Category Archives: Sexual Assault

If You’ll Turn A Child Back Into the Night, You Can’t Call Yourself A Christian

The photograph below, with credit to the Dallas Morning News in an opinion piece, depicts an 8 year-old child looking with some combination of angst and wonder at a United States Border patrolman as he is processed near McAllen, Texas.

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I lack a ready solution to what is a legitimate growing concern regarding the appropriate legal status of (and thus the fate of) undocumented children who enter the United States unaccompanied and often at the behest of parents and other family members who have already made the journey to the United States, either legally or illegally.

I also lack, increasingly, a sincere religious identity other than Deism, although I still cling to Catholicism in some element of practice. But if agreements can be reached on basic definitions, I’ll offer this quick and blunt syllogism:

1. “Christians” are not just followers but indeed worshippers of the figure generally accepted to have been the itinerant rabbi Jesus, originally from the Roman province of Judea.

2. “Worship” can be commonly understood to mean to aspire to be like, to imitate and struggle to emulate; at bottom to do what the worshipped object would do as much as humanly possible.

3. Thousands of children every year are attempting the remarkably cruel, emotionally crippling and physically dangerous journey into the United States from Mexico and points south. They suffer all manner of thirst, hunger, exhaustion, fear, darkness, uncertainty, and still untold amounts of sexual exploitation and abuse. In most cases they have family already in the U.S. who have arranged for their transport in order for reunification. In some cases the border crossing is only one point on a trail of misery and hardship. Many children must travel thousands of miles beyond the border to rejoin loved ones, and that journey within the U.S. can be no less vicious and exploitive.

4. Christianity within differing sects is by far the most popular American religion, with millions claiming America to be a “Christian nation.”

5. Many Americans, in some cases regardless of political affiliation and with some legitimate practical concerns, would see these children turned away from sanctuary in the world’s richest nation. While perhaps not personally lacking compassion, some would nevertheless deny these children even processing in temporary detention centers.

6. These people cannot call themselves Christians with any shred of sincerity or intellectual honesty.

And what gives me the right to make this claim? Nothing, really. But I’ve yet to see a single interpretation with an iota of coherency that would allow the plain teachings of Jesus- as we know them in modern translations from the Gospels- to allow for the shunning of these children in need (or those accompanying them, for that matter, but especially them).

I’m aware that tragic interpretations of Christianity have for centuries encouraged and embraced horrors from slavery to genocide. But I’ve never seen anything Jesus himself purportedly uttered that could ever be used to justify anything but welcoming these children -pawns in a miserable game of limited and lopsidedly distributed resources- with open arms. No matter if it’s inconvenient, impractical, unwise, unfair even, or anything else.

It’s often irritating, and indeed sometimes far worse that that. Like millions before me, I’ve struggled with the clear demands of this same revolutionary, inscrutable, polarizing figure my entire sentient life. Although not Jesus himself, a Biblical author named James is credited with writing that religion undefiled before God is this: To attend to widows and orphans in their distress, and to remain unstained from the world.

I’ve failed miserably at the second part of this command. My only hope, for whatever shadow of a Christian I may still be or eventually die as, is not to fail at the first.

Regardless of the practical considerations.

Regardless of the geopolitical implications.

Regardless of the foolishness, recklessness, or even downright deception of any adult involved.

If you will turn a child back into the night, you cannot call yourself a Christian.

 

 

George F. Will: Championing Male Paranoia, Ignorance, and the Status Quo

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Attributed to the anthropologist Margaret Mead, this sentiment is both insightful and beautiful, but deceivingly tragic as well. If, after all, Mead was right that only small, committed groups of people have really changed the world, then it’s exactly because human beings as they’ve assembled in larger groups never would or could.

It’s sad but true. Tribes, nation-states, empires and entire civilizations have made, by and large, miserable decisions over the millennia in just about every area of human interaction. In our largest collections, we’ve consistently chosen slavery, patriarchy, militarism, vengeance, racial and sectarian violence, bigotry and greed.

Regardless, hope and progress persist and have moved the world forward; I believe Mead is right that this progress in humanity has been driven in large part not by the masses but by the outliers, the suffering, the unusually reflective, empathic and brave.

When it comes to the shameful and shame-based, age-old shroud of silence that has been draped over survivors of sexual violence, nothing is different. Progress is being made, much of it born of the efforts of women (and some men) who refused at last to suffer silently and who finally punched through to the social consciousness with the feminist and victim’s movements of recent decades.

And now a small but surprisingly growing number are coming forward to expose what’s always been true and almost never acknowledged: Colleges and universities, like most institutional environments, have been havens for sexually violent individuals for far too long, and for reasons that institutional leadership could address far better than it ever has.

But for writers like George F. Will, this shedding of light and move toward accountability must be dismissed as hysteria and the establishment of yet another “victim class” with a hidden agenda. He’s armed with nothing more than one, remarkably atypical and grossly misleading anecdote of an apparently mischaracterized sexual assault. Yet he spends half of a column on its facts before dismissing pretty much all college-aged victims as confused and coddled miscreants, unable to characterize their own experiences due to “hook up culture,” or “hormones, alcohol, and faux sophistication.”

As Will himself would write in judgment of such a moronic conclusion:

Well.

Like so many before him, Will combines ignorance and useless moralizing; unlearned in sexual violence dynamics, he fails to grasp that most clear cases of victimization- let alone awkward or even borderline violent sexual events- almost never lead to complaints of victimization to anyone. Of course, awkward and negative sexual hook-ups happen. Of course regret sometimes sinks in. Of course women (and some men) feel cheated, used and angry after sexual encounters in many circumstances and because of many factors. The idea that they’ll now “cry rape” because of a handful of Department of Education initiatives, thus filling the country’s prisons with innocent men, is paranoid nonsense.

Regardless, as with so many men of his generation and inclination, Will’s real concern is with the fate of the hapless, charming lothario who he is certain has no ill intent but now faces the wrath of the badly behaved, deviously empowered woman with an axe to grind and a sympathetic, left-leaning government to help her grind it.

It’s garbage. But it’s not surprising. Will’s hysteria is a common and oft-repeated pattern of those who would preserve the status quo and the appearance of white, male dominated normalcy at any cost; just as women who demanded equal rights were once marginalized and dismissed as a small, vocal group of disgruntled malcontents; just as those who fought for an end to racial segregation were once branded as the minority in an otherwise content sub-culture of second class citizens. It’s that ever-present, all too common drone that has damned the world to so much misery and injustice for so long without change. On this issue, Will champions it shamefully.

My hope is that efforts like Will’s- ones which regrettably resemble the sad echo of mass group-think through the ages- will continue to falter, however improbably, because of a small group of thoughtful individuals who have simply had enough.

 

Honored Beyond Words: Being a Part of “Lived Through This”

LTTIt has to have been 8 years or more since I first heard of the Voices and Faces Project, although it seems like much longer. Its mission is so beautifully simple that it tends to transcend its also beautifully simple name: Voices and Faces.

But that’s the point.

The best prosecutors, investigators and advocates I ever worked with in this business knew that the word “case,” and the dozens of other words we use to categorize, triage, sanitize and process human misery as a result of crime, was a reprehensible substitute for the person we came to know at the center of it.

Yes, it was a case, and it had to be dealt with as such. But the thing that haunted us wasn’t the case. It was the she or he, the unique, mysterious, and sometimes broken, sometimes remarkably unbowed, person before us. To the extent we were responsible to her or him- at least for what we could control in the almost comically blunt and fractured, imperfect system we worked in- we struggled to keep that person’s face foremost in our minds. We struggled to hear her or his voice as we strategized, made decisions, and dealt out “justice” as we’d been conditioned to accept and define it.

But even that voice- the one we heard- was truncated. I was good at what I did, and I listened well. But what I needed to hear professionally, and what I could spare the time and emotional energy for, was always far less than what could have been fully related to me. When I parted ways with a survivor, whether she was 5 or 75, I often wondered what I’d missed, and was missing then and forever. But it wasn’t something I could dwell on. There were more “cases” coming in. Pretty much every day.

The pinnacle of what I did wasn’t winning those cases (and yes, I accept how self-serving that sounds, having lost my share). Regardless, the pinnacle was responding to the voices and acknowledging the faces in a way that gave them- and not us- the measure of dignity and recognition they deserved.

That is the day to day challenge that simply must be met in the Anglo-American criminal justice response to sexual violence, or all else is lost, and our critics are right to say we serve no one but ourselves.

But even at our best, we could only see so much, and absorb so much. There was- and always will be- an ocean of human experience going woefully unnoticed by those of us tasked with responding professionally to the harm done. We’re simply not equipped to know it all, whether because it’s not legally relevant, not immediately discernible, or not emotionally digestible given the spectrum we work on.

And the saddest fact, of course, is that the incalculable amount of suffering, resilience, inspiration and courage that results from sexual violence in our world could be at any time multiplied exponentially from what I missed, and that all of us in the entire system miss. This is because we only see what enters the system we created in the first place. The vast, vast majority of sexual violence that occurs the world over, day in and day out, is never revealed to any sort of system of authority or adjudication. It simply goes unmet, unaided, unanswered. Unheard.

Voices and Faces changes that, and with no more than the courage of the survivors and the ability to memorialize their accounts. Of course, the project stands apart from the criminal justice response and well it should. I simply came across it as a practitioner with no other perspective.

Except for one. I am a victim, myself of child sexual abuse, a fact known now to most who know me in any capacity, but unknown to most during my tenure as a special victims prosecutor. A few years ago, the author of “Lived Through This,” herself a survivor of a brutal home invasion rape and a dear friend, approached me about being a part of the compilation she envisioned. She knew my story. She wanted to tell it for me. The proudest thing I’ve ever done is to allow her to do so.

Thank you, Anne, for doing it so very beautifully.

For Rebirth in April: Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Many thanks to the Huffington Post Impact section for including me in an important series of testimonials and blog posts on sexual violence as we observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

One of the best ways you can discover how to make a difference (this month and beyond) is to visit www.startbybelieving.org. There are far more survivors of sexual violence than you’re aware of- the same is true for all of us. You are potential responder, as we all are. Please- respond gently.