On my parents anniversary a few weeks ago they reminisced about trying to secure a particular Catholic officiate at their wedding. But the priest they selected was not permitted by his superiors to oversee a half-Catholic wedding, and besides, Ron Voss was already in trouble in the diocese for violating traditional practices like hosting mass in someone’s house.
The irony of the story, my parents continued, was that this priest’s most offensive act did not face sufficient punishment from the church. He molested children, and the church’s solution to the problem was to send him far away, to Haiti, where conflicting reports suggest Voss continued his abusive habits.
This anecdote from my parents revived an issue I’ve been mulling over since the Jerry Sandusky trial this summer. Protecting children from predators should be the understood responsibility of all adults. Standing by with knowledge of child abuse condones the crime and is criminal in and of itself. Within the unequal power dynamic of an abusive relationship, children cannot be expected to protect themselves from older, larger, and more influential figures in their lives who may try to hurt them.
The UN’s Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child (this is a human rights document) states that “The child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation.” While the US helped draft this declaration we have not ratified it and are not held to the terms. But many states on their own, have passed legislation naming mandatory reporters who monitor for suspicious treatment of children. Florida just passed an act that “criminalizes failure to report child abuse” in the state.
Reporting charges of child abuse can be painful to pursue. I don’t doubt this. No institution — be it the Roman Catholic Church, the legendary football program at Penn State, or any other establishment — wants to set aside their mission and reputation to deal with a scandal. And no individual witness likely wants to challenge people they’ve previously respected with an accusation of molestation. Taking responsibility for knowledge like that requires courage, and for those who don’t have the will-power to speak up, the judicial system has started to hold them responsible.
While former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky already received a conviction for sexually abusing 10 boys, other cases are pending around the people who may have known of Sandusky’s abuses; related allegations include failure to report and perjury. A report from Louis J. Freeh, director of the F.B.I., outlined that many support staff suspected the abuses and choose to silence concerns, rather than address them. This alleged evasion of confrontation allowed Sandusky to continue to abuse minors over the course of several years.
[In an interesting side note, a primary witness in the case against Sandusky, filed his own suit against the university. Mike McQueary, a former graduate assistant, claims that Penn State used him as a scapegoat, damaging his reputation. His testimony played an important role in the trial, though his subsequent strife illustrates why some may be reluctant to expose the crimes of superiors.]
The Sandusky trial wasn’t the only sexual abuse case to come out of Pennsylvania this summer. In July, a Catholic official, Monsignor William J. Lynn, was sentenced to 3-6 years for concealing sex abuses by priests. This trial marked the first conviction of a Roman Catholic official in the U.S. — although charges of sexual abuse of minors in the catholic church arose frequently over the last few decades.
A petition through Change.org started circulating recently to address a parallel issue in a Kansas City, Missouri diocese. Bishop Robert Finn “shielded a pedophile priest,” reported the New York Times. And the author of the petition, Jeff Weis, wants the bishop to resign his post.
I don’t think this is a tall order, requesting the removal of someone convicted of protecting adult offenders over vulnerable children. The criminal justice system must be careful of newly criminalizing offences, but when it comes to child abuse someone must advocate for children. That means expecting adults to take information they probably didn’t seek or desire and share it with authorities to prevent further abuse. If adult witnesses don’t take action, more and more children will be subject to the predation of abusers.
FYI: Jerry Sandusky faces sentencing this Tuesday, October 9.
Four Madison-area bakeries will observe Child Abuse Awareness Month (aka: April) with multi-colored cupcakes. A portion of the proceeds go to The Rainbow Project, a local non-profit that addresses family trauma and abuse with therapy and support.
Of the 1.3 million children in Wisconsin, 4,839 child victims were reported to Child Protective Services in 2010. That means that more than three of every 1,000 children in the state suffered abuse.
The federal Administration for Children and Families posted six factors that help prevent abuse and promote healthy families and communities. They include:
The Rainbow Project addresses these factors within the Madison community. The cupcake sales this month will serve to raise awareness in the community about child abuse and raise funds for the organization. The bakeries participating in the cupcake drive include Daisy Café and Cupcakery, Cupcakes A-Go-Go, Madison Sweets, and La Brioche True Food. (For full disclosure – I am an employee of La Brioche.)
The La Brioche Rainbow cupcakes cost $3.50 with 25% going towards The Rainbow Project. The cupcakes make for a visually appealing display, and draw attention to the cause, but it will take a great deal of cupcake sales to fill the coffers at The Rainbow Project.
Please, indulge your sweet tooth in support of child victims; buy them for your friends and family. And if you feel like contributing more than a few bucks to the cause, The Rainbow Project has a wish list including car seats, individually packaged snacks, and volunteers.
The death of Treyvon Martin rests on the minds and hearts of many Americans. The controversy over the investigation and delay of charges toward his killer George Zimmerman resound throughout the media. Local news outlets estimate that tens of thousands will attend a rally today in Sanford, Florida demanding justice for Martin’s death. His parents collected over 1.5 million signatures on Change.org to petition law enforcement in Sanford to take action. Obama responded sympathetically to the event stating, “If I had a son, he’d look like Treyvon.” Commentary on the event and the racial and legal implications resound throughout the blogosphere.
Through the uproar about this tragic issue, I zeroed in on a story about a woman who lost her favorite brother in an incident similar to Martin’s killing. When her African American sons entered adolescence, she addressed the prejudice they would face and tried to prepare her boys to avoid confrontations that could unjustly challenge their lives.
NPR interviewed author Donna Britt last week, but she has been talking about misperceptions of African American men since at least 1994. Britt wrote about the talks she had with her adolescent sons in her Washington Post column. For the interview with NPR, two of her sons joined her and discussed the bias they face as African American young men.
Britt and her sons spoke openly about preparing for prejudice and the frustrations that come from being stereotyped. Darrell Britt-Gibson reflected on the tension and the susceptibility he feels around law enforcement, “I mean, it’s hard not to be black you know.”
Justin Britt-Gibson commented on the Treyvon Martin case, “[A]m I hurt? Absolutely. Does my heart break? Without a doubt. But am I surprised? No. And I think that’s part of the bigger problem.”
I would recommend this interview to anyone willing to get a broader perspective about the racial tensions surfacing with Martin’s death.
Britt, who impressed me with her pragmatic approach toward racism, ended the interview with an interesting insight toward change.
She said, “[R]acism is, I think, a bit like being in the water or the air. And I think of it the same way that I think of sexism. These things, we absorb them. And so it takes time and love and forgiveness, and shining a bright light on situations like what happened to Trayvon, to really make the shifts deep enough and permanent enough that things like this don’t happen.”
A mormon church in Utah posted fliers for a Halloween event and requested “no masks or cross-gender dressing.” This sends two messages:
1) the gender binary is fixed, and
2) it is never acceptable to assume a gender you weren’t born with.
The first point here precludes the second. The gender binary depends on the belief in two separate and immutable sexes: male and female. Images that support the gender binary bombard us daily: advertisements, television shows, and public figures portray beautiful, stylized women and stoic, powerful-seeming men. Reinforcement of the gender binary is ubiquitous.
The gender binary is not the only way to consider gender. Many people throughout the world do not identify with their birth-determined-gender. Jessica Who? (a blog) explores personal transgender experiences and transgender issues in society. Native Americans refer to those who occupy mixed gender roles as “two spirit.” (Check out the award-winning documentary Two Spirits which tells the story of Fred Martinez who “was nádleehí, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, a special gift according to his ancient Navajo culture.”) The binary leaves little room for all people, of various identities, to occupy the liminal space between maleness and femaleness.
In one regard, Halloween cross-dressing may reinforce traditional roles, because that subversive behavior is confined to the holiday. But why shouldn’t a little girl dress as superman? What are her other options? Maybe she fits the binary and identifies as a girl, yet also aspires to superman’s strength and heroism. Should she be discouraged? Consider the controversy last year over a little boy in Ohio who wanted to dress as Daphne from Scooby Doo. His mother supported him, despite criticism from other parents.
Every family and every community value different things. While one neighborhood in Utah prohibited cross-dressing for a holiday that lends itself to subversion, Girl Scouts of Colorado agreed to let a 7-year-old boy — who identifies as a girl — join a local scout troop. The mother of the child, Felisha Archuleta, told a reporter, “He had a princess birthday, and last year when he turned 7, he had a Rapunzel birthday. I have just basically supported him.”