Saturday, August 1, 2009

One reason abuse victims don't talk

Everyone likes to imagine that they would do the right thing if they knew about a minister accused of child molestation.

But when allegations hit close to home, most people do NOT do the right thing. Even good people.

Baptist pastor Gene Scarborough and Biblical Recorder editor Norman Jameson recently illustrated this reality. I’ve talked about this case before, but I’m going to talk about it again, from a different angle.

In North Carolina, Southern Baptist camp director and former missionary Stephen Carter was indicted on child sex charges. It was reported on WITN-TV and in the Perquimans Weekly. The Associated Baptist Press also reported it, and that article was reprinted in the Biblical Recorder, which is the North Carolina Baptist publication.

I applaud Norman Jameson, editor of the Biblical Recorder, for printing the article. After all, it was only a few years ago that the Illinois Baptist State Association set an ugly precedent by firing its newspaper editor when he decided to publish a story about a pastor charged with child molestation. Though it had already been reported in the secular press, it was apparently news that the high-honchos didn’t think those reading the Baptist newspaper needed to see.

My point is this: I don’t know about the Biblical Recorder, but with at least some Baptist publications, editors may have reason to fear for their jobs when they print news about pastors charged with child molestation. That’s why I’m applauding Jameson.

On the other hand, I think Jameson made a mistake with his personal comments underneath the Biblical Recorder article. They were comments that praised Stephen Carter and that could easily be interpreted as “being supportive” of Carter and as “anticipating a positive outcome.” In fact, that’s exactly how another Biblical Recorder reader interpreted Jameson’s comments, when he wrote to publicly thank Jameson for his words.

Baptist pastor Gene Scarborough is the person who first brought Jameson’s comments to my attention. In essence, Scarborough tried to use Jameson’s comments to convince me that I should remove from the website and blog the news about Stephen Carter’s indictment. Scarborough directed me to the Biblical Recorder. “As you can see," he said, "people who know him are being supportive and this includes our editor who knows him personally.”

I guess Scarborough thought this would sway me. But it didn’t. And I wasn’t swayed by Scarborough’s subsequent emails or by his comments under two of my recent blog postings either. Of course, it didn’t help that Scarborough (1) told me that he had one of North Carolina’s best criminal defense lawyers living right next door to him, (2) talked about lawsuits for “defamation of character” and said he didn’t want me “to run that risk,” and (3) said “It is possible [Carter’s] legal defense could come after you over false accusations which could quickly bankrupt you.”

Suffice it to say that I NEVER appreciate it when someone tries to convince me to remove something from the website or blog by suggesting that I might be sued if I don’t. Brandishing that sort of talk is NOT friendly . . . and it's not the right thing to do.

But here’s how the real damage is done -- the damage done by the words of Jameson, Scarborough, and many others.

When someone like Norman Jameson speaks publicly in a way that seems supportive of an accused perpetrator, it helps to silence any other possible victims. And the very fact that Jameson made such public comments helped to encourage others, such as Scarborough, in their own public support of the accused. And still more people made public comments. Take a look at all the comments under the WITN article.

Can you imagine how all of this looks to the kid who reported Carter to the police?

And what if there were other kids who may have had a fleeting thought about saying something? If it was unlikely they would speak up before, it’s probably a “no way” situation by now.

And can you imagine what the kid’s parents might be thinking? I bet they’re wondering whether they should have just moved away instead of encouraging their kid to talk to the police. I bet they’re wondering how much more wounded their kid will be before it’s all over. I bet they’re wondering how painful it will be if their kid has to testify in a courtroom filled with so many supporters for the accused.

Anticipating the community’s support for the minister is one reason many adolescent abuse victims don’t speak up. For those who do speak up, the community almost invariably proves them right.

It would be different if people wanted to privately express their concern for the accused. Calls, visits, letters and prayers would all be appropriate ways to quietly show care for an accused minister.

But public displays of support for the accused are terribly hurtful for child molestation victims. They’re hurtful not only for any victims in the particular case, but for other victims as well.

Even if this particular Baptist minister is innocent, you can be certain that, somewhere in the same community, there is another kid who is being sexually abused. Perhaps it is a girl being abused by an adult relative. Or perhaps it is a boy being abused by a coach. Or perhaps it's a boy who was abused at 14 and, now that he's 18, he's pondering whether he should say something.

One in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. It’s usually by someone they know and trust. The weight of shame, self-blame, confusion and fear is so enormous and enduring that over 30 percent of them NEVER disclose the experience to ANYONE. Experts say that, of those who do disclose, more than 20 percent eventually recant even though the abuse actually occurred. Why? Often, part of the reason is community pressure. Kids just want things to go back to how they were. After all, once upon a time, it was their community too.

All those other kids are watching. If they see that adults they respect will publicly support an accused perpetrator, they will be less likely to ever report their own victimization. They will be even more scared and even more likely to remain silent, with the result that they will receive no help for the dreadful psychological wounds they have suffered.

It’s easy for people to be blinded by the pain they can see -- the pain of the accused minister and his family. But though it is less visible, the pain of the accuser is every bit as real -- sometimes more so -- and that pain often belongs to a scared and traumatized kid.

See also my prior postings on the Stephen Carter case, “Knowing him doesn’t yield knowledge” and “Baptist camp director charged with sex crimes.”


Anonymous said...

It is not that different from shoot the messenger mentality. And a young victim picks up on that real quick.

Shame on these adults for not thinking one iota about these young victims and how their public words affect THEM.

But shame on a pastor for trying to use scare tactics with YOU...a lawyer even. Not real bright.

Quite frankly, I am seeing all kinds of scare tactics used by pastors these days that is alarming.

Seems everyone knows a lawyer these days who say such and such. I don't get it. I have lawyers in my family and they always tell me they cannot make such predictions.

But if this 'criminal lawyer' was concerned for you defaming the accused man, I suppose he is going to go after the news media and baptist press, too? Do they think we have fallen off the turnip truck?

Anonymous said...

I cannot imagine growing up with the knowledge that ADULTS I am supposed to trust with my very life would publicly support the one who molested me.

I am trying to understand what must be going through a kids head at the sheer injustice of such a thing.

Who will be a character witness for the kid?

And how much of this public support of the accused comes from the pride of saving face? Who wants to admit they might have fellowshipped and supported a molester?

Wouldn't it be more prudent to say nothing publicly? And by saying things publicly before a trial or investigation, couldn't that be construed as trying to influence the outcome?

Anonymous said...

I thought of Michael Reagan while reading this and how his story followed this pattern of keeping silent for so many years.

Michelle said...

One of the hardest things in my family was when my uncle was convicted of raping his kids. There's so much to that, and I can't speak publicly of alot of it. I DO love my uncle, and I'm a victim myself. I know he's had a tough life, my grandfather was awful to him, and my grandfather was abused to, in an orphanage. We knew all this, and yet, it DID NOT mean we defended him. His acts were indefensible.

But, as a family, one of the things that tore us apart most was my grandmother publicly defending my uncle. That was NOT the way to go. She hurt the family situation so much more by doing that.

I've heard from some of my abuser's family as well. It's a mixed boat. Some of them are standing up for me and horrified at what Scott did, others defend him and say it never happened. But I know all of them love him, I don't begrudge anyone that. What hurts like hell is that his grandparents say it never happened and they're the ones that put me in harm's way by allowing him such access to little kids.

It's such a huge difference-loving the victim, and publicly belittling their horrible actions.

I'm headed to Guatemala so you probably won't see me on for heart is with all of you.

Thank you everyone for all you give. Right now I feel so grateful.

Michelle said...

I'm sorry, I had a really bad typo: loving the perp and defending his horrible actions.

I'm not even going to try and Freudize that typo.

Michelle said...


Is the spelling "publically" to a British standard or is it just old-fashioned? I looked it up. I've been using that spelling, but used "publicly" above. Confusing. Language is so ambiguous.

Michelle said...

Finally, and I swear this is the last in my long monologue,

My paternal grandmother, the woman who defended my uncle, was raised VERY Southern Baptist in the Ozarks. When she told me that "THEY (my step-cousins) abused HIM (my uncle)" she continued telling about how many times she herself had been abused in the Southern Baptist community. Except she didn't say it that way. She said, "This is why nobody should come forward. It's wrong. I never came forward about so and so, and so and so and so and so."

After all that time, with such a strict upbringing, she was pretty set in her ways. I saw firsthand how she ended up, so bitter and broken and how she died. I ache for my grandmother, and that's sort of a window to other extremely Adventist (or Baptist) people who defend. I see them as very wounded people themselves. Two of the leaders who hurt me most by defending the perp and belittling what happened have also been abused. If they ever own what happened to's so heartbreaking and so devastating. I want them to be okay, but they hurt me so incredibly horribly that I have to stay away from them. I'm not strong enough to withstand such emotional damage. I've even cut off friendships with people because they won't stop talking to some of them, it hurts so badly. And it's been helpful to cut that part of my life off. I don't think anything is black and white while healing, it's very "non-linear." I need different things at different times. I'm not going to my cousin's wedding because it would hurt so much, and he was one of my dearest friends and will always be like a brother to me. If people really love us, they'll see that. And Gene, if you really care, I think you'll see the wisdom in what Christa is doing, and you'll take wisdom away from this. You're hurting us.

Lin said...

God Bless you, Michelle. I pray His great mercy and kindness for you.

Anonymous said...

""Rightous" people almost enjoy the supposed failures of others."

This comment in the Biblical Recorder by Gene Scarborough had to be the most arrogant I have seen from a "supposed" pastor.

If a pastor is an under-shepherd then what does this comment mean for those who are victims? It means the one who thinks he has been called to shepherd others can only shepherd those who agree with him. Otherwise, they think they are righteous.

But doesn't his comment also mean he thinks he is righteous? And his 'righteousness' extends to the one accused but not the victim.

Would it not have been wiser for a 'shepherd' to keep his mouth shut about supposed guilt or innocence?

He does not even question whether he might be wrong. Does he realize how many have done the same thinking they really knew someone only to be found very wrong.

This is only further proof that those who call themselves pastors as in the spiritual gift mentioned once in the NT....are not shepherds at all.

Anonymous said...

Seeing his earlier comments, I think GS is a good example of why Baptists are so hopeless. Too many of them are too ignorant, and it's like a virus. They spread it.

Anonymous said...

Seeing his earlier comments, I think GS is a good example of why Baptists are so hopeless. Too many of them are too ignorant, and it's like a virus. They spread it.

August 2, 2009 1:08 PM

Exactly. because ministry has become a career. Nothing can threaten the 'career' choice because they can do nothing else. And they are used to be believed and followed. And this makes them think higher of themselves and their peers than they ought to.

When you get down to it, it is about money and reputation. Two things that are not scriptural.

More and more folks are waking up to the fact that pastor is only mentioned once in the NT and that we have invented this 'office' of pastor as a career choice.

But more and more people are questioning why we are paying someone to be a 'professional Christian' when there is no such thing in the NT.

When the church becomes an unsafe place and we are paying folks to keep it unsafe, more will wake up and stop funding it.

Christa Brown said...

"I don't think anything is black and white while healing, it's very 'non-linear'."

Yes. I understand this thought so well. You're exactly right. It's totally non-linear.

Both my husband and I had grandmothers who did a lot of quilting. So I often think of all this as being sort of like a huge jumble of cut-up scraps of cloth - bits and pieces of my life in the dresses, skirts and aprons that I wore - and that my sisters wore as well. They're just such a jumble, and sometimes, just about the time I've got a corner of the quilt pieced together, a wind comes along before I can stitch them, and then they're all jumbled up again. I keep hoping that, someday, I'll be able to stitch all these pieces together into something that's lovely.

Godspeed, Michelle. We'll hope to hear from you again sometime down-the-road.

Ramesh said...

Of course, it didn’t help that Scarborough (1) told me that he had one of North Carolina’s best criminal defense lawyers living right next door to him, (2) talked about lawsuits for “defamation of character” and said he didn’t want me “to run that risk,” and (3) said “It is possible [Carter’s] legal defense could come after you over false accusations which could quickly bankrupt you.”.

To use Mac(ism) ... Ha! to Gene Scarborough.

Anonymous said...

Over the last few years I have been studying the difference between biblical forgiveness and Theraputic forgiveness. the quest has been eye opening. And I have realized how much I have succomed to the Theraputic forgiveness model as it is taught in most of Christendom.

So much of scripture has been twisted to fit Theraputic forgiveness model. We see this on comments here, even from pastors!

The standard for forgiveness is truth. NOT feelings. We forget that our salvation is CONDITIONAL. Yep, you heard me right. It is conditional upon repentance. We cannot EARN it with good works. But we must repent. Jesus' first sermon in His earthly ministry was 'Repent and believe'.

The biblical model for forgiveness is that we relinquish the right to vengence. To get even. That is God's job. Not ours. It does not mean we relinquish the right to truth. It does not mean we do NOT identify evil and describe it.

When we blanket forgive without repentance for evil, that is cheap grace. And the Blood of Christ is not cheap.

The model of Theraputic forgiveness is sending folks to hell.

The biblical model says if your brother or sister repents, forgive them (which also includes reconciliation). If they do not repent, you forgive by giving up any vengence against them.

For those who do not believe this, read ONE verse in Revlation 6 which negates any view of Theraputic forgiveness:

Listen to what the slain saints are saying in Heaven:

9When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" 11Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

So, when folks come here and talk about the bitterness, anger and not moving on...we have a problem. The evil has been properly identified and described and still many in ministry positions who profess to lead for Christ's Name ignore the evil and seek to suppress and even insult those who identify it. They want cheap grace for some.

They are calling evil good and good evil.