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Child Sexual Abuse Blog: When Authority Figures Are Abusers

October 22nd, 2012   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases

The following column by North Central Florida / Gainesville child advocate, foster child, and child sexual abuse attorney and criminal defense lawyer Gloria Fletcher appeared last week in newspapers in Gainesville and Ocala. The message – about the horror of child sexual abuse by “authority figures” like former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and Florida pastor James Harris – is equally terrifying no matter where the crimes occur.

Lost in the news of former Penn State University assistant coach Jerry Sandusky being sentenced to between 30 and 60 years for his conviction of sexually abusing young boys was equally disturbing news about James Harris, the Belle Glade, Florida, pastor convicted of sexually abusing teenage boys under his watch – and sentenced this week to 30 years in prison.

What drives some people or professionals in positions of authority to abuse their power? What makes the families of children under their care so willing to put their kids under their watch or sometimes to not even question these people – even when suspicions may arise?

Whether in Belle Glade, Florida, or State College, Pennsylvania, or anywhere in the U.S., many have relinquished not only control but common sense. Most professionals have much to offer young children in mentoring, guidance and moral judgment, and the actions of these two shouldn’t taint their professions.

But their examples should elicit a long look at how we dole out “respect” and cede control to supposed “authority figures.”

Saddening about the Sandusky sentencing was his continued refusal to admit to his crimes or apologize to those he abused. These boys – now men – face a lifetime of demons and possibly therapy. Sandusky’s failure to accept responsibility only deepens their pain. As children, they were powerless to defend themselves. Sandusky’s denials only continue his power hold on them and the situation – and leave his victims to continue to wonder, “Why me?”

The lesson for society is that we must learn to speak up, report abuse when we suspect it, and – at all costs – protect our children. Had assistant coach Mike McQueary spoken up – and followed through – when he first suspected the abuse a decade ago, other children could have avoided becoming victims. McQueary feared being accused of making false allegations against powerful people, and Sandusky continued his abusive ways.

I believe Sandusky should have received a longer sentence. Sure, like Harris, they’re both in their 60s. It’s likely neither will ever see freedom again. But then again, neither may their victims.

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