July 29, 2015
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recently began hearings in Australia. A story in the Sydney Morning Herald says that the Jehovah’s Witness Church in Australia “received allegations of child sexual abuse involving more than 1000 of its members over a 60-year period but did not report a single claim to police.” The opening day of the hearing included testimony from two victims who explained how they were blamed when reporting sexual abuse.
Is blaming the victim a relic of the past? Not based on what I heard on a panel earlier this month at the International Academy of Law and Mental Health in Vienna, where Elizabeth Ainslie, who represents former Penn State president Graham Spanier, impugned the victims of Jerry Sandusky as untrustworthy. She referred to “men standing in line for checks,” and she questioned why none of them spoke up when they were children. She said several times that these men all came from “broken homes,” and she claimed that they “loved” Sandusky and that his charity did wonderful work.
I don’t know whether Graham Spanier is guilty of a crime. (He has been charged with perjury and failure to report child abuse.) But I know that he sent an infamous email where he characterized the decision to give Sandusky a “stern” warning, rather than reporting his behavior to child welfare authorities, as a “humane and reasonable way to proceed.” “The only downside for us,” Spanier said, “is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it.” There would be an additional downside, of course, for any child who was not protected because Penn State thought its reputation was more important than reporting Sandusky. But Spanier never mentioned that “downside.” Neither did his lawyer, when presenting in Vienna. Instead, she blamed those greedy, unreliable men for ganging up on that nice Mr. Sandusky.
Sad but true: blaming the victim is alive and well in 2015.