60,749 Sexual Abuse Perpetrators

It is important to understand the scope of child maltreatment in the United States. Toward this end, the United States Department of Health and Human Services-Administration for Children and Families releases a yearly summary and report of child maltreatment statistics obtained from child abuse registries of 50 states. The most current version is Child Maltreatment 2008.

Across the nation, there were 60,749 sexual abuse perpetrators. Among these, 41,621 perpetrators were family members, neighbors and friends, relatives, or boyfriends/girlfriends. The government report does not break down the instance of sexual abuse perpetrators into male/female categories.

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Overall “child maltreatment” is considered to include medical neglect, multiple maltreatment, neglect, other, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and psychological maltreatment. Although I have worked in this field, I was surprised to see such a massive number of perpetrators overall for just one calendar year. There were 891,801 documented child maltreatment perpetrators in 2008.

Another statistic brings great surprise: in all of the 891,801 documented cases above, there were more women maltreatment perpetrators (501,621) than male perpetrators (380,243). Again, to avoid this figure being quoted out of context, the number of male versus female sexual abuse perpetrators is not provided. In this journal and others, the number of clergy cases of sexual abuse has been used as evidence to promote greater leadership of women in the church. While I am a strong advocate of this, especially noting last week’s posting, I do not know what to make of these figures. I hope readers will enter their comments, insights, and speculations.

To rephrase that great Russian writer, “every happy child is the same but every maltreated child is different.” We have seen in these past years a needed look at one particularly vile and disgusting aspect of child maltreatment--the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. Yet every year there are at least 891,809 stories to tell--listening to these stories might help us better understand the hows and whys of child maltreatment--so that as individual Christians, parishes, non-profit and government programs, and society at large we can create a safer environment. These children deserve our attention, too, and I suspect if each were to receive financial remuneration the entire economy of this country would be affected. This fiscal bankruptcy would be preferable to that moral bankruptcy that looks the other way. I can’t help but think that thousands and thousands of these children are standing on the sidelines watching the endless iterations of reports of clergy abuse, and at the same time wondering “Why isn’t anybody paying attention to me.”

However compelling the above statistics may be, theological reflection upon child maltreatment demands evan a greater response. In every Catholic Church there are vivid reminders of physical abuse, whipping, taunting, neglect, and extreme despair multiplied by broken trust and betrayal. I am referring to the Stations of the Cross. Using the Ignatian approach, it doesn’t take too great a leap of the imagination to see the faces and broken bodies of children superimposed over the Lord’s. But what of sexual abuse? Surely those awful and terrifying words, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”,  speak to and show understanding of the numbing experience of betrayal and abandonment that can be the core of living with having been sexually abused.

Like bookends, at each end of salvation history we are reminded that we must care for maltreated and forgotten children and reminded of their special place on Earth. “You will be good to orphans, for you were orphans in the Land of Egypt,” we are commanded early on. Last week on Ascension Thursday we are promised “I will not leave your orphaned.” Perhaps each of us is called to our own ministry of helping forgotten children, and like the Sisters of St. Joseph, who saved on particular little boy from abandonment, we may similarly cooperate with the Lord’s will.

I am particularly interested in your comments this week. amdg

William Van Ornum

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7 years 9 months ago
On an almost daily basis we see media stories of polititians/ celebraties caught up in sexual improprieties. I would think that counting up the zillions of other 'normal' peoples' sexual impropieties would not diminish the hoipolloi's interest in the impropieties of the so called elite. Again, in any fierce military battle a large number of troops are paralized into inaction. But we hold the higher ranking officers to higher standards. nothing new here, as they say in sports 'that's why they get the big money'.  
 
Evander Lomke
7 years 9 months ago
In a society as affluent as ours, with as many opportunities for counseling available, secular as well as pastoral (even in view of the high-profile cases of the Catholic Church), the statistics of Mr. Van Ornum's blog are a sobering reminder that we, as a culture, are utterly failing our young people. Remember: the statistics only represent reported cases Sexual abuse is, by its nature, a horrifically underreported act. Sadly, parents and other close relatives in the home often function as enablers; and it is well known that abusers beget abusers. In fact, by not addressing the issue forthrightly and head on, with the knowledge gleaned from cold statistics alone, realizing that behind every statistic is a voice crying in the dark, we as a culture are betraying our core values and ourselves. Given the vicious cycle of abuse, what, then, could the statistics, the reported cases, bode for our future? For the women-at first a surprising number but, given our knowledge of the typical genesis of abuse not so surprising on deeper thought-clearly caught in this cycle? For daughters and sons? It is up to everyone to remain vigilant and balanced, to break the practice, each in his or her own way. Big change starts small.
we vnornm
7 years 9 months ago
Carolyn, thanks. When I first saw the numbers, I couldn't believe them. And if someone is caring for a kid 24/7, loves that kid....discretion is needed in how one-time "neglect" or similar things are viewed. Thanks again for starting the discussion. bill
we vnornm
7 years 9 months ago
Dear Mr. Gleason,
Yes, to be given so much trust requires a higher standard. Ongoing and repeated abuse by a trusted person is often the most harmful kind. amdg bill
Pearce Shea
7 years 9 months ago
I think Carolyn is right. What I think the study may have tiptoed around is that as the number of single mothers out there rises, the number of maltreatment of children by women will also rise (presuming abandoning your kid isn't maltreatment in and of itself - which it really is, of course). That just seems like an obvious, sad fact. 
 
Frankly, I think that what I take from this is nothing new. I think familiarity breeds opportunity for sin. If someone is familiar with a crime, its repetition often becomes much easier. We tend to hurt those that are closest to us, not only because they are most convenient but because they are the most obvious recipients of our wrath (or whatever). Let's not forget that women religious, not just in Ireland, but in a great many places were often as culpable of atrocities as their male counterparts, clerical or otherwise. Power and proximity, not hormones or biology, seem to be the biggest determinative factors in crimes of this sort.
 
To put it another way, a lot of the talk about the wonders of women religious that goes on in America Mag. and elsewhere seems to always come pre-packaged with acknowledgement that they are somehow disenfranchised by "the hierarchy." That they are dissidents preaching love and compassion against cruel, distant patriarchs. Why has the assumption always been, with no real evidence or logic to support it, that a woman put into a position of power will somehow overcome the temptations and troubles of that power. I think we are beginning to learn that there really is no real evidence to suggest this at all.
we vnornm
7 years 9 months ago
Evander, you said this more elegantly than I. Thanks much for your input. amdg. bill
Francis Perry Azah
7 years 9 months ago
The family is the primary unit of every society and culture and therefore its role to respect and protect all its members including children should never ever be underestimated. In fact, the victimization of the weak by the strong, in this case of children by adults (especially parents and caregivers who are supposed to protect these children) is one of the most shameful behaviors in human history. The problem of child abuse is widespread in many countries all over the world. As long as these children suffer this abuse, there is little hope for any positive development and the establishment of a just and peaceful world. In fact, the suffering of these abused children is our suffering and our responsibility.
The number given by Bill is frightening. The 60,749 of sexual abused perpetrators out of which 41,621 are parents and other closed caregivers should be re-looked into by all well-meaning citizens. It is true that women are closer to their children than men and most of them single-mothers who single-handedly nurture these children. In that effect, these women transfer their anger onto the unfortunate children under their care. It is therefore our collective responsibility as good citizens to intensify our efforts in curbing the canker in our society.
We should be fighting child abuse in all spheres of society and not only one particular area. In as much as we should be condemning the clergy sexual abuse, we should not close our eyes on what parents and other caregivers are doing to our future leaders and equally fight in that area also for the good of our children. I rest my case.

we vnornm
7 years 9 months ago
Dear Peter:
I think you sum it up well when you say "power and proximity, not hormones or biology, seem to be the biggest determinative factors in crimes of this sort." Thanks for writing.amdg. bill
we vnornm
7 years 9 months ago
1. Ms. Buscarino: As you suggest, someone needs to calculate type of parenting arrangement (custody, shared parenting, living with boyfriend/relationsahip) and then see the total numbers and percentages of men and women involved in each case. The point I'm trying to get across is that there are SO many cases of maltreatment that men and women need to deal with this, not as a divisive issue but one which brings everyone together working cooperatively. If I understand what you are saying, the reason that "maltreat" as in "women who 'maltreat'" is in quotes is that you believe some of these statisitics do not refelct real maltreatment or are spurious in some other manner. I suspect you are right, and would also hope that you view the statistics on men who "maltreat" children in the same manner, uless there is some reason why this would not be so. Bottom line: too much maltreatment and not enough attention being paid to it. There are too many perpetrators in each sex. Wouldn't you agree?
Thanks for being the first to venture into this discussion. I think it is a needed one and hope it is kept as a respectful discussion. amdg, william van ornum
Chris Brune
7 years 9 months ago
Why is no one asking the sexual orientation of perpetrators? Political correctness aside, this would seem to be important to include in any analysis.
7 years 9 months ago
Thank you, Bill, for this excellent article.  The statistic you cited for one year only is truly shocking.  Even for an old war horse like me who worked for decades in child welfare and protection.  That each individual of the 60.749 represents enormous pain for each of the child victims is hard to fathom.  Sometimes. I feel lilke I am living in some strange sort of time warp.  In the decades of the 50's, 60's and early 70's, sexual molest was not a protective issue.  In fact, it wasn't discussed.  My profession of social work (consisting mainly on women, by the way), was as mired in denial as every other segment of society.  It wasn't until 1974 that a federal child protection law was enacted.  In 1978, the law was amended to add sexual abuse.
Your statement reflecting the feelings of abandomnent of the victims who were not molested by a priest, really hit home with me.  In our diocese, the settlement to the victims was over 90 millions dollars.  (Of this amount the trial lawyers got about 40million dollars and fought among themselves over the pot!)  Bill, we know that tens of thousands of dollars in itself do not bring healing.  It does enable people to get competent, intensive therapy.  On the other side, are the dependents of the juvenile court in the care of child protection agencies who  get the scraps of what society offers them.  Here, we use Medi-Cal which few therapists want to take.  So, our children do not get the intensive treatment and sometimes not even competent treatment.  That is shameful!    I have no doubt that that is the situation throughout the country.
I can't help but see the problem as one not only of the church but of our society at large.  I can't understand why Catholics who are prominent in all professions that can make a difference for children are gungho for reform of the church but  are strangely absent in reform of our child protection system.  Where is the outrage?  The statistics tell the story.  They are of recent history, not decades ago, when the majority of clerical abuse took place.  It would be interesting to get the statistics of recent sexual abuse  (say the past few years) and compare the figures of church and nationwide.
Thank you again, Bill for bringing this urgent matter to the attention of "America' readers.  And thanks to the commentators for many wise, compassionate statements.
7 years 9 months ago
Thank you, Bill, for this excellent article.  The statistic you cited for one year only is truly shocking.  Even for an old war horse like me who worked for decades in child welfare and protection.  That each individual of the 60.749 represents enormous pain for each of the child victims is hard to fathom.  Sometimes. I feel lilke I am living in some strange sort of time warp.  In the decades of the 50's, 60's and early 70's, sexual molest was not a protective issue.  In fact, it wasn't discussed.  My profession of social work (consisting mainly on women, by the way), was as mired in denial as every other segment of society.  It wasn't until 1974 that a federal child protection law was enacted.  In 1978, the law was amended to add sexual abuse.
Your statement reflecting the feelings of abandomnent of the victims who were not molested by a priest, really hit home with me.  In our diocese, the settlement to the victims was over 90 millions dollars.  (Of this amount the trial lawyers got about 40million dollars and fought among themselves over the pot!)  Bill, we know that tens of thousands of dollars in itself do not bring healing.  It does enable people to get competent, intensive therapy.  On the other side, are the dependents of the juvenile court in the care of child protection agencies who  get the scraps of what society offers them.  Here, we use Medi-Cal which few therapists want to take.  So, our children do not get the intensive treatment and sometimes not even competent treatment.  That is shameful!    I have no doubt that that is the situation throughout the country.
I can't help but see the problem as one not only of the church but of our society at large.  I can't understand why Catholics who are prominent in all professions that can make a difference for children are gungho for reform of the church but  are strangely absent in reform of our child protection system.  Where is the outrage?  The statistics tell the story.  They are of recent history, not decades ago, when the majority of clerical abuse took place.  It would be interesting to get the statistics of recent sexual abuse  (say the past few years) and compare the figures of church and nationwide.
Thank you again, Bill for bringing this urgent matter to the attention of "America' readers.  And thanks to the commentators for many wise, compassionate statements.
we vnornm
7 years 9 months ago

Janice, I didn't put these figures in my post-they are so unbelievable:
Number of sex abuse cases occurring between 2005-2009 in all US dioceses and reported for those years: 12
Number of sex abuse cases occurring between 2005-2009 in all religious orders in US: 0
Please check my figures. The diocese figure comes from Figure 5 from Report of Catholic Bishops 2009: http://www.usccb.org/ocyp/annual_report/9_CH4.pdf
The religious orders figures come from Figure 17.
Now, estimated figures from 2008 U.S Government report extrapolated for 2005-2009 years: 250,000 to 340,000 sex abuse perpetrators
That's right: 12 to 300,000+
Janice, Tim (editor) and others-please double check my figures. If they are true, something is drastically wrong about how discussions are going. Sounds like headline material to me.
One of my best friends, a devout Lutheran who works both with the most severely traumatized children, told me lawyers come to the prison asking leading questions like "can you remember being abused by priests?" He told me right out, "Why don't you Catholics stand up for your Church and priests." Consider this a reasonable start on my part. We are blessed with thousands and thousands of good nuns and priests. They do not deserve the insinuations that accompany so much of what is in the media.
I find further irony in the Obama administration giving credit to the Bush administration for lowering child maltreatment figures in 2008. While the USA Catholic Bishops have release the Church figures for 2009, the Obama administration, as far as I can tell, has not. Why?
It really seems so many children are being ignored. Very, very sad.
This is new information for me, discovered only this week by looking into primary sources. Has this been know by everyone all along these past five years?
bill

we vnornm
7 years 9 months ago
Father Perry:
You have now brought this to the level of a global problem. The figures will be more than we can bear. Mental health professionals who work with trauma can be traumatized themselves, this is called "vicarious trauma." Maybe this is one reason the topic gets minimized. bill
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 9 months ago
These are my thoughts, Bill, for what they are worth ...
 
I think that we are all, each and every one of us, wounded.  And we all wound. 
I have a running journal that I call "encounters with my inner shrink" where I write to uncover my own judgements and biases.  Invariably I discover how I project onto someone else my own failings and shortcomings, and seek to somehow fix my own inner sinfulness in the other person.  I am very capable of hurting others, and justifying it in my mind as "helping" them.
I believe that this inner and unconscious need to project our own sense of sinfulness and unworthiness (and  self hatred) is at the root of child abuse, sexual abuse, racism, sexism, cruelty, torture and war.
The way to healing is what Jesus was addressing when he said the forgive us our sins as we forgive others who trespass against us.  And what the Sisters of St. Joseph are doing when they take care of the children.  When we minister to those who are most vulnerable, we heal ourselves and open the path whereby others might find healing as well.
Regina Sewell
7 years 9 months ago
I have a few thoughts in reaction to this.  First, as it's already been pointed out, it makes sense that female perpetrators would outnumber male perpetrators because women are most likely to be given the care of children, even when we look at two parent heterosexual couples where the father is present in the home, the father spends much less time w/ children.  What hasn't been noted is the "trickle down" nature of abuse.  I don't know how this breaks down for child mistreatment, etc. but I do know that the women in prison (women who have been caught doing something society does not approve of) very often have histories of having been abused themselves (some studies put this percentage as high as 94% of women in prison having been sexually and/or physically/emotionally abused).  We also know that despite any "chivalry hypothesis" the data on sentencing tells us that prosecutors, judges and juries are more likely to harshly sentence women with children for drug use, violence, etc  - scholars say because they are in violation of the "good mother" mandate. 
(A very high percentage of children in the juvinile justice system have also been abused and a surprising  number of boys in for homicide are there because they killed their mother's purportedly abuser). 
I response to David about the surge in reports after the act was brought into public awareness, a question:  If a tree falls in the woods, and no one hears it, did it really fall???  and if so, since no one heard about it, no one saw it, does it really matter?
What research by Murray Struas suggest is that children whose parents use corporal punishment (spanking) are more likely to engage in criminal and/or deviant behavior in adulthood.  Add to this, many (most?) child sexual abuse offenders were once abused themselves. 
 
we vnornm
7 years 9 months ago
David,
Thanks again for writing. We often do project onto others our perception of our own inner weaknesses. Yes, forgiveness is crucial. But for many of us, perhaps even all of us depending on what offense has been done to us, forgiveness might be extremely difficult or even a humanly impossible task. amdg. bill
we vnornm
7 years 9 months ago
Beth,
I can find many examples as you suggest in my own similar journal and sometimes one is taken back by what one sees in oneself. There was one study done on marriages that failed and "projective identification (i.e., seeing one's own issues in the other person and trying to change that person) was a major element in unhappiness and divorce. "Do no harm" and "focusing on the speck in another and not the log beam in oneself" similarly remind me of this. amdg bill
we vnornm
7 years 9 months ago
Regina, 
Thanks very much for thinking about this in such detail. All the examples you point out need to be examined further. Much attention has been focused on the harshness of drug laws and you suggest another example of injustice in sentencing. So much abuse perpetuates itself. It is an inter-connected web. All of those 800,000+ events in 2008 need intervention and appropriate support/justice. But disproportionate attention continues to be focussed on a few. Right now there are too many trees falling, even as I type, and these are not being looked at because of perhaps continual and non-constructive obsessing over certain cases, i.e. those in the Catholic Church. I have not seen the "good mother" mandate written about in the four big-city newspapers I try to scan each day. So lets look for those other 800,000 falling trees also. Your post also brings up the need to perhaps study how women are treated throughout the judicial system. I suspect many injustices can be found. thanks for writing and brining up good points. bill
7 years 9 months ago
Bill, I checked out your source material and found the same numbers.  Yes, the ratio is unbelievable.  I don't understand why the emphasis on abuse that may or may not have happened decades ago continues to be the main content of discussions of child sexual abuse while the overwhelming numbers of children currently being abused is , for all intents and purposes, ignored.  Yes, it is a global problem and it is overwhelming.  Having worked in the child protective field I can attest to "vicarious trauma".  I saw it in the burnout of fine social workers and I decided to retire at age 62 rather than suffer that trauma myself. 
The issue of child abuse is of enormous complexity.  I am so appreciative of your broaching the subject in the way you did.  The focus of the conversation needs to change and I believe that the change should originate with Catholics. So many many children are suffering and we are doing so little to help them.  We have the resources, spiritual, intellectual and material to confront this evil in our society.  Jesus would expect no less of us.
we vnornm
7 years 9 months ago
Thanks Janice. Lots of kids need everyone's help. bill
we vnornm
7 years 9 months ago
David, thank you for your thoughtful responses to my writings and our other writers in AMERICA. It's good to dialog.
I went back and can answer the number of abuse by priests occurring between the two decade period, 1990-2009. Again I am dumbfounded, as the total for these 20 years is 30 cases. Less than one per year. Again, I hope you and others triple check my statistics. My source is the United States Bishops Conference:
 
http://www.usccb.org/ocyp/annual_report/9_CH4.pdf
Scroll to page 38. You can also see figures from other decades and draw conclusions.
There is a continuum of maltreatment, and in addition to sexual abiuse these cases can include medical neglect, educational neglect, excessive corporal punishment, physical abuse, threats of harm, and even death.
thanks again. amdg bill
we vnornm
7 years 9 months ago
Mr. Mattingly:
I have had a similar experience with priests and nuns. Guess I am very lucky, too. Thanks for thinking about this. bill

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