Letter: Phoenix editorial was shameful and shallow

Posted 8/15/19

The reporting about David Barboza and his alleged pattern of sexual abuse of children, painstakingly written by Amanda Milkovitz in the Boston Globe, was earth-shattering. It took my breath away and …

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Letter: Phoenix editorial was shameful and shallow


The reporting about David Barboza and his alleged pattern of sexual abuse of children, painstakingly written by Amanda Milkovitz in the Boston Globe, was earth-shattering. It took my breath away and has completely shaken our town of Bristol ... the aftershock will surely last for years. These allegations have rightfully been the ‘talk of the town,’ with many asking, ‘who knew what and when did they know it?’

In these moments of despair, disgust, and disdain, it is easy to begin pointing the finger of blame at anyone and everyone for ‘allowing’ this to happen. Anyone making these claims should recognize the power of their words before throwing around such accusations.

Unfortunately, that is precisely what the Bristol Phoenix used their power and platform to do in their editorial last week. And they did it without making any effort to talk with representatives of at least one of their primary targets — the Bristol Democratic Town Committee. As the new chairman of the Bristol Democratic Town Committee, elected in January 2019, I was stunned that the editor and publisher of this paper would claim that our committee’s immediate, unequivocal condemnation of the allegations against David Barboza was somehow ‘shameful’ or ‘tone deaf.’

Our statement was very clear — we believe and stand with survivors. We also recognized the work done in the General Assembly to extend the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse — with specific reference to our Bristol representatives and senators — acknowledging that Bristol’s elected leaders took action this year to allow survivors of childhood sexual abuse to seek and find justice. Yet the Phoenix says “shame”?

After reading the editorial, I picked up the phone to ask the editor of this paper several basic questions. Why hadn’t they called me to discuss the role that David Barboza once had with the committee? Why wouldn’t they reach out and ask for commentary from those they are publicly accusing of complicity? Why wouldn’t they seek to add context? And most importantly, did they not realize that they were politicizing childhood sexual abuse and molestation? The response I received was akin to: ‘we stand by our editorial.’

Had they called to talk with me, I would have told them that while David Barboza was elected to the committee in 1982, as was reported in the Boston Globe article, he left the committee following his second consecutive electoral defeat in 2014. I would have acknowledged that they accurately pointed out that the power once wielded by the Bristol Democratic Town Committee, a power very likely abused, in those decades was immense — particularly in the earlier years. However, the committee’s membership has changed quite a bit since then.

You see, in 2016, an influx of new members joined the Democratic Town Committee, and by the 2018 election, we had embraced a significant increase in members who stand for true Democratic values. It was then that many of the longer-serving members of the committee chose to walk away. Some unsuccessfully ran for public office as independents. Some tried to demonize the membership change in this paper. Some just stopped participating altogether.

Meanwhile, the new membership and leadership of the committee came together to stand up for our values and have been active and vocal in our quest for social justice — including justice for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

As there are many more survivors of this type of trauma who are currently struggling with the news that an alleged predator lives amongst us, right here in Bristol, we should be focused on helping them heal and seek justice ... and not what appears to be politically motivated blame games. We must come together as a community, and as a society, to remove the stigma and shame that prevents survivors of sexual abuse from coming forward at all.

To the survivors of sexual abuse, assault or molestation reading this: We see you. We stand with you. We believe you. We support you. Stay strong.

Erich Haslehurst

Mr. Haselhurst is chairman of the Bristol Democratic Town Committee.

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