Never trust a man in uniform

Abuses by cops and priests should cause us to rethink teaching children to place blind faith in authorities



“We know Mr. Weller—we, who are men of the world—that a good uniform must work its way with the women, sooner or later.”
—Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers, 1837

“The girls, they love to see you shoot.”
—Gang of Four, “I Love A Man In A Uniform,” 1982

“I wasn’t prepared for putting on that uniform, walking out into real life and discovering the number of women who were coming on to me.”
—The Rev. Don Kimball, Santa Rosa priest convicted of lewd contact with a minor girl, in an interview with Connie Chung, April 2002

From a very early age, most of us are taught to respect men in uniform. The uniform bestows a special status upon the person wearing it. We teach our children that this is someone who can be trusted in an emergency or a time of need.

However, the arrest of Sacramento Police Officer Darryl George Rosen on charges of rape and sexual assault last week has once again called this teaching into question.

Rosen, 26, has been charged with 17 felony and misdemeanor counts ranging from sexual assault to police misconduct, including the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl in the back seat of his patrol car. He allegedly used his uniform to first gain access to his victims and later to guarantee their silence. When news of the case first broke last week, I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities between it and the ongoing turmoil involving the Catholic Church and its pedophilic priests.

While the charges against Rosen remain to be proved in a court of law, such abuses of authority and the public trust by police officers are by no means unknown, and could possibly be just as widespread as the abuses perpetrated by pedophilic priests. An Internet search using the phrase “cop charged with rape” revealed dozens of similar cases of police misconduct across the United States. Moreover, the parallels between individual cases of police- and priest-perpetrated sexual abuse are unnerving.

First of all, the victims, many of whom are underage, are especially vulnerable, either because they have turned to the police for help or they have been accused of some sort of crime. Second, much like how the pedophilic priest uses his clerical collar to gain the trust of his victim, the sexually abusive cop uses his badge. Third, the predatory policeman or priest uses the power conferred upon him by society—a trust symbolized by the wearing of the uniform—to silence the cries of his victim. Last of all, because such illegal actions by individual cops and priests violate the public trust and damage the credibility of their respective institutions, both the Catholic Church and police departments are prone to covering up such incidents.

With the latter in mind, the Sacramento Police Department should be applauded for its aggressive approach in handling the Rosen case. After an initial report by one of Rosen’s alleged victims last summer was later substantiated when several other alleged victims stepped forward, the department moved quickly, suspending Rosen in December and filing charges against him last week.

Still, at the risk of tarring all policemen with the same brush, the question lingers: How much of this sort of abuse is going on? The Catholic Church has been protecting its pedophilic priests for decades, and only now is it being realized that the initial allegations were merely the tip of the iceberg. Could a similarly sized problem be lurking in police departments across the country, including our own?

I’m inclined to believe there is a problem, for one simple reason: the fetishistic nature Western culture attaches to the wearing of uniforms. While we may decry the Rev. Don Kimball’s feeble attempt to blame the victim quoted above, most of us have encountered people, men and women, who go ga-ga over men in uniform. The Internet is rife with Web sites featuring sadomasochists willingly being abused by burly men in police get-ups. The status and authority granted by society to policemen, symbolized by the uniform, is, for some, a powerful aphrodisiac.

Which is fine, as long as we are talking about consenting adults and policemen who aren’t on duty. I’m certain that, by and large, most policemen recognize this distinction. However, there are a few who do not and, intoxicated by the power of the uniform, they lose the ability to distinguish between societal rights and wrongs.

If pedophilic priests who have taken a vow of celibacy can’t be stopped from sexually abusing their young parishioners, who’s to stop the wayward cop who has taken no religious vows from doing the same thing to the public he’s supposed to be protecting and serving? Short of some heretofore undiscovered method of psychological profiling, there seems to be no easy answer to this question, save one.

We have to start teaching our children differently. Why do children trust these men in uniform? Because that’s what we teach them to do. For the child, the uniform becomes a sort of visual shorthand, an icon of hope in a sea of potentially dangerous adults. The child assumes that the man, be he in priest or police garb, is not a threat. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, this assumption is correct. It’s that one time when things go wrong that’s troublesome, and the only solution I can see to the problem is to teach our children to trust no one, not even a man in a uniform.