Living in a World of Co-Abusers

In counseling circles the term co-abuser refers to a person who knows of or willingly facilitates the act or acts of abuse by their silence, inaction or even cooperation. A mother, for example, who knows her children are being molested by the father but does nothing to stop it is a co-abuser and in most States is just as guilty under law. When the children approach the mother for help or protection, they are often told to be quiet or their pain is minimized. This is classic co-abuse.

We live in an age of co-abuse– and to some extent I suppose we always have– when institutions and individuals who should uphold the public’s trust and welfare have become angry bastions of denial, coverups and disdain for the truth. Their motto, never admit a mistake or error in judgment, and certainly not guilt. And when confronted, blame the victim.

Under Israeli pressure, last September’s Goldstone Report, detailing the war crimes of both sides in the offensive in Gaza, was dismissed by this administration as “deeply flawed.” Thus Muslims everywhere had their hopes dashed by a President who failed to live up to the very principles of his Cairo speech. Justice denied. Again.

Over the past few weeks, thousands of victims of clergy sex abuse worldwide have felt re-abused, listening to a series of mixed messages from a church reeling under the blows of scandal after scandal. And just when the odor of guilt begins to waft into the highest chambers of the Vatican, the big bronze doors clang shut: the newest charges dismissed as “petty gossip” and the efforts of the media to uncover the truth labeled as a kind of persecution akin to “antisemitism.” Seeking a reassuring embrace from Mother Church, victims have instead received the cold shoulder reserved for naughty children who air the family secrets in public.

Dissident watchdog group WikiLeaks this week released video of a bloody 2007 massacre of unarmed journalists and civilians by US troops in Baghdad. The Pentagon’s original response to the mayhem was of course to exonerate all involved– just as it initially denied all involvement in a badly botched nighttime raid on an infant’s birthday party in eastern Afghanistan February 12, which left 5 dead, including two pregnant women.

Co-abusers are always angry when confronted, always blaming the victims; that is to be expected. It’s just painful and embarrassing to watch, because if you’ve lived any reasonable length of time in this world, you know that the truth always comes out– eventually. “The arc of the universe is long,” said Dr. King, “but it bends toward justice.”

It is also deeply demeaning to those who have suffered to have their pain minimized or the reality of their ordeal denied. This kind of injustice or re-abuse can be even more damaging than the initial abuse.

Yet this week has also brought a whiff of much needed fresh air. In response to the Wiki leak, which went viral, the Pentagon has called the video authentic. They have also admitted to killing the two pregnant Afghans. And Gen. Stanley McChrystal has actually publicly acknowledged the useless carnage at US checkpoints in that country:

“…In the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it. That doesn’t mean I’m criticizing the people who are executing. I’m just giving you perspective. We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”

It is indeed a strange world we live in when the Pentagon pulls ahead of the Church of our Lord in its willingness to begin to admit it screwed up.

Justice delayed is justice denied. So goes the maxim of the law. But I say no. Justice delayed is justice delayed. It will never be denied. Not while there is a just God.


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