I’m hesitant to write this kind of post. In the first instance, it will be seen as defense of the church. Some will even see it as a defense of sexual predators. There are a lot of assumptions about sexual abuse, and they carry over into our everyday conversations. To start, I’m going to just give some basic facts. These numbers are from the CDC.
- Among high school students, 8% are reported to have been forced to have sex. In other words, they were raped. By gender, the breakdown is 11% of females and 5% of males. To put that in perspective, I go to a fairly large parish where a mass will have 500 people. So at any mass, I will likely be with 40 rapes victims, roughly 28 female and 12 male.
- 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have reported an attempted or completed rape in their lives. At my parish mass, this would translate to 42 women and 8 men. (These are two different surveys which is why in part there is a discrepancy between 1 and 2. CDC is citing DOJ numbers here.) These are just reported cases.
Another web site is Darkness to Light, which has a reference section that appears reputable. A quick gloss of the statistics:
- 1 in 4 girls is sexually abused before the age of 18. 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before 18.
- There are an estimated 39 million survivors of sexual abuse in the United States today.
- Only 10% of children are abused by strangers.
- The median age for reported sexual abuse is 9-year-old.
- Almost 80% of abuse victims initially deny abuse or are tentative in disclosing. Of those who do disclose, approximately 75% disclose accidentally. Additionally, of those who do disclose, more than 20% eventually recant even though the abuse occurred.
- Nearly 70% of child sex offenders have between 1 and 9 victims; at least 20% have 10 to 40 victims.
I bring up the raw statistics, because I don’t think people have a good idea of the faces of those who are victims of sexual abuse and those who are perpetrators. Goodness, I was somewhat prepared for what I would I find, and I still managed to be shocked and sickened. I wish there was more granularity in the last statistic. My guess would be that between a third and half of the 70% of offenders that have fewer than 10 victims have only one victim. While one victim is still too many, I bring it up because many people have this idea in their head that a sexual abuser is a sick guy going around targeting victim after victim. The truth is that a typical sexual abuser has lived a relatively normal life and his sexual assault of a child was aberrational behavior.
People have a tendency to think that they are very perceptive. They like to believe that when they encounter an evil person, they’d know it. No matter how many times experience tells us otherwise, we convince ourselves that we’d see the obvious. The truth is that it is exceedingly rare for us to mark a person as evil and even more difficult to do so when we know them. In every abuse case, you will find a trail of people convinced that the abuser didn’t do it, was misunderstood, or even was the one being manipulated by the victim. In the case of the church, you have people claiming if women would have been around, things wouldn’t have happened. Unfortunately those working in the parish offices, almost exclusively women, were often the biggest deniers that Father was abusive and sometimes were even enablers. This shouldn’t be shocking, but for whatever reason people are still shocked by it. People don’t want to believe that they know or actually care and love an evil person. It is a very powerful defense mechanism. Yet about the only person who doesn’t engender the shock of society when she defends the perpetrator of a crime is the mother of the perpetrator.
Yet still we hear about how people should have been more perceptive. We hear how people shouldn’t have believed the pleas of remorse from the perpetrators. People have a tendency to grossly underestimate the ability of perpetrators to be convincing, and perhaps they simply underestimate their own willingness to want to believe that people are basically good. Take Jeffrey Dahmer. (We don’t always have to use Hitler.) The human flesh rotting in his apartment stunk so badly that a neighbor finally confronted Dahmer. Dahmer talked his way out of it. Another time, a 14-year-old boy escaped naked from Dahmer’s apartment. Dahmer noticed he was missing and went to search for him. Dahmer found him. He’s being interviewed by Milwaukee police who had found him drugged and bleeding from the rectum. Dahmer convinces the officers that the boy is 19, his lover, and they hand him over to Dahmer. It is easy to convince oneself that I wouldn’t have been duped by Dahmer. I’m smarter than those stupid Milwaukee police and all the other people that had clues to the heinousness of this man. It is the height of arrogance to believe that though.
As we go forward, we are going to be lulled into a comfort. We are going to see statistics showing reported abuse cases among priests have gone down. The numbers already show it. Don’t believe them for a second. You don’t get statistics indicating over 15% incidence among youth without wide prevalence; and there is no good reason to believe the priestly population is excluded. Remember that the profile of a sexual abuser is not necessarily one of a person piling up the victims. I would love to tell you that there is some sure-fire way to protect your child. There isn’t. Personally I look at everyone as a person of suspicion. I try to insure to the maximum extent possible that opportunity is avoided for my children to be victimized. Still, the odds are significant that at least one of my children will be a victim of abuse.