When talking about abuse becomes a ratings bonanza

Don’t cross the child abuse industrial complex if you know what’s good for you.  Yes, I’m being tastelessly flippant.  Yes, child rapists deserve to die as I said last week.  And yes, child abuse of all forms leaves an indelible tattoo of pain on the heart and psyche.

But while a majority of people genuinely care about the welfare of sex abuse victims, including therapists, Grand Jurors, abuse survivors and even Catholic priests, there are others who love a good scandal so they can whip up the hysteria.  They are the ones who host the cable news shows, like Dr. Drew Pinsky and Nancy Grace, the professional empathizers like Dr. Phil and Anderson Cooper, the Oprah wannabees on “The View” and “The Talk” and the political pundits who try to brand child rape as a uniquely conservative phenomenon, like the MSNBC crew.

With friends like these, the victims certainly don’t need enemies.

It’s very unpopular to say anything publicly that seems to put you on the opposite side of the victims, alleged or proven.  My inbox over the last few weeks has convinced me that some people look at the phrase “presumption of innocence” as fighting words and assume that any time an accusation of abuse has been made, it’s absolutely improper to consider the possibility it’s false.

While I understand that the pendulum has swung so far in the pro-victim direction because decades passed before anyone took them seriously or gave them a voice, I also understand that some of what passes for sincere concern is a little less benign.  Humans are inherently attracted to tragedy, both during and in the difficult aftermath, because we’re then given a chance to show just how noble we can be.  Heroism is born in the darkest moments, as we saw after 9/11 with the first responders, during Katrina as the floodwaters rose and the Red Cross remained and at the Virginia Tech shootings when professors and students put themselves in the line of a madman’s fire. 

 And now, we’re looking for heroes in Happy Valley.  Unfortunately, they seem to be in short supply.  Which is why we need to be extra careful about just who we anoint to carry the banner for those victims of abuse.  While it’s right and just to be repulsed by Samdusky and his alleged crimes, and I can even understand some frustration with-but not anger against-Joe Paterno, let’s not jump on the Child Abuse Bandwagon whose wheels are greased every time the media sniffs out a juicy story.

It happened with the Catholic Church, where every political cartoonist in the nation turned a Roman collar into a badge of shame.  Earlier on it happened at the McMartin pre-school where over 60 cases of alleged sexual abuse were found to be lies planted in the minds of impressionable children by twisted therapists and the journalists who fed off of them for ratings.

And therein lies the problem.  We are very close to that point where transparency and education, important as they are, become exploitation.  The exploiters are not always easy to identify because they speak sweetly and, in some cases, out of both sides of their mouth while nodding their heads at all the right cues.  From what I’ve seen over the past week, for every genuine and sincere advocate of children that you see on the news, there are at least two more who are thrilled at this moment in the sun, at this chance to make themselves the story.

One particularly blatant example is a CNN contributor who has been popping up everywhere in the wake of the Penn State revelations to talk about abuse that occurred to her when she was 4.  When I first saw her speak, I was impressed by her story and presence.  But then I continued to see her trotted on screen to comment with the other ‘experts’ about how children deal with abuse, as if she were giving an exclusive for CNN viewers.  I’m sure it was great for the ratings.

 I know that some people think that revelation is important, and that child abuse occurs primarily because of that special omerta` forced on humiliated victims by the abuser.  I get that we need to talk about the issue, make sure that it doesn’t fade from our consciousness. 

But this “We ARE Child Abuse” campaign,just like the "It Gets Better" campaign against bullying seems to pop up with particular ferocity only after some high profile cases of abuse, and the Penn State tragedy was tailor made for the situation.   But the concern on the part of the media leaves a sour taste in my mouth because of its lack of authenticity.

So perhaps, out of respect for the victims, we should treat this seriously and drown out the Dr. Drews and Attorney Nancys.  Because this is not the media’s tragedy to run.