When child abuse is uncovered, many ask how an adult could do such unspeakable things to an innocent.
But I want to ask: How can so many ‘good’ people not do anything about it, and so many others cover up for abusers?
Earlier this month, an elementary school teacher in a northern province was accused of molesting multiple fifth-grade schoolgirls by the girls’ parents.
In a meeting with school leaders and teachers, the girls said the teacher pinched their nose, touched their thighs and groped their bottoms. One said he put his hand inside her shirt.
Hearing about this abuse was horrible enough, but perhaps worse was hearing the local authorities’ reaction.
After a police investigation, the deputy chairman of the district People’s Committee, told media that there was no sign of molestation and so there was no basis for legal action against the teacher.
This is exactly what the official said: “He just pulled their ears, pinched their noses, touched some girls’ bottoms and thighs. Apart from that, he did nothing else.”
A parent of one of the molested girl told Vietnam Television they had been invited to a meeting with the school board, where they were asked to sign a meeting summary document without being informed of the paper’s contents.
“It seems like the school board wanted us to blindly sign in the paper,” he said.
The vice head of the district’s Education and Training Unit also stood up for the abuser, saying his actions didn’t cross the line and that people should forgive him.
Why, despite societal efforts to respond constructively to allegations of sexual abuse, doe the school and local authorities attempt to minimise and cover up the abuse?
Such inaction and horrible reaction reminds me of the case of Australian Cardinal George Pell, who was just convicted to six years in jail earlier this week for molesting two boys in 1996.
Pell, who was the Vatican’s chief financial officer and an adviser to Pope Francis, had always proclaimed his innocence and even had the support from two former Australian prime ministers.
The two men in two cases, one teacher from a small town in Việt Nam, and one powerful and famous Roman Catholic, have something in common: they were shielded.
How can these disgusting abusers be worth any kind of tolerance, or sympathy, let alone support?
People who looked away from child abuse may think they are doing the right thing by protecting an institution, a collective identity. But such tolerance and ignorance is destructive to individuals and society. Such inaction means we, as a society, failed to protect our children from abuse in the past and potential abuse in the future.
One perfectly horrifying example is a report by a Pennsylvania grand jury, which was announced last August, that more than 1,000 children - and possibly many more - were molested by hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in six dioceses in the US state of Pennsylvania, while senior church officials covered it up.
The report said church officials described the abuse as horseplay and wrestling to the children.
It was none of those things. It was child sexual abuse, including child rape.
Covering up for abusers doesn’t stop them, but enables them. It makes them think they can act with impunity and are safe from consequences. Covering their abuse up doesn’t end it, it perpetuates this sickening act.
A large amount of child abuse is committed by someone the child and their parents already know and trust. That makes it even more difficult for children to say no or to tell others they have been abused. In this case in the small district, 15 children reported abuse and then some officials tell them it’s okay to let their teacher touch their bodies in places he isn’t supposed to?
If the authorities and the school continue to shield the teacher, more students will be at risk, more pain will be caused. The children, who will grow up, will come to a time and wonder: why did the school board, the authorities, who could have protected them, could have stopped it, remain silent and do nothing, even when the evidence was clear?
As long as adults tolerate this behaviour and ignore children, they will continue to be innocent victims of crimes committed by sick perpetrators, and children will continue to believe they don’t have a right to speak out against it.
The Civil Code says “Any person who molests a person under 16 for purposes other than sexual intercourse or other sexual activities shall face a penalty of six - 36 months’ imprisonment”.
But the Code does not have a definition for “molestation” and “other sexual activities”.
Lawyers have said it’s necessary to amend the Law and put in detailed definition of such actions, for example touching certain parts of a child would be considered molestation and should be subject to criminal charges.
“It’s very easy for child abusers to play fast and loose with the law because there’s no standard procedure for child abuse cases, and there’s no official legal instruction on what can be called abuse, what can be called molestation or what can be considered sexual abuse,” said TNT, mother of a girl who was abused in a southern province.
Most of all, what hurts the victims most is not the cruelty of the oppressors but the silence of bystanders, those who turn a blind eye to child abuse, who for whatever reason want to sweep it under the rug. They are cowards.
More than ever, our culture is facing some hard and inconvenient realities that must be addressed in an assertive manner. If we do not act in a timely manner, realising the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives, even more pain will be caused. — VNS