Too Far

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I received this story today in an email from a friend and I have to admit, it pissed me off.

From what I gather, a man in Oregon was sexually molested in the 1980’s by his Mormon home teacher. So naturally, with all of the therapy bills, a life of shame and agony, $45 million dollars will make it alllllll go away. Give me a freaking break. Could part of the issue be that the respond ant is worth more money than God? Just because the home teacher was performing his calling (presumably to get close to his victims?) doesn’t mean that the Mormon Church should be forced to pay this man an ungodly, obscene amount of money. The perpetrator should be prosecuted, and that’s it.

I am a firm believer in choice. I believe that one can suffer things as a child, and after a certain point, one can choose how one wants to deal with his or her past. What would happen if we decided to sue everyone that ever hurt us as children? Children suing parents, people suing school districts because a bully picked on little Billy…when does it end? The litigious nature of this society propagates the victim-consciousness of our whole country, and it’s never OUR fault; no it’s their fault, and we’re gonna make ’em pay.

The difference between a successful person and an unsuccessful person is as follows: an unsuccessful person has never made a mistake, and it’s everyone else’s responsibility to make them happy. A successful person has made mistakes, many, and is unashamed to share their foibles and how they were able to learn from them; they take full responsibility for their own happiness–or unhappiness. They don’t sue a church for the actions of an individual member in that church. What would that look like in real terms? If a person is molested by a man who works for Chrysler as a salesman and that’s how he got to his victims, would Chrysler be sued for the injustice? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. But because of the precedent set by the Catholic priest mess a few years back, (and I agree that the Catholic Church should be held accountable because the priests were reported and the CC covered it up and propagated the abuse by protecting the offenders) now everyone thinks they can sue for abuse.
Abuse is heinous and tragic. Lives can literally be ruined. But there comes a point when we have to stop and ask ourselves if we are going to allow our past to continue determining our present and future. I didn’t have a Cleaver-esque childhood, believe me. It was as dysfunctional as they come. So do I write about that often? No, you don’t see a lot of those posts, do you. Why? Because it’s OVER. I have looked back on my childhood and I have decided to see it in a different way. I stopped being a victim to it. Every once and a while, my mother will creep up on me, but I notice and own it.
Now, the facts haven’t been made altogether clear with this Oregon case. Did the youth report the abuse to Church officials at the time? Was it covered up or did it go unreported? If so, then yes, I can see the Church being sued for complicity, but to have to pay $45 million bucks? Again, are you kidding me? I see this as a matter of greed, not a matter of justice.
On the other hand, I wonder at the Church’s propensity for hiding their wealth. Is it to keep this kind of thing from happening all the time? Is it to protect themselves from other litigious people who decide to blame them because maybe a LDS Church steeple blocked their view of the mountains, and they were traumatized by it? Or is it because they are embarrassed that they spend billions of dollars a year on buildings and much less than that on charity? Is it because the LDS Church makes money from land, commerce and stocks and yet they are a tax-exempt entity? Hmm.
The point is, when are we going to take responsibility for ourselves? How much money does it take to buy back your innocence, your lost childhood? I don’t think you can put a price on it. So the Oregon man is going to try by asking for $45 million. I wonder if he will be at peace then? I wish I could ask him. I’d really like to know.

peace
repost from Ravings of a Mad Woman

11 thoughts on “Too Far

  1. Well, I see your point, but the question that you have to face in any tort is this: between the person injured and the person responsible for the injury, who should have to bear the costs?

    Lawsuits are great, because they use the rule of law to make people pay for the harm they do, specifically, when their negligence or intent to harm causes the injury.

    As for the size of the award, I don’t really know what I think about it. It seems excessive, but if you quantify something like molestation in a dollar amount, which is all our courts of law generally can do (equity is another matter), how much should it be worth?

    Also, a reality when dealing with corporations, which at the heart of it are specifically and solely set up to shield individuals from liability, is that if a corporation isn’t made to hurt where it counts, it often has very little incentive to act responsibly. A corporation isn’t a person with a conscience. Most of the time, a corporation is simply trying to make as much profit as possible. I’m not saying this is good or bad; I’m just saying it’s usually where it is.

    The only tried and true way to change the behavior of corporations is through pecuniary incentives. Much of the complex tax code is set up for this reason- the law can make it so that the behavior we as a society value is the most profitable.

    It’s the same thing with high damages. Without them, the corporation has no incentive to not just do the same crap again and again, and figure the cost of it into their budget.

    I actually think that society would be better if we could have more lawsuits, not less. Efficient ones, with a legal system that everyone could access. Maybe if people could be held more consistently accountable for the damage they do (either on purpose or through their negligence) people would stop screwing each other over all the time, and people would think before acting.

  2. Kull,

    I see your point on the legal issue. Someone should have to bear the cost, but in situations like this, isn’t the damage irrepairable? That doesn’t equate, to my mind, more money. I have discovered that the man in OR didn’t come forward until 2001 and he reported it to Church authorities. They promptly contacted the police and excommunicated the perp. Why are they getting sued? They had no knowledge of it, and when they did, they took the proper steps. There was no cover up.

    I see your point about corporations being held accountable! Oh yeah. They get away with so much, it’s hideous. My question is this: are you saying that the Church should do background checks on anyone serving in a calling that would put them in proximity to children? They already have safety rules in place, I believe, for men and women being alone together (except the bishop interviews, I think). I mean, what would the Church do to safegaurd people from this type of thing again? It’s hard to imagine the scope, at least for me.

    I don’t know if I agree with your last point. I think the system isn’t efficient because it is jammed with cases of people blaming their life and their ills on others. Even the “frivolous lawsuit” law hasn’t dissuaded men like the guy in CA who is suing his mother for circumcizing him, thus impacting his pleasure capacity! That should have been thrown OUT, and it wasn’t. In my opinion, half of all lawsuits would be moot if the ‘injured party’ wasn’t greedy and took responsibility for themselves.

    Lest you think I am hard-hearted in this, lets just say, without giving away too much, the man in Oregon is not the only person to ever be harmed by the Mormon Church and/or it’s members and clergy. Doesn’t mean the Church is accountable for every member’s actions.

    I do see and agree with your point on the legal end of it in relation to corporations; so thanks for the comments and insight.

    ja

  3. Being a home teacher is a calling in the church. That means that thought and “prayer” were supposedly put forward before requiring the home teacher to take on the responsibilities of his ‘calling.’ Therefore it is the church then who also bears the responsibility of screening and training those who would be in a position to abuse this authority. And it is authority, because without the sanction of the church, this home teacher wouldn’t have ever gained access to the home, to the person who was abused.

    To decry the church as being free from any responsibility is to absolve them from the duties of screening and training those they put (and they do place them in those jobs) in positions of authority.

    It is far easier for a predator to use the position of authority (called of God or by the state in the case of school officials) to enact his awful pedophile and as such, the church bears some responsibility. Hitting them financially is one way to ensure that they enact more stringent oversight where the vulnerable are in question.

    It’s not about greed, it’s about changing behavior.

  4. I believe that it’s a frivolous lawsuit, and certainly the church shouldn’t be responsible for the reprehensible behavior of a home teacher. That is, unless someone was aware of what happened. At the same time, though, I look forward to their disclosure of financial records. I’m sure they’ll be as “true” as the Book of Mormon is.

  5. On the other hand, the LDS Church told that family that God wanted them to associate with that person. It elevated the status of the abuser. What are the responsibilities of a corporation to check that its employees are not predators?

    If the corporation exposed children to personnel that has never been investigated then that might establish negligence.

  6. The church actually used to be quite up front with it’s finances until the 1950s. Then they got into debt by building to many new chapels etc. They were actually in the hole and so they stopped giving the annual financial report. It has continued until today. N. Elden Tanner was then called as a GA as he was a finanial whiz and got the church back into the black and then some.

  7. JulieAnn… As a sociologist, I’m going to have take issue with your post. Much of what we do is not “ours to claim.” We are not solely responsible for our actions. We have that mentality in the U.S. – we are a very individualistic society and believe anyone can do anything and everyone is responsible for whatever they do. But that mentality overlooks the influences of all the things that surround us.

    Some examples:
    -Are you responsible for being raised LDS?
    -Does Paris Hilton deserve all the credit for her billions of dollars?
    -Do children raised in poverty-stricken, broken-homes who turn to crime because that is what everyone they know does bear sole responsibility for that?

    The influences of our environment are a lot stronger than we generally care to admit. More examples:
    -There is a .40 correlation between parent and child socioeconomic status: you are very likely to have the same socioeconomic status as your parents. Why is that? Is that your fault?
    -The best predictor of final educational attainment is the educational attainment of a child’s parents when they are 6 years old. Why is that? Is that your fault?

    I could give a lot of additional examples, but my point is this: We don’t bear all of the responsibility for our actions.

    As for this particular case, the guy who is suing is certainly not responsible for being molested. You really want to dismiss this as easily as saying, “Shit happens, deal with it”? That is cold and callous. He was not responsible for it and, frankly, he has very little control over how it affects him. He may very well spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in therapy alone over the remainder of his life trying to deal with the damage done to him. And you want to say, “Deal with it.”

    I don’t want to get carried away, here, but if you haven’t, take a few minutes to talk to someone who has a genuine psychological condition (e.g., clinical depression, schizophrenia) and ask them why they don’t just, “Deal with it.” Life isn’t that easy.

    We tend to think it is, in the U.S., because we overlook the influence of factors that surround us (explaining the continued taboo of psychological conditions and therapy). But doing so is myopic and naive of the forces that surround us as well as the forces that control us inside our brains, both biologically and psychologically.

    This isn’t to say that the LDS religion should pay for the damage done – that’s a different issue addressed by previous posters. But telling the guy to “suck it up” is essentially blaming an actual victim. Frankly, I think the implications of your post are disturbing:
    -Rape victims shouldn’t prosecute their rapists; it’s over, deal with it
    -The families of murder victims shouldn’t prosecute the murderer; it’s over, deal with it
    -The victims of childhood sexual abuse shouldn’t look for justice; it’s over, deal with it

    Still want to blame the victim?

  8. CV Rick,
    Being a Home Teacher is not like any other calling. It is an assignment. I think it’s a different thing altogether. The bottom line is, the Church had a member using his calling to get to his victims. The Church didn’t know about it; when they did, they promptly took appropriate action. Is suing them for $45 million dollars going to insure that they now perform background checks on every person in the Church who has a calling? Maybe they should pay for the guy’s treatment, now that might be considered fair. But to make him a multi-millionaire? C’mon.

    Exmo:I am not a sociologist, but I don’t agree with you at all here. We are not a society of individuals who take responsibility for ourselves. We are a society of victims. We are not solely responsibile for our actions in certain circumstances and in certain ways, but with greater knowledge and experiences, a person has a choice on how to interact and react to their world. That is, of course, unless they live in a shoebox with absolutely NO other exposure to the outside world. Then their world view can be myopic since there would be no other experiences, models or choices in how to behave.

    The reality is, we have a choice, and people don’t like to hear that. They want to blame; they don’t WANT the responsibility for their lives. Being a victim has a lot of payoffs.

    Exmo, I think there is a a balance; we do have influences, absolutely, I agree with you. Re: to your examples (not all of them)

    Is it my fault I was raised LDS? No. But how I choose to deal with that today is my choice. Should I sue the missionaries that converted my dad since the Church brought much agony to my life?

    Paris Hilton? No, she doesn’t deserve the credit, but she can choose what kinds of things she puts her money and energy into. Today. She was born into a circumstance; no one forced her into being a…well, what she is.

    Children from broken homes do not, monumentally, turn to crime. A large portion of them do. Many don’t. It isn’t their sole responsibility until they see and learn a different way to live. THEN IT IS THEIR CHOICE IN HOW THEY CHOOSE TO ACT from that point on. Once you have the information, you cannot plead “it was my environment” anymore. Sorry.

    I don’t recall ever stating that we bear ALL of the responsibility; but we need to bear more. Did I ever ONCE say it was this man’s fault that he was molested? Hell no. You misunderstand me completely and you took my post and presumed something about me and ran with it. This man shouldn’t just dismiss it. He should expose the perp and seek justice; But suing for $45 million dollars is, to me, excessive and a morbid sense of over-kill. Again, I never said that it was his fault, and to presume I believe that belies a gross misunderstanding on your part of me as a person. Please don’t assume. You have no idea about my life and my experiences. You have no idea what kinds of things I have survived. And are these things my fault? NO. But how I deal with them NOW is my responsibility. I can choose to drink excessivly like my uncle and grandpa did; I can choose to bury it and go slowly insane; I can choose to go to therapy and talk about it and process it in a healthy way; I can choose to blame my parents, the persons who hurt me and live in anger and bitterness, and these are only a small fraction of my options, because I DON’T live in a shoe box and I see alternatives. I take responsibility for how I choose to deal with my past NOW.

    “Take a few minutes to talk to someone with a genuine psychological condition?” Are you kidding me? A little something you ought to know (darn that assuming again:) I have bipolar 1 disorder with psychotic features, impaired executive functioning and impaired short-term memory. I have the ugliest form of a ‘genuine psychological condition.’ So do I ‘just deal with it?’ You bet your ASS I do, every damn minute and waking moment of my life. I have an illness. I can choose to take my medicin, or not. I can choose to blame my parents, I can choose to blame God and rail at the heavens saying ‘why me’? I am totally disabled, Exmo; I can’t work even the simplest of jobs. Is this illness totally MY fault? No. But I can decide how much power I want to give it, and decide what my limitaions are. My attitude determines where I am, and if I am having a bad day, then I am. I accept it, but I sure as hell don’t blame someone else for it, and I sure as hell don’t sue someone that may have kicked my illness into gear by bashing my head against a car during an assault. I got my justice through the courts prosecution, and suing him for millions of dollars will not bring my brain back to normal.

    I understand why you said the things you did. I understand the passionate way in which you responded. I admire you and appreciate you. But your comment contained a lot of conjecture and assumptions that simply were not my point, nor were they accurate. If I didn’t make myself clearer in my post, I apologize.

    peace
    JulieAnn

  9. Hi JulieAnn,

    I didn’t mean to offend… Keep in mind we are, generally, on the same side here. Fundamentally I think we may just have to agree to disagree on this issue. Life isn’t all about choices; it’s about “choices within a very small window of possibilities.” My point, and I think you get this, is that we do not have unlimited choices.

    As you pointed out, you do not have unlimited choices relative to your psychological condition – you can’t just make it go away. And, dealing with it doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you. You have limited choices. For example, you can choose to take your medicine at certain times. But, and here’s the real irony, given the symptoms of bi-polar, you don’t always have a choice – your mood swings can actually make it so you don’t even think about taking your medicine some days (though this varies from person to person).

    In short, yes, we have some choices. But we don’t have unlimited choices. The man who was molested by his home teacher may be suffering from extremely severe post-traumatic stress disorder. And, it sounds like you know this already, if that is the case, his life may be severely impacted. He may have cold sweats, nightmares, recurrent flashbacks, uncontrollable fears and urges, etc. In short, he could be completely non-functioning as a result of the molestation. He has some choices… Kill myself/don’t kill myself. Drink milk now/don’t drink milk now. But someone suffering from severe PTSD doesn’t have the choice to just make it go away. You, more than most, should understand that.

    (And, trust me, I used to think that psychological conditions were as easy as just wishing them away – very Mormon-Scientology-esque – until I met my wife, who has had clinical depression since she was 11. That changed my thinking 180 degrees.)

    In summary, I don’t think saying it is all about choices is accurate. Nor is saying we need to take more responsibility for what we do. It’s one thing to say people have limited choices; it’s another to say life is all about choices. I can choose to sit here and type this right now or go watch TV. I don’t have the option of flying to the moon or becoming president. We have a very limited range of choices, and environment, psychology, and bio-chemistry can all limit those choices even further.

    So, please understand – I’m trying to take your side in a sense. You are doing what you can, within your limited range of choices, to make life work for you. Why you assume the guy suing the LDS religion is not, I don’t know. Maybe his life is a complete and utter wreck and he needs that money to pay his hospital bills. He is making choices. Neither of us knows enough to judge him for his choices. I hope my previous post didn’t come across as demeaning or judgmental; I was just trying to get this point across – we don’t have unlimited choices.

    As for being a society of victims, I don’t think we are a society of victims. I’m happy to give references if you’d like as to how individualistic the U.S. is, but I’m not sure we are understanding each other here. We are a society that claims sole responsibility when we succeed (very individualistic) but blame everyone else when we fail, which is still individualistic because we see it all as revolving around us (very egocentric in the classic Freudian sense). In fact, this is a social-psychological phenomenon known as the fundamental attribution error. We have a tendency to see other people doing bad things as bad people. But when we do bad things, we tend to see the social forces that led to those bad behaviors. Most of us do not, inherently, think of ourselves as bad people. To maintain that frame of mind we need ways to explain our bad behavior that do not involve calling ourselves bad people. But we don’t give other people the same benefit of the doubt. That is, in fact, precisely what I believe you were doing here (IMO). You seemed to be saying that this guy, who is, in fact, a victim, is a bad guy. Yet you do not have sufficient information to make that claim.

    Again, let me try to give an example. Do you have kids or a significant other? Have you yelled at them recently? If so, why? Is it because you are a bad person? Or is it because they did something that upset your or you were having a bad day? Notice the second and third explanations are external to you. We all do this. I do it, and I know about it. My wife often runs late. Rather than see how busy she is, I think of her as inconsiderate when it affects me. Yet, if I’m late, I have dozens of excuses.

    RE your responses to my examples. How you deal with being raised LDS is not, entirely, your choice. For example – as a professional sociologist, I often find myself at academic conferences surrounded by people drinking alcohol. I was raised Mormon and never developed an affinity for alcohol. I geniunely feel out of place when everyone else is drinking but I’m not. Yet, I don’t like the taste of alcohol. Do I have some choices here? Sure, but my past environment is still influencing the present, even though I have no problem with drinking alcohol.

    Can Paris Hilton suddenly become a humble, considerate, kind, philanthropist with no interest in fashion, style, fame, and fortune? No. Does she have that choice? Not really – the papparazzi and news media would never let that happen because doing that would suddenly become the new “thing.” You see, she has choices, but they are constantly limited.

    As for children raised in crime-ridden homes… They know there are options. In fact, there is evidence to indicate kids who join gangs in Chicago make less than minimum wage selling drugs and know it, but they do it anyway. They even know it’s wrong. But other forces continue to pressure them to do it. Do they have choices? Sure. But how easy is a choice between: (1) selling crack for $3.50 an hour and running the risk of dying but also having the possibility of making 1/2 a million dollars a year by becoming a drug kingpin vs. (2) working at McDonald’s without any protection from gang violence because you still live in the ghetto and have no real future because you didn’t get a good education because you live in the ghetto. Which is the easier choice?

    Lastly, you can, in fact, plead it was my environment once you have additional information. For example, do you ever find yourself falling back into Mormon mindsets or Mormon mannerisms despite your “further light and knowledge”? I do. And I know better. Habit is hard to break. Socialization is hard to undo. Sometimes we resort to what feels natural to us. Life is complicated; choices are difficult.

    Again, no intention of offending, I just have a hard time when people say we can choose whatever we want – sociology is, in a very real sense, the science of understanding the things that limit our choices.

    Peace to you!

    Exmoron

  10. Hey Exmo!
    Thanks for the clarification. I see what you mean and I think you are right; I have realized that I am judging this man too harshly, that he may have the things you suggest. I was going by my own experiences, and not to get too personal, part of me wonders why this man can sue for $45 million, when I have a better case than he does–by far. Maybe it’s jealousy that he’s doing something that I have been thusfar afraid to do. Food for thought, nonetheless.

    peace
    ja

  11. Hi JulieAnn,

    When/If you decide to sue, I’ll be there to support you. And if you choose not to, I’ll support that too!

    Keep writing – it’s definitely food for thought.

    Best,

    Exmo!

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