The Dallas Morning News. Feb. 11, 2019.
It seems that nearly every day there is a fresh story of children being sexually abused. This time it’s evidence of such abuse going on inside the Southern Baptist Convention.
The temptation is to hope there is an easy fix that involves setting up training or some other measure that ensures against all future abuse. The truth is that this is a complex problem that crops up in so many places because it stems from an evil embedded in human nature. To guard against it, we need our institutions to act proactively, to create a culture of speaking up and acting on evidence rather than ignoring it.
The Catholic Church is grappling with evidence of priests who abused children for decades. This has prompted calls to allow priests to marry and to give laypeople broader authority in the church.
But the experience of the Southern Baptist Convention suggests making such changes won’t solve the problem. A Houston Chronicle investigation showed sexual abuse at the hands of hundreds of pastors and volunteers, in a denomination in which pastors are allowed to marry and laypeople historically take on large roles in their churches.
And consider the problem of predators in our schools and universities, where the environment is different from church, and yet, sexual abuse continues to happen. The data on child sexual assault show a widespread problem. According to a 2013 study by researchers at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, the rate of lifetime sexual abuse or assault at the hands of adults is 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys. If you were not sexually abused as a child, you almost certainly have a friend or relative who was.
It is crucial that institutions including schools, places of worship and child care organizations establish hiring and volunteer processes to screen out predators. It’s also critical that they adopt procedures to halt predators who manage to avoid initial detection and to be actively looking for abuse so as to catch as it early as possible. We think the Catholic Church has come up with a good set of rules. Of course, it is crucial that organizations remain disciplined about following their policies.
Running background checks on anyone who works with children is table stakes. For employees, this should involve contacting past employers, too. Everyone who works with kids, even just to read to a classroom once in a while, should undergo training on preventing sexual assault and identifying signs of abuse, and what to do about it.
Outside of special circumstances, no adult should spend time with children alone, without a second adult. And concern about sexual abuse should be reported to the police. Not to the priest or pastor; the police.
Public lists of sexual predators are useful, and we applaud the Catholic Church and others who assemble such lists in order to halt abusers. We support the idea of the creation of a master list, either by law enforcement or a nonprofit, though we caution setting up protocols to ensure no false accusations enter the database.
In the end, it’s up to all of us. Each of us must take sexual abuse seriously and be ready to take action when we see signs of abuse, even by people we trust. Religious leaders enjoy a special place in society. When those leaders abuse that position to abuse children, the most vulnerable among us are at greater risk. Decades ago, sexual assaults were swept under the rug. In this era, it should be clear that open and consistent public scrutiny is crucial to protecting our children.
San Antonio Express-News. Feb. 11, 2019.
They served in the Vietnam War, but they served offshore. They handled Agent Orange, the cancer-causing defoliant, but they handled it on carriers and ships in coastal waters.
And because they served offshore as mechanics or radar men on aircraft carriers, so-called Blue Water Navy veterans have been denied disability benefits. An overwhelming federals appeal court ruling should right this wrong.
It is well past time.
In a 9-2 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found Blue Water Navy veterans are eligible for disability benefits under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, overturning a Veterans Affairs administrative decision.
Their ruling was fairly straightforward: International law includes coastal waters. So, when lawmakers referred to the Republic of Vietnam, they were inherently referring to its coastal waters as well.
Anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 Navy veterans could benefit from this ruling. Those who have any of the 14 diseases connected to Agent Orange could potentially receive as much as $2,000 a month, tax-free.
Express-News journalist Bill Lambrecht has been dogged in his reporting on this issue.
Some history to consider about how this important ruling came to be: For years, Blue Water veterans have been denied these benefits, unless they could show they served on the ground in Vietnam or along an inland waterway.
But many Blue Water veterans were exposed to Agent Orange while on carriers, and subsequently have had cancer, diabetes and heart ailments, among other health issues.
The Department of Veteran Affairs argued there was no proof these ailments were the result of Agent Orange exposure. Such ailments are common for people in their 60s or 70s, the VA said.
But there have been signals that cost concerns may have clouded this viewpoint. For example, after the U.S. House unanimously approved legislation to restore benefits for Blue Water veterans, the effort was derailed in the U.S. Senate over cost concerns. Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said it would cost billions of dollars to provide these benefits and lead to administrative hassles.
So what? If the benefits are owed — and this ruling has made it clear they are — then they should be provided.
It’s unclear if Veterans Affairs will appeal this ruling, but the better path would be to honor it and the sacrifices these veterans made. It is the right thing to do.
Congress can help the cause by passing legislation to reaffirm the original intent of the Agent Orange Act of 1991, broadening it to those veterans who served in Guam, South Korea, the Philippines and other locations that also housed, or may have housed, herbicides.
The VA has said there are no records of Agent Orange being used or stored in Guam, but veterans say otherwise. And the same VA had long argued that Blue Water Navy veterans were not eligible for these benefits, but they are.
Lacking definitive evidence, the VA should extend these benefits to Vietnam veterans who served in Guam and other locales.
It is never wrong to do the right thing.