I’ve had one of those moments this afternoon. You know, the moment where you can’t even land for a moment on the worst part of a story because the hits keep coming. Here we go:
Associate head coach Bernie Fine, who served 35 years under Hall of Fame Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, is accused of molesting three boys now. He’s been put on administrative leave pending an investigation. One accuser has tape recording where Bernie’s wife admits she knew it was going on. This recording was given to the police on Nov 17. But wait, it’s not over yet. Turns out, the wife had an affair with the victim years later when he was 18. There are two other accusers, one of whom is facing charges himself of sexual assault of a 14 year old boy and another who is related to the first accuser.
Where are the grown ups in this story? See if you can spot even one.
First the coach allegedly sexually abuses a young boy, his wife knows about it and says he is in denial (hello, projection) and does not report it. Then, the abuse gets reported to ESPN in 2003 but they don’t report on it because they don’t have any corroborating witnesses (and they wait until a second accuser comes forward earlier this month to have the recording voice checked to see if it matches the wife’s voice). And lastly, the wife later had an affair with the victim when he was 18.
Read on via ESPN:
In a tape-recorded 2002 telephone conversation, the wife of Syracuse associate head coach Bernie Fine admitted she had concerns that her husband had sexually molested a team ball boy in their home, but said she felt powerless to stop the alleged abuse.
Bobby Davis, who has publicly accused Bernie Fine of years of molestation that Davis said started when he was in the seventh grade, legally recorded his Oct. 8, 2002, phone call to Laurie Fine.
“I know everything that went on, you know,” Laurie Fine said on the call, obtained by Outside the Lines from Davis. “I know everything that went on with him … Bernie has issues, maybe that he’s not aware of, but he has issues … And you trusted somebody you shouldn’t have trusted … ”
She continued: “Bernie is also in denial. I think that he did the things he did, but he’s somehow through his own mental telepathy has erased them out of his mind.”
Perhaps it will be too easy to blame the wife and even the victim for his affair with the wife later, but there is a sort of Stockholm Syndrome that sets in with some victims of abuse. It doesn’t surprise me that the victim later had a completely inappropriate affair with the wife of his alleged abuser. Boundaries are easily be blurred for sexual abuse victims, especially when no adult ever stepped in to show him the way as a child, or to protect him.
But there is no excuse for the silence of the wife – no matter how her husband treated her (and she has made no allegations of abuse that I’m aware of) — there is no excuse for her own denial of his wrongdoing. She, like the Penn State people, was defending the institution of her marriage to the determent of a young boy and perhaps several young people.
Are there any grown ups at all anymore? Where are the people who are clear regarding their responsibility to our children?
The ultimate blame, of course, lay with the coach if these accusations are true. Contrary to what his wife suggested in the taped phone call, pedophilia is not about being “gay” or liking “d—“. Pedophilia is about abusing power and trust. The typical abuser is someone who feels powerless in their own life and seeks to impose their power on someone vulnerable and weaker than they are, so as to convince themselves that they are more powerful than they really are.
It’s a similar mentality to that of a rapist. It’s not about sex. It’s not about attraction. It’s not about being turned on.
The perpetrator alone is responsible for his choices. Allegedly, he chose to repeatedly take cruel advantage of the young boys who trusted him. If he is guilty, he violated their trust and destroyed their sense of faith in the world, in adults, and in their own boundaries.
There isn’t a penalty strong enough for deliberately choosing to destroy a young person’s entire worldview. While they need not be defined by the abuse, and many survivors do manage to regain some trust in the world, they will always carry it with them the same way a war veteran carries the unspeakable, hideous memories of the inhumane things they witness in war.
There is no giving back of stolen peace of mind. There is no escape for many victims from the post-traumatic stress inflicted by many forms of abuse.
The adults around the abuser are responsible for their choice to stay silent in order to protect their own institution. The wife stayed silent for reasons unknown, but obviously put her mariage over the welfare of this alleged victim. ESPN could have checked the voice recording years ago. While I understand their hesitancy in coming out with accusations publicly against the associate coach, why didn’t they turn the tape over to authorities? Why didn’t they do due diligence on the voice match? They’ve had the tape since 2003. Were any young boys were molested in that time?
We seem to put a lot of thought into protecting the reputations of the accused, and this is admirable and indeed, necessary and right, to a point, but not at the expense of putting no thought into protecting children.
ESPN writes that they were waiting for corroborating witnesses, and while it’s commendable that they didn’t slander the coach without proof, it’s wrong that they thought there would be corroborating witnesses to sexual abuse. There are most often not witnesses to sexual assault. If the media is going to wait for witnesses before doing due diligence, they might as well admit that they are going to give cover for abusers. There’s no reason the tape couldn’t have been turned over to authorities to investigate, quietly and without public condemnation of the accused.
After all, it’s possible that the allegations aren’t true. The tape recording makes that a dim possibility, but since the two involved in the phone call had an affair at one point, it seems prudent to allow that they may have been setting the coach up even though the accuser says the wife did not know he was recording the phone call. The young man had this tape for years and turned it over to ESPN before the police, and that doesn’t seem the like the actions of someone setting the accused up, but still, we don’t have all of the facts, so it behooves us to be cautious with our condemnation. There’s always time for that later, when and if guilt is established.
But while we must tread carefully with the reputations of the accused, I’m left baffled by the way this was handled. A man comes to ESPN with a recording that would cause a reasonable person to be concerned for the welfare of children around the accused, yet no one does anything. And where were the victim’s parents? Who will speak for these children? Who is speaking for the children who right now, as you read this, are being sexually assaulted by a grown up they trusted?
Everyone in this story except for the victims comes out looking jaw-droppingly irresponsible, because even if the allegations aren’t true, this is not the way we go about dealing with serious allegations if we want sexual abuse of children to stop.
As horrific as these allegations are, and as clear as the phone call appears to make the accusation, I hope we don’t descend upon the coach in a mob mentality until the police have a chance to do their job.
If we really want to solve this problem, we need to be careful about damaging reputations so that adults who are told of abuse feel that they can take further action without being responsible for ruining someone’s life. Perhaps this would allow them to take better care of our children, to report suspicions and accusations to the proper authorities, and not leave our children prey to sexual predators.
If he’s guilty, a lot of people will be responsible for doing nothing to stop him. Where are all of the grown ups?