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The courage of a 12-year-old

In 1995, Boston police believed a 12-year-old who said patrolman Patrick Rose sexually abused him. Whatever comfort that might have given the child was short-lived.

What immense courage it must have taken for that 12-year-old to tell police that one of their own, Boston police officer Patrick Rose, had been sexually abusing him. Imagine speaking up, not in 2021, when more are willing to acknowledge these crimes, but in 1995 — long before the clergy sex abuse scandal and #MeToo — when accusers were routinely dismissed, or worse.

But by some miracle, this child’s claims were not dismissed. Police investigated, and charged Rose with indecent assault and battery of a child. At that moment, it must have looked to that child like there was justice in the world, that his tormentor would face consequences for what he’d done.

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Whatever comfort he might have felt was fleeting. Rose convinced the boy to recant his story and the case was dropped, according to prosecutors. In the years after that, they say, Rose’s abuse of the boy “continued and escalated,” and he molested two other children during the same time period.

What must it have been like to endure that suffering, and all that followed it? To see his tormentor continue to serve on the force? Despite an investigation by child protection workers who supported his abuse claims? Rose remained a police officer for another 21 years, even though an internal affairs investigation found sufficient evidence to support the allegations, my colleague Andrew Ryan reported on Sunday.

Rose’s supervisors, and some of his colleagues, must have known about the allegations. How could they not? Rose had been on the job barely a year when he was charged, hardly enough time to gather a work history, let alone sufficient goodwill to make other police want to protect him. Yet his job survived the allegations. Worse, Rose was repeatedly allowed contact with vulnerable children. He eventually led the powerful police union, until he retired, on his own terms, in 2018.

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And he continued to abuse children, prosecutors say, even in recent years. He now faces 33 counts of sexual abuse of six children ranging in age from 7 to 16.

Imagine being the first one to raise the alarm, to do the thing that should have stopped him, only to watch him pass two more decades with impunity, because nobody who could have intervened had the courage of a 12-year-old.

Rose isn’t the first alleged abuser to leverage the fear and shame of his victims to avoid answering for his crimes. And he is certainly not the first police officer to avoid accountability: From Minneapolis to Louisville to Cleveland to Atlanta, we are living an excruciating moment that is all about our society’s inability, its refusal, to hold police officers accountable.

This horrific tale lives at the intersection of those two failures. But impunity doesn’t just happen: People make it so. The Boston Police Department and, until recently, City Hall, have worked mighty hard to avoid explaining how Rose continued on the force.

Did he benefit from friendly higher-ups who dismissed his alleged victim? Or were his superiors’ hands tied by the union Rose would eventually lead — a union that has turned the worthy cause of collective bargaining into a means of protecting police at all costs.

We don’t know. The department repeatedly declined to release the documents from their internal affairs investigation, citing concerns for the privacy of the victim. Acting Mayor Kim Janey has just reversed that determination and has pledged to release redacted documents this week.

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Even though it often benefits the abuser, it is of course vital to respect the wishes of victims who don’t want the details of their cases made public. But the Boston Police Department’s response in the Rose case and many others follows a pattern bereft of such worthy motivations. A Globe investigation by Ryan and Evan Allen found case after case where officers accused of drunk driving, stealing, domestic abuse, and other offenses avoided charges or jail time. Some were allowed to leave the force with generous pensions.

In that context, withholding information about Rose seems far less like compassion for his victims and more like obstruction. If we’ve learned anything over this past year, it’s that the time for such evasion is over.

It should have been over 26 years ago, when a 12-year-old spoke up.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her @GlobeAbraham.