Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Shameless Sheep Herder

On Saturday, the Wisconsin Badgers served up a whooping on Penn State. Badger fans around the state rejoiced at the win, but also did well by showing that even though the ruling regime is a dark stain on the history of Wisconsin, the people of this state are good folk.

You see, Penn State is in turmoil by the recently revealed scandal involving an assistant coach allegedly committing the most horrific crime possible - the sexual assault of children.  But according to all accounts that I've seen, Badger fans did well by themselves by not using this against Penn State players or fans.

In another act showing the goodness of most Wisconsinites, State Senator Julie Lassa and State Representative Sandy Pasch have announced that they are going to again attempt to pass "The Child Victims Act."

Currently, state law forbids a survivor of childhood sexual abuse from suing their alleged abuser once they reach 35 years of age.  This is ludicrous and only serves to re-victimize the survivor of abuse.

The need for this bill is so obvious and so overdue that the ultraconservative corporate stooges that make up the editorial board at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel were forced to see it worth and endorse it, citing these reasons:
[Pasch] also pointed out some chilling facts: 70% of reported sexual assaults in Wisconsin were perpetrated against children; nationally, one in five children fall victim to abuse; estimates place the number of reported cases at only 10% of the actual total; several leading mental health experts say that most children who have been abused are so traumatized that they can't speak about the attack until well into adulthood, if ever.
In the same issue, the paper provides column space to Rick Esenberg, proprietor of the blogsite "Shark and Shepherd*," and head of a Bradley Foundation-sponsored group, to offer a rebuttal** on why the survivors of childhood sexual assault should have their day in court to seek redress for the crime committed against them.

Esenberg comes down to basically two points.

His first point is pure hyperbole (emphasis mine):
Statutes of limitations exist because it becomes progressively more difficult to establish the facts as time passes. It is hard to either corroborate or contradict conflicting testimony. Witnesses are gone. Memories have faded. Records have disappeared. When facts are scarce and the allegations are incendiary, there is an increased risk of results based not on evidence, but emotion.

The sponsors of this act argue that it will somehow result in the exposure of more offenders. But this is true only if we believe that it is likely that no victim of an abuser would come forward before the age of 35.
Not only is this argument hyperbolic, but it is arrogant and insensitive.

When a person experiences any kind of traumatic event, whether it is a soldier dealing with the horrors of war, a witness of a serious crime like murder or the victim of childhood sexual abuse, it is not uncommon for them to compartmentalize their memories of the event and to repress those memories for an indefinite length of time.

Sometimes it can take a lot more than the twenty years that Esenberg feels is sufficient. In my professional career, especially when I worked in various psychiatric hospitals, I worked with many people who were the survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Some of them were able to come to grips with what happened to them while they were teenagers. Others were only having their first conscious memories bubble up when they were in their 50s. Some people were victimized as children may never have those memories brought up to the conscious level.

There is no predicting when the memories, often referred to as flashbacks, may reemerge or what might trigger them. It could be a sight, a sound or a smell. It could be the result of therapy. Or it could be an internal trigger where the person subconsciously feels ready to cope with the pain caused by the trauma.

For anyone to arbitrarily dictate how fast a survivor of sexual abuse should become strong enough to deal with not only the pain of the trauma, but to also have the strength to relive it in court shows that they either don't understand what is happening to the survivor, or they just don't care.

Esenberg's second point is much more telling and, I believe, the real gist that he and others who have offered the same opposition to similar laws:
Nor is it only the interest of accused sex offenders with which the procedural protections offered by statutes of limitation are concerned. Although they may be joined as defendants, civil actions alleging sexual abuse of a minor rarely are targeted at the perpetrator. Offenders seldom have money to pay civil damages.

Rather, the real target is some institution - a church or a school - that is alleged to have failed to prevent the abuse. It is even more difficult for such institutions to respond to allegations about what someone else is alleged to have done.
In other words, it's all about the money.

To a certain extent, this is understandable. As long as two years ago, Wisconsin prosecutors have filed charges against the nineteenth clergy member accused of sexually assaulting children. This is indicative of the long history that institutions like the Catholic Church have had of trying to cover up such atrocities, thereby enabling more abuse to occur. The consequences of such irresponsible behavior carries a heavy price tag, which is why the Milwaukee Diocese has filed for bankruptcy.

Similarly, school districts have had to pay high amounts of money for failing to protect children who were placed in their care.

I have heard some opponents of this law cite the money issue, claiming that it is unfair to the parishioners or the tax payers who will have to foot the bills for these lawsuits. I agree. However, the distinction that they do not make is that the parishioners and taxpayers are also the victims of the institutions, not of the survivors or the lawsuits. Not only did they fail to protect the children, but then their cover up led to these other people being trespassed against.

But even then, that argument holds no water. The loss of some money, even though through no fault of their own, pales in comparison to what was taken from the children who were assaulted and abused.

To defend the Church by trying to deny survivors of childhood sexual abuse their day in court might make Esenberg, or anyone else taking a similar stance, a good Catholic. But in my opinion, it makes them a lousy Christian and even worse human being.

*The shark is supposed to represent his skills as a lawyer, even though Tom Foley regularly swims circles around him. The shepherd is supposed to involve his alleged Christian values.

**One has to note the irony of a conservative arguing for the rights of the perpetrator as opposed to the victim's rights.


  1. Well done.

    The American Enterprise Institute, Dr. Sally Satel, and others continue to cover up crimes (war, child rape) claiming the "culture of trauma" prevents us from moving on.

    For a revealing look at Late-onset Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, see Howard Reich's .

  2. I have perpetually said we overuse and misuse the term "conservative".