What Are Others Doing?

NEW YORK — Child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has been in the media spotlight for two years now. That is the most likely reason why 64% of Americans believe Catholic priests frequently abuse children, according to a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll.

The perception could be reinforced later this month when the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board releases the results of a study on sex abuse in the Church throughout the United States between 1950 and 2002.

But the numbers of clergy abusers being reported in the press have no context, as “there's no other comparable study by any other institution,” noted the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Wilton Gregory.

To help give some of the context, here are some statistics:

— The Gallup Organization reported that 1.3 million children were sexually assaulted in 1995.

• According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 50% of all rape victims are under age 18, 29% of rape victims are 12-17 years old and 15% of rape victims are younger than 12. The American Medical Association reported in 1995 that 61% of all female sexual-abuse victims were under 18.

• Some 250,000 to 500,000 pedophiles reside in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, and 100 children are kidnapped by strangers each year.

• Gene Abel, a researcher at Emory University in Atlanta, said convicted child molesters who abused girls had an average of 52 victims each. Men who molested boys had an average of 150 victims.

• A 1978 survey reported that one in every three to four girls and one in every six to eight boys is sexually abused before age 18.

Clearly, sexual abuse is rampant and has been for some time. And obviously, all of this is not wreaked by Catholic priests. In fact, about 95% of victims know their perpetrators, according to the California Consortium to Prevent Child Abuse.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has been looking at this issue in preparation for the report coming from the bishops’ conference Feb. 27. The league's report looks at clergy of other denominations, coaches, psychologists and teachers.

Teachers Who Abuse

Teachers come in for the hardest hit. The report cites an American Medical Association report in 1991 that says, “17.7% of males who graduated from high school and 82.2% of females reported sexual harassment by faculty or staff during their years in school. Fully 13.5% said they had sexual intercourse with their teacher.” Those figures are not broken down between public and private schools.

New York City schools seem to have a particular problem, the Catholic League reported. “In New York City alone, at least one child is sexually abused by a school employee every day,” the report said.

And it isn't simply a matter of the abuse. The league report shows that a lot of this activity is covered up by those who are in authority. “One study concluded that more than 60% of employees accused of sexual abuse in the New York City schools were transferred to desk jobs at district offices located inside the schools,” it said. “Most of these teachers are tenured and 40% of those transferred are repeat offenders.”

Calls to the New York City Department of Education, Boston Public Schools and the National Educational Association seeking comment were not returned.

The problem isn't solely with perpetrators and the people who protect them. It also extends to law enforcement and the judicial system. The Miami Herald recently had a four-part investigation into the Florida court system, which allows judges to withhold adjudication on people who are arrested for a variety of charges, thus allowing the person to walk free without any criminal record. This applies even to child sexual abuse.

The Herald examined 18,000 child sex-abuse cases during the last decade and found that: “More than half of adults who solicit children for sex online get withholds of adjudication, meaning they have no conviction on their record even though they plead [guilty] to the crime.” “Nearly eight in 10 people who publish or peddle child porn on the Internet get their convictions erased …” “Four in 10 people who own child-porn pictures or videotapes get withholds.”

The newspaper reported on the case of a 20-year-old man, Alan Salazar from Houston, who lured a 14-year-old girl from the Miami area via the Internet and flew her to Texas. Fortunately, Houston police showed up just in time. The man was charged in both Texas and Florida but was given a withhold in both states. He got four years of probation.

“A Herald computer analysis shows the Salazar outcome is typical in Florida,” the newspaper said. “State investigators spend several hundred thousand dollars yearly to trip up Internet exploiters, but most get their convictions forgiven.”

No Surprise

None of this comes as a surprise to Kenneth Wooden. The one-time reporter for CBS’ “60 Minutes” and ABC's “20/20” now has an operation called Child Lures Prevention, which gives seminars on preventing children from being lured by pedophiles.

The media veteran calls the current secular press coverage of the Catholic Church's woes the “the perfect media storm.” But he thinks that storm is part of the “consistent level of hypocrisy” in society that surrounds the issue.

Wooden, a Catholic, once participated in a federal sting operation against child pornographers called Operation Borderline. That netted more than 200 people who had violated the law. But what fascinated him was that those who were arrested represented “47% of all occupations in the Department of Labor's occupation handbook,” he said. That included “a top engineer at IBM and one of the wealthiest guys in Vermont.”

Even members of Congress and big-time businessmen in New York and Washington, D.C., have been caught in this kind of activity, Wooden said.

The hypocrisy was also seen in the case of the Boise Boys, a scandal that happened twice in Idaho where boys were kept for men to come and molest them. In fact, Wooden said, so many men were going there that Trans World Airlines, which was still operating at the time, added seats on its routes to Boise.

The Catholic League said the aim of its report (at www.catholicleague.org) is “to challenge those who continue to treat this issue in isolation” by not examining the situation in other religions and professions.

“Too often,” the league said, “assumptions have been made that this problem is worse in the Catholic clergy than in other sectors of society.”

Thomas Szyszkiewicz writes from Altura, Minnesota.

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