In the wake of the Penn State scandal I wrote this post about some of the reasons we fail to report abuse. My wife reminded me of one more that I think we have to consider. Beyond our denial, beyond our fear of begin exposed, beyond our desire to protect beloved institutions, beyond our gullibility when winsome abusers confess to little crimes in order to assuage our concerns…there is another reason: guilt.
What guilt, you ask? The guilt in being “the cause” of destroying someone’s career. We know that founded sexual abuse will (should) end someone’s people-helping career. In this regard, sexual abuse is a capital crime. A person might not hang for it but if they now are a convicted sex offender, they probably won’t be able to find employment as a pastor, teacher, counselor, etc.
Notice I put the cause in the previous paragraph in quotes. If we are in the position of reporting a sex offense, we have done nothing to destroy that person’s career. If the offense has been committed, the offender has destroyed their own career and family.
And yet, when we report someone we know, we feel guilty. We may feel as if we are the cause of their loss of their reputation and career. We worry about what will become of their family. How will they ever be able to support their loved ones? What will become of their children? Sometimes the guilt is enough to cause us to waffle. Maybe we can just move them along to a new venue. Maybe starting over will help them put this awful chapter behind them. Maybe they have repented and won’t do it again. Maybe they will make better choices and avoid prior temptations.
In addition, many of us have heard of those who were falsely accused. We have seen or heard of the devastating impact of a lie. And we wonder, what if we are wrong? What if there is another explanation?
So we hesitate. And once we let some time pass, we rarely activate to do the right thing.