The supply of child abuse cases seems endless. Here are just a few examples, from recent headlines:
• In September of this year, Fr. Jeffrey Paulish, was caught in the act of molesting a 15 year old boy in a vehicle on the campus of Penn State University. Paulish first attempted to say the undressed boy had sought counseling from him. The abuser met the teen through the “casual encounters” section on Craigslist.
• In October, one of Fr. Robert Brennan’s victims died of an overdose. Brennan, age 75, is alleged to have molested more than 20 children during the 15 years he was transferred from parish to parish, when complaints of abuse were made to Catholic Church officials.
• The same month, a Pennsylvania school bus driver acknowledged having repeatedly molested an 8 year old boy from 2002 – 2004. The driver had passed a criminal check prior to being hired. Only a small percentage of predators ever fail criminal background checks.
• In November, Leon Watson, a Philadelphia youth football coach was charged with having raped two boys. Neighbors were stunned.
Some abuse survivors will feel re-victimized on hearing such reports. The past rises up like a spectre, and we feel the familiar shame wash over us. Taste again the bile in our throats. Other abuse survivors will respond with anger that this depravity should persist.
The majority of us will instinctively pity the victims, even if reminded of our own pain. Chances are that those who remain unmoved are still so close to their trauma that identifying with other abuse victims poses too great a “threat” to their emotional stability. Distance feels safer.
A small number of abuse survivors will feel contempt for other victims, viewing them as “weak” and blaming them for the abuse inflicted. Rather than being an accurate assessment of other victims, this criticism betrays the feelings of helplessness the critics, themselves, experienced and are now desperate to deny.
There are few hard and fast rules for recovery from abuse. There is no timetable. We move forward a little, then fall back. Some lessons have to be re-learned, over and over, particularly those about the right of self-defense.
However far along we may (or may not) be toward healing, let us strive to keep faith with one another, and to bear witness to the truth of our ordeal.
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