The Backstory: ‘I’ve had it with ‘victims.’ Why we won’t stop reporting on sexual abuse

The Backstory: ‘I’ve had it with ‘victims.’ Why we won’t stop reporting on sexual abuse

I’m USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll and this is the Backstory, insights into our biggest stories of the week. If you’d like to get the Backstory in your inbox every Friday, subscribe here.

Reporter Lindsay Schnell and her editor, Cristina Silva, heard a disturbing story.

Survivors comfort each other while Attorney General Josh Shapiro outlined the findings of the grand jury investigation into six catholic diocese in Pennsylvania, Tuesday, August 14, 2018. The grand jury’s report detailed child sexual abuse and coverup by more than 300 clergy.

A man told a state lawmaker that a Catholic school teacher had abused him 30 years earlier – and the teacher was still in the classroom.

How was that possible? 

The answer is found in our investigation into former priests, Catholic brothers and Catholic school officials credibly accused of sexual abuse, but never brought to trial in part because so many state statute of limitation laws make it nearly impossible for victims to pursue criminal charges decades after alleged abuse. 

The majority of U.S. Catholic dioceses have released names of credibly accused priests – many of whom were defrocked, or laicized, meaning they no longer work with the church. But neither the government nor the church keeps track of (or are required to keep track of) the credibly accused.

To be sure, Schnell reported, some of the accused priests may be innocent. They face allegations, not convictions. And clearly, their conduct does not impugn an entire religion. But for an accusation to be found “credible,” church leaders generally consider the misconduct is more likely true than not.

Schnell and Silva wanted to know: Where were the accused now? 

Working with Sam Ruland of the York (Pa.) Daily Record, Schnell built a database from the church disclosures as well as BishopAccountability.org, a database of accused priests. Eventually, they had a list with 699 addresses.

Schnell’s editor, Silva, worked with 38 reporters from around the USA TODAY Network so we could knock on 115 of the doors. We found the accused live close to families unaware of their backgrounds. They’re community leaders, professors, counselors and mentors to kids.

Schnell made the first knock herself.

She walked up to the door of Barry Ashwell. After serving as a priest in the Seattle Archdiocese for more than 30 years, Ashwell was put on administrative leave in 2001. He was never reinstated. His former foster son had alleged in a lawsuit that Ashwell had sexually abused him in the 1970s. That victim settled with the church in 1996. In 2005, three other men also accused Ashwell of abusing them in the ’70s. 

Ashwell answered the door quickly. He said he didn’t want to talk, but then kept talking. 

“What happened 40 years ago is in the past,” he told Schnell. “The church has forgiven me and God has forgiven me.” Schnell asked him what he thought about the statute of limitations for abuse lawsuits. “I’m done with this,” he said. 

Asked if he thought victims would have the same response – that they were “done with this” – Ashwell responded, “I’ve had it with ‘victims.’” 

Shame is powerful – and destructive. It can take decades for a victim to come forward, if ever. And the damage can last a lifetime. Anxiety. Depression. Addiction. Panic attacks. Self harm. Suicide. 

So we’ll keep reporting on sexual abuse of children, as shown by our investigations into the Boy Scouts, children’s coaches, teachers, detained migrant children and of course, USA Gymnastics.

We are not done with this.

Nikki Haley isn’t running for president. Yet.

Haley told USA TODAY Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page it’s too early to make a decision on running for the White House down the road, but indicated it’s a possibility. “The word ‘ambitious’ is too often wielded as a negative against women,” Haley said. She told Page she prefers the word “passionate” or maybe “badass.” 

This was Page’s third sit-down interview with Haley since 2012. Haley has been something of an outsider from the start, Page says, as a woman and the child of Indian immigrants who challenged the South Carolina Republican establishment. “That’s given her experience in negotiating complicated and sometimes unfriendly political terrain – like, say, the inside politics of serving in the Trump Cabinet that has tripped up many others,” Page says.

“In our latest interview and in her new book, her willingness to take on John Kelly and Rex Tillerson – surely aware that they would push back, hard – reminded me of how she has approached politics all the way back to her first election. Which has gotten her pretty far in a career that probably isn’t over yet.”

Our impeachment hearing promise to you.

Bart Jansen, USA TODAY Washington correspondent, attends the first day of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.
Bart Jansen, USA TODAY Washington correspondent, attends the first day of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

The public hearings into the impeachment of Donald Trump are underway. Here is our promise to you: We’ll cover the facts and findings and call out the antics. We’ll summarize and explain each day’s news, adding important context, and then let you know what to expect next. We’ll scrutinize statements and surface inaccuracies. We’ll answer your questions, explain the ongoing process and bring you diverse perspectives on the proceedings. Hold us to this.

Nicole Carroll is the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY. She is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Benjamin C. Bradlee “Editor of the Year” and proud mom of three. Comments? Questions? Reach her at EIC@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter here. If you’d like to get the Backstory in your inbox every Friday, subscribe here.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Child sexual abuse: Reporting is crucial to show extent of problems

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