I was nominated by my cousin and friend Darcy Fehringer-Mask*, who won the award herself in 2008 for her work in diversity and anti-bias education, including bullying awareness and prevention. I was chosen for my work on behalf of victims of child sexual abuse, prevention and awareness education, and my efforts towards changing civil and criminal statutes of limitations for sex crimes against children.
Looking at the other winners, I’m in awesome company and am very humbled by the honor.
The ceremony is a June 5 luncheon in Costa Mesa. Let me know if you want to come. I’ll save you a seat!
*While Darcy still does great work in that field, she focuses most of her time on her photography business. Like my headshots? See more here.
Friday’s document release from religious orders whose members abused children in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles shines a very bright light on ugly doings at Anaheim’s Servite High School.
But the other Servite file—Brother Gregory Atherton—is uglier. Not because of the graphic nature of the abuse, but because of the cover-up. Not because of the fact that Atherton was sent to treatment for abusing kids at Servite High School, but because the Servites lied then and continue to lie now about his status.
The quotes say it all.
“We’ve put him under a safety plan. He reports to a supervisor. He mostly stays home and does some work like bookkeeping or helping around the house.”
Let’s see how the facts pan out.
“It’s a marvelous occasion for us,” said Servite Brother Gregory Atherton, who also attended a national anniversary celebration in June in Chicago. As Brother Atherton spoke after Friday’s Mass, people swarmed around tables nearby to grab slices of vanilla and chocolate cake, decorated with congratulatory words marking the occasion.
Three Grotto employees have worked every year: Brother Gregory Atherton, Grounds/Facilities Manager Mark Combelic and Master Puppeteer Celeste Rose. Bonus facts: The three worst years of weather were 1990, 2006 and 2008. Three groups from far-flung locations perform this year: Vancouver BC (St. Charles Borromeo Choir), Anaheim, CA, (Servite High School), and the Philippines (University of the Philippines). emphasis mine
So … Atherton is also working with high school choirs?
Around Thanksgiving several of his nieces from the Carolinas visited Damian Kobus for several days. His sister was not able to travel with them nor is Damian able to travel to visit her. The nieces told Gregory Atherton that they were pleased to find Damian doing so well. They were pleasantly surprised with his happy disposition, the 3 quality of his room, the care he is receiving, and the food they and he were served.
Brother Gregory Atherton, OSM, has managed to find someone to really care for our aging organ in the Chapel of Mary who can keep it going in spite of occasional glitches. Greg made a recording of his organ solos for the chorale concerts so he can have things a bit easier for himself. The personnel who manage the sound and recording can slip his recording on when needed so Greg can get a break.
Greg needs a break? I thought he was only doing light housework.
The Servites lied. Atherton was not monitored. He is probably not being monitored now.
I repeat: The Servites are lying to you. They just don’t do it very well.
This is probably the most telling document trail from today’s release of clergy sex abuse documents.
Letter from Fr. Steven Ryan to Servite Provincial Fr. Terence O’Connor:
Servite provincial Fr. Terence O’Connor to Fr. Steven Ryan:
Makes you want to call your Servite friends and see if they can get a tuition refund.
What do you do when you get the chance of a lifetime?
Worry. And sweat.
I was selected to be a speaker for the May 30 TEDx Pasadena Women conference. Being a speaker at TED and TEDx are HUGE goals of mine … so I have to admit: when I received the acceptance, I thought that (perhaps) they had made a mistake and sent the invite to the wrong person. So, I did what I was supposed to do (send in materials, bio, etc), and I waited for the “Oops! Never mind,” email.
When instead, I was given the speaker’s checklist, I knew that I was in.
Between now and May 29 (when we have our dress rehearsal), it’s time to dive into my talk. I already have a first draft, but I know that it’s going to change as the days pass. The folks at TEDx have great coaches who will help be hone my message, and I am sure that my friends will get sick and tired of having to watch me practice. I don’t want to go into this unprepared—TEDx is only the first part of the goal. I want to grace the main TED stage … and soon. And since I am not a household name (yet), I’m going to have to do my best to dazzle the powers that be.
What I am I worried about right now? There are two things: one biological and one mental.
The first is a doozy: I sweat when I am nervous. I sweat a lot. Which is odd, because in every other aspect of my life, I am not a sweaty person. Even when I do press conferences, I don’t sweat. I was never sweaty when I was a performer. But the last thing I want is an HD video of my talk on YouTube with HD focus on my sweaty pits. (“Gee, I think I remember Joelle’s talk. But someone tell that girl to wear antiperspirant!”)
The second? I bet you can guess. Can I pull it off? Is my message powerful enough? Can I deliver it in a way that makes a difference? Will people say: Joelle changed the way I look at the world … ? Will I engage the audience? Will I make people laugh? Am I good enough?
Antiperspirant is the easy part. The rest will take hard work.
A federal bankruptcy judge has set an August 3 deadline for victims of child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St. Paul.
The deadline, called a BAR DATE, is the final day and men and women abused as children can file claims against the Archdiocese to expose their abuser and get justice and accountability.
The Archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, after approximately 140 men and women came forward to file sex abuse and cover-up lawsuits under Minnesota’s civil window. The civil window, enacted in 2013, allows victims of child sexual abuse to use the civil courts for justice, no matter when the abuse occurred.
Since the civil window opened, the Archdiocese has been pounded in the media and by victims for covering up child sex abuse. The pounding was well-justified.
From MPR news:
For decades, leaders of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have been reassigning, excusing and overlooking sexually abusive priests among their ranks. Some received additional retirement benefits. In August, a top church lawyer, shocked at what she saw, brought the story to MPR News. What happened next is still unfolding.
An important note: The Archdiocese bankruptcy and bar date deadline do NOT affect victims of other entities in Minnesota. So, for example: Victims from Shattuck/St. Mary’s, other dioceses in Minnesota, religious orders, churches, or other private entities have until May 2016 to come forward.
I am not an attorney and do not have the authority to dispense legal advice. But let me say this: if you are considering filing a claim in the bankruptcy, talk to an attorney who is familiar with the process. Be sure that your rights are protected.
The victim, who waited until after he earned the honor of Eagle Scout to file the lawsuit, was molested by a former Assistant Scout Master who was criminally convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with the victim in this case as well as another boy. The convicted Scout Master is also an Eagle Scout.
The victim held up his end of the bargain. Now it’s time for the Scouts to uphold theirs.
I was honored to be at the press conference and speak with the victim and his father. It’s not often that I get to meet victims who are brave enough to come forward at such a young age.
And there were also some pretty disturbing revelations. The molester in this case was young—20 years old at the time of the abuse. He sexually assaulted the victim when he was 13 and 15.
Why are the Scouts liable? Other scout leaders were inclined to give the predator a “pass.” Even though they saw suspicious and/or criminal behavior, they thought that a former Eagle Scout was beyond reproach. Others may have also considered the 20-year-old predator “one of the boys” and did not understand the severe imbalance of power that existed.
Not only was the victim a child and the predator an adult—but the victim in this case wanted to be an Eagle Scout. The only way to do that? Uphold the Boy Scout Law:
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,
courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty,
brave, clean, and reverent.
And when your scoutmaster (who is a fairly recent Eagle Scout) holds your future and dreams in his grip, your options are clear: Obedience, reverence, and loyalty.
The victim was physically, emotionally and psychologically powerless … but he’s not anymore.
It’s the the papal version of the back-handed compliment:
In a one-sentence throw-away line in yesterday’s Vatican press bulletin, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn.
The Holy Father Francis has accepted the resignation from the pastoral government of the diocese of St. Joseph-Kansas City, Mo. (U.S.A.) presented by His Excellency Msgr. Robert W. Finn.
In case you didn’t know: in 2012, Finn was convicted on one count of failure to report child sexual abuse. He covered up for Shawn Ratigan, a Missouri priest who was sentenced to 50 years in prison for producing child pornography.
Because of that incident, Finn served a two-year suspended sentence in Jackson County, Mo., and struck a deal later that year with a Clay County, Mo., judge to avoid a similar charge by entering a diversion compliance agreement that included regular meetings with the county prosecutor for five years.
As I have noted on this blog before, if Finn were to apply for a job at his own diocese, he would not pass the background check.
Removing Finn was low-hanging fruit for Pope Francis, who has called on churches to enforce “zero tolerance” (even though Francis recently appointed a Chilean bishop who is accused of covering up for child sex abuse crimes). It would have been easy for Francis to deliver a strong message and fire Finn. It would have been very easy for the Vatican to make a powerful announcement stating that Finn’s behavior was unacceptable and will not be tolerated in a pastoral Christian environment.
In fact, it would have been amazing if Francis or a high ranking Vatican official came to Kansas City-St. Joseph to address the hurt and pain that Catholics there are suffering.
But no. Francis let Finn quit and “save face.”
And Catholics in Kansas City-St. Joseph are still left with questions. And pain.
So, yes, I am elated that a convicted bishop is no longer leading a Catholic diocese. But since Finn’s “transition” was treated like an afterthought, I can’t help but wonder how much else is treated like an afterthought.
I had the opportunity to work with a very strong and brave group of clergy sex abuse survivors over the weekend.
Two things struck me:
- Their total bravery and willingness to grow beyond trauma, and
- Their compassion for friends and family members who want to be loving and helpful, but don’t know what to say or do.
If you know someone who loves a survivor and wants to help, pick him or her up a copy. It’s a short read and worth the time.
Katie, bar the door: I have been invited to speak at TEDx PasadenaWomen. To say I am excited would be an understatement. Achieving this kind of goal—speaking in front of engaged and visionary women at a TEDx event—has been mind-blowing.
What will I be talking about? Well, that’s a secret.
What is TEDx PasadenaWomen? Here’s what the organizers have to say about the event:
Here in Pasadena, we are hosting an independently run event that will take place May 30, 2015 and will be aligned with the May 27, 28, 29 TEDWomen experience taking place in Monterey, California. Our local event will feature at least one recorded talk from the Monterey sessions but will focus primarily on live presentations from those in and around Pasadena. The theme, Momentum, will serve as the umbrella for the whole of our event from the speakers to the setting to the swag bags to the invitations. TEDxPasadenaWomen will transform the local conversation and provide a launch pad for the cross pollination of ideas and expertise between industries, socio-economic groups, ages, and life experiences. Join us.
You can read more about TED here.
It’s not 1984 anymore. But Saturday Night Live forgot that this past weekend.
But ABC is not alone in its total disregard for the damage caused by adult women who sexually abuse children (girls and boys). NBC is right at ABC’s heels.
In a skit in Saturday’s episode, a male child victim of sexual abuse by a teacher is portrayed as lucky and happy about the abuse. The accused teacher, who is very attractive, is let off by the judge who gives the victim a celebratory “fist bump.”
Like I said yesterday, handwringing is not going to save a single boy from abuse. Being upset or feeling “triggered” will not stop this kind of horrific portrayal of the sexual abuse of boys.
Instead, we need to empower ourselves and our children to make sure that the “hot for teacher” stereotype is shut down permanently and that women who abuse boys are punished.
How do we do that?
Talk to your boys (and girls, too) about sexual abuse when it is age appropriate. Tell them that sexual behavior between adults and children/teenagers is a crime. It does not matter whether the adult is a woman or a man. Encourage your children to report abuse or suspected abuse.
Shut down the “teenage fantasy” stereotype. Sure, it may be a “fantasy” for a teenage boy to be with a beautiful woman. But my eight-year-old wishes that he could shoot a cannon. He also wants to have a real gun and drive in NASCAR. But he is neither old nor mature enough to do any of these things. He will hurt himself and be damaged, possibly for life … just like how teenage boy is horribly damaged when he is sexually exploited by a female teacher.
Never perpetuate “the boy came on to me defense.” LeTourneau continually repeats this when she talks about being alone with a thirteen-year-old boy late and night and sexually abusing him. Kids and teens have crushes on teachers. It’s healthy and normal. But good teachers and honorable adults shut these crushes down with grace and dignity, letting the child know that such behavior is not appropriate. If LeTourneau had grace and dignity, she would never have been alone with a sixth grader late at night. And if a sixth grader had tried to kiss her, she would have backed away, told the child gently that it’s never okay for adults to kiss children and that he must not do that again, and then immediately reported what happened (to the parents and school administrators). But we all know she has no grace or dignity. She is a narcissist.
Demand greater legal accountability. Encourage lawmakers to change civil and criminal statutes of limitations so that victims have more time to come forward and use the courts for justice. We also must demand teachers’ unions drop extra job and legal protections for public school teachers accused of sexually abusing children.
The best way to shut down bad stereotypes is education and action. And it starts now.
I have written about Wadeson in the past. According to the Los Angeles Archdiocese, he was twice accused of sexually abusing children and had been banned from working as a priest there.
According to a statement published in The Tidings (the Archdiocese of LA Newspaper), the LA Archdiocese did a investigation and “concluded that there is no reason to preclude Father Wadeson from serving in priestly ministry.”
This decision was based on the fact there has never been a settlement paid on an abuse case against Wadeson. According to the statement, when the allegations first arose, the Society of the Divine Word (the order to which Wadeson belonged) investigated the claims and found them “unverified.”
Here are my issues:
- According to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and every other diocese across the US, the payment of a settlement does NOT equate implied guilt on the behalf of the accused. If this were the case, former San Diego Bishop Robert Brom would have been removed years ago. (He paid a former seminarian a confidential $250,000 settlement for allegedly coercing the victim into sex)
- Why didn’t Wadeson do something immediately when the LA Archdiocese published reports that he was twice accused? If in the same position, I would do everything in my power to clear my name immediately. And I would be public about it to ensure that I was adhering to transparency.
- What does “unverified” mean? That there was only one victim? There were no witnesses? What is a “verified” allegation?
And probably the most troublesome:
- Why would Agana Archbishop Apuron publish this statement?
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has concluded that there is no reason to preclude Father Wadeson from serving in priestly ministry showing that all the rumors and alleged calumnies against him were unfounded.
Rumors and calumnies? It was not a rumor that LA had said he was twice-accused, nor was it a rumor that they had banned him. But by making such a bile-infused statement, Apuron is attempting to silence and shame victims and whistleblowers by labeling them sinners and rumor-mongers.
As I have reiterated numerous times, the clergy sex abuse scandal is not about abuse. It’s about cover-up and how bishops handle allegations of abuse, perpetrators and victims.
Whether or not Wadeson is guilty, the most troubling aspect of this case is how Apuron has used it to silence victims, divide the faithful, bully whistleblowers, and shelter secrets.
Barbara Walters’ interview with convicted child molester Mary Kay LeTourneau and her once-victim-now-husband Vili Fualaau was gut wrenching. The romanticization of the abuse was awful enough. But giving a woman like LeTourneau a platform to justify what she did is reprehensible.
Being outraged or upset about the interview doesn’t help anyone. But talking about her predatory patterns can help keep children safer. The more we understand how she thinks, the more we can see her behavioral patterns in other people who may abuse or try to abuse children.
1) Mary Kay LeTourneau is a narcissist. It’s all about her. LeTourneau wants to get off of the sex offender registry because she feels like she has “served her time” for what she still believes is a “love affair” with a 13-year-old boy. Predators tend to be narcissists, with very limited understanding of boundaries. According to the narcissist, the child “comes on to them” and “the predator is the real victim.” This also traps the victim, who believes that the abuse was his/her fault or that they are “hurting” the predator by reporting or refusing. In my opinion, Fualaau is trapped and blames himself. LeTourneau groomed Fualaau and sexually abused him. Period.
She should and must remain a registered sex offender, just like a man convicted of the same crimes.
2) She got a pass because she is a woman predator. Yes, she was convicted. But Barbara Walters would never have interviewed a predator who married a victim if the predator were male. Walters and ABC have no comprehension of the damage LeTourneau has done. (Speaking of networks perpetuating the “hot for teacher” stereotype, we can look at Saturday Night Live’s skit this weekend where a male victim of child sexual abuse by a woman is portrayed as the luckiest kid around.)
3) She minimized what she did to Vili. LeTourneau called it love. The courts and society call it child sexual abuse. When she was out on parole, the first thing she did was find the boy and sexually abuse him again. Predators often minimize their crimes in order to divert attention, thwart reporting, and manipulate the victim.
From the People Magazine story on the interview:
When asked whether she felt “guilty” or “disgusted” with herself for having an affair with Fualaau, Letourneau replied, “I loved him very much, and I kind of thought, ‘Why can’t it ever just be a kiss?’ “
Hey, Mary Kay: even the kiss was abuse. Why were you ever alone with him late at night in the first place?
4) She isolated Vili from his peers and family. One of the first things that predators do when grooming a child is to isolate the child from his or her peers and family. That way, the victim must rely totally on the abuser for compassion and emotional support. Vili said it himself. From People:
Not having a strong support system when Letourneau became pregnant with his children was the hardest part.
“It was a huge change in my life, for sure. I don’t feel like I had the right support or the right help behind me,” he said. “From my family, from anyone in general. I mean, my friends couldn’t help me because they had no idea what, what it was like to be a parent, I mean, because we were all 14, 15.”
But we all know that the isolation started long before that. Once he was the father of her children, he could never escape her.
5) She does not believe that she damaged him.
Fualaau confessed in the 20/20 interview that he struggled with depression during this “dark time” and the years that followed.
“I’m surprised I’m still alive today,” he said. “I went through a really dark time.”
The damage was caused by what LeTourneau did. But she is incapable of understanding that.
So what have we learned? Predators are narcissists. They minimize crimes. They isolate their victims from friends and family (physically and emotionally). And yes, they can be women.
Wringing our hands and being outraged isn’t going to do anything. The interview is finished and the damage is done. But we can take the interview and use it to protect children and educate and empower ourselves. We can also work towards extended civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sex crimes so that what happened to Vili doesn’t happen to another child.
If you see any of LeTourneau’s behaviors in adults who are spending time with your children, intervene immediately, talk to your children, and report. Don’t know who to call? Start with the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4ACHILD. Trained crisis operators will take your call and help you determine your next steps.
This morning I spoke with KFI 640 AM’s Bill Carroll about my new book, child sex abuse and cover-up, and why we are seeing more female teachers being arrested for sexually abusing boys.
It was a great conversation—covering everything from internet safety to the importance of civil and criminal laws that protect kids and expose abuse.
So printing a brochure is what passes as “help[ing] the healing process.”
This past Sunday, the Orange County Register published a front page story on Orange Bishop Kevin Vann. The focus of the article was a profile of the new-ish bishop and his views on the meaning of Easter. But what the article actually said was far more pernicious.
This is what got me:
‘The bishop also doesn’t shrink away from the molestation scandals. English, Spanish and Vietnamese leaflets sit in the administration building’s lobby detailing the diocese’s pledge, “To do everything possible to help the healing process of the victims of sexual abuse.”’
What? Really? You’ve got to be kidding me.
I can tell you this: a brochure never helped a survivor heal.
As we reach the 10-year anniversary of the 2005 settlement with 97 child sex abuse victims and the subsequent release of documents that outlined the scope and scale of the cover-up, we can argue that Vann’s actions have only exacerbated the pain and frustration of survivors, who want nothing more than for wrong-doers to be punished.
- In the time that Vann has been Bishop, he has never asked for any kind of formal or informal meetings with survivors. He has also not proactively reached out for any kind of communication.
- Msgr. John Urell—who was shown in documents and depositions to be the major facilitator of child sexual abuse and the person in charge of transferring, covering-up for, and protecting dozens of sexually abusing clerics and employees—is still an active and influential priest in the Diocese of Orange. He has never been reprimanded for what he did.
- The administrators of Mater Dei High School (Patrick Murphy and Frances Claire) have retained their positions, although it has been shown that they allowed abusers like Jeff Andrade to return to campus (after he admitted to sexually abusing students).
- Administrators at Santa Margarita High School who personally covered up for numerous predator priests and teachers at Mater Dei still retain their positions as high-ranking officials at Santa Margarita High School.
I anticipate the response of the Register was “Well, this is old news.” But I will tell you this: it is not old news to victims. It is not old news to their families. And it most certainly should not be old news to Vann, who should be using his tenure to push out abusers and their enablers, instead of shrugging his shoulders and depending on media fatigue to give him a cover for doing NOTHING.
The passage of time does not give Vann a “free pass”
And, of course, this has nothing to do with “forgiveness.” The reasons that victims come forward are for accountability and to ensure that children are kept safer from abuse. Vann is not holding up his side of the bargain. It’s criminal that victims are expected to walk away with a pat on the head. That’s not why they have fought so hard.
If a brochure inside of an office (where many victims are afraid to go) is considered proactive, then it’s time for us to reassess what we expect from religious leaders who take millions of tax-free dollars in donations, grants, and municipal bonds (!!) to construct their buildings and fill their coffers.
In his Holy Thursday message, Pope Francis told priests to embrace a “good and healthy” tiredness by spending engaged time with the faithful and doing the “real work” of a priest.
The faithful never leave us without something to do, unless we hide in our offices or go out in our cars wearing sun glasses. There is a good and healthy tiredness. It is the exhaustion of the priest who wears the smell of the sheep… but also smiles the smile of a father rejoicing in his children or grandchildren. (emphasis mine)
But what about the faithful in southern Chile, who are upset about the appointment of their new bishop—a man who has been accused of not only covering up abuse, but actually witnessing the sexual abuse of children?
That bishop, Juan Barros, according to the AP,
… is said by at least three victims to have witnessed the sexual molestation at the Sacred Heart of Jesus church, part of the El Bosque parish that serves an affluent neighborhood of Santiago.
Allegations are so bad (and include extensive cover-up of a serial molester priest), that Barros’ January appointment (he took office in March) has stirred international outrage. Anger is so great in Chile, that Chilean Catholics and government officials have begged Rome to rescind the appointment.
The sheep—in this case—smell a rat …
Rome has not responded.
Hear that? Pope Francis turned his back on Zero Tolerance.
Barros is not alone. Remember: Robert Finn is STILL in his position in Kansas City/St. Joseph, even though he has that pesky child endangerment conviction. And Rome has not responded with anything more than a secret review.
Hear that? Pope Francis turned his back on Zero Tolerance.
Zero Tolerance is simply that: the promise to NOT tolerate anyone who abuses children or covers up for the abuse of children. You can’t remove some bishops and keep others. You can’t engage in long, secret reviews that keep people like Barros and Finn in their jobs. Because if you excuse them, you have to excuse everyone who hurts children.
If you tolerate anyone who has abused or covered-up abuse, you have turned your back on Zero Tolerance. And there is no excuse for that.
So here are my Easter messages: Put children and victims first. Punish people who hurt children and cover-up crimes. Don’t fall victim to Pope Francis’ clever PR machine. All of the washed feet in the world don’t make up for one sexually abused child.
I just got the cover design for THE WELL-ARMORED CHILD. Everything is on track for my September publication date!
If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.
– Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
One of the most common emails I get is from people who say, “Joelle, my friend just told me that s/he was sexually abused as a child. I don’t know what to do.”
Now, you have somewhere to start.
My latest book THE COMPASSIONATE RESPONSE: How to help and empower the adult survivor of child sexual abuse is now available. It’s available in paperback and for the Kindle—and because it’s such an important topic, I am also offering the ebook for free here.
This short, easy-to-read book will give you an understanding of the survivor’s need to disclose; why he or she may have decided to tell you; finding help, resources and referrals; reporting to law enforcement; and (most important) how to be a healthy, empathetic support system.
Originally slated to be a chapter in my upcoming book, this information was not relevant to a parenting toolkit. But it’s far too important to cut completely. By giving away the information for free, I hope that we can get more survivors to disclose and report and change civil and criminal laws to help victims of sex crimes.
The information in this book comes from the work that I and others have done to help thousands of other survivors find a voice and speak out. Were it not for groups like SNAP, The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and their tireless work, I (and countless others) would still be sitting in silence.
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.