What is Katlyn's Justice?
In the Conclusion chapter of the book, For the Love of Katlyn, I recount how Katlyn came to me in a powerful vivid dream when I was filled with doubt about whether I could complete the painful story about her death. In the dream Katlyn said, “I have been shamed, framed, and blamed for a crime that I didn’t commit and it is up to you to push back and defend me.” She added, “You are the only one left to make my victim statement. The truth needs to come out. This is ‘Katlyn’s Justice.’”
I have been asked what she meant by “Katlyn’s Justice” and why this was so important to her. Based on her own statement, “Katlyn’s Justice” is when “the truth comes out.” Why did Katlyn feel it was so important that the truth of her sexual assault and subsequent suicide be told? After many months of pondering this question and asking for Katlyn’s guidance, I have reached the following conclusions.
The reason that some of the worst abuses repeatedly occur, such as sexual assault and child abuse, is that they are done in secret and remain that way. The acclaimed movie Spotlight chillingly illustrates this point, as Catholic priests in Boston were repeatedly allowed to sexually abuse children while their Church superiors and local officials orchestrated a cover-up. These crimes were devastating to the victims and their families, with many lives destroyed by depression, drug addiction, and suicide. But for decades, no one in authority had the courage to stand up for these victims and put a stop to the abuse.
The power that the Catholic Church exerted over the local community is a characteristic of most forms of persistent abuse. Such power differential almost always exists between the abuser and the victim. For example, parents, bosses, leaders, and celebrities often use their power over others to abuse them with immunity, just as a stronger person would force themselves on a weaker one during a rape. Because of the greater power of the abuser, the victim is often not in a position to stop the abuse by themselves. This is particularly true of child abuse, rape, and spiritual abuse, which were all present in the Boston Catholic Church abuse scandal and in Katlyn’s situation as well.
Though these abuse victims are in desperate need of help, many people do not want to face the ugly truths that underlie rape and child abuse. It is just too painful to look at and confront, and so the injustice remains in the darkness and is allowed to continue. This truth was also clearly illustrated in the movie Spotlight, where even the parents of sexually abused children would not stand up against the Church, as though they would be confronting the power of God.
What we need to put an end to such abuse is courage, first to face the truth and then to stand up and advocate for the abused. These victims are so traumatized that they are frequently not able to speak for themselves. They may have no way to make the abuse stop or get the healing they need. And in most of these cases, prosecuting the abuser pits the word of the weaker victim against the more powerful perpetrator, which too often results in attacks on and blaming of the victim. So when we fail to acknowledge the truth and advocate for these victims, we unknowingly become an accomplice to the crime, much like Church and Boston city officials had become in the sexual abuse scandal featured in Spotlight. As the attorney advocate, Mitchell Garabedian, states in the movie, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”
Once this type of abuse touches your life, you understand the terrible consequences and become passionate about warning others and putting a stop to it. As Mike Rezendes shouted late in the movie Spotlight while pushing his boss to publish the story in The Boston Globe, “They [Church officials] knew and they let it happen to kids! It could have been you! It could have been me! It could have been anyone of us!” We need to remember this inconvenient truth. Next time, it could be you or one of your loved ones who is raped or abused by someone more powerful.
To avoid this nightmare scenario, we need to build awareness about rape and child abuse so our young men and women understand the devastating consequences of rape, and gather together to support, protect, and defend each other against sexual abuse, and so our parents teach their children about the risks of child and sexual abuse and how to avoid them. These are life threatening acts that are among the most serious public health problems we face. If you doubt their seriousness, here are some U.S. statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network; 1 in 6 women are victims of sexual assault (about 293,000 victims per year) resulting in dramatic increases in depression (3 times more likely), drug abuse (26 times more likely) and thoughts of suicide (4 times more likely); over 2/3rds (68%) of sexual assaults are not reported to police; 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
It was extremely difficult for me to write about Katlyn’s rape, the horrible way that her sexual assault was dealt with, and her subsequent suicide. But we need to find the courage to take such abuse out of the darkness and into the light before we can hope to put a stop to it. We also need to stop blaming abuse victims and instead provide them with the love, support, and therapeutic treatment that they so desperately need. When we have the courage to stand with victims against abuse, we stand up for all others who have experienced abuse and help them to find their own voice. The Boston Globe story featured in Spotlight led to many thousands of sexual abuse victims coming forward and the uncovering of over two hundred other major sexual abuse scandals by the Catholic Church worldwide.
So if you know or learn of an abuse victim, please hold them up, stand with them, and don’t let them go until they get the help they need, because the victim most often cannot speak for themselves or they don’t know how. We need to relentlessly support and speak out for these victims because, like Katlyn, their lives may well depend upon our actions. To me, this is “Katlyn’s Justice.”