Over the last few days a new “scandal” has hit the press and social media. A prominent Christian family that has made a big deal of themselves by touting their moral purity on a reality show is experiencing some issues after it came to light that there had been some sexual abuse going on within the family.
Now I’m not going to name names or go into details in this space, there are plenty of news articles and blog posts about it that can give you all that. So this isn’t going to be yet another one of the posts pouring it on, dropping the name so I can up my hit count on my blog.
I’m writing this right now because I have a problem with this situation that goes far beyond the obvious problem and crime that was committed. The problem I have has to do with what I see as the blatant disregard for the victims not only in this case, but in many cases, high profile or not, in our country every year.
If you’ve never been a victim of sexual abuse or sexual assault, I don’t think you can understand what goes on for these unfortunate folks. I know I can’t. Despite my degree in psychology and my study of victims’ rights in the criminal justice system, I just can’t get it.
Still, I am appalled by the coverage of this story. The media feeding frenzy has focused nearly exclusively on the accused and what’s going in his life and what this is going to cost HIM. Folks on one side of the debate urgently seek to destroy him while the other side seeks to defend him. Where, in the midst of all this, are the people asking about what happened, and what is still happening to the victims?
That’s quite nice that victims were given counseling for awhile, though one has to wonder what kind of counseling it was. When I was working toward my psychology degree and thinking of going into the ministry I was taught by both my professors and my religious mentors that you MUST report suspected sexual abuse to the police. Period. End of story. Apparently that was not done here until after the statute of limitations ran out.
But what kind of message does it send to these young victims? “You’re not important enough for us to seek justice for you.” Maybe it’s more like: “Well, the protection of our family name and our future family patriarch is more important than seeking justice for you.” One of the first things to go for a victim is the sense of self worth, and one can easily imagine what kinds of thoughts might have run through their heads.
In our religious communities things can be even more complicated. We’ll never know how many children were abused at the hands of some Catholic Priests before the situation came to light. Protestants don’t get off easily either. The fact of the matter is that we as Christians don’t have a very good track record when it comes to dealing with this kind of stuff. Why is that?
We’re afraid, perhaps. We’re afraid of how it will make the church look if these kinds of things go public. Maybe we’re afraid of the loss of membership and monetary support if these kinds of things go public. The abuse scandal in the Catholic church has certainly had an effect on those things.
But I wonder…is any of that stuff more important than trying to seek justice for a victim, or trying to help them reclaim their lives? Of course not. There’s also the small little matter that sex offenders often escalate over time and many, if not most, will continue to strike, and strike more often, if they’re not stopped. This just creates the potential to create more and more victims and ruin more and more lives. That is unacceptable, even if we have to sacrifice some of our societal or religious decorum in order to stop it.
What could be more Christian than standing with victims, with people who are being oppressed, with people who have had their lives trashed by the selfish desires of others, sometimes even people in their own families? We believe that Christ himself became an innocent victim for us, so I’m pretty sure he knows all about it.
Would he want us to move beyond the media feeding frenzy and the political back and forth? I think he would. Again, we have to remember that this isn’t just a problem for this reality tv family but also for many children, and even adults, all over the country and the world. Most criminal justice professionals believe that sex crimes, whether it be rape, molestation, or something else are still hugely under reported because they carry a stigma for the victims.
How many more victims are out there, suffering in silence? How many more religious leaders, family members, or family friends are sitting on information like this case, protecting an abuser, discounting the victims, and potentially creating more victims?
I suspect if we knew the truth both numbers would make us extremely uncomfortable.
I ask my fellow Christians to take some time this week and remember victims of these crimes in your prayers. However, this is a problem that isn’t going away with just a few “Dear Gods.” We must continue to advocate for the rights of victims at the local, state, and federal levels and stop making these cases into a sick thrill for abusers as we stare at them with a voyeuristic fascination.
If you know of, or suspect abuse, please report it right away. Don’t wait. You can keep victims from being victimized again and protect others from becoming future victims. Both of those things are of the utmost importance.