How do we expect children to do what adults haven’t been able to do?
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, living in New York, I appreciate witnessing the remarkable outpouring of truth-telling by victims of sexual abuse and harassment from people of all walks of life. It is remarkable for two reasons. First, we are learning how far reaching this abuse is and how many industries have been complicit in hiding it for so long. Second, the #MeToo and similar movements have shown us how when brave people come forward, others can find the courage to do the same. This is centuries overdue.
Too many people in positions of power (mainly men, it would seem) use their power to take what they want, from whomever they see as vulnerable. Clearly, the young and inexperienced are most susceptible to their practiced and perfected grooming techniques. Yet even adults, much more life savvy than those just starting out, can feel powerless when faced with the threatened repercussions of reporting was has happened to them.
It takes courage to contend with not only the shame of what happened but also the fear of what might still yet happen when they tell their story. It can be overwhelming. But as we acknowledge how difficult, and unlikely, it is that an adult will publicly go against their abuser, how much more difficult (and unlikely) is it to expect a child or adolescent to do so? Especially when perpetrators of the young are usually people the child has been told they can trust. Whether siblings, other relatives, teachers, coaches, scoutmasters, clergy or counselors, the imbalance of power and authority is much more intimidating for a child.
The #MeToo phenomenon has exploded to reveal a network of incomprehensibly arrogant abusers and enablers, not unlike the Boston Globe’s expose of clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston over 15 years ago. Unfortunately, as I can attest from being on the front lines this past year, and a survivor of child sexual abuse for the past 46 years, it is still an uphill battle, being waged against an even more arrogant network of abusers and enablers.
Why do we allow the Roman Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, and other groups which claim to be molding the moral compasses of our youth, to get away with covering up the same despicable things we are seeing being reported in the news today? But in their cases, the abuse was to children into whose care they were entrusted! These groups spend enormous amounts of money aggressively fighting against a survivor’s right to have their day in court. The New York Catholic Conference, led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, paid more than $2.1 million to help block legislation that would expose those who prey on (not to be confused with “pray for”) children and hold these predators accountable.
In New York State, owing mainly to the church’s lobbying efforts, these bills have only been voted on a handful of times in a dozen years, and only made it that far in the Assembly. The Senate has never even allowed a bill of this sort to get out of committee where it could have been discussed on the chamber floor. The public never gets to hear where their elected representatives stand on this issue because politicians fear that if they allowed a debate on the facts, with expert testimony and documented results from other states, they would not be able to rationally explain voting against it.
Thanks in great part to a concerted campaign by the NY Daily News and the ceaseless efforts of a coalition of advocates, 2017 saw the Child Victims Act (reforming archaic statute of limitations on sexual abuse of minors) get more support and exposure than ever before. It not only got a vote in the Assembly for the first time since 2008 but was passed with an overwhelming majority. The politicians blocking it in the Senate, as well as the institutions financing the obstruction, got more negative publicity than ever before.
Everyone is rightfully upset about the abuses of power being reported recently and everyone should be supportive of the courageous survivors who are coming forward and finally being heard. But let us not forget this struggle for justice did not start with #MeToo. This January will mark the 12th consecutive year the battle has been fought to get a Child Victims Act passed in New York State. We are closer than ever before. We need everyday people to pay attention, join the cause, spread the word, and help us make 2018 be the year all abuse survivors finally get justice and the network of abusers and their enablers are finally held accountable.