There’s a banner that hangs outside of Costa Mesa’s (California) Whittier Elementary School. Its slogan— Children are our first priority—is a painfully ironic reminder of one of the biggest problems plaguing our public schools.
That problem is child sexual abuse by public school employees—an epidemic that is raging out of control.
Don’t believe it’s a problem? Here are some recent stories that should change your mind.
In 2010 in Davis, California, six-year-old special needs student “Nancy Doe” was allegedly molested by a school bus driver. The incidents were captured on video. When district officials finally viewed the video, the driver was allowed to quietly resign. After spending four years exhausting all of their options and continually butting heads with district officials and lawyers, Nancy’s parents finally had to sue the district this week—four years after the abuse—to get a copy of the tape and expose the driver who molested their child.
The LA Unified sex abuse scandal is just as horrifying. In civil lawsuits following the 2012 conviction of teacher Mark Berndt, victims’ attorneys discovered that allegations against Berndt went back to the late 1980s and that the LAUSD had destroyed evidence and documents pertaining to past allegations. And don’t forget: Berndt was given $40,000 to quit his job, even though he molested countless impoverished children.
Orange County is not immune. A number of teachers in the county have been arrested since the first of the year, including two LA female teachers who hosted what some are calling a “beach sex party” with students in San Clemente.
Where is the outrage? Why are we not learning more about school employees who are arrested for abuse? What about school district officials who know about these predators but do nothing? Why aren’t we having in-depth investigations and document exposés like we see in the Catholic Church?
The answer is simple: we have bad laws—bolstered by big money and teachers’ unions—that leave parents without viable options and children at risk of abuse.
Even when laws to protect children are proposed, teachers’ unions and others have used their deep pockets to scuttle legislation that threatens any teacher’s job—even if that teacher is a criminal. A prime example is a 2012 California bill that would have allowed school boards to immediately suspend teachers or administrators (without pay) who engaged in sexual violence and other criminal behavior. The bill died, voted down by union-backed legislators.
But unions are not the only bad guys. The state is riddled with bad civil laws that protect public schools from being held responsible for child sexual abuse. According to a recent study by the Associated Press, these bad laws allow “passing the trash” —that is, allowing accused teachers to quietly move to other schools and districts. Why? Because of regulations that require allegations against teachers to be expunged, short statutes of limitation for abuse and reporting, and additional protections for public entities (hence the reason we see lawsuits against private schools and not public schools). The result? Predators stay in classrooms and victims have little to no recourse.
Even if a student reports abuse, parents are caught in a Faustian bargain: to get the education their child needs, parents have little choice but to keep their child in the school where the abuse occurred. Sure, parents can attempt civil action—if the abuse is reported in time—but that is where their choices end. If they don’t have money to send their child to private school or cannot move, many parents have no other options.
For special needs children, the stakes are even higher: with no other access to funding for the services their child needs, parents are “held captive” in the same public school system that allowed the abuse to occur.
If we truly want public schools where children are the first priority, we must push lawmakers to hold public educators and districts fully accountable for the safety of every child in public education. We must strengthen our reporting laws, require better training, and give victims a greater ability to use the civil system to expose cover-up and “passing the trash.”
Children must be our first priority. And it’s time for the California legislature and every district in the state to remember that public school students should ALWAYS be protected over deep-pocketed interests, criminal behavior, or the status quo.
I am currently reading SPLIT: A CHILD, A PRIEST AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH by my friend Mary Dispenza.
Abuse memoirs are usually a tough read, but Mary discusses her life with grace and respect—very similar to the way she lives her life.
While I am not done with the book, something struck me at the very beginning of her narrative. From the book (emphasis mine):
Not more than a week passed before I got to the circle of other women at Therapy and Renewal Associates (TARA) for the Archdiocese of Seattle—and there I spun some more, listening for the first time to stories of other women within the Catholic Church who had been abused by priests. Many of their stories were like mine, except I was the only woman who had been abused as a child.
I was floored.
I don’t have an answer or an analysis. Just questions.
I give you two predators: One fictional. One real.
The similarities will stun you.
“It’s very boring, having to listen to the silly little troubles of an eleven-year-old girl,” he went on. “But I was patient. I wrote back. I was sympathectic, I was kind. Ginny simply loved me. No one’s ever understood me like you, Tom …I’m so glad I’ve got this diary to confide in … It’s like having a friend I can carry around in my pocket. …
“If I say it myself, Harry, I’ve always been able to charm the people I needed”
-Tom Riddle (AKA Voldemort) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
“I was the guru, so to speak. And … and it was part of my nature to be manipulative. Which is what happened. And I manipulated these young men into doing things that … that were gratifying for me …
And … and the students were very curious about sex. And I was just … it just … played into my need for attention …
I had a good reputation. That’s the point. They trusted me … and I betrayed them …
Every one of those kids … I gave the impression that this wasn’t about sex. I gave them the impression that this was Professor Seibel teaching them how to make [their penises larger] … that I had no interest in them sexually. They had no idea … I was abusing them …
They were innocent and I betrayed them. The shame … I don’t want them to have to live with that …
This is a terrible thing I did and none of them should have to take any blame. None of them should have to take any of it on themselves. I did it. Manipulated them. I’m a master of manipulation and I did it for my own … I did it for me …
It’s not [the boys’] fault. No.”
- Convicted child predator Lynn Seibel in a sworn 2014 deposition
Lynn Seibel was convicted of sexually abusing six Shattuck-St. Mary’s students in 2013. He was sentenced to 52 months in prison. This deposition is a part of the victims’ civil case, which charges that Shattuck-St. Mary’s officials covered up child pornography and sexual abuse.
*** This post is updated with a statement by Shattuck-St. Mary’s.***
In 2003, Headmaster Nick Stoneman had a choice.
His drama teacher had been found with child pornography on a school computer. This same teacher—Lynn Seibel—had admitted to being complicit in “Naked Dance Parties” with male students in school bathrooms. Seibel was also rumored to have conducted a special AP (Advanced Placement) class in penis enlargement.
What is the headmaster of one of the nation’s most elite boarding/day schools to do?
Shattuck-St. Mary’s (SSM) in Faribault, Minnesota is considered a “feeder school” for the National Hockey league. Their alumni list is a “who’s who” of the professional sport. Tuition is $29,000 a year for the day students and $43,000 for students who live at the school. There’s a lot at stake.
Plus, Stoneman had no idea how many students had been “peeked at,” groomed, or molested by Seibel. He also had no idea if Seibel had created pornographic images of any of SSM’s students.
It gets worse. There were other teachers at the school who had molested students. While we don’t know how much Stoneman knew in 2003, but by 2012, Seibel and another teacher, Joseph Machlitt, would be criminally charged for molesting SSM students. In 2008, a third, Leonard Jones, would kill himself after one of his victims confronted Jones about the sexual abuse.
But I digress. Let’s get back to Stoneman’s 2003 dilemma.
He had two options:
The first would be to call the police, cooperate with any and all investigations, reach out to alumni who may have been abused, and ask for help from the community to make sure that predators like Seibel never have access to students again. Sure, he would take a PR hit and parents would be upset. But if he dealt with the issue head on, he could easily win the support of parents, especially if he took charge to ensure that the school was a safer place.
The second option would be to keep things hush-hush and pay off Seibel to make him go away.
I’ll give you one guess what he did.
(Seibel went on to teach in Rhode Island and act in small roles in Hollywood before he was arrested and convicted of molesting SSM students in 2013.)
So, why would a headmaster—whose personal mission should have been the education, emotional encouragement, and safety of the children in his care—make this kind of decision?
It’s simple. He loved and feared the institution more than he cared about the children in it.
He took the dangerous “long view” and thought, “Gee, most of the kids who knew Seibel will graduate in a couple of years. But the school will be around for a lot longer. This is a small problem that the school will live through. The kids come and go, but the school’s legacy is eternal.”
In his heart of hearts, I bet he actually thought he was doing the right thing. He was so indoctrinated into the “institution,” he completely forgot what the institution was supposed to do.
Sounds a bit harsh and over-simplified, but that’s basically what happened.
Stoneman is not an outlier. We saw this behavior at Penn State and continue to see it in Catholic dioceses and other hierarchical and secretive religious groups across the country. In fact, even in my own case, the then-principal of Mater Dei High School Fr. John Weling let the man who abused me and other girls quietly resign. Years after the cover-up was exposed, Mater Dei gave Weling its “Ring of Honor” award (And when you think about it – it makes sense. He did protect the school from scandal, which seems to be their mission). Later administrators at the school covered up for abusers such as Larry Stukenholtz and Jeff Andrade – even letting Andrade back on campus after admitting to molesting at least one girl for more than a year.
And like Mr. Stoneman, the principal and president of Mater Dei who covered up for Stukenholtz and Andrade still work at the school.
So why does Stoneman still have a job? Why do the principal and president of Mater Dei?
Because when it comes to institutions, our society has a tragic blind spot. Donors who give these schools millions of dollars think, “These administrators have made these schools into powerhouses. They have educated thousands of children. Why let one rotten apple spoil the barrel? What about the money I donated?” Parents who send their kids to the school say, “Things have changed. Besides, who knows how ‘willing’ those victims were? My child would never go to naked dance parties or an AP class on penis enlargement.” (I will address the problem with this view in a later post)
Stoneman and the administration at Mater Dei have jobs because we let them. And when we let them, we tell victims and predators that NOTHING has changed. Because NOTHING has.
Institutions are only as good as the people who run them. If they are rotten, so is the institution.
Stoneman had a choice. He made the wrong choice. Now, it’s up to SSM.
UPDATE – 2/10/14
Shattuck-St. Mary’s issued a statement about recent coverage of the Seibel case.
“The crux of the matter is simple: did we do the right thing in deciding to remove Lynn Seibel from our school and did we do it the right way? Even with the benefit of 12 years of hindsight, we believe we made the right decision for the right reasons, made with the facts as we knew them.”
We respectfully disagree. You can read the whole thing here.
A boarding school. Naked dance parties. Child pornography. Molestation. An arrest. A suicide. Allegations. Lawsuits.
Total institutional ethical failure.
When I first heard about the scandal at Minnesota’s Shattuck-St. Mary’s (I’ll refer to it from now on as SSM), I had a hard time wrapping my arms around the extent of the criminal behavior. And let’s face it, I am not a novice when it comes to these cases. It takes a lot to shock me.
SSM, a grade 6-12 Episcopal boarding and day school located about 50 miles from Minneapolis, also reminds me of a school a little closer to home—one that suffered its own huge institutional failure when it came to child sex abuse and cover-up.
There is so much to discuss, that I have decided to write a series of posts about SSM and what happened. I am also going to try and tackle some of the questions we are all asking. Things like:
- Why is the headmaster who covered up abuse still working at the school? How common is this?
- Why did school administrators allow a teacher with child pornography on a school computer to quietly resign … with a nice, fat check?
- Why didn’t the school do anything earlier—like when they discovered that the teacher was complicit in allowing and observing “Naked Dance Parties” and was rumored to be giving make students lessons on “penis enlargement”?
I am also going to look at some of the players—people like:
- The law firm that took it upon itself to investigate sexual abuse, although they had no knowledge or experience with victims, criminal law, or the complexities of child sex abuse—and who also kept a disc of a molester’s child pornography in their files for almost a decade.
- The headmaster who allowed and facilitated the cover-up.
- The drama teacher and child molester, who allows victims’ attorneys a glimpse into the mind of a predator and the sticky, tangled spider web that is grooming.
That’s a lot to talk about. But the only way to stop this kind of cover-up in the future is to truly understand how and why it happened here.
I didn’t … and note: these children can be as young as 11
From today’s OC Register (emphasis mine):
Though there isn’t a single background or profile that describes all those girls, summit presenters said there are typical risk factors – including poverty, family dysfunction, learning disabilities, childhood sexual abuse, isolation, emotional distress and lack of social support.
Presenters asked teachers to keep an eye open for certain behavioral indicators of trafficking – ranging from sporadic attendance and signs of physical bruises or depression, to a student having a noticeably older boyfriend, getting a “branding” tattoo or saying she is employed, even though she lacks a work permit.
Read the whole thing.
I know that this blog post is totally off topic. But bear with me.
Think about this: When you want a hamburger, does an ad for oranges, milk, and yogurt entice you? What if the ad also tells you to exercise?
This week McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson stepped down after more than 25 years with the company. It’s been a dismal year for the fast food giant—low monthly sales, a tainted meat scandal, etc. There have also been some court rulings on McDonald’s relationship with the employees in its franchised restaurants that have not bolstered confidence in the way the corporation is run.
But I am not here to talk about that. Instead, I have a humble suggestion for Thompson’s successor and his marketing and advertising departments: Quit bowing to the food police and advertise what you really are—fast food.
What do I mean? Well, as a mother and a former PR/marketing professional, my worlds collide the second my son turns on the television. (Yes, he watches TV. He also plays video games, although he’s not a huge fan of fast food. But I love fast food, and I am not ashamed to admit it).
The ads that annoy me the most? The McDonald’s Happy Meal.
It’s not because the ads have a stupid jingle (Stompies, anyone?), or that they make my son churn with envy (anything Lego). It’s because McDonald’s has it all wrong. They don’t understand their market, they don’t understand their product, and they certainly don’t understand their consumer benefits.
What do I mean? If you turn on any of the kid-centered TV networks, the you’ll find ads touting the goodness of yogurt, milk, oranges. The ads will talk about the fun of exercise and the importance of reading. And these ads for for the McDonald’s Happy Meal. Exercise, oranges and milk are NOT benefits that McDonald’s customers want. That’s what HOME is for.
The corporation has bowed to critics who claim that the Happy Meal is junk food and should be more healthy. But it’s not McDonald’s job to fight the obesity crisis. It’s their job to sell food. Their product is comfort fast food. Their market is people who want comfort fast food. The benefit is that comfort fast food makes people happy (McDonald’s french fries make me very happy). But McDonald’s has totally lost sight of that.
Let’s face it, McDonald’s: Leave the health food to Whole Foods and stick to what you know. If I want my kid to have the goodness of oranges, yogurt, and milk, I will open the fridge and give it to him. If I have a hankering for junk food, I will go to a hamburger joint.
But I am not going to go to McDonald’s (food quality aside), because their ads keep trying to tell me to eat healthy and get more exercise. I get plenty of exercise and I eat healthy 88% of the time. I go to fast food for a TREAT. So instead, I am going to go to Carl’s Jr. or In-N-Out, because they make no excuses for what they are. And really: why is a fast food restaurant telling kids to exercise? That’s not their mission. Their mission is FOOD.
It’s time for McDonald’s to tell the health food lobby to lump it and embrace who they are: fast food that reminds you of childhood. They should market themselves like other fast food places, with good, “hamburger joint” food for special occasions and treats.
If people decide to eat there every day, that’s their decision. But I’ll tell you this: the people who eat there every day aren’t eating oranges and yogurt.
But I doubt the McDonald’s folks will listen to me …
(Note: Yes, I am actually posting this on a Friday. Shocker.)
How can I learn more about the Survivors’ Movement and SNAP, that organization with whom you do so much work? Is there anywhere I can hear the best and brightest speakers on the topic and meet people who are working for justice for adult victims of child sexual abuse (as well as stopping the cycle and preventing abuse)?
The best place to learn about the Survivors’ Movement and legislative change, hear the latest news, meet leaders and newsmakers, and get the best information on abuse prevention and victim healing is to attend the SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) Annual Conference. I am not a huge fan of conferences, but the SNAP conference—scheduled for July 31-August in Washington, D.C. (Alexandria, VA)—hosts the best and brightest speakers who are totally engaged in helping survivors and protecting kids. You can go for a day or the whole weekend.
The organizers do a great job every year to make the conference fun, engaging, relevant, and life-changing. You will do yourself a service by attending.
You’ve been bugging me for years. So now you can all clam up and put your money where you mouth is.
YES, MY SON. WINE IS ONE OF THE FIVE FOOD GROUPS, the definitive collection of my humorous Facebook posts, is available for your Kindle (or your ebook reader on your computer) and in paperback. And while I am not one to boast, I had forgotten how funny a lot of this stuff was.
So here is what I need from you:
- Please buy the book. It’s super affordable. In fact, buy a couple. They’re small.
- Consider writing a review. A nice one. Heck, I’ll even write it for you to post.
- Tell your friends. Tell everyone you have ever met. Tell anyone with a pulse.
- Spread the love on social media. Post about the book on Facebook or Twitter. Talk about it on Goodreads (as of this writing, the book isn’t up yet. Just give it some time).
What will you get in return? Laugh-out-loud fun, love, good karma, extra Christmas presents from total strangers, and … most importantly, my unending respect and gratitude. All for $2.99.
I bet your $3 latte never did that for you.
THE WELL-ARMORED CHILD: A PARENTS’ GUIDE TO PREVENTING ABUSE has found a home (before it ends up in your home and the homes of all of your friends).
The manuscript has been accepted by the Greenleaf Book Group and will be published under the River Grove imprint. Expect to see the book on Amazon and available for order in late August 2015. It will also be available for order by book stores and groups.
Joelle, you constantly stress how important it is to “armor” your child against abuse from as early as infancy and toddlerhood. I don’t agree. My child is too young to know about sex. Why do you insist on exposing children so early and ruining their innocence?
Armoring your child does NOT include talking about sex. You can empower your child and teach her and yourself the tools you need WITHOUT destroying her innocence. You do not need to get into uncomfortable discussions about biology, where babies come from, shame, sexuality, morality, or religious views on sex. Your child doesn’t understand and doesn’t care. He just wants to be safe and empowered.
When I talk about “armoring” your baby and toddler, I mention NOTHING about sex, abuse, or anything else that destroys a child’s innocence. Instead, I talk about the importance of establishing boundaries and schedules for infants and toddlers, as well as using consistency and love in discipline. For toddlers, I stress knowing the correct names for body parts and allowing your child to refuse hugs and kisses from adults. You can learn more here.
Your child’s innocence is a gift. Armoring your child reinforces that innocence. And it’s totally in your power and control.
Talking to teenagers about their social media presence can be a drag. But if you have a teen and that teen is online, talking to your kid about his or her “online presence” can make the difference between a free college education and a lifetime of student debt.
Don’t believe me?
Just ask the high schooler who was denied the scholarship because his online presence was not “representative … of our university.”
From USA Today:
Three years ago, Scott Fitch couldn’t believe what he was hearing. A college coach recruiting two of his Fairport High School boys basketball players called to say how much he liked what he saw after watching them play an AAU game, and that he thought both were good enough to see court time on his team as freshmen.
“But we’re going to stop recruiting one of them,” the college coach said.
Stunned, Fitch asked why.
“We found his Twitter account, looked through it and some of what we saw isn’t representative of what our university is about,” the recruiter explained.
Be sure to read the whole thing.
This week’s question, two days late.
Joelle, how do scandals in places like Penn State and the Catholic Church start? I mean, these aren’t bad people in these institutions, right? Will new policies by these organizations and others make sure that men and women who abuse children are reported and stopped, instead of protected?
This is a complicated question that I will try to answer as simply as possible. We love our institutions. We love them so much that, sometimes, very good people do bad things in order to protect the reputation of the institution. It’s easy to think, “Gosh, the church/scouts/school promised to take care of us. They would never do something to intentionally hurt a child.”
But unfortunately, they do. Institutions are only as good as the people in them. Good people should stand up for principles, morality, and child safety, even if it means that they risk their job, the reputation of the institution, or community opinion. But as we’ve seen, it’s not always the case.
In places like Penn State and the Catholic Church, people who saw, suspected or learned about abuse didn’t do the one important thing that could have stopped the cycle: Call the police. Yes, there are cases where the police were notified, but in many of these, investigations were stonewalled by employees and polices that kept very important evidence out of the hands of cops and prosecutors.
I don’t have a lot of faith that new policies in these institutions will make real change. Policies don’t change how institutions operate. People do. It’s the culture of the institution that ensures openness, safety, transparency and accountability. Culture is created by people from the top down and the bottom up. The importance of culture goes beyond child sexual abuse—large corporations deal with the problems of culture all of the time. When the culture begins to go sour (Enron, anyone?), all of the policies of the world won’t change it. Only real culture change within the organizations will do that. Only PEOPLE can do that.
If you don’t see real cultural change in an institution that has protected child predators in the past, then chances are that all of the policies and rules in the world aren’t going to make a lick of difference.
I hate to be somewhat of a downer on the subject, but there is an upside: YOU can create the culture of an institution. In the case of child sexual abuse, it’s a simple as this: if you see, suspect, or hear about child sexual abuse, report to LAW ENFORCEMENT first, then inform upper management, if you feel comfortable doing so. If you have questions about your suspicions, call the ChildHelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD. Your identity will remain confidential.
If you saw a co-worker punching an innocent bystander in the face, you’d call the cops, right? If a co-worker came to you bloodied and bruised, and told you that another co-worker had violently attacked him, you’d call the cops, right? If you had real fear that co-worker was violent and was going to hurt someone, you’d report right? Child sex abuse is no different. Let’s quit pretending it is.
I get TONS of questions. Lots. So many in fact, that I ended up writing a book.
But there are some questions that don’t really have a place in the book. There are others with answers that need to be reiterated … and reiterated … until you feel like you’ve been bludgeoned by Mjolnir. (Just ask my husband – NO ONE can nag like I can)
The result: I’ve decided to launch Ask a Question Friday. If you have a question you want answered, send it to me at email@example.com. If you want to make a party of it, read this at 5pm with your favorite cocktail (who says that prevention education can’t be fun?).
So grab the wine opener, and let’s get started.
Joelle, you have a young son. With everything you know about abuse, how can you ever let him out of your sight?
I get this question all of the time.
I’ll admit it: having a kid is really hard. If you watch TV and keep up with the news, you’re bound to think that the world is a terrible place where children can’t play outside and where a predator lurks behind every corner.
But much of that is not true.
My son plays outside with his friends almost every day. At least twice a week, I have about six kids in my house playing Legos, Xbox, or inventing zombie-esque games.
You can create a fun, safe, and magical place for your child to play and thrive. How do you do that? Be aware. Know your child’s friends and their parents. Demand that your child follow your rules for safe play, check-in, etc. Be observant of other adults. Understand that “Stranger Danger” is important, but that a majority of abuse is perpetrated by someone YOU and YOUR CHILD love and respect.
I am doing my best to raise my child with strong body boundaries, strong behavioral boundaries, and the confidence to know that he can tell me anything. He does not spend time alone with any adult besides his parents or a trusted caregiver. From a toddler, he has known the correct names of his body parts and that no one touches them inside or outside of his clothes (or vice-versa, or takes pictures). I am also teaching him to be confident enough to know that it is okay to say no to an adult, he does not have to be hugged or touched if he doesn’t want to, and that self-esteem and self-confidence will be his biggest defenses against predators.
Mostly, I try to make sure that he is not surrounded by fear, judgement, or confusion about his body. And yes, I am on the stricter side of parenting. My son has had strong and appropriate consequences for inappropriate behavior. I am an adult, and my child is a child. He wants me to be an adult and to be strong for him. It is my job to solve the “adult problems” of his world so that he can learn to problem-solve his own issues.
Am I perfect? Hell, no. I am sure that any reader can shoot 100 holes in my answer. But I will say this: my child has only one chance to be a child. He only has one chance to be strong about his body and full of childhood friendships. I refuse to raise a child with a victim mentality. It’s not my son’s job to pay for what happened to me.
I know that I mess up every day. A lot. But awareness is 90% of the battle.
Last, week, I spoke with Miranda Dempsey McCroskey of Lawpreneur Radio about the importance of civil rights for crime victims, how plaintiffs’ attorneys have been instrumental in exposing abuse … and, of course, THE WELL-ARMORED CHILD. The podcast is up and you can listen here.
Or, you can check out the interview on iTunes.
I hate watching sports … but I LOVE stories about sports.
The minutiae about how any particular game is played is usually lost on me. For me, going to a live sporting event is about the spectacle, not the stats or the rules.
But give me a documentary, movie, book, magazine article, or TV show about the PEOPLE in and behind the games, and I’m mesmerized. These stories draw me in because they are about ordinary people who do extraordinary things. These stories take place in a world—our world—where ANYTHING is possible. There are no victims and there is no pity. This is a world full of vision, enthusiasm, dreams, hope, love, and the value of tenacity.
Which brings me to a small island in the Western Pacific: Guam—an island full of ordinary people doing very extraordinary things. These people aren’t athletes—they are Catholics fighting to take back their church, their faith, and their reputations.
I went to Guam in 2010. Survivors on the island had asked me to come there and reach out to other survivors who felt like it was not safe to come forward and report. The Archbishop of Hagatna, Anthony Sablan Apuron—according to Catholics and critics—was perceived as a bully who scared and shamed victims into silence. So, for some sex abuse victims in the Archdiocese of Hagatna (the only diocese on Guam), coming forward and reporting abuse was tantamount to career and reputation suicide. For the rest, it was suicide.
So when Guam legislators passed a 2011 civil window that allowed sex abuse victims to come forward and use the civil courts to sue their abuser (but not the Archdiocese), victims didn’t come forward … it was just too risky.
Fast forward to 2014. This is where the story really begins. (Note: this story is SO complex and complicated, I know I’m going to miss some of the big points. But the story is still pretty darned juicy.)
Local Catholics, led by trail blazers such as Tim Rohr (a man Apuron had recruited to discredit me in 2010) and Fr. Matthew Blockley, decided that they had had enough. Apuron was pushing the Neocatechumenal Way, a lay movement within the church that according to John Allen, Jr., is “playing fast and loose with both Church teaching and the liturgical rules, fostering a cult of personality, and dividing parishes by insisting that members attend their own Saturday evening services rather than the usual Sunday Mass.”
But there was more. According to Rohr, Apuron was punishing his critics by firing them and “cutting fast and loose” with their reputations. Even worse, the group found out that a member of Apuron’s inner circle, John Wadeson, was a twice-accused priest that had been banned from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Blockley and Rohr (who was now an ally) reached out to me and SNAP to help expose the priest. After the story went national, Apuron finally forced Wadeson to quit.
Rohr and Blockley weren’t done. They blasted Apuron for financial mismanagement. They demanded a voice in how the Archdiocese was run. They demanded to know why Apuron was pushing out his critics inside the chancery. Rohr empowered John Toves, a relative of an alleged sex abuse victim of Apuron himself, to come forward and publicly talk about what he knows. Rohr’s website was flooded with local supporters and international readers (many of whom were within the Vatican itself).
Other people started to stand up. A group of local Catholics started a nonprofit called Concerned Catholics of Guam. The group’s purpose is to empower the laity and to achieve financial transparency in the Archdiocese. Soon after, John Toves came to Guam to try and speak with the Archbishop. He was told he would be arrested if he came onto church property.
Then, Apuron fired Deacon Steve Martinez, the man who had demanded that Apuron’s handling of the Wadeson case be held up to Vatican scrutiny. Rohr and his supporters blasted the move, exposing the fact that Martinez was being ousted for upholding the sex abuse policies of the Archdiocese—policies that Apuron allegedly wanted to ignore.
The Guam Archbishop’s veneer of respectability had almost completely disintegrated.
Then came the coup de gras. Yesterday, December 19, the Vatican announced that the Archdiocese of Hagatna would be the subject of an “Apostolic Visit” during the first week of January 2015. Apuron did his best to spin the visit, but the real reason of any Apostolic Visit isn’t so happy: The visitor is sent to investigate a special circumstance in a diocese or country and to submit a report to the Holy See at the conclusion of the investigation.
As a result, a seemingly panicked Apuron has decided that Martinez could stay in his position until January 12, after the Apostolic Visitor had returned to the Vatican.
Catholics on Guam are fighting … and right now, they are winning. This is something that NEVER happens. Apuron has few, if any, vocal supporters and the Vatican has taken notice. Even if the Pope decides to take no action whatsoever (which is a huge possibility), Guam’s Catholics have already struck a huge victory. It’s a real Cinderella story (to borrow a well-worn sports cliche) and it’s still unfolding.
I suggest you keep this team on your radar. They are doing extraordinary things, and we should all be watching.
From CNN: A great list of acronyms that teens use to keep their attentive parents “in the dark” about the subject matter of their texts, internet exchanges, and social media posts. A great read for any parent who understands the importance of keeping tabs on their children’s online lives.
Note: Since these acronyms are being picked up by the mainstream media, they are probably already out of date … There ARE teenagers, you know.
** UPDATE: The folks at the Register have fixed the problem. Not just for me (the squeaky wheel) but for the whole neighborhood. Insert Happy Dance ***
It had all of the signs of a romance in doom.
First, there was The Rush: Despite cutbacks and layoffs and closures at other newspapers across the country, the Orange County Register issued promises of grandeur. The new owner, Aaron Kushner, was expanding the paper: hiring new reporters, creating daily local sections, and giving away ad space to local nonprofits. They brought back beats like Religion (where I tend to be a mainstay) and Classical Music (which was great for my then-role with the Orange County Women’s Chorus). I was elated—I had butterflies in my stomach every morning, excited about what I would read when I opened my morning paper. I was in love. It was the late ’90s all over again—that era when I needed a forklift to carry in my Sunday paper.
But it wouldn’t last.
Then came The Denial: Like anyone in love, I was blind to the critics. When Gustavo Arellano blasted the business model and called it unsustainable, I refused to listen. He didn’t understand the OC Register like I did, I told myself.
Heck, my family had an almost 90-year relationships with the Register, going back to the 1920s, when the paper boasted the Santa Ana Register masthead. My grandfather (the former county coroner), my grandmother (the former clerk to the OC County Board of Supervisors), my father (a former Santa Ana Planning Commissioner), and I (a regular trouble-maker for naughty people) have been quoted in the paper for almost a century. A Casteix has been a subscriber (except for two years in the mid-90s) for just as long. No one understood the Register like I did. The OC Register would never hurt me, I said.
My reporter friends were leaving the paper in droves. But I thought: It’s just a phase.
Then when the Register couldn’t deliver papers to subscribers because of millions of dollars in unpaid bills to the Los Angeles Times, I told myself: It will never happen to me.
Next came The Brutal Truth: Two weeks ago, my paper stopped coming. When my neighbor Nadine* asked me if I was getting my Register, I said, “No, but it’s okay. It will come.” It never came. Nadine* began a calling and emailing campaign to get her paper. She and my husband shared ideas about how they could get the attention of the higher-ups and get delivery back. They both looked at me, incredulous: Why was I doing nothing? I love to complain about poor service. I have built a career out of exposing fraud and wrong-doing. But yet, I sat patiently, waiting for a paper (a paper I have already paid for, mind you) that would never come.
Finally, The Betrayal: My husband broke the news gently this morning. “I went to the Smiths* house last night. Steve* said that he and his wife Claire* have been calling and emailing the Register every day for the past three weeks. Now, they get a special delivery of their paper every morning. The carrier even puts the paper on their back porch.”
THE CARRIER GENTLY PLACES THE PAPER ON THEIR BACK PORCH?!
The Smiths live less than 200 ft from my house. The carrier has to pass my driveway to get to them. The carrier also passes right by Nadine’s home. But we get no paper. We get nothing. I wonder if the carrier laughs has he passes my house. I wonder if he even knows that I sit here, lonely and dejected.
Gustavo had been right all along. But like any woman in love, I refused to listen to the voices of reason.
I’d break up with the Register right now, but the customer service hold time is 72 minutes.
So I’m just going to walk over to the Smith’s house and beg to have their NYT Sunday Crossword. I’ll offer a decent wine trade.
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent
Why? Because Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have given civil rights to Cosby’s alleged victims who were under the age of 18 at the time of the abuse. Had Brown not vetoed the legislation, these women would have been able to use the civil courts to expose Cosby, depose witnesses under oath, gather evidence, and seek justice.
But the good news is that despite Brown’s 2013 veto, there is a lawsuit. A very brave woman named Judy Huth filed her case in Los Angeles County Superior Court, saying that Cosby drugged and raped her at the Playboy mansion when Hutt was only 15 years old. The alleged abuse took place in the 1970s.
The suit, filed by an Orange County attorney, says that Huth CAN use the civil courts, despite the amount of time that has passed since the abuse. According to USA Today:
Huth, now 55, suggests the statute of limitations be waived because she discovered “her psychological injuries and illnesses were caused by the sexual abuse perpetrated by Cosby” within the past three years.
This is going to be tough to prove. California has some pretty bad precedent when it comes to these kinds of cases, most significantly, the Quarry decision. That ruling, which came down in 2012, said that six brothers abused by an Oakland priest waited too long to file their lawsuits.
Huth is represented by an attorney named Marc Strecker. From what I can gather, Strecker has little to no experience in child sex abuse cases that have to battle civil statutes of limitations. I’m sure that he is a good man and a good attorney, but for Huth’s sake and the sake of hundreds of other older victims, I hope Strecker gets good co-counsel who is well-versed in child sex abuse statute of limitations issues. Going in alone and unarmed will not only destroy Huth’s chances at justice, but it will hurt the entire child sex abuse justice movement in California. (If you’re reading this Marc, I suggest you give me a call)
In other news, Gloria Allred held a press conference yesterday with some of Cosby’s other alleged victims. I am overjoyed that Allred gave them protection and a platform to talk about what happened to them. These women have been shamed into silence for far too long. I can’t even image what they have gone through.