We Are Starting to Listen to Victims — Finally
September 25, 2018
Arthur Perrault is behind bars, finally. The 80-year-old priest is back from Morocco and in federal custody as he awaits trial on charges that he molested an 11-year-old boy at Kirkland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.
A U.S. magistrate judge earlier this week agreed that Perrault should remain in federal custody until his trial. Authorities, correctly, do not trust the man who fled the country in 1992. They fear the priest could use the force of his charming personality to find help and escape again. After all, it took nearly 30 years to recapture the accused molester, who worked in the Albuquerque area for nearly three decades before fleeing the country rather than face charges. For his many accusers this reckoning has been a long time coming.
Such is the case for many victims of sexual abuse. The very nature of the crime — often, there are no witnesses and little physical evidence — has made it difficult to persuade others that a violation has occurred. Some victims repress their memories and can’t come forward at the time of the incident. For those who do remember, when the accused is popular, whether a priest, an entertainer or star athlete, victims often choose to remain silent rather than be ridiculed or worse, shamed.
Slowly, however, victims are being heard.
Look what else happened Tuesday. Once-beloved entertainer Bill Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004. She had waited for justice for more than a decade. As a result, it is possible that the 81-year-old Cosby, world-famous television star and comic, could die behind bars. Constand is just one of multiple women who have accused the entertainer of drugging and then assaulting them. The dark side of Cosby is as far from his TV image as America’s dad on The Cosby Show as it is possible to travel.
A squeaky-clean image has served Supreme Court nominee and Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh as well, at least until he was accused of attempted rape while attending a party as a high school student. Again, an accuser has waited decades to be heard. Finally, on Thursday, the country could hear from both Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, about that party in the early 1980s. He denies attending; she alleges Kavanaugh attempted to rape her, holding her down and covering her mouth with his hand while a male friend egged him on.
The two are supposed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee — without, we might add, an actual FBI investigation into her allegations or testimony of additional witnesses. The committee needed to request an objective investigation and Kavanaugh, the nominee, should have insisted on one. After all, he must want to clear his name.
Meanwhile, a second accuser has come forward, telling the New Yorker magazine that a drunken Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party at Yale University. Kavanaugh emphatically denies the charges; what’s more, he went on Fox News, his wife, Ashley, by his side, to proclaim both his innocence and his virginity while in high school. A third accuser, represented by Michael Avenatti (of Stormy Daniels-Donald Trump affair fame), is in the wings. These are bizarre times, to be sure.
Yet through it all, there are glimmers of change. Perrault will be tried. His many alleged victims, so damaged as children, will be able to watch Perrault face trial and, possibly, punishment. Cosby is no longer America’s favorite dad; the mask is gone and we see him for what he is: a sexual predator. As for Kavanaugh, we await the hearing Thursday.
Blasey Ford deserves her day before senators, many of whom want to place Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court for a life term. His nomination process has been ugly and unpleasant — especially for Blasey Ford and her family, in hiding because of threats — but she will be heard. Some progress, but not enough.
Reckoning cannot be so long in coming. Not anymore.