It is a sad reality that some of the most trusted institutions and individuals in our communities have not done enough to protect children from abuse. The trust-based relationships between church and parishioner, troop leader and scout, coach and student, doctor and patient all leave children vulnerable. Abusers are adept at manipulating trust. They prey on that trust, confusing children and parents alike. Silence becomes the easiest path for everyone, allowing abuse to continue.
In California, cases of abuse have been raised in all 11 Catholic Diocese, including the Diocese of Orange
, San Diego Diocese
and San Bernardino Diocese
. Several of these Dioceses have created victim compensation funds in an effort to heal and move beyond the allegations of systemic abuse.
As leaders in a faith community, priests have great power. Parents historically entrusted them with their children for religious instruction. The church was a place for children to seek friendship and grace. It also created an environment that enabled ongoing, unchallenged sexual abuse. Others in positions of power such as coaches, teachers and other church leaders also abused children entrusted to them.
The Mormon church has also been embroiled in cases of sexual abuse. As in the Catholic church, Mormon leaders have greater access and broader authority over vulnerable children. When parents and children grant church leaders greater latitude, their trust is easily betrayed.
Parents place their trust in schools to provide a safe learning environment for their children. They expect their children to respect and obey their teachers, coaches, counselors, and other school employees. Abusers use this authority to control, manipulate, and silence.
Private schools and boarding schools create an even greater power imbalance by increasing social pressure and access. Because students are away from parents and guardians, there is ample opportunity for abuse. Allegations of decades-long abuse at the Thacher School dramatically demonstrate how institutions can empower predators. Ojai's Thacher School recently acknowledged decades of abuse by teaching staff and other school employees at the elite boarding school. The recent 90-page Thacher School
trustee report described alleged abuse by Willard “Bill” Wyman, Timothy Regan, Derick Perry, Dana Vancisin, Rod “Jake” Jacobsen, and John Friborg. Survivors of abuse at Thacher School now have an opportunity to seek compensation, and so should survivors of abuse at other institutions.
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has structure and hierarchy that can hide abuse. Many boys have enjoyed the scouting experience, learning new skills and building relationships with older boy scouts and leaders. Abusers take advantage of the bond that forms between scouts and leaders. Because scouting activities are away from parents and guardians, there are plenty of opportunities for abuse. We can help, but you must act now to hold the BSA responsible
Young athletes are particularly vulnerable to abuse by adults. Coaches, physical therapists, doctors and trainers all have unusually free access to the children. These authority figures can easily blur the lines between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. As recent cases have shown, abuse can be at an enormous scale, right under the watchful eyes of parents.
The evil of child sexual abuse extends beyond individual abusers to institutions and leaders who enable abusers and cover-up their abuse. Institutional enablement and cover-up takes many forms. It could be a school administrator who shames students into silence. It may be a bishop who reassigns a known pedophile priest to a new parish with unsuspecting children and parents, or a church leader who refuses to report child sexual abuse to civil authorities. It could be scout executives who conceal a boy scout leader’s perversion file.
The greater the institution’s reliance on its holy, pure, wholesome, or prestigious image, the greater the risk of cover-up. Why? Because some misguided institutional leaders faced with evidence of child sexual abuse tragically react by covering-up the abuse to protect the “good name” of the institution; they prioritize institutional image over child safety. This shields abusers from accountability and provides predators access to new and unsuspecting victims.
After decades of cover up, the reality of abuse at Thacher School
is coming to light. Students who suffered abuse now have an opportunity under a new California law to seek compensation.