I’m watching the Netflix series The Keepers right now, and halfway through, I’m sad. Sad because, wow, sexual abuse has always been a problem, and as long as powerful people get away with it, powerful systems will seek to cover it up, revictimizing victims. It’s sickening. The documentary looks into the killing of a young nun (Sister Cathy Cesnik) and seeks to uncover why she was murdered. Hint: she knew too much about a rapist priest.
(Trigger alert: this documentary was extremely hard for me to watch. If you’re recovering, and your heart is tender, I’d steer clear of it).
This is the problem: sexual predators are the worst kind of bullies. They take what they want, when they want it, often accompanying their heinous actions with equally heinous threats. In this particular instance, God was brought in to shame an abuse victim. The priest said something to the effect of, “I don’t know if God can forgive this sin (her being raped by her uncle . . . referring to HER).” Girls who were assaulted were threatened, and they lived in fear of their lives in the aftermath of rape, sodomy, multi-people rape (including police officers).
These predators (not a strong enough word) have gotten away with their crimes. In a very real sense, they have won. And some institutions (police, church, organizations) are the reason why.
This is wrong. Rapists should lose, not win. They should be caught, not coddled. They should be imprisoned, not passed along to different locales to rape again. It smacks the face of justice, mars the victim’s pathway to peace, and it proves that the powerful, when they become intoxicated by their power, can enact the most evil violence upon others.
Thankfully, there are pinpricks of light. The people working to uncover what happened (many of them NOT sexual abuse victims) to the slain nun (who, it’s speculated, knew about the sexual abuse, which led to her murder) have spent good portions of their lives trying to uncover the truth. I want to hug every one of them. At great personal cost, and no vested interest other than having been a student of Sister Cathy Cesnik, they’ve worked leads and stories to the bone. A journalist spent years of his life on the case simply because that’s what good journalism does. One of the priest’s victims has a large family who have spent countless time and resources to help their sister through it all.
The frustration, though, comes when doing the math. One predatory priest. Perhaps hundreds of victims. Thirty or so people working to uncover all the truth. Those thirty for one predator. Now multiply everything by the protected predators who successfully sought asylum in their church structures. The cover up is massive (and evil), but it’ll take a lifetime of reporters and good citizens to scratch the surface of the abuse. In this, I lament. It’s just so large, and for so long, predators got away with it.
No more. Please, no more. When bullies win, the entirety of society suffers–often silently. It’s time to change the paradigm of culture, to be open about what happened, dragging the perpetrator into the light, exposing the darkness. Let’s call rape what it is: a murder that leaves its victim alive (thanks to David Pittman who shared the idea with me. The original quote came from a GBI investigator who said, “A pedophile is like a serial killer that leaves his victims alive.”)
Our institutions must take a stand, must draw a line in the sand and swing completely the other way. We must believe victims over the clever pleas of so-called repentant rapists. We must strive to become a safe place for victims and an unsafe place for predators. (One way: Churches can get certified via GRACE’s new program). We must bravely report suspicious behavior. We must stop marginalizing victims while providing havens for rapists. When we remove protection from rapists, the criminal justice system and the free press have the ability to perform their rightful civic duties.
Although there has been some personal cost for me to openly share my story, by God’s grace, I’ll keep telling it.
When victims go first and tell their stories, they empower other victims to tell their stories, which then opens more doors for healing and justice. Never underestimate the power of your own story, even if your perpetrator goes free (mine did). Because together, we can help our culture move from a silent one, which by its silence inherently empowers rapists, to a vocal one where we no longer tolerate institutions that blindly protect rapists. Let’s work toward removing that protection by encouraging open and honest dialog, dignifying victims by listening to their stories, and praising the criminal justice system when it enacts justice.
In short, let’s be a part of a society that prosecutes rapists instead of protecting them.