In a recording revealed this morning by TMZ, 7th Heaven actor Stephen Collins allegedly admitted to sexually abusing multiple children. The media ran with it, declaring shock and outrage at the actions of a man who most saw as a “wholesome” “good guy.” The accusations are, of course, shocking and outrageous. But, the reality is worse.
Stephen Collins was unusual in that he admitted his offenses in specific detail. What’s not unusual is the silence of others. At least six other people knew about these instances of abuse for years — yet he remains uncharged.
Based on the TMZ report alone, we know he appeared to admit to assaulting three girls to his wife, Faye Grant, in 2012, while they were in the process of divorcing. We know that his first wife, Marjorie Weinman, reported the molestation of one of the victims that same year.
That report evidently came to nothing, since the NYPD has only recently launched their investigation. Certainly, Collins is the alleged perpetrator, but what of the silent bystanders? None of these people abused the children themselves, but with their silence and inaction, they are guilty in their own right.
These adults knew of Collins’ crimes in explicit detail. It’s not unlike the Jerry Sandusky case, in which several adults knew of abuse but didn’t report the perpetrator to the police. Sandusky, the popular Penn State football coach, was eventually charged 52 counts of sexual crimes against children occurring over a 15 year period.
Another similarity between Collins and Sandusky is their status as esteemed individuals. Accusing anyone of such a heinous act is extremely difficult, but much more so when the suspect is well-liked and famous. Having played a beloved TV family man, Collins was naturally associated with sincerity by the audience who grew up watching him as the earnest Reverend Camden on 7th Heaven.
As a culture, we have no greater blind spot than that of celebrity. And, with a crime that so often slips through the cracks (or, in this case, is shoved through the cracks) a case like Stephen Collins’ is both shocking and predictable. It’s not that he was somehow more likely to molest children, but he was far more likely to get away with it. No one but Stephen Collins is responsible for his crimes, but many people have failed these children.
With child sexual abuse, we see boundary violations and red flag behavior much more often than we see direct sexual contact. So first we must notice the unsafe behaviors of people who offend. When a child is being sexually abused, or groomed for abuse, the child and the person offending are the two least likely people to intervene in their own situation. And yet in the past, our prevention efforts have been aimed at these two people. We’ve asked children to be aware of and avoid dangerous interactions with people, which so often they are unable to do; and we’ve increased the legal penalty for those who offend, but this happens only after a child has been harmed.
The first step to being an effective bystander is noticing what we see, and trusting what we feel. Really, prevention must start with us – the responsible, bystanding adults around those two people.
Read the entire article here.