Struck against a great thing

After many recent revelations about child sexual abuse regarding famous people, and clusters of repeated accounts within institutions and religious denominations, the call for justice is unified in outrage but the steps toward prevention have “struck against a great thing.” Two, actually.

Oceans – Juan Ramon Jiminez

I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths
against a great thing.

And nothing happens!
Nothing.. Silence.. Waves..

– Nothing happens?
or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly,
in the new life?

Perpetrators and institutions have cheated justice and gotten a free pass from current statutes of limitation (SOLs) which enable more abuse and provide a perverse incentive to cover up their crimes. It’s time we look into the depths and remove “great thing” #1 blocking the truth: State SOLs on sexual abuse.

Awareness has never been higher, loopholes are recognized, effective solutions have been crafted – yet those with the power and obligation to act are stalled. Are a few institutions still blocking progress? Yes, according to Marci Hamilton:

“Powerful lobbyists—including the Catholic bishops, the Latter-day Saints bishops, and Jewish rabbis—invest millions against the victims, and the insurance lobby enjoys collecting premiums while it avoids having to pay out. Legislators have listened to the lobbyists and not the victims in too many states for too long. Predators know SOLs and they gravitate to the states with the worst SOLs. Thus, SOL reform really is a choice: predators or children. Let’s take the SOL out of the child sex abuse picture.” Read her powerful assessment:

Are people even aware that the Child Victims Act, supported by many, is under consideration in Albany this week? It deserves an up or down vote, rather than having the few opponents hide behind committees so that their constituents won’t see that they side with abusers and institutional betrayal. Where does your own representative stand?

Even religious groups resistant to past disclosures have spoken out:
— “Institutions responsible for protecting and nurturing our communities must focus on protecting those who are in their charge rather than protecting those who are in charge.”

Op-Ed: Synagogues with predatory rabbis must protect their members, not their reputations

— Add the biggest step the Vatican ever has taken to hold bishops accountable:

Internationally, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, France, the UK, Japan, and more have discovered sexual abuse on an enormous scale and have begun to investigate. Nationally, schools in every state have suffered and many are assessing their prevention systems. The most effective change is in state legislatures reforming laws that up to now help abusers and not victims. The rusty hulk of machinery that is bureaucracy takes time to move. Right now, lawmakers have shown a failure of courage. Until they act, each school administration is the first line of defense.

Are they prepared to respond to help victims and report to authorities? The sad history says no. When institutions put reputation above safety, they fail to confront abusers and cover up crimes that victims have painfully brought forward. Too many examples have been revealed – at Yeshiva, Hackley, Woodward, Indian Mountain, Known Grammar, Episcopal Academy, and American School in Japan – of “great thing” #2 obstructing justice: Decades of cover up by schools.

One head of school says of the lesson of the past:

“There were points were heads and boards knew and failed to take decisive action. Thus, the interests of the adults were served at the expense of those whose lives are most important—the students. Conducting a rigorous and intense investigation and then having the courage to do what is in the best interest of kids and the institution should be our North Star.”

Administrators are more aware of the strengths and weaknesses in their reporting as board chairs and principals have reached us about reading the recommendations in the report by alumni from Horace Mann, “Making School Safe,” and meeting with teachers, staff and parents. Send the link to the head of your child’s school:

Will the head of school where you are see the way to alert authorities? It’s time to demand accountability from independent schools (and colleges) to tell any victim of harm they want to know what happened, they want to help and to show they can speak openly about sexual abuse, past or present, without fear.

Ask your school what they will do today or the promise to victims will again strike a “great thing:” the failure of courage. Healing and justice deserve to be the real great things — in the new life.