(RNS) As the Penn State abuse scandal blares in the news, hundreds of people around the country who were sexually abused as children will watch in legally imposed silence, says a Boston attorney and expert on such cases.
Each is sworn to confidentiality agreements that bind them to secrecy, said Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer whose 2002 case blew open the Catholic Church abuse scandal worldwide.
Garabedian, who has represented 1,000 victims of clerical sexual abuse, said Penn State officials need to say publicly whether they have ever required victims to sign such agreements as a condition of settlements in sexual abuse cases.
“All institutions, private and public, will try to persuade victims to sign confidentiality agreements that swear everyone—victims, perpetrators and enablers—to silence,” he said. “Victims will often agree to silence because it’s too painful for them to think about it or humiliating for them to be known publicly.”
He called on Penn State officials to step up and “free victims’ souls,” as the Catholic Church did by releasing victims from silence.
In 2003, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that thousands of confidential settlement agreements signed by dioceses across the country for decades were no longer to be enforced.
Carmen Durso, also a Boston-based attorney who handled hundreds of abuse cases, says victims almost always sign such agreements.
“Frequently, the institution will insist on confidentiality or the victim will have to go to court to get resolution,” Durso said. “In my experience, 99 percent do not want to go public. It’s a rare 1 percent who are able to speak out.”
(Cathy Lynn Grossman writes for USA Today.)