Justice For Abused Children

A verdict was reached in the Penn State child abuse scandal.  The perpetrator is now a child sexual predator in the eyes of the law – guilty on 45 of 48 counts.  More victims are coming forward including one of the perpetrator’s own children.

This man, this arrogant man, actually fed his pedophilia by setting up a charity for troubled youth from which he found and groomed his victims.  His son, who has now come forward with additional allegations of abuse, was adopted leaving one with the feeling that the perpetrator preyed on some of society’s most vulnerable – those at risk and those who were abandoned by others.

Coincidentally, this verdict came on the same day as another verdict of guilt in the long standing child sex abuse scandal involving the Catholic church.  A Catholic priest, who was charged with overseeing priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese was found guilty of endangering the welfare of a child (read about that here).  He, personally, was not directly involved in the child sex abuse, but was convicted for covering it up.  Moving priests around to other unsuspecting parishes when incidents occurred.  Claiming innocence by hiding behind the authority of his superior.  Working to protect fellow priests, the Church’s coffers, and avoid scandal at the expense of truly helping the innocent, young victims of predator priests.

I talked about this last November in my post titled The Dynamics of Power in the Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal.  I have been surprised that this post has continued to receive hits since I first published it especially over the last few weeks while the former Penn State coach’s trial was going on.

Why does this matter so much to me?

Over 90% of abuse occurs at the hands of people in positions of trust and authority – like coaches; priests and other clergy; or parents, relatives, and close family friends.  While we would like to believe that abuse of children occurs at the hands of strangers – wild-eyed, crazed maniacs - it most often happens at the hands of people who look like us, that we know and trust, and who usually have people around them who love them and hold them in high esteem.

We wonder why victims don’t come forward or fight back?  Victims who are abused by coaches who are sometimes idolized like celebrities and who often generate significant attention and money for their institutions.  Victims who are abused by clergy who are often treated as if they are infallible and beyond reproach.  Victims who are abused by family members who are responsible for their food, health, and well being.

When I saw the headline, “Who Would Believe a Kid”, I completely understood it.  In our society, children tend to be looked at suspiciously especially if the child is a teenager.  If you add “troubled” to the definition, you have a no-win situation for the kid.  And they know it.

One of our daughters, our niece by birth, came to live with us through our state’s Division of Family Services (DFS).  She was abused.  Her abusers took advantage of society’s perceptions of children and set her up as a violent, troubled teenager in need of being sent away from family and friends permanently.

She was initially taken from the family home in handcuffs in the back of a police cruiser when she was 12 years old after a contrived incident.  She had very little hair as her head had been shaved a few weeks prior.  She had been held down and had her head shaved by other children in the home.  When the family was questioned about how and why it happened, it was portrayed that she shaved her own head.  When she was questioned, she told the truth.  An 8th grade girl with a shaved head is either a very troubled youth or a very badly abused child.  Guess which version was believed.

She was taken to a juvenile facility in a county with a reputation for housing some rather rough kids.  Kids who end up there want to leave even if it means going back to situations that are a lot less than ideal.

The counselors met with our daughter and talked to her about returning home.  In the juvenile facilities and foster care systems, reunification with the family is always the initial and ongoing goal.

Our daughter, who, for the first time in her life was able to eat, sleep, and manage her day-to-day activities including when she could go the bathroom, work on crafts, and do other things was happy to stay in the juvenile facility.  She was not displaying any of the attributes or conditions which had been described by her family.  She signed the dot of the “i” in her name with a ♥.  She made Valentine’s Day cards for the staff.  She did not want to talk to her parents.  She did not want to go home.  She told the counselors, “I like it here.”

The staff was baffled.  Even the worst behaved and most aggressive kids wanted out of that facility.  They called in a seasoned social worker to meet with her.  He was the first adult to not only believe her, but to do something about it.

She was, almost immediately, moved out of the juvenile justice system and into the family services division where she ended up in a foster home.  We were lucky enough to found out about what was happening and ended up adding her to our family as our 5th child.

She has been a joy, but it hasn’t come without a struggle.  The struggle has been less with her and more with how do you deal with this as an extended family?  It’s complicated and always, for me, it’s about honoring my daughter as a victim by not forgetting or pretending something didn’t happen or letting the passage of time give the abusers a pass. 

Justice does not bring closure – the scars from being abused emotionally, physically, and sexually last a lifetime.  But justice can bring some resolution.

My daughter’s abusers, like most, will never be prosecuted.  We accept that.

But, with the high profile cases being prosecuted and guilty verdicts being achieved, there is some measure of justice for all abused children.  Children, including teenagers, who have been abused, now realize that they are not alone, that some people really care, and that some people truly want to help and do something about it.

I wish that I could believe that it was for once and for all.

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