Forgive and forget? Not when a child is abused

December 30, 2016 - 09:00

There are criminals that can be rehabilitated and crimes that can be forgiven.

But child molest must absolutely not be one of them.

Thu Vân

To err is human, to forgive, divine.

Confession: I am not feeling very godly now.

I accept the notion that criminals can and should be rehabilitated, and re-integrated into mainstream society.

I was awed and moved a few years ago when the Amish parents of murdered children forgave the killers. I know that Jesus asked God to forgive his killers “for they know not what they do.”

But, as I said earlier, I am not feeling very godly.

As a member of the human society, as a public citizen, as a parent, as a mother, and as a less-than-divine human being, there are crimes I cannot forgive.

There are crimes that just cannot be forgiven.

Molesting a child is one of them.

The life of Gary Glitter, world-renowned pop star, who at the height of his success in 1975 had sold 18 million records, came crashing down when he was arrested after dozens of images of child sex abuse were found on his computer’s hard disk. After being forced to flee Cuba and expelled from Cambodia, he relocated to Việt Nam, where in 2006, he was convicted of sexually molesting two girls and served nearly three years in prison.

Many called him a monster, but I have to look up the meaning of this word again. It feels inadequate.

Dennis Hastert, former speaker of the US House, molested his students - minors, children – when he was their high school teacher and wrestling coach in Yorkville in the 1970s.

Hastert victimised the boys and hid his crimes for decades, until one former student confronted him. He was called a “serial child molester” by a US District Court Judge, and “disgraced son of Illinois” by local media.

I don’t want to know what hole such people slink into (no insult intended to any reptile or other creatures that live under the ground), but I am fine with their not coming out again.

Which is why I am fulminating now. I cannot understand the way some local media outlets and artists and other people welcomed back the Vietnamese child-molester, comedian Hồng Quang Minh, or Minh Béo, after he was expelled from the US.

The joke’s over folks. It was not funny. It is not funny. It will not be funny.

Minh had been arrested earlier this year on charges of having oral sex with a 16-year-old boy and attempting to commit a lewd act upon a child under 14 years old. In August, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months in state prison. He has already been registered as a lifetime sex offender in the US.

On his Facebook account, some artist friends cheered and congratulated him for “overcoming obstacles.” So even wished him good health so that he can be “devoted to the audience again”.

When people who don’t share this view said something about how Minh Béo shouldn’t be boasting about his return and should apologise to his audience, the “large hearted” reply was: the past is the past, and we should all be forgiving.

Aarrgghh!! And more of the same.

Have we no sense of shame? No mortification that one of us, a celebrity no less, did what he did?

Is child molestation something to forgive and forget? Or is it that they do not understand the implications of what he’s done?

Deep breath. Let’s listen to some experts.

According to doctors, the effects of child sexual abuse on victims can be devastating. Sex offenders do not harm them physically, their psychological damage is much worse. Victims may feel significant distress and display a wide range of psychological symptoms, both short- and long-term.  They may feel powerless, ashamed, and distrustful of others. A child who is the victim of prolonged sexual abuse usually develops low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness and an abnormal or distorted view of sex. The child may become withdrawn and mistrustful of adults, and can become suicidal.

They call it wounds that won’t heal, for the victims, and their loved ones.

I’ve been following the story of the mother of a child victim of sex abuse in the southern province of Vũng Tàu. Every word she wrote about the case hurt me and broke my heart. As she struggled to prove the child molester guilty, her daughter suffered nightmares and headaches. She later left Việt Nam so her child could find some peace.

I still remember the story of a teenager who was trafficked to China. When she was rescued and returned to Việt Nam, the nightmares of the days she was sexually abused just didn’t stop. She said she uses a needle to prick her head to help stop thinking about it.

I am shaken just reading these accounts. I shiver, with horror, fear and anger. How much worse it should be for the victims themselves and their loved ones, including parents? Can we forgive the perpetrators of such crimes, even if they’ve “done their time?”

According to the Ministry of Public and Security and the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, as many as 1,000 children are sexually abused each year. But experts say the real number must be much higher because many cases do not come to light.

Just a few months ago, police arrested a criminal who had raped and killed two girls, ten and 11 years old, in Vĩnh Trung Village, Phú Xuyên District, Hà Nội. Earlier this year, a school guard was found to have sexually abused 20 children of 6 to 10 years old in Lào Cai Province. And there must be many more.

So what will this welcoming and forgiving of an “entertainer” tell the sick people who commit such crimes? That they should be forgiven? Given another chance?  Another chance to ruin another life?

According to a study by Dr Keith F. Durkin of the Ohio Northern University in the US, sex offenders have an exceptionally high recidivism rate. Dr Durkin even said that many experts, including himself, are highly sceptical of the claim that any sex offender can be rehabilitated.

Dr Ludwig Lowenstein, the author of Paedophilia: The Sexual Abuse Of Children, Its Occurrence, Diagnosis And Treatment, shared this view.

He said the sex offenders’ twisted desires are so much part of their personality that they cannot be eradicated by psychotherapy, counseling, education or support. And a great number of them have no regret at all.

This seems true of Minh Béo. He posted a status on his Facebook page, announcing that he is back in Việt Nam, healthy and will contact his friends later. No apology. No regret. No nothing.

A few days later, he said on his Instagram account that what he did in the US stayed in the US and asked people not to “spy” and “condemn” him any more.

Maybe he’s legally right in saying what he did in the US stays in the US. An official from the Ministry of Pubic Security has said that Minh committed the crime in the US, has served his punishment in accordance with US laws, and there will be no follow-up in Việt Nam. Seriously?

But what’s more important is that apart from a number of Minh’s friends who wholeheartedly welcomed him back, many more people have condemned his actions. He needs to be watched closely. He needs to stay away from our children. He can’t be a celebrity in the showbiz industry anymore.

It’s important that we speak out because child sex abuse is often kept under wraps for many reasons. Feelings of shame, fear of being ostracised, and so on.

Neither fame nor money can make up the crime of child molestation. It’s important that we speak out because for a long time, sex offenders have not feared the law.

Forgiveness and tolerance in such instances are hypocritical and insensitive. And where is the question of forgiveness in the absence of any shame or regret?

Martin Lurther King once said “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people”.

So, don’t keep silent when you know a child is being or might be harmed.

The darker sides of human nature cannot be wished away by therapy. And when they threaten to harm our children, we have to be vigilant and…. Unforgiving. — VNS