Going Soft on Sexual Abuse

Political correctness and a different kind of no-snitch code.

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 6 | Posted Jun. 22, 2010

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Our June 9 cover girl, Kathryn Battle, a Philadelphia police officer in the Homicide Unit, says that though the ‘no-snitch’ mentality hinders many of the PPD’s investigations, people break down and talk when a crime is particularly heinous. (Or when a handsome financial reward is offered.)

No-snitch came up time and again the last few weeks as the brutal details of three sexual assaults, one of which ended in murder, dominated local headlines.

It’s easy for people not living in the context of the code of the streets, sitting on what feels like the outside of so much senseless violence, to wonder how communities can simultaneously complain about unsolved crime and reserve details that may lead to an arrest.

But no-snitch isn’t just for thugs. It’s for PTA moms, teachers and, apparently, it’s also for the most middle-class of soft-rock enthusiasts. Instead of applying to crimes in the street, this broader brand of no-snitch applies to crimes in the home, and especially childhood sexual abuse. Instead of hiding behind physical threat (“snitches get stitches”) this kind of no-snitch cowers behind a polite rubric. It says to mind your own business, not to be nosy. But this socially mandated silence functions the same way the street version does, enabling crimes to become commonplace.

Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) estimates that 22,000 kids in Pennsylvania are sexually assaulted every year, though rape and sexual abuse data are always estimates because sexual assaults of all kinds are notoriously underreported. In industry lingo, the data is compromised by “dark and hidden figures.”

This polite, pinkies-out type of no-snitch is such a pervasive problem that a new strategy in the campaign against childhood sexual abuse targets adults.

With the help of a $250,000 grant from Sen. Robert Casey, PCAR designed the HERO Project campaign. The message is that adults have a responsibility to speak up when they suspect a child is being sexually abused. The TV commercial shows a little boy playing on railroad tracks. The train rumbles louder and louder then a voiceover asks, “If you thought a child was in danger, if you thought a child could be hurt, wounded, scarred for life, would you just turn away?”

The radio ad says: “I want to talk to you about a subject many people try to ignore—child sexual abuse. Each year in Pennsylvania thousands of children are sexually abused and most cases are never reported. Without help these children may have a lifetime of mental health issues. But there is hope—you. If you believe a child is being sexually abused, please visit heroproject.org or call 1.877.874.HERO.”

The spots began running June 1 on CNN, Discovery Channel, Fox News and Lifetime among other stations.

But popular local radio station 101.1FM “B101” (slogan: Makes you feel good!) refuses to air the campaign unless the words “sexual” and “rape” are deleted. (The word “rape” is said in the context of “sponsored by Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.”)

B101 is known for its bumblebee mascot and commercials featuring pleasant mom-types sitting at desks claiming B101’s soft rock helps them get through the day. Broadcasting since 1963, B101 is the only independently owned radio station in the local market and is a top-ranking station with more than 200,000 listeners.

According to PCAR Executive Director Delilah Rumburg, station manager Blaise Howard told her the station doesn’t take “explicit ads” because WBEB is a “straight-laced” company.

The station offered to run the ad if the words were removed, so mention of plain old childhood abuse is OK, but not when it’s sexualized.

Rumburg says: “Our statewide HERO campaign urges adults to ‘Be a hero. Step in. Stop abuse.’ by reporting suspected child sexual abuse … This message was in no way sexually provocative, but it also did not shy away from the issue at hand. Child sexual abuse is happening in our communities at an alarming rate. And pushing it ‘under the carpet,’ or off the airwaves is not helping to stop it.” Current estimates say 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by the time they are 18 years old.

She adds: “If WBEB thinks our message is too scary for an adult to hear about child sexual abuse, imagine how difficult it is for a child to experience.”

What makes the irony too rich for my blood is that B101 is owned by Jerry Lee, a world-renowned supporter in criminology and social-science education.

On the website for University of Pennsylvania’s Jerry Lee Center of Criminology (founded in 2000 with Lee’s initial $5 million gift), the accolades and achievements listed include a nomination by the president and subsequent Senate confirmation as a member of the National Board of Education Sciences, which governs the “research arm” of the U.S. Department of Education.

He is also the founder of the Jerry Lee Foundation, a philanthropy dedicated to “reducing crime and enhancing education through research on what works to achieve these goals.”

Howard and Lee were unavailable for comment, but a press rep from B101 sent a statement released in response to PCAR’s statement urging listeners to contact the station to protest their decision.

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Comments 1 - 6 of 6
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1. CJ said... on Jun 22, 2010 at 09:02PM

“Check out EVERY local media source.. when a 'rape' makes the news.. it RARELY called rape. More like sexual assault..or something even softer. Who are they protecting??? The rapists? More consideration for them than the raped.”

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2. KC Race said... on Jun 23, 2010 at 08:42AM

“Tara, I thought of you the other day when I was watching a re-run of "City Confidential" on the Bio Channel. The episode was about a murderous lunatic named Ken Rex McElroy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_McElroy), who terrorized a town in Missouri for years. He "stole" a 13 year-old girl from a poor family, and threatened to kill them if they tried to get her back.

McElroy married her, and the narrator of the show referred to her as his "13 year-old lover". More like "hostage". I can't believe how overlooked this issue is. Thank you for bringing more attention to it!”

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3. mamabear1210 said... on Jun 23, 2010 at 04:57PM

“excellent article. Rape has become a politically incorrect word to use. The victim does not warrant protection but the attacker does. The 160 lb. 6 ft. eighteen old attacker becomes the misguided child who is misunderstood and deserves our help. The victim should just pick herself up get over it. and go on with her life.”

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4. frenchtoast said... on Jun 24, 2010 at 09:27AM

“I agree. I think sometimes choice of words makes a world of a difference. I find myself watching the news and thinking "what do they mean by sexual assault? how far did this sexual assault go? Was it rape?"

And mamabear, even though we mostly hear about the rape of females I've known and heard of men and boys who have been raped as well. It goes both ways.”

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5. Eric Hamell said... on Jun 25, 2010 at 09:50AM

“It's not so much a specific desire to protect rapists, but a cowardly reluctance to use frank terms that might disturb readers or viewers. I think you'll see the same thing to some extent in connection with other crimes, as well as some non-violent sexual topics.

Notice you'll find LESS such reluctance in "yellow" papers, which are typically right-wing. So I think it's about "tone" rather than ideology.

Further, don't forget that the media regularly report the names of ACCUSED rapists who haven't even been convicted, notwithstanding such publicity can be just as life-ruining for the accused as for the accuser. In this respect, certainly, the bias isn't on the side of the perpetrators.”

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6. Men in My Town said... on Sep 22, 2010 at 10:16PM

“My name is Keith Smith. I was abducted, beaten and raped by a stranger. It wasn't a neighbor, a coach, a relative, a family friend or teacher. It was a recidivist pedophile predator who spent time in prison for previous sex crimes; an animal hunting for victims in the quiet suburbs of Lincoln, Rhode Island.

I was able to identify the guy and the car he was driving. He was arrested and indicted but never went to trial. His trial never took place because he was brutally beaten to death in Providence before his court date. 35 years later, no one has ever been charged with the crime.

In the time between the night of my assault and the night he was murdered, I lived in fear. I was afraid he was still around town. Afraid he was looking for me. Afraid he would track me down and kill me. The fear didn’t go away when he was murdered. Although he was no longer a threat, the simple life and innocence of a 14-year-old boy was gone forever. Carefree childhood thoughts replaced with the unrelenting realization that my world wasn’t a safe place. My peace shattered by a horrific criminal act of sexual violence.

Over the past 35 years, I’ve been haunted by horrible, recurring memories of what he did to me. He visits me in my sleep. There have been dreams–nightmares actually–dozens of them, sweat inducing, yelling-in-my-sleep nightmares filled with images and emotions as real as they were when it actually happened. It doesn’t get easier over time. Long dead, he still visits me, silently sneaking up from out of nowhere when I least expect it. From the grave, he sits by my side on the couch every time the evening news reports a child abduction or sex crime. I don’t watch America’s Most Wanted or Law and Order SVU, because the stories are a catalyst, triggering long suppressed emotions, feelings, memories, fear and horror. Real life horror stories rip painful suppressed memories out from where they hide, from that recessed place in my brain that stores dark, dangerous, horrible memories. It happened when William Bonin confessed to abducting, raping and murdering 14 boys in California; when Jesse Timmendequas raped and murdered Megan Kanka in New Jersey; when Ben Ownby, missing for four days, and Shawn Hornbeck, missing for four years, were recovered in Missouri.

Despite what happened that night and the constant reminders that continue to haunt me years later, I wouldn’t change what happened. The animal that attacked me was a serial predator, a violent pedophile trolling my neighborhood in Lincoln, Rhode Island looking for young boys. He beat me, raped me, and I stayed alive. I lived to see him arrested, indicted and murdered. It might not have turned out this way if he had grabbed one of my friends or another kid from my neighborhood. Perhaps he’d still be alive. Perhaps there would be dozens of more victims and perhaps he would have progressed to the point of silencing his victims by murdering them.

Out of fear, shame and guilt, I’ve been silent for over three decades, sharing my story with very few people. No more. The silence has to end. What happened to me wasn't my fault. The fear, the shame, the guilt have to go. It’s time to stop keeping this secret from the people closest to me, people I care about, people I love, my long-time friends and my family. It’s time to speak out to raise public awareness of male sexual assault, to let other survivors know that they’re not alone and to help survivors of rape and violent crime understand that the emotion, fear and memories that may still haunt them are not uncommon to those of us who have shared a similar experience.

My novel, Men in My Town, was inspired by these actual events. Men in My Town is available now at www.Amazon.com

For those who suffer in silence, I hope my story brings some comfort, strength, peace and hope.

For additional information, please visit the Men in My Town blog at www.meninmytown.wordpress.com


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