My Take

Mixing powerful with the vulnerable, as at Hunan Gymnastics School, seems an invitation to evil

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2014, 5:16am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2014, 5:31am

It's a sad fact of life but it seems that often when you have powerful men with easy access to young children and women, abuse of one kind or another will result. This is especially likely to happen in institutions that enjoy prestige and influence within their society, which makes them unaccountable even to those who nominally have control and supervision over them.

We have seen that with the sexual and physical abuse of children by Catholic priests in Ireland and elsewhere over decades. We now know about similar abuse, though on a smaller scale, at the prestigious Hunan Gymnastics School on the mainland. Known as the "cradle of champions", the school has produced some of the nation's best athletes, including half a dozen Olympic medallists, such as parallel bars master Li Xiaopeng who won four golds at Sydney and Beijing.

Last month, it was revealed that the dean, Liu Zhiqiang, and his deputy, Zeng Rong, were arrested as early as January after being implicated in the molestation of at least six young girls at the school. The more independent mainland media have questioned the delay in releasing the news and whether what has been disclosed is just the tip of an iceberg.

Under the mainland's harsh training system, trainers have almost total control over the students, whose parents are only infrequently allowed to see them. It's likely we will never know the full extent of the abuse or its duration, as Hunan officials moved into damage-control mode. For them, the reputation of the school is more important than getting at the truth.

In similar institutional contexts, we have seen how the Vatican tried to cover up for predatory priests.

It's always the double evils - the crimes perpetrated, followed by the cover-up and damage control by higher authorities. It's probably a universal truth that mixing the vulnerable with the powerful is an invitation to evil.

Of course, it's not just men and priests. British journalist Martin Sixsmith - whose work inspired the movie Philomena - has exposed nuns' abuse of young, single mothers sent to Catholic convents in Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s. The women were turned into indentured servants to pay off their fees while the convents received heavy state subsidies per head. In at least one case, a baby was sold for money.