Patti Armstrong is an award-winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace series. Her latest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families and Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious. She has a B.A. in social work and an M.A. in public administration and worked in both those fields before staying home to work as a freelance writer. Patti and her husband live in North Dakota, where they are still raising the tail end of their 10 children.
Jennifer (not her real name) is a young woman with a secret. It has burned on her mind and sickened her stomach. An old family friend who enjoys a high level of prestige and influence expressed interest in an adulterous relationship with her.
He is married with a large family and has known Jennifer since she was a young girl. His employer might fire him if they find out.
Jennifer considered the ramifications and did nothing — at first. But she did tell her parents. They were shocked and angry and also realized the potential suffering for the entire family. They sought counsel, prayed, and together plan to confront the offender and inform his employer.
The Victim’s Double Burden
“Nothing would have happened if I had told,” is a common refrain among the growing list of sexual assault victims who did not initially come forward. For offenders that fall under the “everyone knew but no one did anything” category, their victims’ response is understandable.
But there is another kind of victim who does not report an offense because something will be done about it. These people are just going about life when an offender targets them to use for his own pleasure. (We know that offenders are not always male.) The victim is shocked and disgusted because the offender is usually someone they trusted.
Victims in such circumstances, have two burdens. One is betrayal and loss of trust, which always has post-traumatic ramifications, and the second is the heavy burden of holding the fate of others in their hands. If they tell, will others be hurt? Usually the answer is yes. But if they don’t tell, will there be other victims? And will there be justice?
High School Pedophile
While I was attending St. Alphonsus High School in Dearborn, there was a pedophile in our midst. The school closed many years ago after the neighborhood went from solid Catholic to solid Muslim. Mr. Marx (not his real name, but anyone I went to school with knows who he is) was a popular teacher loved by the nuns, parents and the kids.
His enthusiasm was contagious. At football and basketball games he led the cheering section. Mr. Marx even occasionally showed up at parties just to say hi. My parents thought that was weird. They had good instincts.
In my brother Mike’s class, a year older than me, Mr. Marx had no kids he hung around with. They all knew. And he knew they knew. They called him names behind his back, and not always in a whisper.
The summer before Mike started high school, Mr. Marx struck up a conversation with him after Mass one Saturday. He was interested in Mike’s recent hernia operation. Mr. Marx offered Mike a ride home but asked if he minded stopping by his apartment to get something first. The teacher invited my 14-year-old brother in and then casually asked to see the scar from the operation.
That’s when Mr. Marx made a most inappropriate move. Mike was appalled and let him know. Mr. Marx, quickly explained that he also was going to have a hernia operation and just wanted to check and see if everything would still be in working order. He told my brother that people would not understand, so it was important that Mike kept this to himself. So Mike did. For a while.
One day Mike realized, hey, I don’t have to keep this secret, so he told his friends. But that’s as far as it went — although he later told me too. We must have been brain-dead for not telling our parents. They definitely would have done something, but causing a big ruckus did not seem like a good idea at the time.
It was many years later, after we were out of high school, that a small group of alumni got together over a few beers and realized many of them had Mr. Marx stories. They went to the pastor, who immediately fired the pedophile teacher. He was single, so at least no family was involved. I don’t know if the law was informed. Those were different times for everyone.
Looking back, I cannot help but wonder, was Mr. Marx ever successful at abusing boys? After all, why would he have kept trying otherwise?
Group Home Parent Abuse
In the 1980s, my husband and I took over as house parents at a group home in Montana for delinquent boys because the previous house parents were fired. Dan and Linda (not their real names) had been model house parents—fun, loving and very involved with the boys who seemed to love them dearly. Within the group home circuit and at conferences, Dan and Linda were well-known and admired.
But the father was giving backrubs to the boys in ways that was not appropriate. One of the boys told. Linda and the couple’s three sons were devastated. Really, the group home boys were devastated too. They were one big happy family except for those perverted back rubs. It meant that both Dan and Linda lost their jobs and home — an apartment was attached to the group home. Dan was also charged and court mandated to get treatment.
Not their Problem
Coincidentally, while working on this article, I was reading the book Humility Rules: Saint Benedicts 12-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem and came across a relevant passage under the step for “Self-Denial.”
“What feels best for you, may not be best for the people around you. For that matter, it may not be good for you either. Someone with genuine self-esteem understands that self-fulfillment is not about self-satisfaction. Thus, he is willing to deny his own desires for the sake of the future, for the sake of the people around him, and for the sake of his immortal soul.”
Offenders do not deny themselves their evil desires, and so, their future, those around him, and their immortal souls are harmed. They knew what they were doing was wrong.
Once the evil act is committed, the victim has the power to report it so that the offender will experience consequences. The victim never asked for such power. They are stuck with it.
And although reporting may lead to the suffering of others, it is the offender and not the victim who caused it. We must always keep that in mind, no matter our vantage point.