This sort of thing practically writes its. The Star Ledger’s Linda Ocasio interviewed Margaret Smith of the John Jay College of New York. Smith was a member of the team behind the two studies on sexual abuse the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned. The point of the interview was to address some of the stereotypes about sexual abuse against boys, however, Ocasio appears to play to them with her questions.
For example, look at her first question:
The Boy Scouts and Catholic Church both ban gays from membership. Yet they are the two organizations hardest hit by sex abuse scandals involving gay men and boys. Why is that?
Smith does an excellent job of dismantling that nonsense:
It’s really a mistake to perceive this as a problem of homosexual men and adolescents. First of all, there is no reason to think that homosexuals are any more likely to abuse a child than heterosexuals.
In general, the typical man who abuses a boy is a married heterosexual. This finding is common to many social science studies and is endorsed by those who treat abusers. We found in our research that 80 percent of the priests who abused boys also had sexual relationships with adults.
Throughout the printed interview, Ocasio asks rather leading questions. It is unclear if these are questions that she wants to ask or if she asked what she thinks people assume is the truth. Either way, her questions end up playing to stereotypes, which leads to this exchange:
Q. Do abusers join the church or the Scouts for opportunity, like arsonists joining the fire department?
A. We did not find that men approached the priesthood with that goal. They do not go through 10 years of education in college and seminary to abuse children. With the Boy Scouts, or other youth organizations, all you need to do is volunteer. So these groups are more likely to attract opportunist adults.
Q. Is the church somehow a refuge for gay men who have sexual dysfunction?
A. We don’t find any basis for that belief.
Q. Are priests or Scout leaders more likely to be gay?
A. Is Jerry Sandusky gay? That’s my answer to that. In other words, this whole line of questioning that is based on the idea that people are homosexual or heterosexual and set that way for life is not borne out by our research. It’s not clear that any research supports that contention, although it’s clear that some people have a strong interest in simplifying sexuality.
It is easier to blame homosexuality instead of acknowledging that adults can be attracted to or develop intimacy in a variety of ways with a variety of people. Protecting youth from unwanted sexual intrusion means that we must be realistic about adult sexual behavior.
Even Ocasio’s question about female offenders comes across as pure stereotype:
Q. Are women less likely to be abusive? We haven’t heard any reports of abuse in the Girl Scouts.
A. The reason we know about boys is because of the reporting or records released by these organizations. Now, all major sports organizations and other youth-serving organizations are paying close attention to abuse allegations.
It doesn’t mean there is no abuse in the Girl Scouts; it means there has been no reporting of abuse. The number of boys who reported an unwanted sexual approach from an adult 20 years ago was low, but is rising now, as 20 to 25 percent of boys report such experiences. About a third of women report an unwanted sexual approach by an adult before the age of 18.
Good on Smith for not playing to the stereotypes and expectations. The reality is that we do not really know what makes people offend, and there is no telltale sign that signals which person is an offender and which is not. There is also no evidence to support the notion that offenders in organizations like the Boy Scouts or the Church specifically joined them to have access to kids. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that Jerry Sandusky created the Second Mile solely for the purpose of abusing children.
All these assumptions, from people’s motives to the sexuality, come from people trying to simply a complex problem. It is easier to think that only gay men abuse boys than it is to understand that some heterosexual men may also have a sexual attraction to boys or make act out sexually with boys because of some other factor.
The truth is messy and difficult, so people try to make it easier, even if doing so means losing sight of that truth.