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Monday, January 19, 2015

Sexual Abuse and Consent: UK Judge gets it wrong

The BBC has reported:

Stuart Kerner, 44, from Kent, received an 18-month suspended sentence for two counts of sexual activity with a child by a person in a position of trust.

While the sentence seems quite low for the offence, what is most concerning is the context of the sentence. This is a case where a teacher was in a position of trust in a school. He entered into a relationship with a 16 year old student at the time that his wife miscarried with their second child. More can be found on the story on the BBC.

Stuart Kerner

The most disconcerting part of the story is, however, a view that the judge felt the child had become obsessed with Kerner and thus, groomed Kerner. In other words, the court is putting responsibility for the sexual abuse on the victim. Such a view states that the obligations of a person in authority can be modified based upon the child's behaviours. Let's expand the thought - if a child is highly oppositional, rude and perhaps even violent, then violence by a teacher in return might be permissible. But that is not allowed because we expect the adult to be able to manage their emotions, stay in control and respond in a measured and safe manner.

In this case, the failure of the adult, Kerner, to control himself is being excused because of his personal circumstances and the obsessive behaviours of the child. This is a very dangerous line of reasoning that, if applied in a variety of other criminal matters, diminishes the responsibility of the perpetrator and increases the responsibility of the victim.

This decision also missed the mark when the child is considered. This was her first sexual experience. She was 15 when the relationship appears to get underway. Her notion of relationship, sex, boundaries and even love will be highly underdeveloped. Her executive functioning is that of a 15 - 16 year old which means that she is more likely to be influenced by emotion and impulsivity than rational, long term thinking. Kerner, on the other hand, at 44 years of age, should be expected to have the maturity to work his way though both his emotions and the responsibilities of his position.

The judge has also failed to understand that Kerner was part of a system responsible for protecting children. Schools are meant to be safe places. Teachers are meant to be guardians of that safety. Kerner did not offer that. He compromised it for this student but also for all students by making a behavioural statement about what is acceptable.

I have no doubt that Kerner has paid quite a price for his behaviour. He is not able to work with children meaning that his career is in shambles. He has been subject to a great deal of public media. But these are all the result of choices that he made as an adult. There are the unspoken victims as well - his family, children as well the school, colleagues and the other children who had been aware of the relationship which would have created confusion for them.

This case matters because the courts have made a statement about responsibility that needs to be challenged. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Abuse in the Catholic Church is more than sexual

Recently demoted Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke. He has blamed the sexual abuse crisis of the Catholic Church to be related to the feminization of the Church in the 1960's.

Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke

He is quoted as saying,

There was a period of time when men who were feminized and confused about their own sexual identity had entered the priesthood; sadly some of these disordered men sexually abused minors; a terrible tragedy for which the Church mourns.”

This is a clear attempt at revisionist thinking suggesting that the sexual abuse of children by priests and other clergy only dates back to the 1960's. How wrong that is. One need look no further than the profound pattern of sexual abuse that occurred to Aboriginal children in the Residential Schools of Canada. Those abuses have now been documented to have gone on as far back as the early 20th century. Edmund Metatawabin, in his profoundly moving book, documents his personal story of abuse. It is a tough read but perhaps Cardinal Burke might want to read it. He will see how extensive the abuse was. His is one of a series of books that tell these painful stories. They also tell of the price that Aboriginal children, their families, their communities and subsequent generations have paid.


Pope Francis was obviously right to demote this man.

But there is a large error in the story about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church - it ignores that epidemic of physical abuse that also occurred. Many, like Metatawabin, experienced both. There are millions who experienced the physical abuse only. No one victim is better or worse than the other. Abuse in the Catholic Church was a daily occurrence in schools, churches and orphanages run by priests, nuns and brothers.

Brother Hull sent them outside without jackets. It was a cold day for Vancouver. There was even snow. They were made to hold their hands up so that the blood would run down and the hands would be cold. Then they were strapped (Personal memoir of the author).

The stories are everywhere. The Church has become fixated on one form of the abuse. But strapping, hitting, whipping, name calling, put downs, shaming were all tools employed every day by clergy. The Church is not talking much about that.

I was sent out to that hallway by Brother Bates to await my strapping. It would be the third time this week. I had again been caught day dreaming (Personal memoir of the author).

A problem with highlighting the sexual abuse is that those who suffered the other forms of abuse feel as though they cannot talk because their abuse is less than those who were sexually abused. For those physically abused, they too carry the legacy.

I tried to tell my mom about always getting hit. She wouldn't listen. She said that if I got into trouble that it must be my fault because the brothers were close to God (Personal memoir of the author)
The strength of the abuse was in the constant fear but also in the inability to tell anyone who would care. The full extent of abuse in the Catholic Church needs to be spoken about - all the survivors, regardless of what form of abuse they suffered, deserve both a voice and an audience.