by Evelyn Pyburn
Amid all the accusations and revelations about sexual abuse in the entertainment and political world, one must remember that this is not something we haven’t seen before, most especially within the education and religious institutions.
We have seen very high profile cases in which victims of horrendous sexual abuse were secretly “the given” for many, many years, tolerated by respected leaders of academia and churches. Years and years, during which victims suffered in silence and obscurity.
One cannot watch the unfolding of this latest phenomenon without thinking it is a manifestation of the truism by Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Within the realm of professional sports, all kinds of abuse was not only tolerated, but at times almost snickered about, on a very public platform. So long as players delivered on the field, society was willing to give them carte blanc. So long as they did not abuse dogs, they could do nothing that a minor fine couldn’t rectify.
What kind of message was that sending to perpetrators, and more importantly, their victims?
When we were told that the sexual misconduct of elected officials were a personal matter and should not be scrutinized, what kind of direction were our leaders giving? What was their message to those who suffered at the whims of the privileged and powerful?
Indulgence was a tone set decades ago. Ours was a sanctuary country regarding such abuse. What did we expect the outcome to be?
This has not happened because there is an inordinate number of predators or psychopaths; it is because there is an inordinate number of people who lack the courage to “do the right thing.
Look at the stories, closely. In almost every case, there was a social or institutional order of enablers. Within academia, within churches, within Congress or bureaucracies, within Hollywood. Victims of the abuse were denied refuge. There was no support of victims in making known the crimes, because so few people around the situations were willing to stand as good people wanting to do the right thing – wanting to do their part to sustain a just society.
It’s a problem that affects many aspects of our society, of our political system, or of work places and organizations, regarding a wide range of issues, but the impact of sexual abuse is undoubtedly the most severe. When others purposefully turn a blind eye as a matter of cowardice or avarice, it becomes a doubling-down on the crime itself; it heightens the suffering for victims, and cultivates a society in which such villains are not only allowed to act with impunity but encourages others of their kind.
A college administrator who allows a coach to harm the youth in his charge in the name of winning games or bolstering the college’s bottom line, is an enabler, who stands little different, and perhaps worse, than the pervert who they protect and shield at the expense of the bewildered young victims.
If it is prestige or esteem that the enablers hope to retain, they deserve none of it, and the charade is but perpetuated by anyone granting them such undeserved status. The same stands true for the leaders of religious institutions who covered up for decades the obscenaties of those within their realm under a perverted claim of forgiveness. Forgiveness can only be granted by the victims. Those who claim some moral high ground in their condoning of evil, only make the lives of the victims an even greater living hell, crippled for life by the cowardice of people they trusted.
In the meantime all these enablers allow perversion to flourish and assure that others will be victimized.
And, now what? They are trivializing this great travesty by making it a political game. They trivialize real abuse and violence by placing all discretions at the same level, doing even more harm to real victims. By mixing the victims of rape and violence in with those who lie outright, or who feign insult at fumbled advances for a kiss or a date, the enablers are again relegating real victims to the backwaters of justice. Onlookers know not who to believe, and become uncertain about the severity of the claims — once again imposing more pain upon real victims and minimizing the guilt of the guilty.
If a safe and just society is what we want then we as individuals are obligated to step up and insist upon such – our institutions and law enforcement requires that direction and support – and innocent victims deserve it.