Monday 14 November 2011

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Christine Pelosi: Citadel Leaders Who Covered Up Child Sex Abuse Charges Must Stand Down

Duty. honor. country. Those words shape the ethos of generations of American service members, millions of whom we honor this Veterans weekend. Yet those words ring hollow at the Citadel, where we have only just learned of a years-old coverup at the highest level that prevented an alleged child sex abuser from being punished and left him free to molest children.

What they knew: a camper told the Citadel that 4 years before, school alum and counselor Skip ReVille invited two campers into his room, showed them pornography and engaged in sexual activity.

What they did: although the Citadel counselor’s acts are chargeable as felonies in South Carolina the Citadel chose not to tell police. Citadel  had their general counsel investigate, they found a clean background check, no other allegations, and they accepted ReVillez’s denials. ReVille went on to molest 5 children and sits jailed for those offenses. His attorney says he’s sorry.

What they said: nothing. Years later, after Penn State’s president Graham Spanier and head coach Joe Paterno were fired for choosing not to call Pennsylvania police to report child sex abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky, Citadel President, Lt General John W. Rosa and board chair Doug Snyder issued a statement after media inquiries concluding that  ”despite the parents’ wishes for privacy we wish we had done more.”  

Joe Paterno’s “I should have done more” statement at least blamed himself — Citadel appears to be blaming the victim’s parents’ desire for privacy for the school’s failure to report the crime to police. Now having been a sex crimes prosecutor, I know that nearly every victim says that coming forward is a huge personal risk. There is the unwanted attention, the shame factor, and a “blame the victim” mentality in our culture that keeps most crimes hidden. Most fear they will be re-victimized by the system if they engage police — or go beyond a police report to an actual criminal case — so a quiet investigation seems a welcome alternative. But here the Citadel had the responsibility to avoid its own internal conflict of interest, report the charges, and let the police have that discussion with the family. 

The police may have been able to use their powers of investigation to locate other victims, to search the computer, or to perform other acts while protecting the identity of the informant. They may have been able to convince the young man to bring charges or, if the victims did not wish to testify, to at least admonish the abuser. 

We don’t know whether the family would have opted to proceed because the police never got the chance to talk with them. We don’t know why the Citadel decided to have their general counsel — not even an outside counsel with no pressure to protect the school, but one of their own employees — investigate a fellow employee for criminal wrongdoing.  We don’t know if being summoned to the  police station and confronted with his actions would have led to a confession or spared DeVille’s future victims, like the children his attorney says he is now sorry about molesting.  

Law enforcement, Congress and the Pentagon must investigate how this military academy failed to protect the innocent. We cannot rush to judgement of their legal culpability – before all the facts are known, the leadership must be granted the presumption of innocence and accorded all due process just like the leadership at Penn State. But by their own admission, we know that Citadel’s leaders decision to keep child sex abuse charges involving their alum and employee from police was a moral failure to “duty honor country.”  We know that Citadel’s disturbing conspiracy of silence did a disservice to the victim and his parents, and endangered future children such as the ones ReVille is charged with molesting. That is why the Citadel employees who covered up the child sex abuse  charges must stand down and the Citadel community needs to tale a lesson from Penn State’s initial mistake: rally around the victims not the enablers.

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