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CommentaryPeter S Kahrmann

By Peter S. Kahrmann

Protecting Children, the Disabled?
Sorry! It's Money First, Safety Last

There's a far better chance that a convict from the general population of any prison will protect your child from a pedophile faster than Penn State or the Catholic Church.

I'd be willing to bet that that same convict would protect a person with a disability faster than, for the scope of this article, the Catholic Church and New York state. It appears that all of the aforementioned groups cover up the abuse in the name of reputation and profit rather than making sure predators are brought to justice by reporting abuse to law enforcement.

When it comes to the abuse of children and the abuse of people with disabilities, it's cover up first because it's revenue first, the sanctity of life second.

Unlike Mike McQueary, former Penn State graduate assistant and current assistant football coach, most people I know would have exploded into action if they had witnessed a child being raped. According to the grand jury report of that case, McQueary testified that “he saw a naked boy, Victim 2, whose age he estimated to be ten years old, with his hands against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked (Jerry) Sandusky. The graduate assistant (McQueary) was shocked but noticed both Victim 2 and Sandusky saw him. The graduate assistant left immediately, distraught. The graduate assistant went to his office and called his father, reporting to him what he had seen.”

McQueary later changed his story and said that he stopped the assault, an assertion the police have no record of. But let's say he did (although he didn't). He still didn't refer the matter to law enforcement! And what did Penn State officials do when all this came to their attention in 2002? They took the keys away from Sandusky.

For years, the Catholic Church would simply transfer one pedophile priest to another parish if his aberrant behavior came to light. For many years, Penn State officials knowingly turned a blind eye to the fact that they had ample reason to suspect that Sandusky molested and, in some instances, raped children. Apparently the thinking was that, God forbid, there should be bad publicity (though how protecting a child or a person with a disability would result in bad publicity is beyond me) and that, God forbid, anything should interfere with the multimillion-dollar revenue maker called Penn State football or the multibillion-dollar revenue maker that is, in fact, the Catholic Church. You can add New York state to this list, as you're about to see.

Various reports reveal that the Catholic Church covered up the abuse of children with disabilities in St Ann's Special School in Adelaide , Australia. According to one report, “ Twenty-year-old documents have revealed the church received legal advice telling it to avoid mentioning in writing charges of sexual abuse against a volunteer bus driver at St Ann's Special School in Adelaide. The bus driver, Brian Bertram Morris Perkins, 71, worked at the school from 1986 to 1991 and not only abused students himself but introduced them into a ring of pedophiles. The draft severance letter to the bus driver tells him that there will be no need for him to attend the school premises, but there is no mention or suggestion why his services are no longer needed." And, unbelievably, it also said that his "c ontribution as a volunteer bus driver for disabled students has been appreciated.”

As for New York state, recently The New York Times examined the deaths of hundreds of people with disabilities in group homes in New York, discovering that there were concerns about the quality of care in at least 222 of the fatalities and that “ repercussions for executives were rare.”

The forms of abuse were heartbreaking. One man drowned in the bathtub because a staff member simply didn't turn off the water in time. Moreover, an investigation by the Times conducted over the past year of more than 2,000 homes run by New York state revealed hundreds of cases – hundreds of cases! – in which “ employees who sexually abused, beat or taunted residents were rarely fired, even after repeated offenses, and in many cases, were simply transferred to other group homes run by the state.”

This writer and others are currently looking into allegations that a suspicious slowdown by the New York State Department of Health on signing off on treatment plans for individuals on the state's traumatic brain injury waiver program leaves these individuals without the services they need and deserve and, as a result, place their lives at risk.

One of the stumbling blocks to getting these matters addressed is the lack of any real oversight. As The New York Times pointed out and as this writer and others such as the Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition ( in the spirit of full disclosure, I am the founder) have discovered, in far too many cases the very agencies -- including those operated by the government -- suspected of causing the abuse or covering it up are the ones responsible for investigating the abuses or the cover-ups in the first place.

If you think New York state cares, consider this from the Times : “ At a home upstate in Hudson Falls, two days before Christmas in 2006, an employee discovered her supervisor, Ricky W. Sousie, in the bedroom of a severely disabled, 54-year-old woman. Mr. Sousie, a stocky man with wispy hair, was standing between the woman's legs. His pants were around his ankles, his hand was on her knee and her diaper was pulled down. The police were called, and semen was found on the victim. But the state did not seek to discipline Mr. Sousie. Instead, it transferred him to work at another home.”

The statistics of abuse against children and against people with disabilities are eerily similar. For example:

  • According to the CPIU (Counter Pedophilia Investigative Unit) -- a coalition of computer experts, law enforcement agents (including Interpol employees) and counter-pedophilia experts -- 67 percent of sexual assault victims who reported a crime were under the age of 18; 34 percent were under the age of 12.
  • According to the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, among adults who are developmentally disabled, as many as 83% of women and girls and 32% of men and boys are victims of sexual assault.
  • According to CPIU, one out of every seven victims of sexual assault reported to law enforcement was under the age of 6.
  • According to the Wisconsin group, 49 percent of people with developmental disabilities who are victims of sexual violence will experience 10 or more abusive incidents in their lifetimes. (Another study indicated that 40 percent of women with physical disabilities reported being sexually assaulted.)

Had enough? These facts are bone chilling on the one hand and blood boiling on the other. A recent Penn State response to the scandal is revealing, probably more so than the college intended. Penn State's new president, Rob Erickson, announced that the university will donate $1.5 million to a pair of sex-crime advocacy organizations.

What Erickson said is revealing: “This presents an excellent opportunity for Penn State to raise the national visibility of this issue. Our students and fans are focused on a cause to play for, to cheer for." Notice the link to the football program, the program that rakes in millions. Lurking underneath the announced motives for the donation is what I suspect is the larger motive: Protect the revenue that football brings in. After all, that's been at the top of the university's priority list since Sandusky was allegedly caught raping that 10-year-old boy in a university shower nearly 10 years ago. In November of this year, Sandusky was arrested and charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of young boys over a 15-year period.

A culture that knowingly protects the criminal is and of itself guilty of aiding and abetting the crime, whether this indelible truth is currently written into law or not. All those taking part in the cover-ups described in this essay ought to be charged as criminals. It is safe to say that were they to witness the rape or molestation of a family member, they'd be up in arms. Then again, maybe not. I am no longer shocked by the human capacity for cruelty and indifference.

Peter Kahrmann is an advocate for people with disabilities and writes a blog on disability issues. He resides in New York state.

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