Armies of Enablers
Survivor Stories of Complicity and Betrayal in Sexual Assaults
Amos N. Guiora
American Bar Association, Chicago, 2020, 258 pages
Book Review published on: November 6, 2020
Survivors’ voices have a special and powerful resonance; these voices sit precisely at the heart of Amos Guiora’s Armies of Enablers: Survivor Stories of Complicity and Betrayal in Sexual Assaults. Make no mistake, this book is not merely a straightforward telling of the horrors of institutional sexual violence; rather, it advocates for expanding the traditional binary relationship between perpetrators and victims. Guiora focuses on the personal actions of individual enablers, without whose tacit assistance larger crimes cannot occur. He conducts numerous in-depth interviews with victims, allowing a fresh perspective on this important topic. He observes that those individuals often prefer the term “survivor” to “victim.”
Although the concept of enabler responsibility is not new, Armies of Enablers draws an important distinction between bystanders (those who merely observe) and enablers (those who have the power or duty to act yet fail to do so). As one survivor phrases it, “An enabler is not a bystander but a bystander who chooses not to act becomes an enabler.” These concepts are most commonly found in discussions of the Holocaust, the subject of Guiora’s previous book The Crime of Complicity, but he deftly applies them to violence today, citing the multitude of cases in university athletic programs and in the Catholic Church.
This book’s content is uncomfortable, and it should be. It notes thousands of victims, hundreds of predators, and even more people who, for various self-serving reasons, failed to take even basic steps to stop the abuse from happening. Priests were quietly moved when scandal threatened. The pleas of Larry Nasser’s victims were disregarded by coaches, program directors, university officials, and the U.S. Olympic Committee, among others. Children in Catholic churches endured years of abuse and received only lies, meaningless disavowals, and active complicity from church authorities, and often shame from parents and friends who readily believed the abusers. Pretending not to know about abuse or to actively subvert a duty to report it were the least bothersome routes, and many people took them again and again.
Guiora correctly identifies institutional culture—illustrated by examples such as Michigan State University, The Ohio State University, etc.—as a breeding ground for enablers. The pressure to not rock the boat, to produce outcomes with the least possible trouble, and to follow one’s own best interests at the expense of vulnerable others all contribute to a culture of silence that is difficult or perhaps impossible to reform. In most cases, the consequences to enablers are wholly inadequate. The author examines duty-to-report laws in the United States, identifies the disparity between the law and its easy loopholes, and the goal of protecting the most vulnerable members of society. He makes a strong case for immediate reform.
Early on, Guiora writes, “This book builds the case against such individuals who turn their hands or walk away.” The book also points to another troubling aspect. Along with the profound questions of guilt, innocence, complicity, and accessory that his book raises, he forces readers to confront how they should regard those who enable the enabler.
Book Review written by: Mark M. Hull, PhD, JD, FRHistS, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas