RENEE ORDWAY

Betrayals of trust abound in child sex abuse cases

Posted July 06, 2012, at 6:40 p.m.
Renee Ordway
Renee Ordway

I wanted to call Bob Carlson this week.

It was a near-automatic response as I began to formulate thoughts for this week’s column.

I wanted to speak to a professional person, a leader, a studier of human nature, a counselor, a trusted, spiritual person at the heart of our community.

I wanted to ask him his thoughts on the recent sentencing of a veteran Maine State Police trooper on child sexual abuse charges and the arrest of a longtime and well-known youth baseball coach in Maine and New Hampshire also accused of sexually abusing at least two young boys.

Of course, the sickening trial and ultimate conviction of Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky for multiple counts of child sexual abuse is still fresh in our minds.

But his was just the highest-profile case on the national stage. It’s happening everywhere.

Have we been so battered by such horrific betrayal that we are no longer shocked? How long before parents start eyeing suspiciously everyone who teaches, coaches, babysits, ministers or counsels their children? If they don’t, are they misguided or naive?

Greg Vrooman, the trooper sentenced earlier this week, was not the first trooper to be convicted of sex crimes against a child. There was another in 1990. There also was a Penobscot County Jail transport officer and part-time constable, a beloved music teacher in Searsport, an elementary school computer technician in Searsport, a revered businessman and World War II veteran who was convicted in 2006 at the age of 83, a kindergarten teacher from Jackman and an assistant attorney general convicted of dabbling in child porn.

We won’t even bother to mention the scandals within the Catholic Church.

Google similar stories on a national level and you might find your distrust quotient growing with each click of your mouse.

Coaches, both professional and volunteer, teachers, doctors, police officers, clergy.

Every single day across the country. Horrific violations of trust and stunned, angry and saddened community members and victims left in their wake.

How do communities push through this barrage of stories of such respected people committing such heinous crimes against the very children we entrusted them with?

My husband and I coached youth basketball at the YMCA for a few years. He actually did most of the coaching. The real teaching part.

These were little kids, kindergartners and first-graders, and I would often work with the shy one, the more hesitant one, the one who might cry if pushed too fast. The one who needed a bit more one-on-one assistance. The one who might need a hug following a goof-up.

Probably not appropriate, but I was much more a mother on the court than a coach, and I couldn’t have done it any differently.

The Y, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and youth athletic leagues all depend on volunteers to coach and mentor and lead. Sure, there are background checks, but I refer you to the list above. Any of them would have passed such a check.

So how does a community, how do parents balance the appropriate level of suspicion against the desire to trust?

I wanted to call Bob Carlson to ask him that.

For countless years he is who many of us went to in search of answers during challenging times and community upheaval.

He certainly was my trusted professional source on many, many occasions.

But of course, Bob, former pastor of East Orrington Church, former chaplain at Husson University, the Penobscot County Sheriff Department, the Bangor and Brewer police and fire departments and president of Penobscot Community Health Care and winner of the Katahdin Area Council of Boy Scouts of America’s 15th annual Distinguished Citizen Award, jumped to his death from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge last November amid allegations of child sexual abuse.

It used to be that a person’s reputation was the foundation of his or her level of trust and respectability in a community.

Someone who’s a good father, a good husband, a hard worker, a civic-minded leader — a police officer, a Boy Scout leader, a kindergarten teacher.

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