Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Hardest Blogging Decision So Far

In blogging, we have the special position of not being required to blog about things we don't want to talk about. If our friends - political or otherwise - get bad press, we don't have to repeat it or mention it at all.

Today, though, a friend forwarded to me (and The Roundup linked to) what is likely the worst news I've woken up to this year and probably for many years.

Today, the Los Angeles Times reported that an Ex-Davis aide testified that he molested 2 boys over 30 years ago. Reading the headline, I was wondering if I'd even know the person referenced since, though I was always a Davis fan, I never worked in the Horseshoe.

But I did know him.

The man is John Stevens, former Chief of Staff to former Speaker Herb Wesson, my boss, and a fellow camp counselor and staffer at Camp Whittle.

The same camp at which I grew up and worked since the age of 5.

I can't remember how we discovered our common ancestry, but I remember thinking how great it was, since my memories of the camp are fond ones, it was such a major part of making me who I am today, and there are - I believe - few higher callings than camp counseling. If it weren't just a week per year, I'd make it a profession in a heartbeat.

John Stevens is also a ragger. That sentence means little to anyone unfamiliar with YMCA camping and everything to those familiar with it. He is, as I recall, a purple ragger. I bought him a ragger pin on my last trip to Whittle.

Camp Whittle is a sacred place. More can be done in a single week there to change a child's life than in an entire school year or an entire year in the child's home. The LA Metro YMCA serves, as you can imagine, a large population of underprivileged kids for whom camp is the highlight of the year, the only vacation they get from drug-addled neighborhoods, troubled homes, or just the regular stressors of kids' lives today.

As I write this, I'm not angry at John. Perhaps I will be. I think I should be. Thirty years is a long, long time. Then again, it is also a long time for those 2 boys.

My legal education and political upbrining, combined with a skeptical nature, usually put the breaks on accepting allegations as facts. But he admitted to these acts, so I don't even get to protect myself in the "alleged molestation" legal fiction. It is there in a court record and now in the newspaper and that's that.

You've noted by now, I'm sure, that this post has no direction and no point. But it had to be posted because I know this news hurt many people in the capitol who read it today. John Stevens was - is - I don't know- widely respected and admired. I felt privleged to count him as a contact and enjoyed that he knew me and would chat with me about various capitol goings-on. We started out at the beginning of Herb's Speakership over in the L.O.B. He, the biggest upcoming cheese, me the cheesiest young Fellow. And knowing we shared our camp experiences . . . that made it all the more special.

So I'm not angry. But I am tremendously, heartbreakingly sad.

Thirty years may give a molester time to work out his issues. But no number of years ever gives the victims back what they lost at his hands. A small part will always, always, always stay missing. And these aren't just words.

Two sacred areas of my life clashed here today in a manner I never could have expected - and the world is a lesser place for it.


Anonymous said...

I must say that I was also just as disheartened by today's LA Times article. Stevens is one of the few political types that I have EVER worked with that I didn't do the automatic eyeroll. In fact, I listened. It wasn't the power he had in Speaker Wesson's office, but the knowledge and the non-powerful way he used it. I respected him. Do I still? Wow, that's not easy. But his honesty is refreshing. He has always been an honest man. But this came out of nowhere.

JB said...

How sad for all.

Anonymous said...

There are only losers in this saga, but there is also something that must be recognized: many well functioning people today have recovered from incredibly screwed up lives. I believe John is but one example. People at both ends of the psychological tragedy of sexual abuse must and can recover – and we as a society should recognize the human ability to deal with shame and crisis and grow into better beings.

One striking irony is that John was at the Speaker’s office when the Democrats pushed through a Megan’s Law bill that, at its core, said to the public “People do not recover. Molesters are always threats and should be treated as pariah’s in our society.”

How ironic that John was right there knowing in his heart that this was not true – but also unable to address those in power who were perpetuating a scary myth and punishing people who had paid their debt to society.

Anonymous said...

Recovery is possible, yes. Long, fulfilling lives also possible.

As far as "must and can" recover, must is truer than can in many cases, I think. The damage done extends beyond bad dreams and common markers of abuse. It extends into various nooks of a life, injuring the ability to trust in more nuanced ways than I can find a way to explain in a comment on a blog.

Humans - and children especially - have a tremendous ability to survive and overcome a host of very bad things.

As far as molesters - and how hard it is to use that term in this discussion, the urge to make myself more comfortable with the fact that this discussion is about someone I know by using the passive voice "people who molest" - as far as molesters and their ability to recover, I just don't know.

My hunch is that those who commit these acts are motivated by as many different factors as there are ways to hurt someone. Not everyone who has inappropriately touched a child is a predator. But it is probably impossible to write legislation that protects everyone in every situation.

So again, though both sides can recover, the kind of damage done makes me err on the side of caution - even when it comes to discussion a situation effecting someone who, by all accounts, was one of the finest men in the Capitol.

It's funny - or perhaps entirely understandable - that talking about this is made next to impossible because it isn't an abstract discussion. Were this an article about some dude doing something bad at Y-camp, I would rail an ungodly amount and use unflattering language. But John has a family - a wife and kids whom I've met. As Amanda wrote in another comment, all of this feels like gossip in a way my, er, usual gossip doesn't.

But to the extent it helps - even in the most random way - someone who is dealing with this issue, it's worth bringing it up. Because silence is death here. Silence doesn't heal, doesn't help one recover, and never helps one move on - to the extent that is possible.

There's a basic struggle in the cultural response to molestation. It's difficult to boil down to a basic x v. y illustration, but I believe it goes something like this. On one side, the belief in a resilient spirit that demands personal effort to overcome and thrive despite the unfortunate events. Our second Anon commenter falls into this category. Victims should fall prey to the culture of victimhood.

On the other side is the idea that victims are victims and deserve the time and space to grieve and that their injuries deserve respect. Someone wronged them. Someone is at fault. Even if the perpetrator reforms him or herself, the injury cannot be undone.

Victims of molestation understand that the injury extends far beyond the summary provided to the masses by Dr. Phil or this week's Lifetime movie. It extends beyond what was written in the plaintiffs' complaint. It extends to things for which a law could never be passed to grant relief or an appropriate amount of damages.

So yes, victims must recover and frequently can. But the damage is never undone.

This is, indeed, sad for all.

Mayor Frank said...

As a fellow blogger who also worked with him, I'm as shocked as you. He would be the last one I would ever suspect.

The fact that he has come clean is the first step towards dealing with the punishments of his crimes. That is good and the welfare of the boys is the most important thing people need to stay focused on.

That being said, his knowledge of the Capitol will be sorely missed in the modern era of term limits.

Anonymous said...

To be clear, John Stevens isn't on trial - LA Metro YMCA is.

And he also retired at the start of this year. He already was missed.

Anonymous said...

Welfare fo the boys, my ass! They are men, 45 & 49 respectively. The 10 year old had already had sex with a girl before the "molestation" (which I think did not go further than mutual masterbation - don't all boys do something like that anyway?)
These guys aren't suing John Stevens, they're after the deep pockets of the YMCA. And how come neither EVER mentioned this abuse until the Catholic lawsuits started piling up? Has either ever sought counciling for this? NO. Were they screwed up before the abuse? Let's see. Father (a felon)left their mother before the youngest was born. (Father has had more children, addicts & alcoholics all - so it's a GENETIC predisposition, NOT a result of the abuse that these two are addicts and alcoholics).Both boys were know as liars and troublemakers in their neighborhood. They still are liars and troublemakers. If they really have suffered any damage from this, then let them give whatever money they expect to be awarded to the people that they have damaged!

Anonymous said...

From the passion with which you wrote tha comment, Anon, it seems you have some special insight, sources, or other evidence to support your contentions.

If you know this things from other published accounts, please leave the link here in the comments. If you know them from personal, firsthand, experience, I would ask that you further explain the basis for your views in an email to me directly - I won't disclose your identity, I promise. the link is on the left.

Without more information on the basis of your comments, this is my reaction to them:

Yes, the suit is against the YMCA and not against John Stevens personally. That is - to be cold about it - sound legal strategy, what you refer to as a "deep pockets strategy."

Genetic predisposition to alcoholism is not dispositive of the case here.

And it's specifically because, given the demographics served by LA Metro YMCA that this harm - to me - is so much worse.

I know well what kind of home some of these kids come from. Not all, by any means, but for many, one week at a Y camp or a summer at day camp or even day care provides an escape from a shitty home life.

To write off these kids and any subsequent injury to them as inevitable given the shitty circumstances - well, that's possibly the most heartless thing I've ever heard.

I don't know exactly what went on 30 years ago. Maybe you do.

And maybe what you've written here is accurate and true.

And maybe it isn't.

All I can say for sure is that IT IN NO WAY MATTERS HOW SHITTY THEIR HOME LIVES WERE OR IF THEY WERE BALDY BEHAVED KIDS. No one, no matter how great their sins, deserves for such a thing to happen to them.

And no, young boys do not generally mutually masterbate with grown men.

And prior sexual history doesn't matter either.

And believe me, oh dear Anon, words like "no further than" should NEVER be used in such a discussion.

So again, I invite you, sincerely, to continue this discussion with me via email - I shall keep anything you say in confidence.