By Kelly Clark
October 23rd, 2009

So I was in the middle of a mediation in Portland yesterday on a case of abuse of a boy by a Methodist Church minister, when I received a call from a Minneapolis reporter.   It seems that a local Scoutmaster was arrested on charges of abusing several of his Scouts. See story at  http://www.startribune.com/local/south/65205132.html?elr=KArksUUUoDEy3LGDiO7aiU.

The thing I don’t understand,” she said, “is why these kids don’t say anything to anyone?  What sort of power do these pedophiles have that causes otherwise intelligent children to keep silent about what is happening?”

It is one of the regular questions I get asked:  Why don’t they tell?

What I told her was along these lines. I have had clients tell me that the abuser threatened them: one young man told about how his physician, who was regularly abusing him during medical checkups, took a scapel and laid it alongside the 12 year-old boy’s scrotum and said: “if you ever tell anyone what is  going on in this room, I will slice you open just like this– do you understand me?”   Often it is like this, a direct threat. Sometimes it is indirect: Bad things will happen to me if you tell; or bad things will happen to you.  Something will happen to your family.

Many times, abusers play on the spiritual or religious beliefs of the child: this is between you, me and God. What you have told me, and what we have done, is all covered by the seal of the confessional, and if you ever tell anyone, you will commit a mortal sin.

Sometimes it is relatively subtle:  this is our little secret.  What we share is special, and so do not ruin it by telling anyone.

The most baffling of all was this:  a man in his 40’s told me why he, as a 16 and 17 year  old boy never told anyone about the fact that his priest, a highly popular figure in and around Portland, was regularly sodomizing him.  “You need to understand that Fr P was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I was nothing, then he came along and made me special.  I was his favorite, he paraded me around to other priests, to bishops, to business leaders, as such ‘a fine young Catholic boy’—I couldn’t imagine losing all that. In fact—and this is the most shameful thing of all—I gloried in it.”  Gently I told him, “You are not the first person, or the first child, ever to trade sex for love and attention. You are not the first and you won’t be the last. Don’t blame yourself.”

And that’s what I say now when anyone asks me why these kids don’t tell.  It is what I say to defense lawyers, judges and juries who want to know why they don’t tell. I explain it to newspaper reporters who have that question.  Some kids are threatened, directly or indirectly. And the most heinous threat of all, in my view, and the most effective, is that if you don’t do what I want you to do, then I will withdraw my love.

Back to Minnesota,   I have a sick feeling in my stomach that between the Scouts, the church, the bus route, you’re going to end up with dozens of victims, maybe more.