The Silence that Surrounds Abuse

Fr. Shay Cullen

Angeline is just one of the millions of children who are scared and intimidated to run and tell that they had been raped, abused or sexually assaulted. “Telling was the hardest thing, I was frightened,” she said. “He threatened to kill my mother and burn our house down if I told, I had no one to trust, no one who could protect me from my abuser, he was my father.”

She was only 13 years old when it first happened and she hid it out of fear. Angeline was saved when her abusive father took a neighbor’s eight-year-old girl into a beach house and Juanito, a neighborhood boy crept up to the open window. When he saw the abuse happening he fearlessly and instinctively shouted out “stop!” and threw stones on the roof of the beach house.

The father of Angeline was arrested and jailed and put on trial. It was only then that Angeline was able to tell of her terrible experience of being raped by her own father. Worldwide, incest is a word of shame, a word most people will not utter, talk about or even think about. It is as if humans don’t want to admit the barbarity of the abusive human being and call them “animals” or “beasts.” But they are humans with reason, knowledge of right and wrong and free will. When one in every three girls suffer abuse, mostly in their own family, is it any wonder that sexual assault is as common as blinking your eyes?

The world is blind and dumb, asleep to the extent of this terrible human vice, terrible for the abused children, a crime that mostly goes unchallenged, unpunished. The sexual abuse of women is perhaps even more frequent. A woman is raped every minute, some studies say. It is a horrid thing but millions of children endure abuse by their own biological father or by a stepfather or live-in partner of their mother or grandfather.

Most people are not Juanitos, they are more like Angeline. They are scared, frozen, numb, silenced with fear of what might happen if they cried out and accused another of wrongdoing. They are conditioned to stay silent, say nothing, do nothing.

What is wrong with the human species that humans abuse their own offspring and kill with impunity while others see and know what is being done and yet turn the other way. Most people fail to be outraged enough to act and take a stand and speak out to defend the suffering child or adult. They abandon the higher value to help the wounded, save the victim and to act in a just morally right way based on values of defending human dignity and innocent victims.

Adults are paralyzed by fear of what others will say, that they will not be believed, they will be vilified and that there will be retaliation against them. They have been conditioned by a culture of cover-up and silence to abuse, trained by the leaders of church and society to shut up and say nothing. The old saying “Silence is golden” should never have been coined. The millions of ordinary people- priests, laity, and citizens are shamed and intimidated by the power and the impunity of those leaders that cover up abuse in their name.

Sexual abuse of children or adults is about power, domination, and control, oppressing others and seeking at the same time satisfaction of an insatiable urge for sexual relief, pleasure, and satisfaction. But it is the moral duty for all decent human beings to oppose and speak against such lust for power and satisfaction. It is the total secularization and dehumanization of society that has robbed people of their sense of the spiritual value of life and human dignity.

Commercialization of humans and making marketable commodities of children for the sexual gratifications of adults for cash has desensitized societies and cultures. The sex-for-sale industry, sex tourism that is allowed and licensed by the government and fueled by Internet pornography is an indication of how morally low society has sunk. Blessed are those who join rallies against it. Not to act allows it to continue unabated and creates a culture of silence.

That is what is happening in our societies and our cultures and institutions. Even if the child is abused before our eyes- innocent youth, suspects- are shot dead and many choose to see no evil, hear no evil and never to speak out about evil. That is why one in every three girls is sexually abused and there are 23,000 dead.

It is that institutional silence that is rightly condemned when it occurs all too frequently in churches, colleges, the military, the government, the movie industry and now more recently in the development aid industry. The leaders of charities and some members are accused of knowing about sexual abuse of vulnerable women and children. Many are victims of disasters and abused by personnel in their organizations. “MPs accuse aid groups of ‘abject failure’ in tackling sexual abuse,” reads The Guardian headline. It quotes: “Charities have shown “complacency verging on complicity” in responding to sexual abuse that is endemic across the sector, according to a damning report by MPs.”

This has befallen the Catholic Church and other church denominations also. They cover up the crimes of child abuse by some clergy or members of their organizations to avoid shame, embarrassment and scandal, loss of support and funds and to continue to project a false reputation of sanctity and humanitarian concern. In fact, they are accessories to the crimes against children.

Yet the greatest crimes are in families, perhaps someone you know. Perhaps there is an awakening, a glimmer of hope as more suspects are being challenged by the Juanitos of this world and are being held accountable.

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