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.
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.