Editorials

Institutions failed to put safety of children first

It's difficult to find many things in life that everyone can agree on. One of those rare topics of consensus is sexual abuse of children.

It is taboo in every culture, and those who perpetrate it are universally loathed.

So why is it that so many large institutions have historically felt the need to protect the abusers, rather than the abused?

The top offenders in this unforgivable practice of cover-up are as obvious as the recent headlines: the Roman Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, school districts.

That's the short list. Other organizations have been rocked by child sex abuse scandals in recent years. In some regard, the specific organizations are beside the point.

Why has keeping the secret ever been considered more important than protecting children?

The explanations coming out of the Catholic Church right now are certainly falling on mostly deaf ears. No matter what justification is proffered, there is no excuse for putting any organization's interests above a child's welfare. End of story.

Preying on the vulnerable when praying is really the activity that is supposed to be taking place is sick and twisted, but it's a classic scenario for abuse.

Sex abuse of a child occurs when someone in a position of authority and trust uses that power to take advantage of the young and vulnerable.

Priests, teachers, troop leaders all fall into that category, as do others. The vast majority of victims first knew and trusted their abusers.

At times, school districts in the Mid-Columbia have turned a blind eye or transferred a teacher as a means of suppressing the problem. Athletic departments and sports clubs have been guilty of failing to act on suspicions and worse.

More often than not, patterns of abuse and complaints have been long-established before the perpetrator is finally caught. And then we're always shocked to know how long it had been going on and wonder why nothing had been done earlier.

If one victim is brave enough to come forward and call for justice, others often follow. Each revelation sheds new light on the abuse -- and too often on the coverup as well.

But the onus shouldn't be on the victim. These are children, after all. With many adult victims of abuse and sexual crimes not strong enough to come forward, how can we expect children to overcome the threats, fear and shame to speak for themselves?

What is happening with the Catholic Church goes up the ranks to the highest level. That's not unique. Too often, the leaders of organizations knew of a problem in their ranks and were involved in covering it up.

It's as if avoiding the embarrassment of a miscreant in the organization takes precedence over preventing the pain and suffering of a child. There is no way to ever justify that equation.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and we can't think of a better time for adults to stop making excuses for the unfathomable and unforgivable acts of other grown-ups and start protecting the little ones who can't help themselves.

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