I think I know the answer. I see a common-sense way to short-circuit the institutional cover-ups that have done horrendous harm to countless kids: Put more women in positions of power.
The commonality is hard to ignore: Whether it is Boy Scout officials protecting predatory troop leaders, the Catholic Church covering up for abusive priests or Penn State officials more concerned about Jerry Sandusky than his victims, in every instance the officials who failed to act were men.
I think if there had been a woman – or women – behind those closed doors, countless kids might have been saved.
Since the Boy Scout scandal broke, I have talked with several women who made a point they felt was self-evident: Women tend to be – whether genetically or by cultural conditioning – more nurturing than men. They are consequently less inclined than men to put the reputation of an adult or an institution above the safety of a child.
Simply, women generally have a sensibility that – were they in power – would make it less likely for such cover-ups to happen, or to continue.
I know there is no way to prove that. But it sounds sensible: Greater sensitivity equals swifter consequences for predators and more protection for kids.
Susan Mangold is a University at Buffalo law professor and an expert in child abuse and neglect. She knows of no clinical studies on women executives' response to abuse claims. But she thinks the notion of women as guardians makes sense.
“Because women historically have been caregivers, we assume women would be more likely to recognize harm and do something about it,” Mangold told me. “To me, it is a plausible point.”
Aside from all else, it is an argument for more women in boardrooms, in academic ivory towers, and looking over shoulders at such male-dominated bastions as the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts. Given what we have seen, I think it's tough to argue against it.
Ex-FBI head Louis Freeh's report on the Penn State scandal condemned Joe Paterno, then-President Graham Spanier, ex-VP Gary Schultz and then-athletic director Tim Curley for the “total disregard for the welfare” of Sandusky's victims. If there had been a woman in that room, I suspect that the discussion would have been different.
Penn State officials are now examining the “fundamental culture” at the school. UB's Mangold has seen changes in culture after institutions elevate women to top positions – notably at her once male-dominated alma mater, Harvard Law School, which now has a woman dean.
“There is a whole different tone, from the relationship with the community to [more] emphasis on the students,” said Mangold. “Whether that would also translate into [better] identifying abuse, I don't know ... But institutions become different when they allow women inside.”
Women see the world through different eyes than men. I cannot imagine those eyes would have been as blind to all these children and the damage done.