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Child Sexual Abuse within the Circle of Trust

by Andrew Vachss
Originally published on the Zero, November 14, 2011

Also available in Russian (

For many years, I've explained that the overwhelming majority of child sexual abuse is not committed by the kind of roving serial perpetrators who can be "profiled" for trash TV. Most child sexual abuse takes place within the child's circle of trust, starting with parents and radiating outward to teachers, coaches, religious authorities, babysitters. Offenders in the circle access their victims through a process of entrustment by parents, who believe they are actually providing a special experience for their children. Sadly, that experience is "special" only in its horrific consequences.

And the circle of trust has another unique characteristic. Once an offender within the circle is exposed, that circle begins to fold in around itself, acting as a protective barrier for the offender. Those who are "mandated reporters" may intentionally pass the buck; instead of reporting the abuse to police or child welfare authorities, they inform a superior within their own organization, sometimes offering only a sanitized version of the offense. This does not comply with the law, but quite the opposite, as it flouts the law's unambiguous intent. That same "circle of trust" that enabled the offender, often for decades, now serves as his protection. And those who deliberately evade their legal and moral obligation to report child sexual abuse to law enforcement are themselves protected. After all, they "reported," didn't they? Of course they haven't, but the mandated reporter laws have proven to be toothless tigers, especially in matters involving what we hold sacred: religion and football.

A teacher who is made aware that a child is being sexually abused cannot simply tell the school principal. Nor can a coach, once aware, get off the moral and legal hook by passing the information along to the school's athletic director. Perhaps it is a coincidence that the District Attorney who decided against prosecution of the serial offender within the Penn State "football community" disappeared. Certainly, that is the position of the authorities, who see no connection whatsoever, despite the fact that the DA's body has never been found. He has been declared "legally dead."

No such final judgment has been rendered as to the alleged perpetrator of many, many sexual assaults of children, stretching out over many, many years ... and known to the Penn State "football community" for a dozen years! Charged with 40 counts relating to the sexual abuse of children he groomed through a charity he created for "troubled youth," the alleged perpetrator is free on bail (granted by a judge who volunteers with his charity). He's returned home, the backyard of which borders an elementary school.

No candlelight vigil is going to shine a light on the cold reality of circle of trust violations. Whether there was avoidance of responsibility is no longer a debatable issue at Penn State. What remains is learning whether there will be an avoidance of truth.

Copyright © 2011 Andrew Vachss. All rights reserved.


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