Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The man behind the mask
"As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance:
But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;
Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy."
 1 Peter - 1:14-16

I remember the early 2000s, when almost every other week there would be some breaking story in the news about Roman Catholic priests molesting an altar boy, or a choir boy somewhere in the United States. Those sordid tales of little boys being sexually attacked by Catholic priests shell-shocked me. Though I did not know any of the victims, I had an undeniable emotional reaction while reading such stories. Since then whenever I see any televised version of a church choir, I tend to study the angelic faces of the little boys to figure out if there are fears written on their faces. It is something that I do instinctively.

In these stories, those little boys were grown up by then. Getting tired of suffering in secrecy, some of them decided to speak out and demand justice. The repeated sexual offences on them left a scar so deep that those grown up boys became debilitated with pain and anguish.

No one understood or knew how they lived with the unspeakable pain of being molested. They in most cases lived with the shame and confusion of being sodomized by the trusted priests, and felt an enormous sense of betrayal.

"For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people."
Levictus : 18:29

Undoubtedly those little boys were robbed of their innocence. After they were victimized, growing up in their impressionable years, watching a cartoon, or a cowboy movie, did not bring them pure joy. These confused boys had very little or no understanding of what had happened to them.

It ultimately prevented them from knowing the enjoyment of growing up. As adults they didn’t know how to live a normal life. Some of them never set foot inside a church again. One refused to go to his own father’s funeral because the images of what happened in the rectory years ago gave him hallucinations.

Were those priests punished when the stories came out? Those who were still doing God’s work had the protection of the Vatican. The Archdioceses quietly relocated the priests to other parts of the country to serve as ‘God’s Representative’ on earth. With unlimited access and power over the children of the parishioners, they kept on preying on a fresh batch.

Then I met Father Foley at a Parochial School in Washington DC where I had joined the faculty staff. Once a week, he would come to the school with his big German shepherd, and not let any child come close to him. The middle schoolers were allowed to touch the dog or pat it.

As the parish’s head priest, Father Foley was terrified of his church coming under any kind of scrutiny, where the Washington Archdiocese can hold him responsible for any scandal. He was determined to protect the image of his church, and took extreme caution to maintain the school’s excellent reputation not to be smeared by any kind of slander.

"I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?
But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person."
1 ¨Corinthias :5:9-13

It was the first time I actually saw someone who was so afraid of being finger pointed. Who can blame him for having excessive control in avoiding the children? During our lunch break, we the teachers would often discuss how it is sometimes difficult to follow the school rule where we were not to have any kind of physical contact with a student. When a student would cry after getting a bad grade on a test, or even someone who got hurt during sports, we were not allowed to comfort a child with a simple hug. I had to constantly remind myself to use calm verbal words in consoling a student.

Was such an extreme measure necessary? Absolutely. This is the extent of fear of being accused can do to a school body. During my short stint at the Catholic School, I felt that nagging fear all the time that someday someone will be wrongly accused. No decent person wants it in their conscience to be accused of having damaged any student they come to teach. Effective teaching is the result of how teachers hold their relationship with a student.

Teachers take up this profession of teaching because in teaching children they find ultimate fulfillment in shaping the minds of the young. Though for some, this noble desire can change along the way. Sometimes the sacred line gets crossed and goes beyond the understanding of teacher-pupil dynamic as it did for Porimol Joydhor-- a sexual predator,  the Viqarunnisa School’s Bangla teacher. Porimol’s immoral act of sexually violating a 15 year old student is shocking enough to give someone recurring nightmares. “Rape is about power, not sex.” No matter how one defines it, it must be the most frightening and traumatizing experience in one’s life.

"But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."
Revelation :21:8

The published reports and the deposition given by the victim proved to be very difficult reading indeed. I do not know the victim, but she is somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister, somebody’s niece. It became apparent to me that she has many friends at school who persuaded her to open up about the rape and  file a complaint against the accused.

What kind of outrage and desire for revenge the victim must be feeling that resulted from the rape trauma is beyond anyone’s comprehension. I am merely a voice like thousands in Bangladesh, and elsewhere, who is struggling to decipher such violence on a student by her teacher. Not once, but twice, she was raped with her mouth covered, and hands tied.  After his lurid act, this brute used his cellular phone to take pictures of his victim. Furthermore he threatened her with repercussions of more damage if she made the rape incidents public.

The class X student came to learn from him, she trusted him, utterly unaware that she was walking into the lion’s den. Given Porimol’s sick need to violate his pupil, makes him no better than the van man who cruises America’s suburbs looking for underage girls. According to newspaper reports, Porimol made a confessional statement before the Metropolitan Magistrate. Now we will have to wait and let justice play out. Where does the student go from here? How can she continue to feel like a fifteen year-old knowing what had happened to her? How would she come to accept such wrong that she had to endure?

On top of that, how will she deal with the whispers or the cross looks of those who think that it was ‘consensual’ sex? A fifteen year-old is a minor, and she couldn’t have consented. The accused knew his victim and perhaps that is why such allegation came into play.

In our culture, fifteen year-old girls simply do not explore sexual feelings for the opposite sex. At that age, they haven’t clearly come to terms with the complex idea of sexuality. They are just stepping out of their adolescent years, and having a tough time in understanding all the bodily changes that had incurred in the last couple of years.

"Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil: but to the counsellors of peace is joy."
Provers :12:20

Without any sex education class, girls go through puberty without much understanding of it. Going through all the emotional and physical changes bring them confusion and uncertainty. Because of our tradition-- sex, puberty and what happens to a girl’s body as she is growing up, is almost never discussed in most families. Parents are often nervous to teach their children anything about sex. Confused young girls feel ashamed of their bodily changes and suddenly become subjects of teasing, vulgar comments, and objects of sexual desire. There is no outlet to let out such confusion or any anger they must feel.

Various studies have revealed that when a teenager becomes a rape victim, she goes through a lifetime of pain, quite unable to reconcile with the trauma. Sadly this young Viqarunnisa student will go through the emotional devastation, and excruciating pain. The sexual assault will affect her mental health. In some cases, through therapy or counseling one can overcome such a life altering episode.

I pray that she finds courage in dealing with her post traumatic rape syndromes. I pray that she will be spared from intensive and pervasive questionings in the court. I pray that she is spared self-blame and shame and others do not do anything to reinforce it by their reactions.

I pray that she becomes well-adjusted in life, and with time her pain and memories associated with the rape lessen. She is not to feel responsible for the crime committed against her by the vilest of sexual offenders, disguised as a teacher.