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Interview: Commentary on child molesting by Los Angeles attorney Shari Karney

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This interview with Shari Karney, Esq. , attorney and commentator makes remarks of opinion of a kind like a public letter on the subject of child molesting, and in specific reference the recent Sandusky trial. There is American national attention to the often secret subject of child molesting and the child molester. Attorney Shari Karney of Santa Monica, California has been working on this kind of case with others in the United States and especially California, almost in the manner of a Crusade. Perhaps as a Crusade, for the interview has tones of the Crusade against this evil of the sexual predator.

She writes in her biography written for this introduction to the interview:

Shari Karney, Esq. is an attorney and member of the State Bar of California for 22 years, a survivor of incest, and an advocate for children’s rights. She keynotes at events around the world, speaks on college and university campuses and law schools. Shari is the author of the soon to be released book, Prey No Longer–A Step-by-Step Action Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse.

The interview was held recently with discussion of doing same starting the week of June 11, 2012 by this writer and lasted an approximately more than an hour by phone from Mill Valley, California to her office in Santa Monica, California. It consisted of two conversation blocks.

1.1. Peter Menkin: Let us look at some of the aspects of child molesting issue as you see the matter of the Sandusky trial. Now that the trial has a verdict, let us imagine it is still at deliberation, and imagine that you have an opportunity as a public person to comment from the jury box as one who is a professional commentator on child molesting issues. Also from this imaginary jury box, comment as an attorney who represents people and their families that have been victims of child molesting. Specifics and even a case in subject are invited.

Attorney Shari Karney: I am so excited and it gives me real hope for victims and survivors that there is justice and they will be believed. This is a great victory for victims. Sandusky had 9 counts against him on deviant sexual intercourse, indecent assault. He is going to jail, and he is never going to get out. I was worried that they wouldn’t convict him. I have represented victims of child abuse for 20 years, and I was a commentator on the Michael Jackson child molesting case in 2005. It was a criminal case for sexually abusing, assaulting, molesting a boy. Michael Jackson’s defense was though I slept in the same bed with the children, I did not touch them sexually.

In the Sandusky case, coaches shower with kids all the time. And nothing untoward happened in that shower either. Normal, everyday people, the guy down the block…the person who works at Wal Mart etc. The average person down the block can’t get away with that, but beloved idols can. Such [august] are celebrities: Football coaches of winning teams, athletes, and churches.

If the jury was really listening, I would say to those juries if I was a jury member–these children have [had] their soul raped and…their spirit …raped. This coach started the Second Mile foundation for at risk kids. He was the only father figure they had. Not only was he the only father figure they had, he was the only man they could look up to. Its one thing when a stranger sexually assaults a child—it’s terrible—but its devastation when someone who is supposed to love and protect you, [a child] sexually abuses you. I know that because it happened to me.

As a victim of incest, I understand the long term effect sexual abuse causes to the victim. Even if you take another form of devastation as the holocaust or genocide, the enemy is known and there is a declared war. This is war against an individual, helpless, isolated child.

I would tell those jurors what it is like to experience it, to understand it isn’t about kids in a conspiracy to go after a beloved football coach. The defense they are using is Sandusky worked 17 hours a day, and therefore had no time to sexually abuse these children…the kids have gotten together to make money.

One of the facts the jury was drawn to is Mike McQueary walked into the football locker room and heard the sound of skin slapping against skin in 2002. It made him curious. He didn’t know what he was hearing and walked into the shower locker and saw victim number 4 with his hands up against the shower wall and Sandusky behind him anally raping him. That is what McQueary saw. That is what was said to the grand jury. They have to practically eyewitness [an event], otherwise the jury perceives it as she-says she-says, or in this case he-said he-said—for all the victims were children and they were boys [in their childhood, some 13 and also under].

…Even when there are multiple victims, often we as human beings and jurors don’t want to believe the horror of it all. We [and that means pretty well all of us] say we love and cherish and … give our lives to children, but in reality children have no rights. Children are perceived as second class citizens. Children in the law are considered unreliable, they are untrustworthy, not believable, are going to make stories up, and can be coached to tell a certain story.

But the truth is, I find children believable, trustworthy, unlikely to make a lie up that is so embarrassing. The lie that children tell is that everything is okay. The truth is [children especially who are sexually assaulted and molested] don’t like that about being sexually assaulted.

They don’t have the information to provide the details of this kind of sexual assault. A child in the Sandusky case told the same facts over and over again in the same way. [Yes, there is no credibility for that child, even at the time of the event’s afterward.]

Anybody who has been in this field knows when they’ve heard the real deal. In my entire practice, first I represented abused children, then adult victims… Only one case [appeared] where I believed the father, and didn’t believe the child. I [start out to always] believe the child, and listen to the children. They don’t have a reason to make this up. Do you think an 8 year old is thinking about money, or a conspiracy, or hurting someone they love or have a relationship with. Why are we throwing our commonsense out the window? The reason we are throwing commonsense out the window, is children who have no rights, they are second class children. We pick the families the coaches, the churches over our children.

One thing I want to say to the jury [while in the jury box]: Spend five minutes walking in the shoes of the victim. Put yourself in the place of that child whose football coach who is your idol who has been grooming you for months for sexual abuse, and [I ask] who has more to get out of telling the truth. Who gets more out of lying?

Five adults knew about the sexual abuse since 1998, and they didn’t listen. Or if they did listen and did get the idea they didn’t want to tarnish the reputation of [that highly] valued institution which is Penn State. You’ve got kids going up against universities, coaches, and priest. It is David and Goliath.

[Assistant Coach at Penn State, an inspirational man in the history of the school, founded a non-profit for disadvantaged children and worked with them personally, as well…] These children in Second Mile were at risk children who didn’t have a community, this town, this coach took them in and – the Sandusky family and his wife took these children n and made family of them.

It was if Naomi took Ruth in and assaulted her. It was an illusion of Ruth and Naomi. It felt like someone cared. It was if the community through Sandusky turned on Ruth, and less of the community supported Ruth. That is Biblical evil. That’s what happened here. They stayed in his home…the community allowed him to bring these community less children in—as if Sandusky turns and cannibalizes Ruth, [unlike Naomi did, who cherished and aided her in her vulnerability and aloneness]. [In this case, Penn State] community stands by and lets it happen.

1.2. Peter Menkin: It occurs to this Religion Writer that the American press runs a child molesting story, stories, on their pages every day. Popular reading is child molesting in the various Churches, especially the Roman Catholic Church in America where that Church is a kind of boogie-man. Why do you think the various churches, that is those of different denominations and persuasions have this problem, so prevalently noted in our decade?

Attorney Shari Karney: Because they have unauthorized and unsupervised access to young people. And I believe that people who are child molesters or pedophiles are drawn to places where there are lots of children. The other aspect of this is religious leaders and brethren are authority figures and people trusted by parents. Churches were considered safe places and where children are going to be given good values, be loved and protected. They are places where you are safe with God. If you are not safe with God, you are not safe anywhere.

Religious organizations think it should be dealt with within the Church or Synagogue. It should be dealt with either with forgiveness, or that the community should resolve the problem themselves. It is not an outsiders business. This is certainly the case with the Roman Catholic Church, with the insular Hassidic Community, and with ultra-conservative Jews.

I believe this is a failure of the internal mechanism of the community of religion. And I think they fail to have a responsibility to even report child molesting as crimes—[The idea is obtained and held] that this is a private affair to be taken care of in their own community or their own family. They don’t want to deal with the issue. It is easier to be in denial. They don’t want to deal with the pain. They don’t want to deal with the failure on their part to keep children in the family or the church safe.

One of the failures we have is a case in Williamsburg, [a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York City.] [The incident is called that of] Jungreis. He was 38 years old and he wanted to talk about his child being abused. It was a Hasidic community. He wanted to be cooperative with the police. He reported his son had been abused in the Hasidic community. He received stony looks in the street, people walked past him (Brooklyn); they said he was turning in a fellow Jew. He got kicked out of his apartment, and his mother in law was confronted saying her son was abused and she didn’t report the crime. Why did your son have to report it, [was asked of her by the Jewish community of Hasidism.]

That community is ultra-orthodox.

Everybody focuses on the Roman Catholic Church, but they aren’t the only organization that has a problem with child sexual abuse: 99 percent of Williamsburg is orthodox Jewish…Where the United Talmudic Academy in Williamsburg is located.

I have not received any cases of Rabbi abuse, or an ordinary Synagogue abuse. I don’t know anybody who has. This follows the ultra-orthodox, repressed, and similar to Priests in the Catholic Church, in the Mormon Church. It is that participation [in the closed community] and action that where their community can’t interact with the outside community. It leads to a kind of us-against-them mentality.

What attorneys who represent the victims are dealing with now are first amendment and penitent priest issues. Priests who are confessing to other priests cannot talk to the police because that communication is privileged. The person who heard that priest cannot go to the police or testify because the accused priest can protest use of a privileged communication. They confess in such a way that it’s a forgive-me-father-for-I-have sinned: I have sexual feelings for a child, sexual desires, urges and even if they admit to sexual crimes. The Priests are still exerting their privileges.

They say they are not a judge and jury, [as Priests, they are] not the police. They are there to help your soul and your spirit. I think he is really confessing to God and the Priest is really confessing to God.

Sandusky asked his defense attorney, in his closing argument, to please read this quote from Mother Teresa to the jury: “What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyways … In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

1.3. Peter Menkin: Is there something about the Roman Catholic Church, or the Anglican Church (Episcopal), that invites child molesting and molesters? More importantly is the question, What is being done to meet this problem in Churches and by clergy and lay people today? And if you will, speak with us about the current practice of the Roman Catholic Church, who it appears has begun an even more vigorous defense of the accusation from alleged victims charges.

Attorney Shari Karney: One of the things that …is happening is in the churches–it’s almost as if Bishops, clergy, and ministers [have a right to] access children.

The Church of England had a very good response to Priest abuse and minister abuse. I think they are the right track. The acting bishop of Chichester, Mark Sowerby, said that they are committed to making sure that the churches are safe communities for children and vulnerable adults. They are giving the highest priority to the Church of England policies of same guarding vulnerable adults and children.

We owe this to those who have suffered abuse. And most especially to those who have suffered abuse at the hands of people exercising a ministry in the name of the Church. We are resolved to do whatever is necessary to prevent the abuse of vulnerable adults and children, [Bishop Sowerby says].

The problem with that is, What is necessary to safeguard children and vulnerable adults? And What specifically, are they doing? It is easy to say, We are going to safeguard children and vulnerable adults: What is the enactment of that? Taking the cases in the media in the United States, one of the mothers of the Penn State University coach Sandusky trial said that her son told her [about the acts] and she didn’t want to know. That’s the problem in the Churches. In order to do whatever is necessary to prevent child sexual abuse the leadership of the Churches, and the membership, must be willing to tackle this head on and face it. I am saying this as someone who comments and has experience with this.

It’s that the children are telling us: But we don’t want to know. All of that denial completely puts the whole system on the side of the perpetrator.

[INTERVIEW CONTINUED FOR SECOND HOUR ON THE DAY OF THE SANDUSKY JURY VERDICT, AT THE TIME OF THAT ANNOUNCEMENT.]

Attorney Shari Karney: Today within the Sandusky trial where the jury found him guilty of 45 counts out of 48. It is a victory today for child survivors and a victory for all survivors of child sexual abuse. These were childhoods that were ravished. This is a case where the jurors said we are not going to allow [Sandusky and even the community] to turn on Ruth. We are going to support Ruth [individually, and the community of children].

It’s also a message to churches, colleges, athletic departments that child sexual abuse is a crime. Had one of these parents [paid] attention to what occurred, some of the people Sandusky [would not have been molested]. These ravished children’s lives would have been saved. We have the power in the Churches to become a place of healing … and love.

We must listen to … children and take appropriate action immediately. Some of the churches involved in sexual abuse cases, Roman Catholic Church, Church of England in the schools (I don’t want people to think these incidences are only in America. It is worldwide.)

One of the problems with the Catholic Church is they transfer the priest to South America, or Mexico. Then you start seeing victims in every place they’ve been transferred. This is a fact. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Episcopal Priests, Quakers, Mormons, Church of Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventist, Southern Baptist, and Baptist Churches are not [always] the first reporters [in cases of the acts of child molesting in their ranks of care].

SNAP is the leading organization in the United States that deals with victims of clergy abuse (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests www.snapnetwork.org ). Recently they got together for a charge against humanity at the Haig against the Catholic Church.

1.4. Peter Menkin: Probably the sad part of this story of the churches and this practice of child molesting is the extent and kind of damages done when clergy are involved. I know you have something to say on this subject, since there is a special need people who attend church hold for their clergy. There is a significant responsibility for the caring of the spirit and the work with souls—calls this the spiritual dimension of the damages done by this evil practice of child molesting in the churches. Is this spiritual rape, as some have called it?

Attorney Shari Karney: When a clergyperson, man or woman of the cloth, a representative of God sexually abuses you, you feel spiritually raped. Both your body is ravished and so is your soul. The damage is even more profound because not only is the child victimized [physically by assault and sexually by assault] by a person, but now the child is victimized by God. There isn’t any legal remedy or damages for spiritual abuse. The law doesn’t have a special category for that as remedy. [The remedy] is included in general damages. But a jury is likely to include it in punitive damages. It’s what the law calls a fiduciary relationship. Which means you’re in a relationship with a person where there is trust. If in a relationship like a student/teacher, a congregation member, and a minister, a member of the Roman Catholic Church and a Priest…they’re in a relationship where they are in a higher responsibility to protect. That is called a fiduciary relationship.

In the Jehovah witness case, the jury gave the victim $21 million in punitive damages, and $7 million in compensatory damages. The Catholic Church in New York is behind the movement to not aid the statute of limitations of children’s rights. The church is fighting against victims to shorten the time that a victim can sue as a way to protect the perpetrating Priest and to protect the financial institution of the Roman Catholic Church. In California the Catholic Church just won in legislation in the California Supreme Court to deny victims of Church sexual abuse justice by shortening the statute of limitations where the victims can sue.

1.5. Peter Menkin: As we come to the end of our interview, with this last question, speak to anything you will that may have been left out or missed in the questions by this Religion Writer.

Attorney Shari Karney: Instead of the Roman Church and other religions really getting together to see what can be done to stop child sexual abuse, some are taking the lead from the Catholic Church and stop victims from being able to sue them and seek justice. My question is, Why not turn resources to prevention, to what to do when you know it’s a crime (how to stop it). Why use not these billions and millions of dollars to stop the victim from getting justice.

Why not each separate religion ask, What would Christ do…What would Moses do…What would God want us to do… The answer is to do God’s work on earth. I do not believe that Christ would watch a child being sexually assaulted by someone and turn his back. What are the Churches doing [if not] doing Christ’s work as men and women of God.

ADDENDUM

From book proposal, The Girl Behind the Curtain, by Shari Karney, Esq.

Incest and child sexual abuse by their very nature are hard to quantify. The

National Center for Victims of Crime reports that “father-daughter and stepfather/daughter incest is the most commonly reported, with most of the remaining reports consisting of mother/stepmother-daughter/son incest.” It estimates that up to 20 million Americans have been victimized by their parents, and further estimates that one out of three girls and one out of five boys are sexually abused by the time they reach the age of eighteen. In Canada, which has stricter reporting laws and more accurate government studies, child sexual abuse is believed to happen to one in two girls and one in four boys. There are legions and legions of child sexual abuse survivors worldwide. (UN Study conducted shows there are 150 million girls and 73 million boy survivors worldwide with 90% unreported.)

Over the last decade, and even in recent months, the number of high-profile child

sexual abuse narratives portrayed in the mainstream news media has been overwhelming.

There was the case of Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City, the 14-year-old girl abducted in June of 2002 and found alive 18 miles from her home nine months later. Over those

months in captivity she was sexually molested hundreds of times. A few months after the Smart abduction, Shawn Hornbeck, an 11-year-old boy from Union, Missouri, was

kidnapped while riding his bike near his home. He and another boy were discovered alive in January 2007, having been brutally molested in the home of Michael J. Devlin.

And finally, in June of 1991, Jaycee Dugard, an 11-year-old girl from South Lake Tahoe, was abducted from a street while she was walking from her home to a school bus stop. She remained missing for more than 18 years. When she was discovered, she had borne two girls, ages 11 and 15, for her captives, in Antioch. The stories go on and on and occur across racial and economic backgrounds. From fringe Mormon groups to Catholic priests to football coaches, child sexual abuse is an evergreen issue. All of these stories have been told in book-length narratives and continue to find readers, because childhood sexual abuse is a festering sore.

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