The Victim is Never to Blame

Molestation scene from my play, “Invisible Boy” at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin (video available at Photo by Callen Harty.

I keep getting triggered by events that are beyond my control or my comprehension.  When you are a survivor of childhood sex abuse and you see that it keeps happening and that the society which has criminalized it doesn’t really seem serious about stopping it the feelings of abandonment and despair can be very difficult to overcome.

The Jerry Sandusky trial is over and the subject has been replaced on the front pages by gun violence, political conventions, and hurricanes.  The difficult truth of sexual violence against children has been swept away again and put back in the closet for storage until the next high publicity case comes up.  In the meantime children in cities and towns across the country are abused by neighbors, priests, family members, and occasionally strangers.  It is not something that is easy to talk about, so as a society we prefer not to talk about it at all.  But without that discussion it will continue to happen.  We need to talk about it to shed light on the problem, to help victims know they are not alone, to help victims become survivors, and to end the ignorance surrounding child sex abuse and sexual violence in general.

Today’s news reflected that ignorance.  There was a report in several media sources that a very well-respected friar in New York state was quoted in an interview in the National Catholic Register blaming the victims–the children!–for their own abuse perpetrated by priests.  According to several news sources Rev. Benedict Groeschel, the founder of a religious order, author of 45 books, and a host on the Catholic television network, EWTN, was quoted as saying, “Suppose you have a man having a nervous breakdown, and a youngster comes after him.  A lot of the cases, the youngster–14, 16, 18–is the seducer.”  He later added that first-time offenders should not be jailed because they really didn’t intend to commit a crime.

When I read these words I was stunned.  Apparently many others were as well because the original article was removed from the website and the friar and all those around him fell all over themselves apologizing and trying to make it seem as if the man’s advancing age and his car accident seven years ago were the culprits that caused him to say these things.  Surprisingly they didn’t blame the devil, but there is always someone or something else to blame.  Perpetrators and those who excuse them never take responsibility for their words or actions.

The reality is this.  The victims of child abuse are never the ones to blame.  It doesn’t matter what they were wearing or how they were wearing it, what they may have said, how they may have looked, or anything else.  Even in the incredibly rare instances where a young person might try to seduce a man (or woman) every rational, sane, and mature adult would not be interested or would understand the power differential and would not consider the possibilty.  There is no excuse for crossing that line and there is no excuse for justifying others crossing that line.  Period.


Apologies are not enough for this kind of ignorance any more.  The Catholic Church hierarchy needs to understand that there can be no tolerance for any priest caught abusing children and no tolerance for defending that behavior.  They need to embark upon an educational campaign in every parish church in every diocese, not only in this country but worldwide.  They need to take full responsbility and do whatever they can to ensure that not one more child is abused by a priest again.

But it is not just the Catholic Church that needs to be educated.  As a society we need to educate ourselves about the issue of child sex abuse and we need to work together to stop it.  It is one of the things that I am dedicating my life to these days.  If telling my story somehow stops even one more child from abuse then I will shout my story from the rooftops.  If writing about my experiences helps a single boy or girl then I will write until my hands can no longer pick up the pen.  I will do my best to counter those who would excuse abuse and those who would commit the crime of abuse.  We are well past the time of accepting this as the norm.  It is time for the dawning of a new age in which children are protected from those who would bring them harm.  It is the responsibility of the entire community to make sure this happens.  If everyone does what they can we can steadily move toward that new day.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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