I belong to a group in Southern Oregon called CAN, Child Abuse Network. We meet monthly to discuss child abuse, the work each of us are doing and what we can do together to help end this horrific epidemic.
An outcome of one of our meetings was to take a public stand on community responsibility to monitor offenders and support victims. We wrote an op-ed based on local cases and what we saw as past failures and how we can change our own attitudes and behaviors to create more equitable results that will help us heal the wounds caused by child abuse.
The other 1-3 percent (not the rich ones)
If someone lies to you 97 times out of a 100, will you continue to believe them? In the children’s tale “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” no one believed the boy after he lied just two times.
Fact: Ninety-seven to 99 times out of 100, children tell the truth about being sexually abused.
There are many examples of high-profile people who are defended even in the face of conviction and prison or probation. Witness Jerry Sandusky.
This summer in Woodburn, The Rev. Angel Perez was seen running down the street at 1 am in his underwear chasing a 12-year-old boy. According to police, Father Perez had the parents’ permission for the boy to spend the night with him. The report also states that the priest gave alcohol to the boy. The boy woke up to the priest holding on to the boy’s genitals taking pictures with his phone. The report concludes with fact that the priest went to the boy’s home in the wee hours to say that he made a mistake and asked for forgiveness.
The following week at Father Perez’s arraignment, more than 40 parishioners showed up in support. They wore yellow-and-white ribbons that read, “Estamos Contigo (We support you) P. Angel A. Perez.” The judge pointed out that no one showed up in support of the victim.
Now eight months into Dan Goyette’s probation for a sex crime against a minor, the front page headline in the Talent News and Review says “Downtowne Coffee House Expansion Nears Completion”, complete with a half-page picture of owners Sarah and Dan Goyette.
Why is this important? Because former Talent Councilman Dan Goyette was arrested at the Medford airport in September 2011 for attempting to use a child in a display of sexually explicit conduct. Goyette was returning to the area after he was tipped off that he was being investigated. Again, community members came rushing to his defense.
Dan Goyette entered an Alford plea. In this plea, the defendant doesn’t admit to the crime, but admits that the prosecution could prove the charge. His sentence is three years of supervised probation, undergoing sex offender evaluation and treatment if ordered by a probation officer, and serving 120 hours of community service for attempting to take nude photographs of a 17-year-old girl. The judge repeated what the victim said, “I think creepy about sums it up.” Following sentencing, Goyette thanked his wife, thanked his attorney and turned to his victim and said, “I’m sorry. I want you to know I am not mad at you.”
In the recent article, there’s no mention of his past, just Goyette talking about the city of Talent’s “strong sense of community.”
Why do we still stand beside the offenders and leave the victims to fend for themselves? The answer is complicated. If the offender is a well-thought-of citizen (preacher, teacher, coach, Scout leader), it does not fit what we think we know to be true, so we dismiss it. And in dismissing the information, we dismiss the victim. It is easier to believe what fits into our perceptions than to believe a new set of facts, just as most people once believed the earth to be flat.
The community does not lose if we believe the victim. What we lose is the false perception that good people cannot do terrible things. We lose the grace and talent of the victim who, often, enters a life of pain and hiding.
So here is a new reality check: We must find a way to accept that people who do offend are more than the crime. The result becomes one where both the perpetrator and the victim can be held within the community.
Offenders should always be held accountable for their behavior while still being part of the community with safe parameters. The victim can be supported and held in love for the maximum opportunity for a return to health. If we can accomplish this, healing becomes possible for everyone, including the community itself.
Child victims of sexual abuse rarely lie about what happened to them — the other 1 percent. Most perpetrators are not demons and have at least the appearance of normalcy and, yes, even goodness in their lives. Our job is to find a way to incorporate both into our reality and shift our understanding. The earth is not flat and the continents actually shift over time and so must we.