Last night I watched the Paterno movie (HBO films). While it is not a documentary, the film agonizes the watcher with every single side of the sexual abuse “debate” especially when it comes to institutional protectionism. Here’s the trailer:
The entire movie grieved me, triggered me, saddened me.
- I see the bravery of the victim who worried far more for Sandusky’s potential victims that he essentially put his life on the line by testifying, by going first.
- I see the reporter, doggedly pursuing a story years earlier that no one seemed to care about.
- I see the sadness of Paterno and his family face the egregious crimes of Sandusky.
But it’s the last scene that haunts me. (Spoiler alert). Sarah Ganim, the reporter, receives a phone call from a victim. It’s one of many, many calls she receives after the story truly breaks into the news cycle. She says something along the lines of, “Yes, many have come forward.” The victim says he told Paterno about it. She expects the date of reporting to be in the 2000s since that’s the common narrative put forth. But he told Paterno he told in the 1970s.
Decades followed this disclosure. How many victims were preyed on and assaulted after that disclosure?
In the Fall of 1972, I mirrored this victim.
Though it it entirely not typical to report abuse when you’re in the midst of it at five years old, I told. I cupped Eva, my babysitter’s ear, and whispered the devastation to her.
I TOLD HER.
But she did nothing.
Had she done something–ANYTHING, I would not have the length of devastation I experienced of months of sexual attack by teenage neighbors and their friends. Months. The only thing that stopped them was me feigning sleep, then finally moving away at the end of my kindergarten year.
Had she told, I would’ve perhaps received trauma therapy. But even more than that, the abuse would have stopped, and those boys would have experienced consequences for their actions.
She protected her institution, the daycare in her home. She erred on the side of her livelihood–the money she received from several parents given to “watch” their children. She knew. She allowed. She even pushed me out the doorway after I told her. And I’m sure that she already knew what was happening before I told her.
I would love to say that the church is different. I would love to say that Christian institutions and charities are different–that they rightly expose those who harm. But so many times, those who know about abuse default to protectionism rather than justice. They pull an Eva.
Let me say that it’s sometimes harder for me to work through forgiveness of Eva than it was for me to forgive those boys. (I wrote an open letter to them here). She did not protect innocents. Her ignoring of my very real plea for help not only devastated me, but it kept the door wide open for those boys to continue to perpetrate, most likely for years. It cemented the narrative that I was unworthy of protection. How many more Marys were there because she failed to tell the truth? I get sick just thinking of it.
It’s one thing to be duped by a predator; it’s quite another to know and do nothing. That is criminal because it allows for a criminal to continue to perpetrate.
It’s no surprise that this week has been triggering for me. (And please, PLEASE don’t denigrate any victim for using the word trigger, implying they’re weak or whiny for having been reminded of trauma). A prominent man in the Christian publishing arena has been exposed and is no longer employed by the university he worked for. Like five-year-old me, people reported. And like Eva, they ultimately did not let the man go initially. Instead, he “was disciplined and cautioned.”
Fourteen years passed until the #metoo climate allowed for further investigation. How many victims did he have in those ensuing fourteen years?
Later, this story broke about a friend of mine who was walked through hell. Other friends I hold in high regard did the right thing and reported it in 2007. And even though the man left after the investigation, he continued to minister around the world–for eleven more years.
As in Eva’s case as well as many others played out over the years, we see the insidious nature of institutional protectionism, where victims are summarily dismissed while people in power are shifted around musical-chairs fashion, or never affected, all while an institution protects reputation (money) at the expense of the victims.
Some call this gossip. Others a witch hunt. Still others force forgiveness as if it is a formula, to be performed robotically the very instant we hear of a predator’s exposure. (Otherwise we are not Christians full of grace, but I would argue this: how did Jesus refer to people who preyed on others? A millstone comes to mind, not exactly grace-oriented). Others feel a perpetrator’s job loss and loss of reputation is enough punishment. But what if we revisit Sandusky or Weinstein? Is that enough? The victims will live with violation their entire lives. (I wrote about that here). They have ached in the silent hell of it for years. Some, like Sandusky’s victim who first went on record, have to push to be heard, be exposed to ridicule and shame over and over again, and fight to be believed.
They even sacrificed their mental health for the sake of exposing the crime.
This is taking sin seriously. It’s the raucous beauty of the cross, where Jesus sacrificed himself in order to set humanity free.
Those who have been victimized are allowed their stories. They are allowed their grief. They are allowed to process. They are allowed (and should be widely encouraged) to educate us on the perilous, conniving ways they were lured and harmed. We need their voices. We need their wisdom. We need their words. For them to talk is not some sort of vendetta of vindictiveness or spite; it is simply the release of years of shame let out into healthy air.
The truth is we should be mad. We should be allowed to be furious that predators get away with their crimes for years. We should seethe with righteous anger that people with respectable titles and positions heard of abuse and did nothing about it. It should keep us up at night.
It kept me up last night.
Some would say naming names is wrong. But as I was reminded today in a thread in Facebook, Jesus (and Peter and Paul and the prophets) called people out by name, particularly false teachers–all for the sake of the purity of the people of God. I can think of no better definition of a false teacher than that of a publishing professional teaching Christian writers to write redemptive prose all the while using that position of power to harm them. That is taking God’s name in vain–usurping His name, character and stamp of approval to disarm people from being cautious and capitalizing on vulnerability. It’s a heinous violation of trust. It’s sickening. And it needs to stop.
I don’t know every nook and cranny of this particular story, but I do know this. I’m walking wounded today. As a girl unprotected, one who tried to help herself and prevent others from experiencing abuse only to experience abandonment, I sometimes feel utterly alone. I’m sure there are many today feeling the same thing.
So to all you who are reading this who told people in positions of power to stop abuse and were dismissed: I hear you. I see you. I am so sorry. It’s not how it should’ve been, but it is what happened. That was wrong. They should’ve listened. Should’ve protected. Should’ve gone to the authorities who are better equipped to handle these cases, not kept it quiet in house. They should have preferred you, one who is made in the image of God, over institutional reputation.
To those who try to silence a victim because it’s convenient and too painful to hear the truth: spend some time listening to a victim. Hear their story. And love them. If that person is a minor, report the abuse to the authorities. Don’t be an Eva. If you keep it silent, or summarily try to silence victims, you become a painful part of their abuse story. Your silence makes you culpable. To not act is to act.
To the institutions who walk the tightrope of legalese, protection and doing what is right, please hear me: do the right thing. Repentance and apology can happen at a corporate level. And it must also happen person to person.
I wish I didn’t have to keep writing these posts. I don’t even know how to end this post except to pray my grief:
Jesus, I am broken once again by the sheer volume of protectionism that has harmed victims over the years, decades and millenia. So many silenced. So many secrets. So many people seemingly getting away with harming your children. Help us all to be a little kinder today, to listen more, to be brave enough to face the Goliaths of those churches and institutions that would rather dabble in reputation management than do the righteous thing. Oh how You grieve over those harmed. Break our hearts with what shatters Yours. Bring justice. Expose darkness. Heal brokenness. Give us voices to stand up for those who are silenced, unheard, maligned, mocked, and shut down. Give us a holy tenacity to do what is right. Amen.