Literary Management (knows a good thing when she sees it and) is representing my parents’ guide to preventing abuse.
Katie is smart, savvy and an excellent editor. Most importantly, as a mother herself, she understands the importance of the cause. And yes, I am really excited about it.
Dust off your credit cards folks, because there’s going to be a book to buy.
I have often mentioned my volunteer work with SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. They are the nation’s largest and oldest support group for adult survivors who were sexually abused as children in religious and institutional settings.
In the past few years, their mission has expanded dramatically to help a wide range of victims from many denominations, institutions, and organizations. Don’t let the word “priest” fool you—at their convention last week, I met survivors from/of universities, protestant churches, incest, orthodox, Judaism, Islam, boarding schools, group homes, and the list (quite tragically) goes on and on.
Some of SNAP’s volunteer leaders have come together for a project-specific Indiegogo campaign. They are raising the money to send 2 leaders to 3 cities to train other survivors to set up and grow support groups. It’s a small project, but will have a HUGE impact on survivors in the cities where new groups are formed.
Consider giving $1 or $5 or $3,000. All gifts are tax deductible and will have a DIRECT effect on survivor healing.
I am very excited to announce that I have found a literary agent for THE WELL-ARMORED CHILD. Since I haven’t “signed on the dotted line” yet, I’ll keep the name under wraps.
Besides, everyone loves a little suspense. It builds character.
And yeah … I’m excited.
The big discussion at the 2014 SNAP conference was “everybody’s favorite pontiff,” Pope Francis.
Journalist Jason Berry—who faced raised eyebrows for earlier comments criticizing SNAP’s methods and “skillset“—told the group at his conference speech that SNAP should work strategically to “get a place at the table” and negotiate with the Vatican. (Note: Berry did apologize to the larger group and individuals for his July 29 remarks)
As much as I like and respect Jason, I think he is being suckered in by former Fox News journo/now Vatican communications guy Greg Burke’s carefully crafted Papal PR Machine. It’s the machine that always ensures there are plenty of photographers around to take photos of the Pope washing the feet of an Islamic woman, driving a car, living in a small apartment, and personally calling letter-writers. (In case you haven’t noticed, the PR move of calling letter writers was so successful, it’s been copied by Barack Obama, who is facing abysmal favorability poll numbers).
But just because the papal PR machine is shouting the loudest, doesn’t mean it’s right.
Fortunately, survivors ain’t buying it. I, for one, think a few “authentic gestures” are required.
What’s an “authentic gesture,” you ask?
Authentic gestures DO NOT include secret meetings with carefully picked survivors (who are asked to attend Mass and are sworn to secrecy until after the meeting). Authentic measures are NOT apologies, and certainly do not describe the deliberate and criminal cover-up of sexual abuse as “sins of omission.”
I’ll go back to my old rallying cry: I’ll believe that the Pope is a champion for real change when he fires convicted child endangerer (I guess that can be a word in this case) and Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn. THAT would be an authentic gesture. Super easy stuff. But too hard for Pope Francis, apparently.
Until then, I’ll pass on a seat at the Vatican’s table. I don’t like the Kool-aid they serve.
I know it’s been a little quiet here at The Worthy Adversary. I have been pounding away at the manuscript for The Well-Armored Child, and it’s summer, so there’s not a lot of quiet time around the house.
But things have not been quiet in the Archdiocese of Hagatna, Guam. And every time I think that things are winding down, something new happens.
Here’s the low-down:
Fr. John Wadeson is a twice-accused priest who was banned from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. A former member of the Divine Word Missionaries, Wadeson bounced around (New York, Trenton, LA, San Francisco, and Portland) until he found a home on Guam.
Although his past was well-known and posted on the internet, Guam Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron allowed the priest to live and work in the diocese. Apuron even made Wadeson a part of his inner circle, taking the priest to Honolulu to celebrate Apuron’s 30th anniversary.
Then word got out. Local Catholic blogger and whistleblower Tim Rohr started posting information about Wadeson’s past. Other Guam Catholics joined him in his outrage. Why was a twice-accused priest allowed to live and work on Guam? What about zero tolerance? Why was Apuron allegedly punishing whistleblowing priests, but protecting known predators.
Apuron did nothing.
On July 15, one of Apuron’s critics, Fr. Matthew Blockley, reached out to me and asked for SNAP’s help. He remembered that I have been on Guam in 2010 and thought that SNAP could force Apuron’s hand. I was skeptical (I can count on one had the number of times that a statement from SNAP forced an archbishop to action), but I wrote the statement and SNAP sent it out on July 18.
And damn, if it didn’t work.
Then, the shuffling began
Just like Michael Kelly, who fled the country after a civil jury determined in 2012 that he had molested a 12-year-old boy, Wadeson promptly fled Guam on July 24—but not before making a statement saying that all of the allegations against him are false.
Rumors circulated Wadeson was on his way to San Francisco, where he had worked with families and children in the past (he is in the video at 2:50). So, SNAP held an event in San Francisco on July 24 (note that Guam is on the other side of the International dateline and is a day ahead), which got the attention of the SF Archdiocese. They issued a statement saying that Wadeson could not work there . The Associated Press, who picked up the story on July 25, quoted LA Archdiocese lawyer Michael Hennigan restating that Wadeson has no permission to work in LA.
Wadeson was not going to let three archdioceses, local Guam Catholics, SNAP, and the international press have the last word. Today, he put an ad in the Sunday Catholic Paper, saying that he is innocent and is going to sue anyone who continues to discuss the charges against him. Looks like his attorney will be a little busy …
And this all happened in less than two weeks.
Now what? Well, we don’t know where Wadeson is. But here’s what I do know:
1) Apuron should immediately begin the process of removing Wadeson from the priesthood. No one will take him, he has two allegations, and he refuses to sit still long enough to “show his innocence.” If I were him and I were innocent, I would have stayed in Guam and demanded that LA and SF turn over any proof that I am an offender. He didn’t do that.
2) Pope Francis should come down on Apuron … and hard. Now granted, Apuron is part of a long line of bishops who should be removed (Like convicted child-endangering Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn, and discredited St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt). But employing a twice-accused and banned priest, punishing whistleblowers, and then acting like a bully when local Catholics beg for change are NOT ways to be a pastoral leader.
3) Victims and Catholics need to continue to stand together for change on the island. Tim Rohr, Matthew Blockley, and SNAP are unlikely allies who may disagree on many things. But we do agree on this: sex abuse and cover-up have no place anywhere.
4) Guam should send Wadeson and other credibly accused and/or banned clerics to secure facilities where they have no access to children. But that’s just a pipe dream.
So now, back to the manuscript. But something tells me that the Wadeson saga is far from over.
If Pope Francis were truly sorry for the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic church, he’s take a gander at a little Catholic diocese is California, where a cleric found guilty of abuse in a civil trial is still a powerful priest.
Here’s the situation: Fresno priest Eric Swearingen was recently appointed the pastor of a Visalia, California, parish and will oversee four parishes and a school.
The problem? Well in 2006, a civil jury found 9-3 that Swearingen had sexually abused Army Sgt. Juan Rocha when Rocha was a child.
How is Fresno Bishop Armando Ochoa able to justify this? Well, his predecessor Bishop John Steinbock said the jury “got it wrong.” But Ochoa takes a different tack.
Swearingen’s trial ended in a mistrial because the jury did not think that the Fresno diocese was liable for the abuse. So Ochoa believes that Swearingen has a “get out of jail free card” and that his civil guilty verdict doesn’t count.
But remember: a CIVIL JURY found the Swearingen HAD abused Rocha. And in a 2008 settlement, the Diocese of Fresno settled with Rocha for a large, undisclosed sum.
This is low-hanging fruit for Francis. Why should victims accept the Pope’s apology when men like Swearingen are frolicking around with full access to children?
In a Visalia Delta-News article about Swearingen’s recent appointment, the cleric’s supporters, including a private eye hired for the family, are still trying to damage Rocha’s credibility. Parishioners applaud how Swearingen can “relate” to them. That alone should send chills down your spine.
How many more court victories does Rocha need to show them that Swearingen must be removed?
The only way that this will change is if parishioners stand up and raise a stink. Refuse to go to Mass. Protest. Hold meetings and invite the media. Tell Bishop Ochoa in a very public way that they deserve better than a priest who was civilly found guilty of child sexual abuse. They must tell Bishop Ochoa and Pope Francis that children and victims are far more important than predator priests. Parents and parishioners NEED to stand up for their children.
Because “Zero Tolerance” is a failure. Francis’ failure.