The Forgotten Victims Of Priest Sexual Abuse: Girls

A few weeks ago, Slate's June Thomas asked a new question about abuse in the Catholic Church: "What about the girls?" It's a question that's just starting to receive attention in a scandal that has mostly focused on young boys.

Pat Wingert and Barbara Kantrowitz tackle the issue in Newsweek, writing that previous conceptions of priest sexual abuse "seemed to suggest that this scenario ignored a whole segment of victims: young girls." In talking to experts, they found that girls were less likely to face abuse at the hands of priests — at least among reported cases, there were four male victims for every one female — but that it did happen. Girls were typically younger at the time of the abuse, but they were also more likely to be their abusers' only victim, and perpetrators who had just one victim were less likely to abuse for more than a year. Thus Wingert and Kantrowitz paint a picture of abuse of girls as a one-time event, in contrast to the serial abuse of boys that has become such a scandal. A Daily Dish reader echoes this portrayal, writing that "the abusers of females seem to have been less compelled to abuse multiple victims." The reader also draws another distinction between abusers of girls and abusers of boys:

[T]he really, really creepy thing about many of the abusive priests was that so many of them were such popular, charismatic figures within their parishes. They would "get" their victims by cozying up to the boys' families, creating bonds of affection with the mothers and fathers, taking the boys under their wings, going on camping trips, etc. Then they'd rape them, knowing that their very popularity would make it unlikely that anyone would believe some crazy kid's accusation about good Father So-and-So.

With the girls, again, not so much. The victimizers of girls appeared (to me) to be basically very lonely, socially misfit, heterosexual guys with absolutely no outlet for the sexual aspect of their personalities. [...] a lot of these guys were generally pretty shy and awkward around the opposite sex, and for some of them, an 11-year old girl was just an easier mark than an adult.

The message: abusers of boys were crafty villains, abusers of girls were misfit losers. The reader does add, "I don't mean for a moment to belittle the act that transpired - rape is rape, lives were destroyed, and it is unforgivable." However, the account does seem to back up what Barbara Dorris, national outreach director for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has found: that people think of priests' abuse of boys as worse than their abuse of girls. She tells Wingert and Kantrowitz, "In part because of sexism and homophobia, journalists, police, prosecutors, attorneys, and sometimes even parents feel even more outraged when a boy is sexually abused by a powerful man than when a girl is assaulted, and are thus more apt to take action, pursue charges, file lawsuits, and talk publicly." Church officials too, she thinks, are more likely to take action against abuse of boys, which is one reason it appears to be more common.

The Daily Dish reader thinks abuse of girls happens less because girls have less sustained contact with priests, and it's also possible that this lack of contact makes abuse of multiple female victims more difficult. However, the reader's comments do reveal an interesting dichotomy: the girl-abuser is sad, pathetic, and fucked-up, while the boy-abuser is evil. Might this idea permeate the Church, and might it stem at least in part from the idea that homosexuality is itself a sin, and that gay men are naturally predatory and depraved? One Slate commenter thinks so, writing, "[T]he reason they focus so closely on the male victims is that then the church can (very, very wrongly) claim that homosexuality, not pedophilia, is the true sin in this situation." But the true sin, of course, is abusing a position of trust to harm children — and this is no less wrong when the victim is female.

What About The Girls? [Newsweek]
Latest Priest Molestation Victim Is A Teenage Girl [Slate]
Don't Forget The Girls [Slate]
What About The Girls? Ctd [Daily Dish]