Hi Readers! Here’s part of a letter to the editor in this week’s New Yorker that I found wonderful. It concerns an article from a few weeks back by Malcolm Gladwell – a long, upsetting piece about Jerry Sandusky and some other child molestors. Gladwell detailed the ways some predators appear to be so kind, caring and even goofy that they worm their way into our hearts and homes. We more than trust them with our kids — we love to have them around.
The article was disturbing for two reasons. First of all, it’s awful to think how devious some evildoers can be. Second, it’s also awful when society starts feeling it should be suspicious of any kindly, kid-friendly adults. Why are they so nice? Why do they REALLY like being around children?
Not only can automatic distrust poison relationships and lead to the kind of over-the-top security precautions described in the post a few below this one, it can also lead to actual injustice, as the letter writer, Gary Chandler, eloquently points out:
…while the sexual abuse of a child is monstrous and unpardonable, falsely accusing or prosecuting someone for such a crime is scarcely less horrific, particularly in a state like Colorado, where the penalty can be life in prison. The majority of cases are far more difficult to decipher, often involving a single incident, with no witnesses or physical evidence, and reliant on the imperfect memory and acuity of a child. Gladwell describes the process and effectiveness of “grooming”—the means used by child molesters to establish themselves in communities they plan to exploit. Doesn’t it stand to reason that children can also be influenced by panicked parents and aggressive or poorly trained investigators? There is ample research showing the fallibility of child outcry and testimony, and the suggestiveness of forensic interviews, anatomical drawings, and other techniques. …. Allegations of sexual abuse are, among other things, a profound test of our dedication to the principle of the presumption of innocence.
That’s a gutsy thing to point out in the wake of the Sandusky trial. Kudos, Mr. Chandler. – L.