Abuse in Context

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights issued a special report last week entitled “Sexual Abuse in Social Context: Catholic Clergy and Other Professionals.” The purpose of this report “is to put the recent scandal in the Catholic Church in perspective.”

According to William A. Donohue, Catholic League president, “It does not seek to exculpate anyone who had anything to do with priestly sexual misconduct, but it does seek to challenge those who continue to treat this issue in isolation.”

A national study on the extent of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests since 1950 will be released on February 27 by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

Donohue said is it “grossly unfair” to discuss the incidence of sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests without reference to the level of offense found among the clergy of other religions, or to that of other professionals.

“It is the belief of the Catholic League that no meaningful conversation can take place on this issue without having some baseline regarding the incidence of abuse that occurs outside the Catholic Church,” Donohue said. “That was the sole intent of this special report, and if it contributes to that end, then it will have been a success.”

The League report states that the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Systems found that in 1991 approximately 903,000 children were victims of child maltreatment, 10 percent of whom (or 90,000) were sexually abused. It also found that 59 percent of the perpetrators of child abuse or neglect were women.

Researchers at John Hopkins University School of Public Health found that nearly 20 percent of low-income women had experienced child sexual abuse. The same researchers reported that family friends and acquaintances compose the largest group of perpetrators (28 percent), followed by uncles and cousins (18 percent) and stepfathers (12 percent).

“It is obvious that children are much more likely to be sexually abused by family members and friends than by anyone else,” the report said. “This suggests that if preventative measures are to work, they must begin in the home, and not someplace else.”

The American Medical Association (AMA) found in 1986 that one in four girls, and one in eight boys, are sexually abused in or out of school before the age of 18. In New York City alone, the report says, at least one child is sexually abused by a school employee every day. More than 60 percent of employees accused of sexual abuse in New York City schools were transferred to desk jobs at district offices located inside the schools. Most of these teachers are tenured and 40 percent of those transferred are repeat offenders. The schools call it “passing the garbage.”

Hofstra University professor Charol Shakeshaft and Audrey Cohan found in a 1994 study of 225 cases of educator abuse in New York City that all of the accused admitted sexual abuse of a student, but none of the abusers was reported to the authorities. Only 1 percent lost their license to teach.

“The issue of child sexual molestation is deserving of serious scholarship,” the Catholic League said. “Too often, assumptions have been made that this problem is worse in the Catholic clergy than in other sectors of society. This report does not support this conclusion.”

A complete copy of the report can be found at www.catholicleague.org.

(Michael F. Flach is editor of the Arlington Catholic Herald, where this article first appeared.)

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