Years after alleged abuse, boy found 'liberation' in sermonon July 8, 2012 @ 7:37 am (Updated: 10:42 am - 7/9/12 )
The boy, who is 17-years-old, told his mother after church that he had been abused by his sixth grade teacher at the age of 12. His confession led to the arrest of Keshia T. Shaw, 33, on charges of child rape. She pleaded not guilty Friday to five counts.
Prosecutors allege that the abuse began in April 2007 behind a locked door in Shaw's classroom, where she performed sex, oral and otherwise, on her young student.
Shaw began to give the boy rides home, according to court documents, and once paid him $80 after a sexual encounter in a parking lot.
She told the boy to keep their relationship a secret, prosecutors say.
"The sex began in school, in her classroom, in the building," said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. "It eventually migrated to his house when the student's mother was not home."
The abuse went on for a little more than a year, until Shaw "lost interest" in the boy, Lindquist said.
Until now, the boy told no one, save a few close friends, about the abuse he suffered at the hands of Shaw.
It is unclear what prompted the boy's pastor to speak about molestation, although the sermon was delivered sometime in May, in the midst of the child sex scandal involving former Penn. State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky.
The power of a well-placed word
It is common for pastors to draw inspiration from events happening around the world, said Father John Whitney, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Seattle.
"Otherwise religion becomes something in an ivory tower, behind a wall far away," Father Whitney said Friday. "What we want to speak of is a faith that lives in the world. You need to show that connection."
The violence in Syria, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, immigration and the current presidential campaign are all topics Father Whitney said have "sowed the seeds" for his sermons.
But child molestation, he said, is among the most important topics on which he can preach.
"I have spoken about it from the pulpit many times," he said.
As former provincial for the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, Father Whitney has spoken with over 200 victims of child sex abuse and fought to bring to light abuse by people in positions of authority, including religious leaders.
"As a Catholic, I know that we've experienced some great pain," Father Whitney said of past accusations of abuse against leaders in the Catholic Church. "Out of that pain, if it is to serve anything, it needs to be a call to people to find some sort of liberation. That we, above all, can say 'it's not a good thing for society to cover that up.'"
Father Whitney said victims are often in need of an invitation to speak about their abuse.
"I believe that the fundamental thing that we're called to do is to invite people into their own depths ... in order to find the liberation and the hope that only God can bring," he said. "It's like opening the door for them and saying ‘you have permission to speak.'"
The story of the boy in Tacoma and the sermon that "set him free," he said, shows the power of a well-placed word.
"You don't have to be religious to know the power of words," he said. "Words still have the power to liberate us. Words still have the power to show us a way out of the darkness which we can find ourselves in ... "
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