When the scandal about Catholic priests in Boston abusing children burst onto the front page all over America, an outrage against certain institutions began fomenting.
Immersed in the world of the psyche, I have wondered about how institutions, unwittingly, provide opportunities for predators, and even indirectly promote predation within their own ranks. I also wonder about the predator. Do they enter institutions with the aim of using them to provide access to victims? Or is there a mysterious systemic complicity that induces or releases predatory behavior within the stated mission of the institution, whether religious worship, education, sports training, artistic enterprise, or summer camp?
Once active within an institution that systemic complicity seems to evolve an identical, contralateral view of the abuse: both perpetrator and executives of the institution prefer to regard the abuse as mitigated, causing minimal harm. And both sides take on the addict’s self-exonerating delusion: that the abuse will stop, will not go on, will not be repeated. Both sides fear and protect themselves—institutions and abusers—from exposure. And, perhaps accelerated by the protective shield adopted by the institution, the abuser repeats and repeats again. Active pedophiles are often serial abusers.
No one knows when or how pedophilic desire arises within an individual. Is it an outlier of sexual preference that arises much like the more common sexual proclivities? The defining difference is that pedophilia cannot be construed in most societies as leading to consensual acts. Pedophilia involves serious power dynamics that perforce makes the adult authority figure an abuser and the child a subordinate victim. Non-offending pedophiles, perhaps a much larger albeit anonymous group, recognize the intractable dynamic between themselves and their potential object, and, therefore, they resist pursuing that implicit desire because they too view it as immoral, illegal and harmful to children. Active pedophiles abandon those strictures, even inverting them, and become committed to engaging sexually with minors.
I wonder if the transition from having the desire and then acting on it begins like a drug addic’ts initial trial of a psychoactive substance . The thrill of the dare is quickly followed by the joy of the intoxication. Taking the next dose seems to derive from that sense of daring and ecstatically enhanced mood. The ignominy associated with taking drugs weakens and even may disappear under the euphoric effects of intoxication. Might this be similar with pedophiles: that the first offense results in such intense sexual gratification that the ignominy of abuse and molestation melt into a justifying and rationalizing defense. Active pedophiles, as NAMBLA has argued, invert the idea of abuse into its opposite: enlightened initiation. Active pedophiles may come to view their prey as psychologically adult, thereby denying children their innocence and vulnerability. They may regard a child as acquiescing, consenting or even seducing.
When institutions discover a pedophile has abused a child under their roof they may conduct internal investigations, though rarely relating their findings publicly nor even informing parents of their findings. When the abuse incidents reach some level the institution regards as rampant they may find methods to silence parents such as buyouts and/or threats (the family will suffer disgrace, the family will be ex-communicated). Convinced by a remorseful offender that he is duly and permanently chastened, the institution may allow him to remain and might order him into treatment (e.g., a ballet company sent one of its offending regisseurs into psychotherapy for a month, then back to work). Institutions place a protective seal against disclosure to guard its reputation. Scandals about institutions harboring an abuser result when an outsider publicly broadcasts an accusation. Cleaning house is not always a priority.
By now we have learned how state universities, Catholic dioceses, the Boy Scouts, and the US Olympic Committee harbored spectacularly rampant predators while also shading and protecting them. The abuses that occur in such large and prestigious institutions are astounding both in number and in duration. Despite the resultant outrage, there remains this very serious and disturbing question:
How can our society address the kind of implicit but potent collaboration between offenders and their hosts, the inexorable abuse and its coverup that permit such promiscuous offenses to continue to occur?