sexual abuse in perspective


There are many estimates of the number of young people who are sexually abused.

Despite the outsized publicity about this subject, the annual incidence of sexual abuse is fortunately lower than we are led to believe. One US government source counts 78,188 child victims of sexual abuse in 2003. That’s a rate of 1.2 per 1,000 American kids—a small rate, but unacceptable. The 2001 National Crime Victimization Survey (which only covers youth 12-17) estimates that 1.9 per 1,000 young people are raped or sexually assaulted, and reflects a higher risk and vulnerability for teenagers.

Yet these relatively low annual numbers have a way of adding up over time. National surveys of adults find that 9%-28% of women say they experienced some type of sexual abuse or assault in childhood. I don’t have any figures for adult males, but I have no doubt that at least 10%-20% of boys have, over their lifetimes, experienced sexual adventures and experimentation which could qualify as “abuse.”

You may not like my saying this, but for a subset of people, it is a part of what we, as sexual beings, experience as “growing up.” I would even go so far as to speculate that sexual “abuse” is more normative than we might like to think.

Until recently, I have been using a history of sexual abuse as a kind of heuristic in deciding which juvenile parricides the Redemption Project would back. Sexual abuse of young people by their caregivers is so beyond the pale, that its presence presented a kind of shortcut for understanding and, to a degree, even justifying the desperate states of mind that preceded the murder of some parents.

But notice that I said “until recently.”

My thinking has taken quite a turn since I have focused on the Clemens Initiative, because two of the four inmates reported no sexual abuse at all. All four inmates, however, reported horrendous emotional abuse, and it is only after recalling that most parricides say that this emotional abuse is more damaging than sexual abuse that I have concluded that it was an error for me to rely on sexual abuse as the acid test of a parricide’s lessened culpability for their act of murder. In other words, I have concluded that sexual abuse, as terrible as it is, is only an indicator of what has led to the act of parricide. Far worse and more damaging—and probably the more direct contributor to murder—is the emotional abuse parricides suffered. After some intense soul-searching, I concluded that rejecting parricides who had not been sexually abused was as arbitrary and unfair as selecting only people who were blue-eyed or left-handed.

Childhood sexual abuse cases are probably made as traumatic as they are, not because of the sexual act itself, but by society’s reaction to the sexual activity when it comes to light. Society has invented a certain idealized conception of childhood, attempts to keep kids “innocent” (that is, ignorant of sex) as long as possible, and oppresses the natural learning process. I have had the recurring thought that kids do not “break” as a result of their sexual experimentation unless they receive a lot of reinforcement from society to see the sexual activity as anything but disastrous to their development—a self-fulfilling prophesy that sells short the resilience of positive-minded young people.

We make it worse for kids than it needs to be. And unless you may believe in a moral or religious tradition that insists there must be pain for learning to occur, I suggest that we can do better for kids who find it necessary to deal with this reality.

To give you an idea to what lengths society will go to turn sexual abuse into a personal catastrophe, I will write the day-after-tomorrow, Friday, about society’s treatment of pedophiles who attempt to live celibate lives. This category of people is a is not just some priests who have avoided recent troubles, but a sizable chunk of the population.

If the question of sexual attraction is even discussed, society rejects these individuals because of their mere attraction to young people (a thought crime), and condemns them as severely as it does pedophiles who actually act on their desires and can be called predators.

This reaction by society is understandable, but it somehow doesn’t seem right or productive. I say we make a commitment to developing a perspective which contributes to more hopeful futures for young people who have experienced sexual abuse.

It is up to us to figure out a better way.


Groove of the Day

Listen to The Paris Sisters performing “I Love How You Love Me”


just can’t get enough

pie eating contest 1


Groove of the Day

Listen to Depeche Mode performing “Just Can’t Get Enough”


undifferentiated hatred

cross-miller being taken into custody

It is ironic that the only people killed in Sunday’s attacks on two Jewish institutions in Overland Park KS were a Catholic and two Methodists. The targets were at the wrong places at the wrong times.

dr-william-lewis-corporan-reat-griffin-underwoodTwo of the victims were a teenage boy and his grandfather: Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, and Dr. William Lewis Corporon, 69, were members of the United Methodist Church. Dr. Corporon and his grandson were at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City so that the high school freshman could try out for KC SuperStar, a singing competition for students.

terri lamannoThe third victim was Terri Lamanno, 53, of Kansas City. Ms. Lamanno was a member of a Catholic church in Kansas City and was visiting her mother Sunday at Village Shalom retirement community—as she usually did—when she was fatally shot by the gunman.

The suspect first opened fire in the parking lot behind the Jewish community center. The attacks were apparently timed to coincide with Passover eve. The shooter reportedly yelled “Heil Hitler!” as he commenced the attacks.

Dr. Corporon died at the scene and his grandson later died at the hospital. The suspect then drove to Village Shalom, where he shot Ms. LaManno. The gunman also shot at two other people during the attacks, but missed them.

A Johnson County KS jail official said that authorities had identified the suspect in the shooting as Frazier Glenn Cross, aka Frazier Glenn Miller, 73, a resident of Aurora MO, a small town southwest of Springfield.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Cross/Miller has been involved in the white supremacist movement for most of his life. He founded the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and was its grand dragon in the 1980s before the SPLC sued him for operating an illegal paramilitary organization and using intimidation tactics against blacks. He later founded another white supremacist group, the White Patriot Party.

Cross/Miller, an Army veteran and retired truck driver, was the subject of a nationwide manhunt in 1987 after he violated the terms of his bond while appealing a North Carolina conviction for operating a paramilitary camp. The search ended after federal agents found Cross/Miller and three other men in an Ozark mobile home, which was filled with hand grenades, automatic weapons, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Cross/Miller tried running for the US House in 2006 and the US Senate in 2010.

The Overland Park police chief said the shootings are being investigated as hate crimes. He said the suspect was not known to area law enforcement and there was no indication that he knew his victims. Cross/Miller was booked into the Johnson County jail on suspicion of premeditated first-degree murder Sunday evening, but had not been formally charged. Authorities say they expect to have more information available for possible charges Tuesday.

It seems to me that this is the time for everyone to ratchet down the hatred—on all sides—so that this heinous crime can be seen in its true light. There has been an unfortunate conflation of the terms “Jewish,” “Hebrew,” “Israeli” and “Zionist” which encourage broad-brush stupidity where a nuanced view is required. Historical facts have been falsified and used by all sides to justify black-and-white positions which should have died long ago under their own weight. Truths, half-truths, misinterpretations, and outright myths and lies are used to buttress postures which make ignorant partisans confident of the veracity and righteousness of their positions.

The utter senselessness of these murders, and the inability of Cross/Miller to justify the deaths even by his own warped logic, provides us with an object lesson in how hatred metastasizes in unintended and tragic directions.


Groove of the Day

 Listen to Erasure performing “I Love to Hate You”


a pagan place

glastonbury 1


Groove of the Day

Listen to The Waterboys performing “A Pagan Place”


world in my eyes

world eye


Groove of the Day

Listen to Depeche Mode performing “The World in My Eyes”




Blur is an English rock band, formed in London in 1989. The group consists of singer/keyboardist Damon Albarn, guitarist/singer Graham Coxon, bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree.

Since Blur’s debut album Leisure in 1991, it has gone through many changes  which have spanned the genres of alternative rock, Britprop, and indie rock and included a four-year hiatus in the mid-nineties while members of the group worked on other projects including the band Gorillaz. The cohesion of the band was so poor that Coxon and James were replaced by a cardboard cutout and roadie for a lip-synced Blur performance broadcast on Italian television. A Blur biographer later wrote that, at the time, “Blur were sewn together very awkwardly”.

Although I have featured a couple of Blur songs as the Groove of the Day, I have never particularly drawn your attention to this band. The selection, “Song 2″ below, brought Blur mainstream success in the United States after 1997.

In late 2008, Blur announced its return for a series of concerts in the following year, and have continued to release several singles and retrospective releases, as well as tour internationally. In 2012, Blur received a Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Blur performing “Song 2


guilty until proven innocent

The death of the presumption of innocence
A dirty secret of the American judicial system is that juries are hardly fair and impartial
By Andrew Cohen, The Week
April 10, 2014
Imagine you are a defendant awaiting trial on criminal charges that could send you to prison for the rest of your life. You are sitting at the counsel table during voir dire, the process by which a jury is selected before a trial.

The prosecutor asks a potential juror: “You haven’t heard any evidence. How would you vote?” The potential juror responds: “I would have to vote guilty.”

Your trial judge pipes up. He’s supposed to ensure that you receive a fair trial and that the jurors who will sit in judgment upon you are neutral, objective, and willing to see and hear the evidence with an open mind. The judge asks the prospective juror: “Could you return a verdict of not guilty if the government doesn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt?” The would-be juror responds: “I don’t think I would be able to.”

The prosecutor—who wants this juror on the panel because he wants to convict you—presses on. He asks the juror: “Let’s say the victim takes the stand [and] you flat-out don’t believe her. In fact, you think she’s lying. You look at her [and conclude], ‘I don’t believe a word coming out of her mouth.’ Are you going to convict this man anyway?”

The potential juror responds: “That depends. I still feel he was at fault.”

How would you feel if this juror were allowed to join the panel that determined your fate? Would you feel as though you had received a fair trial by an impartial panel, as the Sixth Amendment commands? Or would you feel that the trial judge had failed to protect your presumption of innocence?

My guess is you would feel cheated. I know I would. But yet this precise scenario unfolded in California in 2009. This juror was allowed to serve on this trial. And to date, no judge has declared it a violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights.

Now, in this particular case, the defendant, Jose Felipe Velasco, was accused of an extremely heinous crime. He was an alleged serial child rapist who had gotten a 14-year-old girl pregnant after having some form of sex with her 21 times. But that should not change our minds about whether this man should be presumed innocent and be entitled to a fair trial. Indeed, this is precisely why we have constitutional rights in criminal cases—so that fairness and due process come even to the despised.

R. Scott Moxley, a veteran reporter and columnist for OC Weekly, brought this story to national prominence this week—and it’s a remarkably ugly picture in every way. Not only were the charges awful, not only is this defendant as unsympathetic a figure as the criminal justice system churns out, but the way the case was handled was ignoble, too. Thousands of years’ worth of the presumption of innocence shouldn’t go out the window just because a defendant is accused of heinous crimes.

The potential juror in the case, known today only as Juror 112, was permitted to sit in judgment upon Velasco only after she promised—after extensive questioning by the prosecutor, and over the objection of defense attorneys—that she thought she could “try” to be fair to the defendant. This “promise” was good enough for the trial judge, a former prosecutor, as well as two federal judges who later reviewed the transcript to determine whether Velasco’s Sixth Amendment rights had been violated.

What were these judges thinking? We’ll never really know. Unlike Juror 112, the jurists did not volunteer any candid assessments of the situation. They did not fully explain how any reasonable person, reviewing the transcript of the jury selection process before Velasco’s trial, could have come away from it believing that this juror was going to give the defendant the benefit of all reasonable doubts. It was enough, they said, that she pledged to “try.”

The dirty secret here is that what happened in this case happens every day in courtrooms all over the country. Judges and lawyers are desperate to seat juries, while potential jurors are desperate to avoid jury duty or to put their stamp upon the proceedings. As a result, the business of selecting jurors occurs with a sort of wink and a nod. Jurors are asked to put aside whatever preconceived notions they have about a case—or about justice generally, or about the defendant in particular—and so long as they say they will do so they are allowed to join a panel that determines, in some cases, who lives and who dies, and who goes to prison for 123 years to life.

Sometimes, as we see here, the benefit inures to prosecutors. Velasco’s prosecutor wanted this juror on the panel because he knew that she would vote to convict the defendant. And so he attempted to “rehabilitate” her in the eyes of the judge. Think about the metaphysical ramifications of that: we ask citizens, like this juror, to lie about their open-mindedness so that we may place them on juries where they then are charged with determining which witnesses are lying during their trial testimony.

But sometimes this fuzziness during voir dire helps the defendant. I will never forget Michael Tigar, the greatest trial lawyer I ever saw, save Oklahoma City bombing defendant Terry Nichols’ life during jury selection when he convinced a juror who was opposed to the death penalty (and thus technically ineligible to sit on a capital jury) to keep an open mind about it. On and on the questioning went until she promised to do so. And then, guess what? She was likely one of the jurors who refused to recommend a death sentence for Timothy McVeigh’s co-conspirator.

Why does it matter if a child rapist is judged by people who consider him guilty before they have seen any of the evidence against him? Because the presumption of innocence goes back thousands of years, to the Old Testament, to Greek and to Roman law, and to English common law, from which American law was born. Because the United States Supreme Court, 120 years ago in a case styled Coffin v. United States, decreed that “the principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our current law.”

That is still the law of this land. It has not since been overturned. There are no exceptions to that rule in cases of alleged murderers or child rapists. Judges and jurors don’t get to decide when they will honor this rule and when they won’t. The “rehabilitation” of jurors like Juror 112 may have sped up the pace of Velasco’s trial but it created a result that violates the Constitution and is unworthy of any respect.

The lesson here isn’t that Juror 112 should have just kept to herself her visceral prejudgment of the case. The lesson is that our justice system needs to react more justly when citizens like this are so candid in declaring their unworthiness to serve.


Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News. He has covered the law and justice beat since 1997 and was the 2012 winner of the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award for commentary.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Atoms For Peace at a live performance of ” Judge, Jury and Executioner”

Listen to Atoms For Peace in a studio performance of “Judge, Jury and Executioner”

Which do you like best?


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