Earlier this week, one of my colleagues in ministry was arrested by the FBI and charged with producing child pornography.
I am a minister and a trauma counselor, and right now I am torn in all sorts of ways.
Reading the news releases about his arrest made me physically sick. Even as I write this, the same feelings emerge: a deep sense of sadness, an ache in my chest, my stomach turns, and I have an overwhelming urge to sit and cry.
The hardest part is remembering that being charged with a crime is NOT the same as being guilty of a crime, and this is where I find myself feeling torn. I have so many emotions, simultaneously.
You see, whether my colleague is guilty or not, many lives will be destroyed because of these charges.
If my colleague is not guilty, his reputation will still be destroyed. People will always remember him as the minister who was charged with sex crimes against children. His friends and family will always wonder what happened, why he was accused, why he was arrested. His career is in shambles. He is no longer a minister in our Church. He has lost his job. How will he get hired anywhere else right now? He is charged with a heinous crime…and no one wants to hire someone who may have harmed a child, whether they have been declared guilty or not. Charges like this will impact him emotionally, financially, and it will shake his partnership with his significant other (SO) and his family to the very roots. It is entirely possible his relationship with his SO will not survive this test, as many relationships cannot get through accusations as grave as these.
In so many ways, if my colleague has been wrongly accused, his life has been destroyed.
On the other hand…
If my colleague is guilty, his life is over. He goes to prison. His family is marked with his crime forever, and his SO will have to deal with the repercussions of this crime whether they leave him or not. His family will always have to deal with this—every holiday, every birthday, every visit to the extended family becomes a moment to remember why he isn’t there. And oh dear God if there are small children in the family…don’t you wonder? Did he hurt them too?
But if my colleague is guilty, the damage to his life and his family’s life is nothing in comparison with the damage done to the children he exploited and abused. And this is where the physical sickness starts in the pit of my stomach.
I have spent way too many of my days at work comforting the victims of sexual abuse. I have spent far too many hours trying to help them find a way to feel safe in the world, to feel safe enough to go to work, to go out in public, to make friends and decide they can risk trusting those friends…you cannot imagine the amount of damage done to their ability to feel safe on a daily basis as they go through the simplest of tasks. “But Tina”, you say, “doesn’t treatment help?” Yes, treatment helps…to a point. The longer the abuse went on, the earlier it started in their life, the larger the number of people who participated in the abuse, the more grievous the abuse…those things can create lasting scars that no amount of treatment can erase. It’s like being a veteran of war: you can get treatment for the PTSD that war creates, but no amount of treatment for PTSD will change the physical deficits left behind by the injuries of war. The scars persist. It is the same with sexual abuse: the more serious the abuse, the harder it is to eradicate the scars. It’s not that there isn’t hope—it’s just that we can’t erase the past, no matter how hard we try.
And so I find myself torn between what I know of my colleague, what I’ve experienced of him and the friendship that we had, and the knowledge of what these charges may mean. The part of me that wants him to be not guilty is horrified by the injustice of what that would mean to his career, his family, and his life. Being not guilty of a crime this severe doesn’t stop the public from punishing you for simply being accused. But if he’s guilty…the idea of the devastation his crime leaves behind makes me sick to my stomach and makes me ache in my heart for his family and his victims…and for him, because if he is guilty something is very broken in his soul.
And then I feel that I need to address an obvious question: If my colleague really is a pedophile and abuser of children, how did I not notice that something was wrong with him? After all, I am a trained trauma therapist who works with people who have been sexually abused every day. You’d think that I’d realize it if I was in the presence of a predator, especially a person who preys on children.
The answer is NO…I had no sense that anything was wrong and as for the colleagues I have spoken to, neither did they. The truth is that unless you witness someone doing something wrong or one of their victims reveals the truth to you, you will rarely know that someone is a predator until they are caught.
We would all like to believe that the monsters among us are easy to see, that if a monster came close to us that we would immediately sense the danger and would take steps to reveal the monster and get them arrested. That is a lovely thought, but it is perilously close to being a fairy tale, and it keeps us blind to the truth.
The sad and terrible truth that each and every one of us has a monster within, and I don’t mean the potential to be a monster. I mean that each and every human on the face of the earth is, in some part, a monster; what determines the size of the monster within is how much we feed it and how much we let the monster come out to play. The monster within me is my anger, and I am ashamed of how vicious I can be when I don’t control my anger. I wish this wasn’t true about me but it is true, and if I hide that truth from myself I can guarantee that my monster will bite someone—hard—when I am not paying attention. I have lashed out in anger more often than I want to admit to and have had to apologize to more people than I want to admit to. On the other hand, I guess I should be pleased that I had the good sense to apologize and admit to my bad behavior, because the problem with monsters is that most of us won’t admit that we have a monster within at all. We deny that our monster exists, and in doing so, give it free reign to bite and terrorize the people we love and the folks who have to work with us. If you admit that you have a monster within, you can do your best to control it, to deny it emotional food, to refuse to let it ‘come out and play’. However, if you deny that you have a monster within at all, then it will come out and play whenever it can, whenever circumstances invite your inner monster to respond. If he’s guilty this is what led my colleague to such horrible, devastating actions—he fed the monster and let it come out and play, and look what it did and how many little children are left bleeding in its wake.
It would be easy to simply label my colleague a monster and lock him away and forget that he ever existed, but I beg you not to respond in that way. If he is guilty, yes, we should put him in prison and keep him away from the rest of the world for our own safety. But please don’t just walk away and forget that you, too, have a monster within. Please don’t go on pretending that your monster never bites anyone, never behaves in horrible ways, never makes you ashamed of yourself. If you are brave, please…own your inner monster. Admit to having a monster within and then set about starving that monster…refusing to give it space to play or emotions to feed on. Refuse to entertain thoughts that awaken your inner monster. Get help—even professional help if you have to. Do whatever you have to do so that you can put your monster on a leash and take control of it.
All the children who have ever been eaten alive by a monster deserve a world as free of monsters as we can create. Please…
From this page to God’s ears.