|Jerry Sandusky at Penn State|
What was the top news story of 2011? My choice would be the growing list of child sex-abuse scandals, which started at Penn State and quickly grew into a story that is national and international in scope.
Why is this my No. 1 story? The death of Osama bin Laden, the earthquake/tsunami in Japan, and Arab-world unrest led the Associated Press' list of top stories. The Penn State story did not even make the AP's top 10, coming in at No. 11.
So why am I going with the child sex-abuse scandals? They are driven by what one columnist has called a "culture of domination." And that culture, I submit, drives many other stories about unrest in societies around the globe. The protests that marked the Arab spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States, for example, are efforts to strike back at the few who try to dominate the many.
Of all the words written about the child sex-abuse scandals of 2011, perhaps the most profound come from Chicago-based journalist Robert Koehler. In a piece titled "Saluting Rapists," Koehler gets to the mindset at the heart of sex-abuse scandals. And I would argue that he describes a mindset that is present in many other forms of dysfunction.
First, Koehler dispenses with terms like "abuse" and "molestation" to describe these cases. He says they are cases of rape--and the perpetrators are rapists:
Sex scandals are a media staple, of course, but in recent weeks we’ve been rocked by a new wave of sex abuse scandals--rape scandals--the dark, disturbing power of which, as always, lies in the likelihood that there are a lot more revelations and accusations still to come, more authority figures’ reputations to be shattered, more honor-steeped traditions to be exposed as hollow.
Koehler focuses heavily on the child sex-abuse cases that have grown from the North American sports machine, encompassing Penn State football, Syracuse University basketball, Canadian hockey, AAU basketball, and even a famed sports journalist. But Koehler does not stop there. He also examines sexual abuse among adults, especially in the military. At the heart of it all, Koehler writes, is a special kind of human ugliness:
When sex is hidden in the shadows--when it’s something you can’t talk about (but you can brag about)--it easily becomes one more tool of domination, wrapped in an unspeakable shame that preserves its secrecy. The crime of rape is the crime of predation, the crime of “I own you.” And it is an institutional failure first--on college campuses, in the U.S. military--as evinced by breaking news stories reporting not merely allegations of sexual molestation over a long period of time, but of their quiet cover-up by those in charge, granting de facto impunity to the victimizers. The pattern is always the same.
By fascinating coincidence, two recent developments highlighting the endemic problem of sexual abuse in the U.S. military are in the news just as the child-molestation scandal in college sports programs and other macho domains has begun to widen.
At both Penn State and The Citadel, the military college in South Carolina, the sex abuse allegations emanate from their summer camp programs for boys, reopening the ghastly concerns first forced upon the public a decade ago by the sex-abuse revelations that shook the Catholic Church. If such institutional paragons of traditional values can’t be trusted, are children safe anywhere?
Koehler asks this disturbing question: What kind of values really are at the core of America's sports programs, its military, its churches?
Maybe it’s time to look at the values themselves--beginning with those of our military culture, which is the model, and indeed the metaphor, for every other form of domination culture: The prime value is winning, achieving dominance over some sort of enemy or “other.” Around this core of dominance, we construct a fortress of honor, righteousness, cleanliness of mind and spirit. We revere the fortress, but in its dark interior, our natural impulses are ungoverned and often manifest themselves in perverse mockery of the values we salute.
I would argue that domination cultures are present, too, in our courts, our law firms, our board rooms, our financial centers, our universities. Each of them presents the image of a fortress, into which the public often cannot see. And the desire to dominate can take many forms, including the sexual. Writes Koehler:
My belief: As long as such values as honesty, empathy and love are subservient to conquest and domination, both inside and outside the military, nothing will change.
I agree that change will be difficult. But exposing the problem is the first step. I suspect that child sex abuse will be a topic of frequent inquiry here at Legal Schnauzer in 2012.