Sunday, July 16, 2006

When Power Imbalance Is Used To Commit Sexual Abuse

Mercury News (hat tip Ang's Weird Ideas)

Carrasco in conversation veers from lucid to vague. Sometimes she speaks in a singsong, sounding like a cheerful young teen. Other times she loses her train of thought, stares blankly into the distance and says, finally, "What?"

About a year ago, Carrasco sent letters to priests across California, seeking spiritual guidance. Mostly she received tracts on Catholic faith. Some didn't respond at all. One answered: Father "Randy" Benas of the Sacred Heart Parish in a place called Saratoga. They began to call each other. Their conversations often included spiritual counseling, Carrasco said.

Occasionally, Benas would steer the conversation into oddly sexual topics. She was surprised, a little shocked. "I asked him if this was against your priesthood," she said. "And he said, 'No.' "
She told detectives Father Randy had counseled her about a vision she had in which God told her not to have sex with her boyfriend.

The priest suggested they meet, she said. They agreed an opportune time would be in late March while she was on a road trip to San Diego to visit friends. He offered to rent her a motel room so she could get some sleep and break up her trip, she said.

The decision by the prosecutor in California to drop the charges came down to how many times the woman said no to sex before she stopped protesting. The priest got her to the motel room using his role of spiritual advisor, but was setting her up so she'd be vulnerable to his sexual advances.

The inherent vulnerability of those being counseled is why states such as Minnesota in their Definition of Criminal sexual conduct in the third degree have the following provisions:

(1) the actor is or purports to be a member of the clergy, the complainant is not married to the actor, and:
(i) the sexual penetration occurred during the course of a meeting in which the complainant sought or received religious or spiritual advice, aid, or comfort from the actor in private; or
(ii) the sexual penetration occurred during a period of time in which the complainant was
meeting on an ongoing basis with the actor to seek or receive religious or spiritual advice, aid, or comfort in private. Consent by the complainant is not a defense;
Unfortunately, many states refuse to fully acknowledge the role of power imbalances in their sexual assault and sexual abuse laws. The exploited are in effect scolded for being vulnerable and the exploiters can play the victim if they are charged and the prosecutor later decides the case is too weak to prosecute.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 1:14 PM   0 comments links to this post


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