The striking statement from former FBI director Louis Freeh caught the media and the public on Friday, July 13:
“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State. The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.” *
The report, thank goodness, supports truth and justice. But if we only look at this report, this act of justice, this scandal . . . we miss what’s really going on deeper than this one scandal and broader than this one scandal. In fact, deeper than any single scandal or even the series of scandals that have been coming out into public awareness.
The root of the problem is this: sexual abuse is occurring far more than most of us can imagine – certainly in our culture here in the US, and I would venture to say all over the world. And the consequences of sexual abuse are far worse for the individuals who are sexually abused and for society as well . . . especially when the enormity of the occurrence is hidden. Especially when the severity of the experience and its effects are denied. Especially when the destructiveness of the abuse and its aftermath is covered up. Especially when the horror of the domino process of the event and its repercussions is normalized. And all of this occurs not only in the Sandusky scandal, not only in the many recent public scandals – the Sandusky scandal, the Horace Mann scandal, the Chabad rabbi sexual scandal in Australia, the sexual abuse scandals worldwide in the Catholic Church, to name only a few – but in the individual cases of sexual abuse that are never reported, never investigated, and that never come to truth and justice.
Keep reading . . . this is vitally important for all of us to know and understand.**
Freeh said there was a “cloistered culture at Penn State where doing what was right crumbled under the weight of fear at all levels.” This doesn’t only happen at institutions like Penn State. This occurs in families where children are sexually abused every single day and everyone is afraid to know or tell. And the family is a “cloistered culture where doing what is right crumbles under the weight of fear at all levels.”
At the top, Freeh said, Paterno, Curley, Schultz and president Graham Spanier cowered at the notion of bad publicity for the university and its heralded football program. At the bottom, Freeh said, the janitors who witnessed Sandusky abusing a boy in a campus shower in November 2000 feared being fired if they alerted authorities. This doesn’t occur in institutions alone. This exists in every family where sexual abuse is occurring and some of those at the top – whether they be a parent, an older sibling, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle – “cower at the notion of bad publicity [and humiliation and other consequences] for the family.” And in every family where at the bottom those who witness or overhear the sexual abuse . . . fear being threatened, attacked, or abandoned.
“They were afraid to take on the football program,” Freeh said. “They said the university would circle around them. It was like going against the president of the United States. If that’s the culture at the bottom, then God help the culture at the top.” Yes, tragically this happens in institutions – universities, private schools, coaching academies, religious institutions, and more. But just as tragically, perhaps even more tragically since it can be so much more hidden, this exists in families. I have worked with many who have been sexually abused in their childhoods. The very real fear of revealing what happened to them, even if they weren’t threatened by the abuser, includes a foreground terror of “taking on the family.” They knew and know the family will circle around the abuser and the parts of the family that are in denial. And unfortunately, that happens more often than not. One person, the one who has been abused and decides to expose the truth, is too often attacked – emotionally and verbally if not physically – made out to be the “bad one” or the “crazy one,” and exiled from the family. In a family, the abuser usually has so much power – emotionally, the family members are so often in thrall to the abuser as though they were all children — that going against the abuser is to family members similar to going against the president of the U.S.
Are you getting the gravity of the situation? The breadth and depth of the situation? We are seeing scandals in institutions because of the enormity of the sexual abuse that’s occurring in families. The enormity of the sexual abuse that’s occurring in families and not being stopped. Not being brought out into the open for truth and justice. And definitely not being healed.
Unhealed sexual abuse can cause many problems. Two major problems among them . . . the ones who were abused repeat the sexual abuse, acting it out upon others as it was acted out on them; or the ones who were abused are frozen in the face of sexual abuse around them and participate in the collusion when the next cycle of sexual abuse occurs – perhaps a generation down the line or in some other context they are part of.
In a recent panel discussion on the American porn industry, MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry acknowledged something I’ve rarely heard in the media. The essence of what she said was that there are “bad things happening in porn in terms of sex trafficking and vulnerability” . . . and “the fact is that all of us are complicit.”*** A fellow panelist responded, “That’s a great point,” and went on to something else. The whole panel needed to stay on that note of complicity. We needed the panel to go deeper with that acknowledgment. We all need to go deeper with the issue of complicity.
If we have more sexual abuse in our world than we can imagine, then it is more than likely that more than we can imagine of what we live with in our society is rooted in sexual abuse. Pornography. Sexual harassment. Sexual Addiction. Prostitution. Rape. Sex Slavery. How many of the victims of these things were sexually abused as children? How many of the perpetrators and providers of these things were sexually abused as children? How many of the consumers of these things were sexually abused as children? My instinct and experience tells me . . . far far far more than we could imagine. Far far far more than we are, perhaps, willing to imagine.
And what do we do about all this sexual abuse? We help keep it hidden, we deny it, we cover it up, we turn away from it, we normalize it. We let insurance companies interfere with the healing that could actually occur – both individually and societally. We let insurance companies have personal information that will be accessible forever about people who have already been deeply exposed, wounded, and taken advantage of. We let insurance companies limit the depth of healing and the extent of healing by paying for only short term therapy that treats the symptoms and makes people “functional” . . . but leaves the memories and feelings deep inside the abused person to haunt them and drive them in ways that aren’t good for them or the world.
By allowing this, we let more and more new forms of quick-fix bandaid therapy be developed so that their originators and followers can do the new therapies and be paid by the insurance companies. I’m not saying that all insurance companies always interfere and never help. Just like with everything else, the insurance companies can misuse and abuse their power, or they can utilize their power for magnificent good. And I’m not saying all therapists gravitate to the quick fixes in order to get paid by the insurance companies. Thank goodness there are some integritous therapists who are truly committed to helping people heal to the root.
And what do we do about all this sexual abuse? We allow the pharmaceutical companies to buy their way into the business of healing and the insurance industry so that one of the quick-fix bandaids is pharmaceutical drugs. I’m not saying medicine is never an aid to someone’s journey toward healing. It is just not always needed; it always has consequences; and it is definitely not the vehicle that accomplishes the underlying healing.
In other words . . . what we do about all this sexual abuse is to collude – whether knowingly or not – in preventing the healing of sexual abuse. We are complicit in preventing the real healing of individuals. And in preventing the healing of sexual abuse in our world. We may not want to see this. We may not want to know this. We may not want to acknowledge our part in this. That in itself makes us part of the problem. Anyone of us who interferes with the healing is part of the problem. Anyone of us who allows interference with the healing is part of the problem.
I have been a depth psychotherapist for 37 years. Included in my practice for most of that time have been people who were abused sexually as children. I know it is possible to do the depth root healing. It takes deep commitment. It takes a trustworthy therapist with deep integrity, with solid boundaries, with an ongoing commitment to his or her own inner healing to the root . . . that is what’s needed to be able to go with someone who has been sexually abused in childhood all the way to the core healing. (A therapist cannot guide or even go with a client to depths the therapist has not gone him/herself.)
And every time one person does his/her own depth healing, that person has a huge impact on society. The healing needs to be done one person at a time. But the individuals who are healing from their own experiences of sexual abuse cannot accomplish this alone. Every single one of us can help both with the individual healing and the healing of society . . . if we do our own healing. If we stop allowing ourselves and others to interfere with the true healing that is possible. If we do our own healing, we will stop being complicit with the sexual abuse that exists not only in our families but also in our communities – in person and second-hand, like online.
Please! Look at yourself honestly. Please do what you need to for your own deep healing. Please take a stand to stop others from interfering with real healing . . . individually and communally. The health of many people depends upon you. . . many more people than you can imagine. The health of our society depends upon you. . . as well as every single one of us. And not just sexually but on all levels of our being. The health of our world depends upon you. . . as well as every single one of us.
We are not powerless. We need to do the healing to find and claim our power and use it well . . . not only in behalf of ourselves but also in behalf of us all.
© 2012, Judith Barr
***http://video.msnbc.msn.com/melissa-harris-perry/48105138#48105138 (4:11 TO 4:19)
WHAT YOU CAN DO
TO HELP MAKE YOUR WORLD SAFE . . . FROM THE INSIDE OUT
This month, commit to truly become a part of the healing so needed in our world. You can start by helping to spread the word about how we can truly heal sexual abuse, truly and to the root . . .
If you’ve never commented on a blog before, comment on this one.
If you’ve never passed a blog post on to other people, pass this one on to everyone you know.
If you’ve never let an organization know about the link between individual and communal healing and the possibilities for assisting, let your favorite organization know.
If you’ve never looked at and worked to heal the roots of how you might be complicit, do that exploration and healing now.
We can heal sexual abuse – in its many forms – in our world . . . individually, communally, nationally and globally, if we are committed to healing to the root!