Part 3 of 3
A Retired Prison Warden’s Reflections on Child Sexual Abuse:
Lessons Learned Managing a Large Sex Offender Treatment Program
Q: What Do Conservative Religions and Many Youth-Serving Organizations Have in Common?
A: They Permit, Are Blind To, or Even Support Child Sexual Abuse.
Part 3 of 3
Warden Biggins continued attending sex offender group therapy meetings and talking to sex offender staff therapists, but his focus was not on sex offender pathologies. He no longer cared about why a sex offender offended; he now cared about the how, when, and where. When a sex offender spoke of abusing children (which was often, since 80% of the sex offenders in the warden’s prison were convicted of child sexual abuses), Warden Biggie Biggins would press them for how, when, and where. By excluding sex offenders operating within families, and concentrated on offenders operating within an organizational context, Warden Biggie Biggins slowly constructing an image of the ideal sex offender enabling organization.
“I wanted to be important, I wanted to be a man,” said Todd, repeating a sex offender refrain. “When I became a boy scout leader my church and scouting gave me acceptance and encouragement. I was teaching boys how to be men.”
Todd exemplified the BSA worldview that men are manly; they embrace the virtues of self-sacrifice, fortitude, bravery, integrity, and skillfulness. They support and sustain the patriarchy where men are decision-making leaders that hold high positions, and women are selfless servants who maintain the lower positions. The same patriarchal structure seen in conservative religions such as Catholic, Baptist, Amish faiths, and youth-serving organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America. Warden Biggie Biggins identified patriarchy as the first characteristic of a sex Offender enabling organization.
John, another sex offender, said he occasionally had to weaponize “manliness” to keep a victim quiet, threatening to accuse the victim of being gay, knowing that such an accusation coming from a scout leader would wreck the kid’s scouting life. After all, “who do you think they believed,” John said.
Multiple sex offenders admitted to targeting single mothers, which was a function of the lack of support mothers get from patriarchal organizations, and the opportunities these organizations give predators to avoid detection.
“I knew single mothers welcomed the help with childcare. I got friendly with the kid, but the key was making the mother comfortable with me spending time with their kid,” said Dave. “I became a father replacement, a big brother, a guy who the kid knew his mom liked and trusted. That way the kid was less likely to rat on me ’cause he didn’t want to upset his mom.”
Bill said, “I would angle to drive a kid to a function. My goal was to be alone with him, nobody else in the car. Church camps really gave me plenty of opportunity to isolate my victims. Long walks, visits to the counselor’s cabin, running errands…that sort of thing lessen chances of being caught.”
Warden Biggins identified opportunities for abuse as the second characteristic of sex abuse supporting organization.
Todd said, “Rarely would there be parents around to monitor going on, and never were women involved as parental chaperons. Parents were hesitant to give the impression they didn’t trust a scout leader, a deacon, a minister. I played on that. Nobody outside checked on those kids.”
Lack of external constrains was Warden Biggie Biggins third characteristic of sex abuse supporting organizations.
Mike, another sex offender, said, “It was easy to get a kid used to your touching him. Showing him how to swim, to throw a ball, to swing a bat, all involve some physical touch. I would start with incidental contact like an arm around a shoulder, then go on to heavier stuff like brushing against a kid’s behind, or holding him under the belly and upper legs when teaching swimming. Most parents consider touching to be a sign of friendship. Hell, they encouraged it!”
Mike went on: “I tried to gauge how much a kid new about sex. Most kids have no sex education, we were never allowed to talk about it in my church.”
“Same thing with scouts,” said Tod. “You want to hit on a boy who knows little or nothing about sex. When you touch him, he might get confused and wonder what he did to cause it. I turned out to be a sex education teacher, convincing boys that what we were doing was okay.”
Warden Biggins identified Lack of Sex Education as the fourth sex abusing organization feature.
Warden Biggie Biggins shared his notes with Terry Hudson, the psychologist who ran the day-to-day operations of the sex offender treatment program.
“Do you think these characteristics are valid?” asked the warden.
Terry said, “They seem to be to. At least they’re a good start at defining a sex offending organizational culture. There is a problem though. Of the three characteristics, I see the last two as the only ones most organizations are willing to change. The other thing is I don’t see any acknowledgement of lack of a vetting process to identify sex offenders being included.”
“I didn’t include anything on vetting because many of the sex offenders I spoke with had no priors…a vetting process wouldn’t have come up with anything,” said Warden Biggie Biggins. Another reason I excluded it is some organizations involved in scandel had vetting processes but didn’t use them.”
“I agree that opportunities for abuse, lack of external constrains, and lack of sex education are the only characteristics that can be changed. But they have the same problem as vetting. An organization can have all the policies in the world against sexual abuse, and all the procedures to investigate identify, and eliminate abuse, but if they aren’t followed and enforced, they’re worthless.”
Terry said, “It is kinda ridiculous to say your church needs a policy against sex abuse. I mean what kind of religion needs such a policy? Doesn’t your religion already tell you sex abuse is wrong? Isn’t this in some way already communicated through the church? Isn’t this an indictment of particular religions?”
“It’s an indictment of patriarchy,” said Warden Biggie Biggins, “which is so imbedded in an organization’s culture that to change it would be to destroy the organization as it is known. I read a book by Emily Joy Allison, entitled #ChurchToo: How Purity Culture Upholds Abuse and How to Find Healing, where she said: “They (Southern Baptists) need to undergo a transformation so radical they would be unrecognizable at the end. And that will not happen. You have to ask yourself: What would the Catholic Church, the Amish and Mennonites, Southern Baptists, or any other conservative denomination, look like if it replaced its patriarchal structure with one that gave woman a great deal more power? Or the BSA, if they had predominantly women in leadership positions?”
“So, what are these groups to do?” asked Terry. “I mean, if they aren’t going to address the patriarchy issue in any serious way.”
“The only thing left for them is to adopt policies and procedures, form complaint review boards, conduct background checks, those sorts of things. The problem is all those actions depend on people to implement them, and that means these “reforms” are at the mercy of the same patriarchal organizational structures that are the problem. That, and over time people forget why the changes were made and go back to old habits. Frankley, I see no way for these abuse sustaining organizations to maintain any reforms that do not address patriarchy.”
“On another note,” said Terry, “I understand the BSA is now accepting girls.”
“Yep,” said Warden Biggie Biggins, “They did such a great job with our sons, why not let them have a crack at our daughters too.”