By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
An editorial page editor for Colorado’s Gazette says the media’s focus on sex abuse within the Catholic Church has left little space for reporting about institutions where the problem is far worse – such as public schools.
In an editorial appearing in today’s Gazette, Wayne Laugesen says that according to statistics, more children have been sexually abused this year in public schools in Colorado than have been abused in Catholic institutions in all 50 states combined.
For instance, data from the Rape and Incest National Network shows that one in 14 girls in grades five to eight, and one in nine high school girls, are sexually abused in public schools every year. Boys are molested at about half the rate of girls.
However, in spite of these alarming numbers, most cases of school employees having sex with children go unreported, even though sexual misconduct is the largest single cause of teacher discipline by the Colorado Department of Education, Laugesen explains.
“Sherryll Kraizer, executive director of the Denver-based Safe Child Program and a professional witness in sex abuse trials, has informed The Gazette about a phenomenon in public schools known as ‘passing the trash’ — a practice in which known abusers are quietly passed along to other schools with glowing referrals or silence,” he reports.
Kraizer said principals and school teachers mostly ignore laws that require them to report sexual abuse of students, even though any serious examination of evidence shows that the sex abuse scandal in public schools dwarfs anything that ever occurred in Catholic institutions, Laugesen says.
“Today, based on a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, the number of reported sexual abuse cases in Catholic institutions nationwide is fewer than 10. That means more children have been sexually abused this year in public schools on the Front Range of Colorado than have been abused in Catholic institutions in all 50 states combined.”
However, the public is being left in the dark about the true scope of the crisis of child sexual abuse in the U.S. by a media that seems fixated on only those cases that involve the Catholic Church while giving every other institution a pass.
For instance, when the Hare Krishnas in California settled the largest child sex abuse lawsuit in history in 2001, it generated 44 stories in California over a six-month period. During the same period, Californians were treated to 17,310 stories about sex abuse in California Catholic institutions. That’s 39,341 percent more coverage than was generated by the most serious sex abuse case in history, Laugesen reports.
In another example, two simultaneous lawsuits in Dallas — one against the Episcopal diocese and one against the Catholic Diocese — resulted in 1,232 percent more coverage of the Catholic lawsuit.
“A surplus of alarming evidence and data . . . pointing to a sex abuse crisis in public schools has been met with a shortage of comprehensive coverage in the press and public outrage that underwhelms,” Laugesen writes. “It’s almost as if nobody cares.”
He goes on to applaud the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for establishing a child protection agency in Washington and enforcing strict guidelines in every diocese in the country for protecting children that includes screening and fingerprinting of all adults who work with children in church institutions.
“Today, sexual abuse of children is clearly out of control in public schools and is even more prevalent in homes. Society needs to stop acting as if it’s a problem caused by priests and look to the Catholic Church in the United States for answers. Due in part to public outrage regarding its mistakes and misdeeds of the past, the church appears to have emerged as the one organization with a formula for nearly eradicating sexual threats to children.”
A civilized society should be outraged by any incident of an adult sexually exploiting a child, he says, and clergy should be held to the highest standard – but so should teachers.
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