Institutions and Abuse

For the past few months, it seems like I can’t read the news without coming across another horrifying story of sexual abuse within “esteemed” institutions.

Today marks the release of the “Freeh Report” — the independent analysis of what happened at Penn State with Jerry Sandusky.  The Washington Post is live blogging the report’s release here, and the long and short is that it’s a scathing critique of Penn State’s institutional protectionism at the expense of the welfare of children who suffered decades of abuse.

Last month, the NY TImes Magazine ran a cover story on a similar, decades-long history of abuse at one of NYC’s elite prep schools, Horace Mann.

Similarly, over the past year, it’s come to light that a similar story of decades-long abuse by an esteemed football coach, covered up and enabled by the school’s administration, took place at Brooklyn’s Poly Prep.

The messed up thing is that as you start reading stories of institutional abuse like this, the threads lead to more and more and more similar stories.  Reading these stories lead me to discover the similarly epic and disturbing story of abuse at the American Boychoir School in New Jersey, which ultimately lead to a NJ supreme court decision weakening protections for nonprofit organizations involved in such situations.

It turns out that the Boychoir case was led by Larry Lesssig, who was himself a victim of abuse at that same school.  I actually hadn’t known that story, and helps my understand Larry’s deep understanding of, and commitment to changing root-level corruption in our institutions.

Then, of course, there’s the Catholic Church.

It is horrifying to read all of these stories.  In every case, vulnerable children (because of their age, ambitions, or personal challenges — all of Sandusky’s victims were from the foster care system), are not only abused physically, but are totally head-fucked, as they’re drawn into a complex morass of complicity, confusion, and shame.  And to see the constant, relentless pattern of institutions prioritizing their own outward appearances over addressing these criminal and tortuous situations is just so so shameful and sad.

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