This week, the national and the regional aligned in painful ways when Michael Scaringe, 63, was convicted of of raping a 13-year-old girl in Saranac Lake, while working there are a y0uth center director.
In quick succession, we also learned about the conviction of Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky, who made a career of predating on young boys, luring them into youth programs, cultivating their loyalty, lulling their parents into complacency.
And then there was Monsignor William Lee, the highly placed Roman Catholic official in Philadelphia, convicted of child endangerment and conspiracy for covering up the vicious attacks on children by priests under his jurisdiction.
So what is it that unifies all these cases? People in positions of authority knew that children were being brutalized and wrecked, but they failed to notify police or prosecutors.
Those acts of cowardice opened the door for far more kids to be raped.
Chris Knight reported for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that school officials in Tupper Lake — where Scaringe was a teacher — knew as early as the 1970s that there were grave suspicions about sexual assaults on students in the district.
It turns out those suspicions were correct. At least four women have come forward to offer accounts of Scaringe manipulating them, while still children, into acts of oral sex and intercourse.
School officials knew of at least one case. Rather than call police, the school quietly let Scaringe go.
“We confirmed with a school board member that they were advised of this and that was the reason why Mr. Scaringe’s contract was not renewed,” Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne told the Enterprise.
“Why wasn’t it reported to law enforcement? If it was, why wasn’t anything done? How was this person, who clearly inflicted a lot of damage in our community, essentially just allowed to leave town?
“If today this type of information came forward, we would have convened a grand jury investigation. That’s what’s most disheartening and most troubling about this prosecution is how many other victims are out there beside the five that came forward, and how was this not stopped 30 years ago? What kind of trail of devastation has he left between here and Florida in the last 30 years?”
It turns out witnesses also saw Jerry Sandusky raping boys — saw him, in the shower with a child — as early as 2001 and failed to notify authorities. And Msr. Lee not only failed to call the cops. He worked actively to deceive law enforcement.
In journalism, one of the key things we look for is motivation. If someone does something extraordinary, you have to ask “Why?” Why didn’t people speak up about these predators.
In this case, the answer seems clear and it’s pretty devastating.
For too long, a wide variety of leaders and people of influence in our society have put the welfare of their organizations, the reputation of their institutions, above the safety of kids.
It’s easier, less controversial, to simply let a guy like Scaringe go, rather than entangling an entire school district and several local families in a painful prosecution.
It’s easier to look the other way, as coaches at the University of Pennsylvania did, rather than bring ignominy upon a legendary sports program.
It’s easier to hide predatory priests, and to blur accountability, as Monsignor Lee did, rather than confront a terrifying pattern of criminal and rapacious behavior.
There are lessons here both public and private.
The public lesson is that we need a debate over the laws that require all institutions and all people in authority to report suspicions of child endangerment to police immediately.
Are there gray zones in those laws? Are the punishments for failing to disclose vital information in a timely way severe enough?
Penalties need to have enough teeth that organizations, and not just individuals, feel the bite for putting their own interests above the welfare of kids.
The private lesson, sadly, is that parents have to be extraordinarily vigilant. The truth is that you probably won’t recognize a predator. And you can’t always trust even the most well-established institutions to have proper safeguards.
So ask questions. Set proper limits on the amount of time your kid spends with any grown-up. Monitor the kinds of situations that might offer an opportunity for predatory behavior.
Above all else, speak up. If you suspect something, don’t try to sort it out yourself. Call the police. You might save your child incredible trauma. You might also break a pattern of viciousness that puts far more kids at risk.