Child Abuse Cases Similar Yet so Different
OVER the years I have dealt with around 2000 victims of child sex abuse involving clergy.
I've assisted people in bringing complaints about all manner of religious organisations
and groups - from Catholic dioceses to Anglican, Jewish organisations and Lutheran Synods.
Most people would be familiar with the US Catholic Church scandal uncovered in the Archdioscese
of Boston involving a secret settlement of child molestation claims against at least 70 Catholic priests.
The story made world headlines with some calling it the worst crisis in the Catholic Church in 500 years.
Contrary to what most believe, most victims were known only to their attorneys and the church.
Those 500-plus cases in Boston were, for the most part, not public.
The first 15 men I evaluated had not told their parents - and did not plan to. Only a few had
told their wives and they often lied to them when they came to see me.
Without confidentiality, most would not have come forward.
Here's a typical comment: "Look, my parents worked three jobs to pay tuition so I could go to
Catholic school so as to avoid sex and drugs and bad things and despite their efforts that's
what I got. I do not want them to know this, it is of no benefit to tell them."
Hearing of the alleged St Stanislaus College cases it was of little surprise only 13 of as many
as 40 alleged victims had come forward. My experience has shown that many victims don't. There
is little incentive to come forward as nobody benefits from being identified as a sex abuse victim.
The victim in the Bathurst case who told the police he hadn't told his wife would be the most
common case - the rule not the exception.
For some of the victims who are reading the headlines as the story unfolds, the abuse becoming
public can help them. As others come forward they can feel less isolated.
Interestingly, the internet was a key ingredient in these allegations coming out. This is not
unusual, the same has been true elsewhere in the world. The internet has brought about a major
change in that victims can find each other and find support.
However, when stories like these come out, some begin to relive the trauma and develop
post traumatic stress disorder.
Others develop incredible rage, especially as they learn that they are only one of many.
They do not feel different or "special" any more.
And it's common for the victim to ruminate about the question, "why me?", tending to blame
themselves for "letting it happen," or "letting it happen multiple times" or "not reporting it".
The victim who spoke out in The Daily Telegraph described "being herded into a prayer room
by a priest chanting 'hypnotic' spells in tongues".
This is one of many ways in which the stage can be set for abuse; however abuse does not
require any special techniques - the power of faith in the priest and church is sufficient to do the job.
He also described how the priest or priests in question involved the kids abusing each other.
Again, as horrific as this sounds, this is not new. While many of the cases I have dealt
with have eerie similarities to this one, the impact of the sexual abuse on the victim
varies dramatically person to person.
It's dependent on many things - the timing in their life, the degree to which the perpetrator
was trusted, the amount of repetition, the degree to which fear was induced, the degree of
physical pain, and dozens of other factors.
Either way, the impact on their lives can be severe and the course of their life drastically changed.
They lose basic trust in others and have difficulty forming relationships later in life. They
have low self esteem and insecurity issues, they are depressed and have suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts.
They often question their sexual identity or develop sexual impulse control disorders of their own.
They take to drug and alcohol abuse and become addicts as a way of dealing with their inner turmoil.
The vast majority lose faith in religion or society in general.
Another thing we also see, though, is people have lost their family. Their parents might be
devout followers of the church and they don't dare tell them. Or in cases where they have
been brave enough to tell them, the parents have not been able to rise to the occasion and
don't believe the child.
When I evaluate damages for a court case, one of the things I do is look at their siblings
and see how their lives turned out.
You don't need to be a psychologist to say: "My God, something bad happened here to this individual."
* Dr Gary Schoener is a US-based psychologist who has treated more than 2000 sex abuse victims.
The Daily Telegraph (28-8-2008)
Dr Gary Schoener