Sexual abuse and the elusive nature of truth

A decade ago, I joined a CEO group called TEC (now Vistage). Each month, a different CEO hosted the group and we talked shop. My first meeting was in the fancy offices of a really nice CEO. As I recall, he was prominent in local politics, on the board of the county library system, and a Boy Scout leader.

A few years later, he was sentenced to prison for the rest of his life. He had been using his influence and access to children to sexually molest them. Such is the way of these things. People can fool you. Extreme evil hides in people that look very good on the surface. Abusers tend to appear prominent and respectable.

Early in this year, someone close to us came and shared her story of being sexually molested as a child five years earlier. I had every reason to believe her and I did believe her. We went to the police immediately even though we knew that the chance of proving the allegations beyond a level of reasonable doubt was slim. There were no witnesses or evidence. It was the classic “he-said-she-said.”

While I have no doubt that the alleged victim was telling the truth, it does not matter what I believe really. What I believe and what can be proven as truth are two separate things. At the end of the day, we were facing a classic situation that is all too familiar. Either truth was going to prevail or it wasn’t. Sometimes truth prevails but other times, real victims are marginalized. And sometimes truth prevails but other times, innocent men and women have their reputations destroyed by false allegations.

This alleged abuser was a prominent guy, too. He was a Sunday School teacher and a former elected official. He was a legend in his local area, actually. I knew him fairly well and liked him. In fact, outside of this situation, I had nothing in the world against him. I did not take pursuing charges against him lightly. This was something that weighed heavily on me.

The reason we decided to go to the police was not to protect the victim. She will never have any contact with him again so she does not need that protection. Nor was she driven by revenge. No, the reason we went to the police was to attempt to protect future victims in his life. He was around a lot of children. We knew that the chance of him being charged was pretty low, but it was clear that we had to at least try to protect others.

As it turned out, the law enforcement involved decided not to charge him. They interviewed the alleged victim, found her credible, and then interviewed the alleged abuser. He of course denied the charges. At that point, the district attorney made a decision not to proceed with charges because there was simply not enough evidence to convict. I get that and I am not mad at them for that decision. The truth is that these things are difficult. They always have been.

Even in the Bible, the process of determining guilt in such situations was woefully imprecise. In Deuteronomy 22, a girl that was raped could subsequently be stoned if the rape occurred in the city because of the dubious idea that she could have “cried out” and got help. What if the rapist gagged her or no one was in that part of the city to hear her cry? At least on the surface, it appears she was out of luck. I don’t get that at all, but I do certainly acknowledge the difficulty of  trying to mete out justice in these kinds of situations.

The first takeaway of all this is that these things are just remarkably difficult and messy and frankly unsatisfying. Innocent people are constantly being wronged because they are either victims that are not believed, or innocent men and women that end up with ruined lives because they are falsely accused. We have to accept that this kind of thing has always happened and always will. It is not fair or just but it is reality just like random accidents or poor health.

Second, when you observe our culture, it is clear that many value their agenda more than truth and justice. Open your Facebook feed or listen to the news and you will see enough in five minutes to sicken you. It happens constantly on all sides of all issues including your side of issues whatever they may be. Don’t take your cues from such people even if you agree with them on other things. Unless you have rare access to good information, you really don’t know enough to take a hard position on abuse cases at all. Victims are not pawns nor are alleged abusers. Don’t make things worse by discounting the stories of victims or ignorantly accusing people of abuse just because of a side you have taken. Put your agenda away, stay quiet, and hope for the truth to prevail.

Thirdly, protect yourself. For example, be extremely careful with children. If you are a man, you would be wise to never be in your house with any children besides your own unless there are other adults present. Don’t touch them unless others are around. Don’t babysit alone. If your children have friends over, ask your wife not to leave while they are there. My house is constantly full of children and for various reasons, I have had to be very conscious of the danger of false accusations. There is a need to go overboard in this area, especially as we see society sort of trying to autocorrect on this issue and swinging perhaps a bit far in the direction of not believing (falsely) accused abusers.

Justice any government metes out will always be imperfect. It won’t always be fair and innocent people will get hurt. A lot of things are beyond our control but at least we can do what we can to protect ourselves and can resolve to be fair ourselves, especially when we do not have enough facts to determine guilt.

And most of all, we can resolve that truth is more important than our agenda. Most people pay lip service to the idea of truth; but their words and actions make it clear that truth is not as important as other things. Don’t be like that.