Photo: REX USA/Stewart Cook.
In a recording revealed this morning by TMZ, 7th Heaven actor Stephen Collins allegedly admitted to sexually abusing multiple children. The media ran with it, declaring shock and outrage at the actions of a man who most saw as a "wholesome" "good guy." The accusations are, of course, shocking and outrageous. But, the reality is worse.
Stephen Collins was unusual in that he admitted his offenses in specific detail. What's not unusual is the silence of others. At least six other people knew about these instances of abuse for years — yet he remains uncharged.
That report evidently came to nothing, since the NYPD has only recently launched their investigation. Certainly, Collins is the alleged perpetrator, but what of the silent bystanders? None of these people abused the children themselves, but with their silence and inaction, they are guilty in their own right.
It's estimated that 60% of all assault cases go unreported, but children face such specific issues simply because they are children and their assailants are typically adults. Often, abused children are effectively threatened into silence or else groomed or coerced by the abuser and made to believe they are somehow at fault.
"It's never, ever a child's fault if they are hurt or abused. But, perpetrators are often very good at manipulating their victims to think that it was consensual, or that they took part in it, therefore they're just as guilty."
Photo: REX USA/Stewart Cook.
It's this manipulation that enables the abuse to continue and bystanders to look the other way. "It's incredibly common," reports Marsh. "This scenario isn't shocking at all." In many of these cases, adults come forward after the fact, claiming they suspected something but didn't feel they had a right to accuse. "Daily, we hear from people who talk about 'barriers.' They sense something is going on but they're not 100% sure and they don't want to risk hurting a friend, a neighbor, or a co-worker."
But, these adults knew of Collins' crimes in explicit detail. It's not unlike the Jerry Sandusky case, in which several adults knew of abuse but didn't report the perpetrator to the police. Sandusky, the popular Penn State football coach, was eventually charged 52 counts of sexual crimes against children occurring over a 15 year period.
Another similarity between Collins and Sandusky is their status as esteemed individuals. Accusing anyone of such a heinous act is extremely difficult, but much more so when the suspect is well-liked and famous. Having played a beloved TV family man, Collins was naturally associated with sincerity by the audience who grew up watching him as the earnest Reverend Camden on 7th Heaven.
As a culture, we have no greater blind spot than that of celebrity. And, with a crime that so often slips through the cracks (or, in this case, is shoved through the cracks) a case like Stephen Collins' is both shocking and predictable. It's not that he was somehow more likely to molest children, but he was far more likely to get away with it. No one but Stephen Collins is responsible for his crimes, but many people have failed these children.
Active bystanders are crucial to the support and care of child abuse victims of all ages. If you suspect a case of abuse, visit RAINN for more information on what you can do.