A Washington Post Fail
On August 30, 2013, Betsy Karasik, a former attorney-turned painter, wrote a Washington Post op-ed piece about the 30 day sentence given to a former high school teacher who raped a 14 year-old girl. This is the girl who later committed suicide.
Karasik, who says she's troubled by the reaction to the lenient sentence, defends the teacher saying "Many teenagers are, biologically speaking, sexually mature. Pretending that this kind of thing won’t happen if we simply punish it severely enough is delusional. If anything, to return to Louis C.K., the indiscriminate criminalization of such situations may deter students struggling with sexual issues from seeking advice from a parent or counselor."
My friends and colleagues asked the Post to please print a response to Karasik's letter. The Post agreed, but not wholeheartedly. They printed a portion of the letter which you can read here without also naming all of the signatories. They were kind enough to attribute the letter to my friend Christopher Anderson, Executive Director of MaleSurvivor, but being journalists the Posts is remiss in even mentioning that the letter was co-signed by a number of prominent voices in the field.
So in the spirit of fair play, what follows is the unedited, proper letter which the Post refused to run in full.
Feel free to repost, tweet, and circulate in its entirety.
September 6, 2013
We, the undersigned, emphatically disagree with Betsy Karasik that student/teacher sex should be decriminalized. We also express in the strongest measure our disappointment with the Washington Post for giving her a national platform - remarkably, just one day after issuing an editorial strongly rebuking a Montana judge for his unacceptable comments and inappropriately lenient sentencing of a then 49-year-old teacher convicted of raping a 14 year old student.
Sexual activity between teachers and students is a profound ethical violation. The authority placed in teachers, coaches, counselors, or other instructors creates an inescapable responsibility to maintain appropriate behavioral boundaries. When that line is crossed, the power differential between teacher and student creates an abusive betrayal of the trust placed in the teacher by the student and the community. A student's willingness to engage in a sexual liaison with a teacher cannot eradicate this truth. As Dr. Richard Gartner, a pioneer in the treatment of men sexually abused as boys, has written, "Even seemingly consensual situations may turn out to have long term negative effects.... There's no way for an adult to know whether a particular child--even if he seems happy to participate--will be affected negatively by taking part in sex acts. And the very last person we can expect to be objective about the needs and best interests of a child is the adult who sexually desires that child."
The high levels of sexual abuse of children and teens in our society are further evidence for the need for stronger prohibitions, not weaker ones. Decades of research indicate that at least 10%, and perhaps more than 20% of all persons under the age 18 are sexually abused. In addition, overwhelming evidence makes clear that many victims suffer significant long-term emotional harm in these cases. Suggesting that legal sanctions are unwarranted based upon a small sample of self-selected anecdotes is both intellectually irresponsible and a needlessly cruel insult to millions of people who were sexually abused as children.
Criminalizing sexual activity between age-appropriate, truly consenting people is not a good idea. Yet the prevalence of abuse and the significant risk to students' long-term health and well being necessitates that clear legal boundaries be drawn and enforced between teachers and students. Stronger enforcement of professional and legal sanctions against teachers who violate these boundaries is required. Importantly, better enforcement does not imply that draconian punishments are required for all offenders.
A great deal of evidence indicates that decriminalization would lead to more students being sexually exploited, abused and harmed. Decriminalization would wrongly signal to many, including potential abusive teachers and student victims, that teacher/student sexual encounters are not harmful. It would also effectively empower perpetrators of sexual abuse, and make it more difficult for many victims to get support. Ms. Karasik is right to be concerned about the stigma and pressures victims face in the legal system, but decriminalization is not a solution to those problems, and certainly would not provide the support that all victims of sexual exploitation and violence deserve.
Last Updated (Friday, 06 September 2013 16:57)
An Open Letter to the Boy Scouts of America
November 1, 2012Michael Johnson
Youth Protection Director
Boy Scouts of America
As the Boy Scouts of America hosts the National Symposium on Youth Protection, I'd like to bring up a serious issue affecting the lives and hearts of countless boys which thus far, the Scouts have refused to address.
I grew up in Tallahassee. In the 60’s, when I was a scout, my dad was president of the Suwanee River Area Council. So I knew the leadership and the scout executives, and the scoutmasters and philanthropists in the community, and I saw how the tradition was passed from father to son. Indeed many of my friends became scoutmasters.
I did not follow the tradition. Once I became an adult I had little to do with Scouting. I felt as if I shouldn’t be involved. Despite the facts that I had become the youngest Eagle Scout in my council’s history, that I had earned the God & Country award, that I was an Arrowman, that I loved the outdoors and had skills and talents I could’ve passed on to others, I stayed away.
I stayed away because I knew that I had problems I could not tell anyone about. I was gay, but that wasn’t the nightmare I couldn't talk about. The unspeakable secret was that throughout my childhood my father had molested me, and my friends. He did these things at home, on scouting trips, at our beach cabin, and at sea on fishing trips, in the fallout shelter he’d built to protect our family from nuclear war.
But because my father was “important” and so beloved in Tallahassee every adult I knew would defer to him over me. I knew that if I went for help the “issue” would be my homosexuality, and not the trauma of sexual abuse. Indeed, when my parents first discovered that I was gay, the psychologist they sent me to was not interested in hearing what I had to say about my father’s behaviors. He informed me that my “memories” were simply fantasies, further proof that indeed my sexual orientation was precariously at risk and needed aggressive treatment.
And that was the case in my life multiplied many times over. My family doctor sent me to a psychiatrist who told me all I needed to do was have intercourse with a woman. Any woman. And I’d be cured. Even after I had become an adult and a successful young businessman in my town, my banker hinted that I should get married, and my accountant urged me to be discrete.
No one wanted to hear about my homosexuality, much less the abuse.
So I can imagine if I were an eleven year-old scout today, working toward my Eagle. I’m a good boy. I obey the Scout Law. But just after my Order of the Arrow initiation, my counselor takes me into the first-aid hut and says he’s been watching me. “You like other boys, don’t you? That’s alright.” He says he’ll show me what it’s like. I know the Scout Law backwards and forwards. “A scout is obedient.” The counselor takes off his pants and touches himself. He wants me to touch him.
Afterward, he can sense that I’m upset. He avoids me. There’s no one I can talk to. I’m a Life Scout now and I know that the most important things in Scouting are character, being trustworthy and loyal, doing my duty to God and Country.
Now I’m preparing for the Board of Review. Though I know the policies I read them again: There’s no place for homosexuality in Scouting. Outside my room, my family and friends, my minister, my church and school, all expect me to receive this honor and nothing less.
What is my way out? Suicide?
The fact is that a percentage of all boys are gay. And we know from national organizations such as the gay Eagle Scouts that a percentage of Scouts are gay.
These facts should not be disturbing. What's disturbing are the facts that the Boy Scouts of America have certified a culture which not only eases the way for sexual offenders to molest children... but blinds its sight of victims.
The Boy Scouts of America engraves its laws into the heart of its members. Every Scouter knows to do his duty to others, to be helpful at all times, to be trustworthy, kind, brave. And obedient. I'm challenging your organization to understand that the Scouts will always have members who identify as gay. I'm challenging you to accept the fact that by pretending this isn’t the case, the Boy Scouts has caused and will continue to wreak irreparable damage to millions of boys.
I challenge the BSA to acknowledge the difference between sexual offenders and homosexuals. The distinction is one which law enforcement, psychologists, and educated people quite easily make. You also know that the great majority of offenders are heterosexual. But thus far, you've failed to accept the fact that gay people are not criminals, that we are as human as love itself.
You cannot protect children from sexual offenders if you refuse to respect the most vulnerable among them. I know that changing your policies will not be easy. But unless you want to be taken seriously as an organization which looks after the welfare of children, you must you must do your duty to help others at all times. Be a good Scout. Be brave.
Sincerely,Walter A. de Milly, III
Eagle Scout, 1966
Troop 109Suwanee River Area Coucil(revised 11/2/12)
Last Updated (Saturday, 03 November 2012 03:41)
An open letter to Coach Sandusky’s victims
I heard today’s news that Mr. Sandusky waived his right to the hearing. I know that those of you who were prepared to testify today had no doubt steeled yourself for the event. I suspect that when you heard of Sandusky’s decision, you were both relieved and upset.
But from what I understand of the law and of criminal proceedings, it may be best that you only have to testify once.
You know as well as I that you are speaking for untold numbers of boys who can’t come forward. The fact that you are willing to testify tells me that you are capable of heroic deeds. You may not feel like a hero, but others will give you this name. I do. I’m proud of you. I support you all the way.
What you’re doing is heroic because you’re saving the mental and spiritual lives of other, innocent boys. You’re doing it because child molesters NEVER stop on their own. Someone has to confront them. It’s a shame that no adults had the guts to do it. Yes, some may have told their peers and superiors. But is that what a witness does when he sees a man raping a little girl? No. That witness calls the police. And the police (if they aren’t intimidated by the offender and his crowd) will do something about it.
I also want you to know, from my experience and after talking with many others in the field, that you may not feel satisfied after confronting your abuser. I hope you will. But if you don’t, it merely underscores what we already know about child molesters: they are incapable of understanding what they have done to their victims. They lack empathy, which is exactly what a sociopath lacks.
And worse, a part of you may feel afraid, or guilty, for telling the truth. This is the burden a hero must bear.
You now have another burden, of remaining silent until the trial. This may be easy, or tough. But it is something you have to do in order to win this battle.
One reason for remaining silent is that the defense will pick up any inconsistencies from your testimony and use this against you. Inconsistencies mean nothing. I’ll give you an example: after I had finished writing my memoir, after the first editors had made their corrections and suggestions, the copy editor called me and asked “why did you tell the story in chapter three twice?” I said “I didn’t.” She said “yes, you did. Look at chapter 9. You told the same story again.”
I looked, and sure enough, I’d told the story twice, but in different ways. I had obviously forgotten the first telling. But both chapters were true. It would be as if you have two witnesses to a crime. Each witness will recount it differently. This is natural. It is how humans have always communicated.
There is another kind of silence surrounding this case. It is quite sad because this particular silence is the kind for which there is no painless way to break. I must first digress however, to tell you about my boyhood summers at the beach. I had a small boat, as did many of my friends up and down the beach. We'd go out in them, hunting stingrays. (This was in the days when killing snakes and other scary animals was seen as a man’s duty).
Stingrays have a long, scary barb. I’ve attached a picture of one. You can see that if this barbpenetrates the skin, it’s nearly impossible to pull out. You can imagine the pain. Then imagine that the barb is coated with an extremely painful toxin. Pulling it out would be unbearable.
So I like to say that breaking this particular kind of silence is like pulling out a stingray barb. The problem is, that the barb is not embedded in just one person. It’s embedded in the family. They are the flesh which will be torn apart in removing the barb.
It is difficult for me to believe that the coach’s family was spared from his actions. If no one comes forward, its because it may feel better to leave the barb alone, than to tear up the family removing it.
I have a final thought and some words of encouragement for those of you who are testifying. Some of you may experience feelings that you can’t put into words. Those feelings may be a kind of fear, or anxiety, or deeper inside, in the gut. There’s a chance that these feelings have to do with the way your memories of the abuse were recorded in your mind.
When you were a child, I imagine you felt like you’d get into trouble if you told the truth about what happened. You didn’t know that what happened is called “abuse” or “rape” or “lascivious and lewd conduct against a child.” That fear of getting into trouble occurred in the past, but sometimes emotions are so tied to memories that they “wake up” and live alongside your everyday thoughts. This is a natural (but obviously unpleasant) aspect of the trauma.
You were wounded, but the past is now gone. You were a victim, but now you are being a hero. The journey from one to the other doesn’t take place in an instant. You may go back and forth. But eventually, you will make it out alive and well. I know you will. Be strong, be steadfast. I’m with you.
Last Updated (Thursday, 01 November 2012 18:28)
Being a Misfit
What am I doing putting up a photo of Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and Montgomery Clift? The story begins with the man standing under the ladder. Longago, before I knew him, before this photo was taken, he had moved among several major NY Publishing houses as their editor-in-chief.
One of his friends, the playwright Arthur Miller (cowboy hat and glasses, top of pic) wanted to give his wife a valentine's present, a screenplay titled "The Misfits" which she could star in with Gable and Clift. Miller's wife of course was Marilyn Monroe. Frank Taylor, the man under the ladder, produced the film. It was only one of two films he would become involved in.
Years later, Frank Taylor retired to Key West as a full time resident. When I moved to the island, I had no idea who he was or what he'd done in his life. But as I asked my friends for guidance on writing a book, they said "you should meet Mr. Taylor. He was in the NY publishing business for years."
So I called him. We had lunch. I told him I wanted to write a book about boys who had been molested. The editor across from me dug deeper. He asked what had happened to me. By the time lunch was over, he'd said "I want you to publish your own story. And I'll do everything I can to help you."
I wasn't sure that I should take his advice. Who was this man? I went to the local library and sought out a copy of "Who's Who in America." I ran my finger over the page and saw the catalog of his accomplishments. And I thought "I better take this man seriously."
In time, Frank became not just a mentor, but a new father figure for me. He was gay. Our relationship was platonic, though I think he wanted more. We spent years together on little adventures, interspersed with "lessons" about writing and writers and agents and publishers. We were in our own ways, misfits. Frank was a funny, sharp, intuitive gentleman. He helped me patiently and loved me as a son.
Not long after he'd been diagnosed with cancer, my memoir was published. I remember bringing a large, heavy box directly from the post office to his house. We opened it, and I signed the first copy for him.
A few weeks later, when his health was clearly declining, he said "you're on your own now."
When he died I remember curling up in my bed sobbing, feeling alone and lost.
But now enough time has passed that I remember him fondly. His own son and I are close. It helps me when we talk.
Last Updated (Thursday, 01 November 2012 18:28)
Silence and Betrayal
Almost always, it happens like this: An offender abuses another person. The offender lords over the victim, coercing him into a pact of secrecy. It’s not a difficult task, since the victim is almost always less powerful (and dependent) on the offender.
Later, sometimes decades later, the secret emerges as the spoken truth. By that point the offender is no longer in control. The former victim, now moving in his journey into a new identity, is taking control.
This is when (unfortunately, too late to help) we can see the twin themes of sexual abuse: Betrayal, and Silence in the Presence of Evil.
Tonight on the news, I listened to the story of a very brave Sharon Bialek, who accused Republican Candidate Herman Cain of sexual harassment. She had been his former employee. She trusted him. She sought out his help in finding a new job.
Assuming her story is accurate, Herman Cain took her to dinner, acted like a gentleman, got her into his car, and then made a categorical, deliberately sexual, unwanted advance. Mrs. Bialek, no doubt shocked, angered, and dismayed, responded appropriately to the "Godfather," telling him to stop.
She was an adult. Even so, her story illuminates the first theme of sexual abuse: Betrayal.
Richard Gartner Ph.D., author of Betrayed as Boys and Beyond Betrayal: Taking Charge of Your Life after Boyhood Sexual Abuse, describes a “sexual betrayal” which encompasses a greater range of human experience than the rather mechanical phrases such as “sexual abuse,” “incest,” and “sexual trauma.” Sexual betrayal goes beyond bruising or genetic wreckage. Sexual betrayal is a violation which does its damage beyond the body.
The more intimate the trust, the more grievous the damage. Is a boy and his parents going to trust--and follow the lead--of a well-known Football Coach? Of course. A coach by definition is a leader to take instruction from. If you're a boy, you don't question him.
Quite often, the relationship between the offender and the victim is one of necessity. A boy needs a role model. A woman needs a job. A child needs a spiritual mentor, a teacher, a parent.
This "necessity" is what sexual offenders exploit in order to get what they want. It is how Penn State assistant coach Gerald Sandusky earned the trust that allowed him to carry out his crimes.
Like my father, he found victims who needed him. He created a foundation to funnel them in.
Because betrayal involves the breaking of "unbreakable bonds" it can wreak lasting damage. It also makes it harder to believe. It's hard for a parent to believe, a district attorney, and even the victim.
But this is just the beginning of the injustice. Like my father, Coach Sandusky had purchased "integrity insurance" over the years. If he were ever accused, he would have the support of his peers, and he'd have his foundation to point to. "See what a good man I am?"
For a long time, that insurance worked for Coach Sandusky. Years ago, a boy did come forward, but wasn't believed by the district attorney. This reflexive defense of "Mr. Integrity" infuriates me and it should enrage any parent. But it happens all the time.
It makes betrayal all the worse because it is done with impunity. Victims of sexual betrayal are not injured just once. They're violated many times, from many directions, again and again. Even if they get someone to believe that an offense happened, they still have the memory.
That memory isn't just of the abuse itself. It is of the implicit or explicit pact between the offender and the victim. That pact is "we won't tell anyone about this" and it magically leads the child into a belief that he was responsible for what happened. That sense of responsibility, of being at fault, can weigh on the victim's heart until its last beat.
Remaining Silent in the Presence of Evil.
The kind of pact between offender and victim is not much different than the social pact between the offender and his peers. The pact is to turn a blind eye to a friend's misdeeds. When the misdeed is child abuse, the pact is to remain silent in the presence of evil.
As far back as history can tell us, this pact has confounded men to the point of ruin. You can find it in the lore of King Arthur, and you can find it today in laws that require witnesses to sexual abuse to report it to the authorities. These laws are being invoked as I write this, about employees of Penn State, who knew but did not tell. Protecting their jobs, protecting the “reputation” of the football program, protecting Gerald Sandusky was more important than protecting the boys which, according to the Grand Jury report, he molested.
Except in cases where the pact-keepers are in physical danger, remaining silent is a cowardly, selfish pact to keep.
If you are a pact-keeper and you don’t know a way “out” then you should gather your resources, call a woman’s shelter, a child services hotline, a sheriff, a strong person in your life, and protect the children you love.
Last Updated (Wednesday, 09 November 2011 04:43)