Does the secrecy surrounding Penn State’s atrocity remind you of something?

Because it sure does remind me of something.

Leftover sends this, one of a series of examinations of a conference held at Yale University last September, “Sex Abuse and the Study of Religion.” At Immanent Frame, Kathryn Lofton writes:

Sexual abuse is a practice within an existent relational dynamic, one that simultaneously transforms and calcifies the hierarchies and codes that determined the original affiliation. The psychiatric vocabulary above cannot begin to access the social economy and moral stakes of abuse within communities determined by parishes and families determined in part by ecclesiastical law. “Religion” as a category has no meaning if it is merely saved to designate ideal practice; it is a term that summarizes failure and fulfillment of prescribed relations.


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  1. Placing childhood sexual abuse in historical perspective by Stephen Mintz is the second installment of the series.

    Three conclusions grow out of the historical study of the sexual abuse of minors. The first is how slowly and unevenly American society has come to recognize the simple fact that the sexual abuse of minors is wrong and inflicts lasting trauma. The second is that in attempting to understand the sexual abuse of minors, expert opinion has often shown more understanding for the perpetrators than the victims, overemphasizing victims’ resilience and minimizing the abusers’ responsibility and the corporate cultures and institutional arrangements that facilitate abuse. The third key finding is that bureaucratic institutions that operate outside public scrutiny have dealt consistently with the sexual abuse by denying its reality, ignoring its existence, claiming that it is an anomaly and aberration, castigating accusers, and failing to hold perpetrators to account.

    It wasn’t hard for me to see a relationship between those conclusions and those reported from the Freeh Report on Penn State.

    The Immanent Frame is a Digital Media production of the Social Science Research Council.

  2. I would suggest that any human organization of any size sooner or later devolves to the primary purpose of perpetuating itself, no matter what its original mission might have been. If that means a few individuals become collateral damage, well, it’s in service of the greater good, as defined by the organization.

    1. I nearly agree with you, and I hate myself for that. When you consider the (ostensible) original intent of faith groups, this is even more egregious.

      1. If child sex abuse can be made more egregious…that’s not precisely what I mean. The act itself is egregious in any form and in any venue. But I somehow believe faith groups should be at the forefront of ending the scourge.

  3. The fact is that in some parts of this country, football passes for religion, and coaches for priests. I know because I’m from one of those parts of the country.

    Whenever we elevate people to levels of esteem that they can’s possible sustain, we risk overlooking their basic flaws. We support the idea that they are not susceptible to the ordinary rules and laws that apply to the rest of us, because there’s a part of us that wants to believe such people exist.

    There is no excuse for abuse. But we also need new social structures (including in the church) that afford authority to competent, qualified leaders, but also restrain abuses with transparency and unequivocal justice. In the case of Penn State, I hope that the NCAA understands the importance of sending a clear message to future football players, future students, children who are currently the objects of abuse from people like Sandusky. If this moment is ignored or overlooked, the credibility of the NCAA is destroyed. Much like the credibility of the Catholic Church in the eyes of many.

    Thanks for the link – I will follow that conversation closely!

    1. Good point. If you have to believe in something, make it a sunrise, or a deity, something obviously bigger than yourself.

      1. Like …. football, say. No, kinda kidding here, but LOOK at the lengths people will go to in their fandom of various sports: riots, mayhem, destruction, either in celebration of or anger about a win or a loss. Or … suicide bombers — they believe in something bigger than themselves, right?

      2. Football is bigger than any individual. I also grew up in that part of the country.

        1. Same here, and even as a kid, I can remember rolling my eyes back up into my head over some of the nonsense surrounding the religion of football. And I like football.

    2. I think it would be more surprising to find an area of the country where football is not treated like a religion.
      Even in my forgotten corner of America a scandal beginning in the University football program has resulted in the DOJ investigating community law enforcement and the USDE and NCAA investigating the university.

      (I’m not going to link to the Jezebel article here. While I recognize the existence of some conditions that might possibly justify our being characterized as “The Rape Capital of America,” Baker’s lame attempt at investigative journalism wouldn’t get past a local high school teacher. Or…to be kind about it…it’s crap.)

      In my opinion, the Freeh Report gives the NCAA no option. It must take strong action against Penn State in order to retain some sense of legitimacy.

  4. And … I suppose it’s just my own observation, but when these crimes against children are perpetrated on girls, it seems that the rage and outcry is less anguished than when they’re perpetrated on boys. Yes? No?

    1. I don’t know if I’ve noticed that, but then, my outrage is pretty high on a regular day so maybe I’m not a good judge.

    2. The historical perspective piece linked to above states…

      In courthouses, the treatment of sexual abuse was colored by a young person’s age, gender, and willingness to conform to cultural stereotypes. For a long time, jurors treated young girls very differently from boys and older girls. Sexual activity with young girls was clearly regarded as pathological by the late nineteenth century, but proving cases of abuse proved very difficult. Jurors expected a young girl to reveal her innocence by using vague, simple, euphemistic language, while expecting older girls to put up resistance or demonstrate immaturity and a lack of sexual understanding. Interestingly, men charged with sodomizing pubescent boys were convicted in the same proportions as those whose victims were young [adolescent] boys, but this was not the case with girls.

      The Robertson book linked to by the author chronicles, among other things, the difficulties in getting convictions for rape against adolescent girls that lead to the creation of “statutory rape” laws.

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