Carolyn’s Online Magazine (#COMe)
HOW A CHILD MOLESTER CAN
DIVIDE A COMMUNITY:
ITS THREE-PRONGED EFFECT
The allegations against Joshua Ryan Westfall of Jeanette (PA) were “concocted against him by some of the girls at the high school,” according to attorney Jeff Monzo. (Tribune-Review newspaper, July 3, 2015)
April 1-30, 2016 Benefits the
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It’s strange how these words repeat themselves. I heard these same words in a small country church where a 48-year-old church organist stood in the pulpit while speaking to the congregation.
He claimed three girls who first accused him of molestation were troubled kids whom should receive our sympathy and care. He was very believable, speaking with a straight face and deliberate calmness.
Shortly after this I had separate visits from three women about 30-35. At least one (if not all: I cannot recall) was married with children of her own. They came to me because of my involvement in a community program addressing child abuse.
Their stories were the same. They’d all been manipulated into a situation where they were alone with the church organist in church, and he molested them. They told to me in confidence and I never shared their stories with anyone. However, for me, the stories provided evidence that he’d likely molested his current abusers.
In all, the 6th grade teacher had 7 accusers between 9 and 13 years old. All experienced condemnation within their community.
An investigation on the charges began in November. However, the teacher wasn’t charged until June 1.
The teacher admitted he’d touched the girl’s breasts and vaginas under their clothing on at least 27 occasions over the past seven years. He admitted to his psychologist that he’d molested selected piano students for 20 years.
Despite this admission the teacher allegedly continued to tell friends he was innocent or that he was pleading guilty to save his family further trouble.
‘You let them believe that somehow these children conspired. That you continued to perpetrate it, that bespeaks a spirit of cruelty,’ the judge said. It was his intent ‘to make it clear the children had not lied, and that (the teacher) had touched them and done it for his own sexual gratification.’ The judge sentenced him to serve one to four years less one day in jail for molesting his 7 victims during piano lessons in his home.The teacher’s actions divided two communities—the one where he currently lived, and the nearby community where he was born, raised, had many family members, and was so highly revered he was referred to as the community’s ‘golden boy.’
Friend turned against friend, neighbor against neighbor, and child against child as they debated whether he or his accusers were guilty.
A substantial part of the community believed he was railroaded or improperly prosecuted. His many supporters apparently had trouble believing he was guilty, despite his admission of guilt.
- we refuse to believe the charges—it seems odd that all the victims are associated with the same church
- the only reason he pled guilty was out of financial concern for his family
- what he did was not for any physical gratification
- all charges to be a result of a conspiracy
- it’s difficult to believe a minor group of childish persons could influence the justice system to believe he’s guilty
- his touches were ‘misunderstood’
- I’m praying his guilty plea is not a result of poor attorney advice
- the accusers are liars who exaggerated situations and conspired against their teacher
His supporters (including his wife and a couple of teachers)
- asked the judge to show mercy and consider contributions he has made to the community as a teacher, church organist and choir director
- wrote more than 100 letters from community residents to the judge
- some started a legal defense fund.
A shoot-the-messenger attitude in the community brought the accusers further suffering.
- they were confronted in and outside of class
- the one thing worse than being molested is being molested and not being believed
- I ask you why in the world would we want to pursue this if it was not true
- our family is being treated as criminals, when it was our 10-year-old child who lost her innocence
- the accusers asked why by people at school were raising money to defend the teacher, asking ‘Don’t they believe me?’
- their character is being attacked
- they’re being viewed as ‘oddballs’
Before the sentencing hearing, as part of a plea agreement, the teacher agreed to a treatment regimen and the D. A. recommended a non-confinement sentence. The judge called this action proper, but chose not to follow it.
‘Justice without mercy is vengeance. But mercy without justice is indifference to wrong,’ he stated.
This case demonstrates how strongly many perpetrators of child abuse manage to weave themselves into the fabric of the community. The stronger the thread of their public persona, the better their good actions and winning personalities, the more difficult it is for their families, and their friends to accept that they do unforgivable actions. It’s easier to believe the accusers are troubled conspirators.
What was difficult for me was threefold
- Hearing the teacher stand in a church pulpit and declare his innocence by blaming his accusers
- Hearing the stories of his adult victims, who were abused in the same church
- Having to lead a community in a response (he was likely guilty) when I couldn’t share the information I was given
There are incidents where the accusers are lying. However, this is rare. As a statement above asks: Why would we put ourselves up front if it isn’t true?
It’s not about blind belief, but it also isn’t about the perpetrator being ‘nice, contributing to the community, and loving children.’ It’s about truth and justice. And the truth is there are child molesters who will manipulate and deceive in order to continue their activities.
I’ll end with the teacher’s statement: ‘I also need to heal. I’ve lost everything. …I’ve lost the self image of who I thought I was.’