A PLEA FOR THE ‘ME TOO’ MOVEMENT TO FOCUS ON CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
The legal definition of sexual harassment is ‘bullying or coercion of a sexual nature and the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours’. This normally occurs between two adults, implying an element of choice by the perpetrator and the one being harassed e.g. a choice to move away, end all contact etc. The more serious ‘sexual assault‘ is an act in which a person ‘sexually touches another person without that person’s consent, or coerces or physically forces a person to engage in a sexual act against their will’. Today as women all over the world stand together to oppose male oppression in any form, this is a moment to pause in order to gain perspective regarding the sexual abuse of minors where no consent is possible.
In an effort to encourage personal empowerment those who have experienced abuse in whatever form are now encouraged to refer to themselves as ‘survivors’ rather than ‘victims’. The word survivor denotes ‘an ability to continue to function or prosper’ and might correctly be applied to those who have prevailed in confronting a challenging situation or a horrible experience, like a plane crash; cancer or the Holocaust. ‘Survivor’ is however a euphemism when applied to those whose lives have been irredeemably damaged in childhood, first by the abuser and then by a society which denies them a voice, or justice. The recent Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on clerical child sexual abuse rightly refers to those abused as ‘victims’ – the dictionary definition being ‘a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime’. The sexual abuse of children, regarded in all cultures as the most abhorrent crime, is unique in that it requires the silence of the victim and often of those entrusted with their protection. The penalties of disclosure are life changing for the child, the family and all concerned who too often become victims of the protective web of secrecy designed to prevent detection, effective long after the abuse has stopped.
Sexual abuse is gender neutral. The Pennsylvania report describes in graphic detail how “most of the victims were boys; but there were girls too. Some were teens; many were prepubescent. Some were manipulated with alcohol or pornography. Some were made to masturbate their assailants, or were groped by them. Some were raped orally, some vaginally, some anally”. the Grand Jury received evidence that several Diocesan administrators, including the bishops, often dissuaded victims from reporting to police or conducted their own deficient, biased investigations without reporting crimes against children to the proper authorities.
While applauding all who make a stand against abuse in any form, the following excerpts taken from the Pennsylvania report are a timely reminder that sexual abuse is so much more than sexual harassment Let us hope that the women who have prevailed against abuse in any form, especially in the entertainment industry who now have a powerful media platform, will add their voices to speak on behalf of those who do not and canno
- A girl explained that she had sought counselling from her priest while in the 7th or 8th grade because she was being sexually abused by her father at the time. She thought he could make it stop, instead the priest sexually abused her.
- A priest repeatedly forced a 12 year old girl to perform oral sex on him, providing her with alcohol in the form of church wine and telling her he would/wanted to impregnate her.
- An altar boy abused by a priest behind the altar and in the confessional, was touched or raped between 10 and 15 times from the 4th grade to the 7th grade.
- A mother who attended a talk on drug abuse given by a priest invited him into their home to counsel her son who was struggling with behavioural issues. The priest groomed the boy and told him that he needed to ‘touch him’ as part of his priestly duties, masturbating him and performing oral sex on him.
- A father described how he and his wife invited their priest to their home. He was later warned by a friend that he had walked in on this priest sexually abusing his own son and was concerned that their boy may have been abused too. When asked, his son revealed that the priest had come into his room after the parents went to bed to sexually abuse him, the abuse continued between the ages of nine and fourteen.
See: Letters to Priests