Saturday, June 6, 2015

Abusers deputize us to expand the ring of harm


     When the Saturday Fun Activity gets solved early—as it inevitably does—I feel like the readers are being cheated. So here is something extra, a piece I wrote for the Sun-Times national network yesterday that never got used, as far as I can tell. There isn't much to say about the Hastert scandal that isn't obvious, but I didn't hear anybody exploring this point, so I thought I would give it a try.

     Dennis Hastert didn’t just damage his victims—allegedly—the boys he is accused of molesting as a wrestling coach at Yorkville High School. 
     There are more, others who are harmed as well. 
     No, I’m not referring to the reputation of Congress—no allegations necessary, here. Hastert has without question done that, years ago, through his shady land deals and ignoring the 2006 page scandal, we now suspect, because he secretly had a dog in that race.
     The Justice Department charged him with financial misdealings, trying to cover up some undefined past sins. But Hastert’s abuse—which, it must be said, even as he is condemned by general acclamation, has not been officially alleged, never mind proven—will certainly feed a bias that never gets articulated, yet is there.
    I’m reluctant to articulate it now.
    But it is a common one, that we usually don't think about, even though, in essence, we're helping spread the damage of abuse, in a low level sense.
    So here goes:
    For harried working guys, trying to scrape together a buck, who can’t imagine volunteering to coach teams and lead programs, for busy dads, overwhelmed just trying to take care of their own biological children, never mind anybody else's, there are baseless allegations of the mind, a squint, applied to coaches, scout masters, club advisors, church youth group leaders, and men of that ilk. You wonder: why do they do it? What’s in it for them? You wonder if, perhaps, something’s wrong with them. You might trust them, eventually, when you get to know them. That’s what usually happens.
     But you sure don’t trust them at first.
    That might be prudent, but it sure isn’t fair, I’ll say immediately. If more than a small percentage of wrestling coaches like Hastert was were also child molesters, we’d know about it.
     Wouldn’t we?
     But life isn’t fair, and the responsible parent, handing his child over to that middle-aged man in a khaki uniform, scrutinizing the debate coach who’s going to drive the team to another city for the night, has to wonder.  And worry. That's part of being a parent.
    Suspicion can be good, protective. I remember hovering outside of my home office, listening, while my son’s chess tutor put him through his paces. He was a Russian, and he slapped those pieces hard down on my fancy chessboard, which made me wince, a little, but not enter the room. That wasn’t what I was listening for.
     This nagging suspicion gets a little stronger with every new Dennis Hastert flushed blinking and shamed into the spotlight. And that vast majority of good, decent self-sacrificing coaches, scoutmasters, church youth group leaders and teachers of every stripe have another straw of doubt, of guilt by association placed upon their backs.  Their tough jobs get just a little bit tougher.
     Life isn’t fair, as I said. But it’s more unfair to some than others.  Each perpetrator of abuse leaves behind many victims. The vast majority he never meets. Instead, we do. We are unconsciously deputized by depravity, and act as the abusers' proxies, inflicting the corrosive damage of unspoken accusations in tiny, unmeasured doses to those whose only crime is trying to make the world a better place and our children better people.  We might want to think about that.


  1. Well, as somebody who is a single middle aged guy and has volunteered tutoring kids, at least for me I'd say the suspicion comes with the territory. I didn't feel offended by "the squint" - heck, I would have welcomed "big brother" cameras everywhere in case of a false accusation or misunderstanding. Maybe because I don't think suspicions about how widespread such abuse is are unjustified. You ask "If more than a small percentage of wrestling coaches like Hastert was were also child molesters, we’d know about it. Wouldn’t we?" - well, some very serious people say nearly 20% of women will be raped in college - even if that figure is 10%, how many of us grew up thinking the problem was that widespread?

    I guess the irony is that the more widespread we think these child predators are, the less umbrage a volunteer is going to take at a parent with a "better safe than sorry" mindset. As for why anyone would still want to volunteer? I'm guessing it's like Viktor Frankl - people want their lives to feel meaningful, and that's not a yes/no thing - the more meaning the better, so even if you have your own family you still reach out. Of all the ways to feed one ego, the idea some kid is going to remember you fondly for giving them a leg up in the world is a pretty powerful one (and for some, the present-day recognition isn't bad either - not everyone is a Green Hornet (or Moses Maimondes (sp?), doing their good works anonymously...)

    A story from a teacher college from the mid-1990s: guys about to do their pre-student teaching classroom observations were warned that when they ask where the bathroom is, women teachers might absentmindedly direct them to the boys washroom, but NEVER use it just to avoid any chance of bad appearances.

    >>If more than a small percentage of wrestling coaches like Hastert was were also child molesters, we’d know about it. Wouldn’t we? <<

  2. oops, sorry for the run-on - I cut and pasted the quote and added the ">>" to write under it, but then remembered some blogs interpret ">>" as html code and it messes-up the post.

  3. When my daughter was in elementary school, a number of teachers took pleasure in mentoring her -- she was an enthusiastic and diligent student who enjoyed their attention. Two teachers stand out: one, a married female with a child of her own, is still, 30 years later, kept current with my daughter's life; the other an unmarried middle-aged male who lived most of his life with his mother, passed away a few years ago. When I was warned vociferously by a colleague of his to keep my daughter away from him, I thought it patently unfair and still do. There was absolutely no evidence then or later that he did anything wrong with the children he befriended. Whether he had dirty thoughts or not, I felt that he would not do anything to imperil his relationship with the only friends he had. I wonder if my daughter, now that she is a mother, thinks the same. She tends to be more grownup and less naive than me.


    1. As ANA said, it comes with the territory. I didn't want my daughter having a male swim teacher when she was younger, but she did and all was well.

      Yes, I too would think beware of some guy still living with mom.

      ANA never married? well someone missed out on a smart man

      When I taught high school before I moved to the college instructor level, I was never told to keep the door open if you are meeting with a student, like the male teachers were told. Though later we'd hear of boys being accosted by female teachers too, for the most part it was thought the boys were safe-well from the lady teachers at least.

      Neil how right you are about Hassert having his "own dog in race" and why he was lax with that other guys email scandal at first. What a surprise we got later.

    2. I've heard of male teachers being falsely accused as well. and how tough that is until they got exonerated. If I were a guy, I'd be afraid to teach anything younger than college, with the way things go today. And one has to live in fear if they are lifeguards or camp counselors or coaches too, no thanks to some bad apples.

  4. Just think of how many teachers, coaches, mentors and volunteers that our children are missing for those reasons.
    My daughter-in-law is a CPS teacher who has been at it for almost 15 years. She has talked openly of the distrust and whispered questions of and about male teachers and coaches.
    Her father is a recently retired teacher who, when he taught, was also the physical education and sports team coach for a NW Indiana Catholic Elementary School.
    As times changed, so did his thought processes and approach to teaching. Having his motives for teaching questioned, and knowing that he would always be looked at with a hint of suspicion, was enough to make him take early retirement. Seeing someone who devotes their life and working career to teaching children as having ulterior motives has always been true, I guess. I wish it wasn't so, but it is. I don't know if all of this will help to weed out those who might abuse our children - or make fewer people choose it as a profession - but I do hope it helps children to come forward and report issues of molestation and/or abuse.
    I would love to teach. I'd love to share knowledge and try to teach critical thinking and reason to children so that they may have a shot at traversing the bumpy road of an ever changing world and economy. But the possibility that I'll be looked at, even for a second, as a potential molester is enough to make me dismiss teaching as a goal.
    It's humanity's throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater reaction to situations like these that worries me more.

  5. Last Christmas a feature story about Santa Claus schools--they're exactly what they sound like, training programs for guys who want to portray Santa in various venues--noted that among the advice was never to say things like "I love children" and always to wear white gloves, so that your hands would be visible.

    Ugh, what a world.

    1. Yes, it's a shame it's come to that but it has to be.

      Years ago one didn't hear as much of it but it was swept under the rug.

    2. it has, not it's , typo

  6. We know as a scientific fact that predators of any type will gravitate toward the easiest access to victims. The problem here is the predators can't be identified; there isn't a rattle attached to this snake that will clue us to danger. We've learned through examples of abuse where they are most likely to be found, in positions of unique power over their intended victims. The vetting process has gotten better with advances in technology and access to past records, but a record of such behavior has to exist to weed out potential monsters.

    I'm an educator; I work in a public school. Staff are carefully pre-screened and monitored. We are trained as mandated reporters on the various clues that point to child abuse. Yet, a few years ago, a well-respected teacher was caught with a massive amount of child porn downloaded from his flash drive onto his desktop computer. He was arrested and immediately removed from his position as a middle school teacher. It was ascertained none of the pictures and video were of students currently enrolled. My relief was as great as my fear. My daughter had been his student for the two years preceding his arrest.

  7. Yes, too bad staff wasn't monitored as well so many years back. That goes for the priests especially. (not that they were all bad.)


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