I don’t know how many times we have to tell people that sexual predators are not just creepy, middle-aged, anti-social men. So, until everyone gets that, we have to continue to share stories like this one.
“The first thing you need to know about Pete Newman is that people loved him. He has olive skin, dark hair, and thick eyebrows that generated good-natured “unibrow” teasing. Girls wanted to date him, guys wanted to be him, and children wanted to follow him.”
He was also a superpredator. He groomed and abused boys in their own homes. He groomed and abused boys at camp. In fact, he abused boys across the world. On June 9, 2010, he pleaded guilty to seven counts of sexually abusing boys. He received a sentence of two life terms, plus 30 years. His guilty plea was but the tip of a terrible iceberg. A civil complaint alleges that there were at least 57 victims, but the prosecutor in his case estimates that the real number could be in the “hundreds.”
The story below goes into many of the details, but I want to talk more generally about how this was allowed to start, and to go on for as long as it did.
- The obvious one above. No one suspected the charming, handsome, and popular counselor to be a pedophile. Yet, he was. He was also married, and a father. All of those things simply made it hard for other people he worked with to believe that he could be abusing young boys. But he was, and all of that just provided cover for it.
- The camp, when the first rumblings of complaints trickled in, sent Pete to talk to a lawyer instead of reporting to the police. It is believed part of that was to keep the conversations under the wraps of attorney client privilege. This stood out to me because recently in local news, we’ve seen a similar thing happen at LSU, where the university hired it’s own law firm to investigate sexual harassment claims, and then kept that information away from the public. This is not a good idea. Any organization that acts this way, and then forces non-disclosure agreements on victims on top of that, should be avoided. Secrecy is not compatible with finding the truth, and finding the truth should be the one and only concern when it comes to child abuse.
- We have passed many mandatory reporting laws over the years for a very simple reason. When someone reports someone you know, have worked with, and are friends with as having abused a child, you are not capable of making any unbiased decisions. That’s why you have to report it, no questions asked. That’s the law. Someone else will investigate it. Someone who does not have the same biases that you do. You do not have to decide whether you believe your colleague is capable of such a thing, you only have to pass the information on to law enforcement to investigate. That’s it.
- The details of how Pete was convincing these kids to go along with the abuse is a clear indication of the danger of what is commonly called “purity culture” in the church. He had these boys so afraid of the evils of lusting after girls, that they went along with any suggestions he came along with to avoid thinking about girls, or being tempted, including ways to satisfy their urges without involving those thoughts. In addition, the leaders who he reported to seemed to view his wife as the “cure” for his own issues, because I guess if she was keeping him busy and satisfied, these things wouldn’t happen. That’s not what was happening at all. (BTW, this case, and others in non-Catholic churches, also undercuts the argument I’ve heard many times that if priests could marry the abuse of children wouldn’t happen. That’s simply no true.) This is also completely demeaning to his wife. That’s a topic for another day though.
If nothing else, I hope you’ll go read the article for two reasons. One, to recognize how difficult it can be to come forward, and have leaders dismiss your claims, so that you know how not to run any organizations that you and your kids are involved with, and two, to recognize how certain cultural values create a space for abusers. Churches rely on charismatic leaders, but without proper safeguards and oversight, you’ll attract some very charismatic evildoers too. Also, understand that environments with such a strong focus on sexual purity, create a culture where kids are desperate to not do the “worst thing” and are susceptible to this kind of grooming, not to mention a lot of shame around a very natural subject. That shame only increases the secrecy around sex, and again creates a place where secrets can thrive. DO NOT BE A PLACE WHERE SECRETS THRIVE!