Those hiding have yet to be exposed

Published 11:20 am Monday, December 5, 2011

There ought to be some people out there who are sweating heavily these days. They can be expected to jump when the telephone rings and be nervous when news media ask for an interview. They question: Do they know? Has someone now spoken up? Have I been found out after all this time? Anyone who has offended sexually in the past — and organizations responsible for them — are well advised to think seriously about the possibility of exposure in the present political climate.

They are today where Jerry Sandusky, Bernie Fine, and Herman Cain were just a few weeks ago. They are today where the last group of sexual offenders (even just alleged offenders) were a few months earlier. They are today those who have offended to some degree and in some sense sometime in the past but the facts of the offenses are currently unknown to the public.

This was once, not long ago, where these men and others stood. Some offended but became remorseful and turned from their misbehavior and now lead wholesome lives never again to offend. Some have apologized and even made restitution, and their victims have accepted this and themselves moved on. Some continue their offensive behavior but are more careful not to be caught. Some have, for now, stopped bad behavior but could resume it at any time.

Email newsletter signup

Some offenses are egregious acts of full sexual offense. Others were headed in this direction but either desisted or were resisted. Many never actually carried their intentions into action but made intentions threateningly known. Some acted or spoke in incredibly insensitive or distasteful manners although “nothing happened.” Yet they victimized and hurt people emotionally or socially.

They can no longer presume they are past this, because a snowball effect is in operation. Every time a victim speaks up about an offense in the past and every time the news media plays with it, another victim is encouraged to do so. The more victims (or even supposed victims) speak up, the more will join them. Their only hope is that a week or a month might go by without additional charges emerging, and the news media might be off on something else.

Be advised, you who are sweating: the media love this sort of thing, and once a person is publicly accused the public is convinced. This is a terrible time to be falsely accused, because the accused — however innocent — will never completely win. It is a terrible time to be guilty, because the public does not seem to be in the mood for mercy.

Those who might someday be accused by someone would do well to plan their reaction now. They should discretely make whatever amends are yet possible. They should redouble their efforts not only to live uprightly but do so in a way that will cause people to take note and remember.

Those who have pasts that can yet return to bite them would do well to stay out of public view, especially public office. If currently in a vulnerable position, they might find it wise to ease themselves out of public office, teaching, and the professions as a step to reduce the likelihood of becoming exposed. They should make themselves so boring they are of no interest to news coverage.

Roman Catholic bishops should not wait for yet another lawsuit, but seek out those under their care who might have offended. If some priests can be redeemed and restored, the bishops should act pastorally. If they have broken the law, they should be reported to the law.

Like the bishops, it is not only the offenders who should be sweating these days. If any organization still harbors offenders, they should at least consider divesting themselves of this liability. If they have already done so, it might be wise to seek legal counsel as to whether they have taken appropriate measures. It may be some retroactive provisions need to be made to escape legal liability against the possibility that a former employee becomes exposed in the future and the organization is yet found also at fault for not having prevented the offense.

While individuals and organizations sweat out these times, I urge them to look to themselves while there is still time.