When scandals occur everyone is shocked, surprised, outraged and more. We all denounce and distance ourselves from them. We take the moral high ground. That we also did when the large child and youth abuse scandal in some villages in Kasur District in Punjab was made public recently.

The scandal had all the required elements for the media to dig into it and go after everyone in power, as is the role of the media; the police, local administration, principals, teachers, religious leaders, sports leaders, and others in authority. Quickly, politicians at local and higher levels got a hard time. We all wanted to blame someone, and, yes, we were perhaps also a bit hypocritical.

The scandal was embarrassing, especially since it included sexual elements, things that are taboo and not spoken about in public, hardly in private either. We thought about the victims, but sometimes they were made into perpetrators, too, or having been part of it all. The perpetrators and their underground gangs were quickly made into monsters, entirely separate from the rest of the communities – and to a major extent they are, hopefully, but not always and entirely.

The sex element was what got the media headlines. However, such scandals are not really about sex; they are more about misuse of power, money, resources, advantages and control. In our time, we should know that, with all the knowledge we have with specialists on psychosocial and political issues. We should know – and admit – that rape and other sexual abuse are not about sex; it is about power and control and what follows from that. Sexual abuse is a means towards other ends.

This means that all good and bad things in a society and community are part of that society’s fabric. True, there may be extreme and secret sub-groups in a society and community. Well, ‘secret’ is probably never quite the case. Things would only be partially secret, and many would know about more or less strange sub-cultures. And if we didn’t know for sure and in detail, we would suspect or have some inkling about unusual and unacceptable activities. Sometimes, we shouldn’t poke our nose into everything either, not gossip and talk about everything. We should ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ and instead focus on being as upright as possible ourselves.

However, there is a limit to this too. If we suspect, see, or should have seen unhealthy things happening ‘under our nose’ and we keep quiet about it, we are not quite blameless any longer. A Pakistan friend wisely said to me when we spoke about the Kasur scandal a few days ago that to be silent may be similar to or the same as being guilty. He was right, at least morally. Legally, an accomplice would have to play a more direct role, be present or aide wrongdoing, offense or crime.

In the current Kasur scandal, the legal process must go ahead and take its course. Individual and joint investigation teams have already been set up. The police and the judicial system must do their work, under sharper outside scrutiny than normally. Each case, whether they turn out to be in the hundreds, tens or fewer, must be dealt with individually. Witnesses and victims must be protected, even perpetrators, who may indeed be guilty but part of a more or less accepted subculture. ‘Unconscious bias’ is a term used when people accept behaviour and values which are unacceptable.

I am warning against going overboard when ‘cleaning up’ the Kasur scandal, even trying to state an example, and then in three months everything is forgotten. There are probably many similar cases in Pakistan and in other countries. Hopefully, the cases are not as bad, but they could be worse, too. We must therefore be level-headed, not use a tragedy to any political, moral, religious or other advantage. This means that we may have to restrain ourselves, and indeed not portray own righteousness, which is so easy to do, thoughtlessly and perhaps hypocritically.

We should realise that most people in the Kasur villages and in other places were scandals have taken place, are good and decent citizens, and they will also have to live in the same communities the rest of their lives, sometimes even with the perpetrators, who would have served sentences and recovered. It is essential to realise that in the same communities where crime has taken place, there are positive and valuable things in other fields. The Kasur scandal was exposed; in other villages, similar things are not revealed.

What can be done in future to minimise sad scandals like the current one that has shocked us all?

I believe we have to be realistic rather than idealistic about human behaviour. None of us are faultless, neither in what we do, say, believe and advocate, nor in what we sweep under the carpet, and what we want to stay unchanged. What we can do, tough, is to work for greater openness and debate. Often, that would mean that we would have to listen to people having attitudes that we dislike, and behaviour that we are against. We must be part of the society and community we live in and do what is right and improve it when we can.

As a social scientist, I feel I have a special duty to consider these issues and do more than others to analyse issues and advice on how to improve things. In this case, we focus on child and youth abuse. In other cases, it may be economic misuse of power, inequality, harsh work conditions, and so on. As a social scientist, and as a concerned and active citizen, I have a distinct responsibility to do more and better.

True, this is long-term and broad. But I believe it is important to consider the Kasur scandal in this light, not just in a limited and legal way, which will not give us many lessons for the future. Yet, we can also draw specific lessons, which can lead to concrete and immediate guidelines for improvement, especially for parents and the children and youth themselves. The children and youth must be taught how to protect themselves against abuse. And if they report abuse, tell parents, uncles, aunts, elder siblings, or others, they must be listened to, not punished. Schools, religious institutions, police, and others must realize their responsibility as advisers, not only as judges – talking from a pedestal. We are all ‘en route’; we must all try to contribute to the betterment of the lives of others, especially the weak and defenseless, and they, too, must become responsible and more in charge of their own daily lives.