Disparaging victims of sex abuse has been an easy cop-out since the first wave of cases exploded nationally a decade ago. Accusers are easy targets, given how often they dull their pain with drugs or deeds that come back to haunt them.

Last March, for example, after rape charges were filed against the Rev. James Brennan of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, the priest and his lawyer went on a talk-radio show to report that 29-year-old accuser "Mark" was in jail on credit-card theft and forgery charges. Even worse, they said, Mark previously had been convicted of lying to police.

More recently, Jerry Sandusky's outspoken lawyer, Joseph Amendola, repeatedly blasted the credibility of the 10 young men accusing the former Penn State assistant football coach of rape and molestation.

Amendola accused "Victim 1" of inventing his story in anger over Sandusky's "tough love" mentoring. The attorney also suggested that the victims lied to enrich themselves.

"People, when they're brought into the criminal justice system and they're labeled as victims, they're pampered, they're encouraged, they're treated specially," Amendola told ABC News.

Given that typical vitriol, I prepared for the worst when The Inquirer reported that former Philadelphia Daily News columnist Bill Conlin - he retired Tuesday, the same day the story was published online - molested three girls and a boy decades ago. (Another victim came forward Wednesday.)

Instead, the silence from likely critics has been refreshing. The story is exhaustively reported and documented. The victims seem unimpeachable.

Investigating our own

In 15 years at The Inquirer, I never fathomed seeing a colleague on the front page in a story about a local celebrity's allegedly preying on children.

It's highly unusual for one newspaper to investigate another, especially when both are members of the same corporate family. But it's a testament to The Inquirer's commitment to covering child sex abuse from all angles that it did not blink upon learning of a possible predator in its building.

Reading and rereading my colleague Nancy Phillips' account, I kept bracing for the part that fault-finders would seize on to attack the victims.

There is Conlin's niece, Kelley Blanchet, a mother of two and an Atlantic City prosecutor. Her father corroborated her story, saying Conlin sobbed when confronted.

And there are Karen and Kevin Healey, siblings who were childhood friends of Conlin's children.

Both brother and sister - he works in construction, she's a corporate sales executive - say they were molested at the Conlin home in Gloucester County. Their mother confirms their account, lamenting that she did not do more.

Speaking out as public service

These victims can't seek to have criminal charges brought against Conlin, due to statutes of limitations that render 1970s abuse too old to prosecute.

Nor do Conlin's accusers want to sue him in civil court. They were clear about that upon hiring attorney Slade McLaughlin to speak for them as reporters descended.

"We're not here for money. We're not interested in publicity," they assured McLaughlin on Tuesday night. "We want you to be a buffer."

He has filed civil suits on behalf of Sandusky's "Victim 1" and "Billy Doe," a central figure in the continuing case involving the archdiocese. He expects both young men to be dissected in court and in the media as a result of coming forward, but feels confident Conlin's accusers won't endure a similar fate.

"You know what makes this story?" McLaughlin asks. "The parents. It's not just she said, he said. It's they said."

"Everything about these women says 'Soccer Mom,' " McLaughlin added. "They're believable. They don't have an agenda."

So why reveal their secrets now? Might they have decided to share their pain as a public service, to bolster the image of abuse victims and, perhaps, prevent other families from suffering as they have?

"Kelley Blanchet said to me, 'My goal is to make sure it gets out there, so victims aren't ashamed," McLaughlin confirms. "It's not their fault this happened to them."

Conlin's accusers can't get justice. Yet by speaking out, they may have found something equally elusive: closure.

"What's right is right," Blanchet told the lawyer. "I'm not embarrassed to say what happened."

Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 215-854-4670, myant@phillynews.com or @myantkinney on Twitter. Read her blog at philly.com/blinq.
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