Six Reasons Why Enablers Must Be Held Accountable For Sexual Abuse

Adam Horowitz Law [Fort Lauderdale, FL]

April 23, 2024

By Adam Horowitz Law

It’s finally spring, the time of year when most state legislatures are in session, debating new laws, adopting some, and rejecting others. And just as regularly as the grass turns green and the flowers bloom, lobbyists for well-heeled wrongdoers work to block bills that would let crime victims expose wrongdoers. This is especially true when the wrongdoers are institutions, and the wrongdoing is child sexual abuse.

Desperate to cover up their cover-ups, these wrongdoers and their highly paid lobbyists use sophisticated tricks. These tricks are designed to persuade elected officials, “Hey, the status quo is just fine. Things aren’t that bad. There’s no need to reform old laws or pass any new laws about child sexual abuse.” One of the most pernicious tricks they use, however, is not so sophisticated. It’s the old ‘don’t blame us’ notion.

In hopes of stopping civil lawsuits that expose well-hidden secrets and often still-dangerous predators, institutional wrongdoers hire lobbyists and insurers to tell lawmakers, “Let child sex abuse victims sue the bad guys who hurt them. But don’t let them sue the bad guys who enabled the harm.” At a minimum, this claim is unjust and disingenuous. Beyond that, it’s bad and risky public policy.

Six Reasons Why Accountability Should Be Extended to Enablers of Sexual Abuse

Briefly and simply, here’s why we at Horowitz Law feel strongly that criminals and those who employ, supervise, protect, and enable them must both be held accountable.

REASON #1: In a word, deterrence. Put simply, when those who hurt kids are punished, others are deterred from hurting kids. When those who hurt kids are NOT PUNISHED, others have no incentive to treat kids better. This applies most of all to those who hire, supervise, or work with child predators.

Let’s face a frustrating truth: Little is likely to frighten a child molester and keep him from assaulting a youngster. Why? Because he is most likely a sick man, driven by deep-seated and often overwhelming psychological urges that he can’t control. So, no penalty or threat of penalty, no matter how severe, will really deter him. But most others around this predator – again, especially his bosses and managers and work colleagues – are NOT sick or compulsively driven. They are much more rational.

Therefore, these individuals CAN control their behavior. They can and do weigh the pros and cons of ignoring or hiding known or suspected child sex crimes. The possibility of them facing jail time, public shame, or financial penalties CAN deter them from endangering children by passively staying silent or actively hiding someone else’s child sex crimes.

So it’s problematic if lawmakers side with institutional wrongdoers and their lobbyists and accept the notion of letting child sex abuse victims only sue “the bad guys who hurt them” but not “the bad guys who enabled the harm.”

Because in doing so, we miss a golden opportunity to prevent more boys and girls from being deeply damaged by predators. Indeed, one could put this more emphatically: by letting institutional defendants walk away unscathed, we’re actually incentivizing continued reckless and irresponsible institutional dealings with abuse.

REASON #2: It’s just fair. Why should someone who let a criminal go undetected get off scot-free? Why should a manager (whether secular or religious, whether a CEO or a bishop) get a free pass when an underling whom he hired or shielded gets caught, convicted, suspended, or fired for child sex crimes?

    • If two individuals commit a crime, both should get punished.
    • If two institutions commit a crime, both should get punished
    • If an individual AND an institution commit a crime (for instance, a priest AND his diocese), both should be punished.

REASON #3: It’s actually, one could argue, the complicit institution that is more responsible for the damage done to kids than the child molester himself. This may sound counterintuitive, but let us explain it using a blunt analogy.

Who gets the blame when a dog bites a person – the dog or the dog’s owner who let him off the leash, knowing Fido often bites others?

Let’s say an employer hires an employee without adequately vetting him first. Then, the employer gives the employee a job description or title, which in turn gives him access to kids. Then, the employee turns out to be a predator. However, the employer doesn’t promptly oust that employee when red flags or credible allegations emerge. 

Who’s more to blame here? One could argue it’s the employer because he gave the abuser a position of trust, access to kids, and usually repeated chances to hurt those kids. It’s as if he gave bullets, willy-nilly, to gun owners at a crowded park. 

REASON #4: It’s the duty of political leaders and government officials. What bigger obligation does any government have if NOT to protect its most vulnerable citizens? And what better way does a government do this than using its courts to sanction both the individual AND the institutional wrongdoers?

REASON #5: It’s healing for crime victims. A survivor who has spent decades helping other survivors, David Clohessy of SNAP, explains why naming predator priests is important for victims: “The unacknowledged wound rarely truly heals.”

That wound, in almost every child sex abuse and cover-up case, was inflicted by two parties: directly by a predatory individual and less directly by a callous institution. When one of those parties is ignored, that harm is unacknowledged. That wound continues to fester, no matter what may happen to the individual predator.

We at Horowitz Law might phrase it like this: “When the deep wounds caused by those in authority are ignored, those wounds rarely truly heal.” This is particularly true for the overwhelming majority of victims of clergy abuse survivors who are treated harshly or inappropriately by others in authority, like a retired bishop’s successor.

REASON #6: Increasingly, it’s part of an overdue trend and what society rightfully expects.

Look at Jeffrey Epstein. Yes, eventually, he faced some consequences for years (maybe decades?) of exploiting, abusing, and trafficking teenagers for sexual gratification – his own and that of his rich buddies.

But even after he died, Epstein’s victims brought or are bringing to justice other powerful men who played a role in Epstein’s exploits – either by actively helping him or by passively ignoring or tolerating him and his heinous acts. Our society applauds this broader approach.

Look at the opioid crisis. Yes, many individuals who sold or gave these dangerous drugs to the addicted, the young, and the vulnerable have faced consequences for their part in devastating tens or hundreds of lives.

Yet even now, more and more individuals brought or are bringing to justice others who are behind – and profited from – the explosion of opioids (like the Sackler family). Again, our society applauds this broader approach.

We could go on and on, but you get the point. To tell child sex abuse victims, “Pursue the perpetrator if you must, but spare any and everyone who helped him hurt you,” is unfair and unwise.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.