The irony must not be lost: One day, these institutions held the survivors out as examples of “our” excellence; the next day, they shoved them out the door. The manner in which they did so only intensifies the abuse: with a couple of exceptions it was not a forceful kick in the ass, but rather abuse in the form of abandonment. That is, those in positions of authority simply walked away from those in need.
Broken trust demands accountability. The word “demand” is used deliberately; it was a theme survivors articulated loud and clear. Particularly painful is their recognition that the institutions to which they gave hearts and souls have avoided accepting accountability for their suffering.
What survivors did not expect was that the institution to which they were committed and devoted, which they loved, would make the decision to enable a predator who was attacking them. They did not expect the institution, in the words of survivor Mattie Larson, to enable a predator to turn her body into his plaything.
Tiffany Thomas-Lopez, another survivor, was blunt in describing the consequences of institutional enabling: “They super fucked me.” Mattie and Tiffany’s powerful words will serve as an important path when we consider enablers, individuals and institutions alike.
What stood out, perhaps more than anything else in my interactions with the survivors, is their clear recognition that two distinct actors caused them significant harm. The survivors confronted two distinct categories of evil: predator and enabler. While criminal law is fully equipped to prosecute predators, the gaps and loopholes available to the enabler must be addressed. Otherwise, not only will enablers continue with their lives while the survivors suffer, but future enablers will follow in their footsteps. Decisions to prosecute MSU president Lou Anna Simon and MSU gymnastics coach Kathy Klages are obviously welcome; however, these two are but the tip of the iceberg. Underneath that tip is where we find the armies of enablers.
Had Michigan State University been as vigilant in protecting the survivor as in protecting itself, then perhaps Bailey Kowalski would not have been the profoundly “at risk” college student she was on the night three basketball players allegedly raped her. Moreover, Bailey, like many of the other survivors described in this book, had to deal with the additional challenge of not being believed. Many of those who came forward to report being sexually assaulted or raped were dismissed because the alleged events were so hard to imagine—and the perpetrators were hard to dislike.
The late Joe Paterno was the iconic football coach at Pennsylvania State University. Although for some, Paterno’s protection of Jerry Sandusky cast a dark cloud over his reputation, others continue to hold “Joe Pa” in high esteem years after his death. By all objective measurements, Paterno turned a sleepy backwater in the middle of Pennsylvania into a football mecca, building a national powerhouse that was highly respected. However, that undeniable achievement came at a terrible price.
We cannot—must not—accept that Paterno’s on-field successes be used to rationalize, justify, or defend Penn State’s actions when faced with Jerry Sandusky’s criminal behavior. The obvious response should have been to protect the boys assaulted in the university’s locker room by confronting Sandusky. However, senior Penn State officials made a conscious decision to protect the institution rather than the children in their care. We have seen it time and again: Penn State versus a fourteen-year-old child; the Catholic Church versus Peter Pollard; Michigan State University versus Tiffany Thomas-Lopez.
In September 1984, shortly after Bernard Law had been installed as archbishop of Boston, he received a letter from the aunt of seven young boys who claimed that each boy had been abused by Father John Geoghan. Indeed, Law received numerous, similar letters informing him of concerns about ongoing abuse by priests under his authority. The boys’ aunt was worried Geoghan had not been removed from his ecclesiastical role. Rather, he had been transferred from one parish to another, repeatedly occupying positions in which he supervised young boys.
The cardinal’s response was once again to transfer Geoghan to another parish within Boston and inform a parish leader of his history. In Geoghan’s new position, he was again assigned to oversee groups of young boys and began preying on several of those under his care.
Eventually, Geoghan was placed on leave and ultimately asked to retire. The cardinal wrote him a conciliatory letter: “I realize this is a difficult time for you and for those close to you. If I can be of help to you in some way, please contact me. Be assured you are remembered in my prayers.”