If I ever doubted the number of people who were sexually abused as a child, promoting my book, The Sex-Wise Parent has brought me right back to sad reality. I have yet to leave an event without at least one survivor sharing his or her story. Many have a lesson that I feel compelled to share and last week’s lesson was about the double edged sword of forgiveness.
A woman approached me to speak after a small event. I had noticed her in the crowd because she had maintained steady eye contact with me throughout my remarks, often nodding in agreement as I spoke.
She thanked me for my voice on the topic of sex abuse prevention, and shared that she had been victimized as a young child after parents moved her family far from their extended family and sent her back every summer for an extended visit with her relatives.
Between the ages of 6 and 12 a member of her summer household did what I can only describe as repeatedly rape her at his convenience. She quietly and calmly described her terror of using the bathroom or bathing because she knew that being undressed made her more vulnerable. She had no one to tell in her summer home, and no words to tell her parents when she returned home.
The abuse ended decades ago when the rapist got old enough to leave the household. My informant shared that she was much loved by her parents and found solace in her religion. She shared that through grace and hard work with a therapist she forgave the abuser and went on with her life. She told me that if they were both at the same family event, no one would know what he’d done to her. She seemed calm and at peace with her ability to move on and maintain the peace within her extended family.
Until I asked how she knew that other children were safe.
She was taken off guard by my question, thought for a minute then replied that he only did it to her. I tried to be gentle with my reminder that most predators have multiple victims and she just said “no, no.”
It is highly unlikely that I will ever see this woman again and I don’t know the decision she will make. I can only hope she was able to take some steps to make sure a predator is not terrorizing children.
If this were your friend, would you ask them to trade their family’s peace for the potential of saving a child?
The most cunning predators choose a victim who can’t speak up. The drug dealer robs a junkie who can’t call the cops; the hooker robs the john who doesn’t want to be caught. These scenarios describe victims who put themselves in precarious positions; they took a risk and lost. The only risk a child victim of a pedophile took was to accept the friendship of an adult and they find themselves forced into a devastating silence that leaves scars as deep as the actual abuse.
The vastly different reaction of first two victims to testify the Sandusky trial show how individualized the effect of victimization can be. Fear, anger, and shame take their toll on developing psyches. The horrifyingly confusing double messages about right and wrong wreak havoc on a budding personality. Some victims bury their horror so deeply that internal walls come crumbling down when the secret is revealed; others act out in ways that we’ve come to recognize as cries for help.
The young men providing testimony are heroes. They should be hailed as trailblazers, lighting the way for other victims to come forward and helping everyone to see the predators hiding in plain sight. Lance Armstrong couldn’t have been thrilled at the thought of the entire world discussing his testicles; he moved millions to action with his frank disclosure of testicular cancer. We can and must show these brave young men taking the witness stand the same admiration we show for celebrities who shed light on deadly diseases, paving the way for predators to be caught and other victims to rid themselves of the undeserved shame.
According to the popular blog Free-Range Kids, “Free-Rangers believe in helmets, car seats, seat belts—safety! We just do NOT believe that every time school-age kids go outside, they need a security detail.”
I couldn’t agree more. I wrote The Sex-Wise Parent because I believe that giving kids information and language about sexuality is as important as buying that helmet or car seat. When my child takes off on his bike and runs into a family friend, I want him to know exactly what to do if that person’s hands end up in the wrong place.
If you’re shocked, you shouldn’t be. The pedophiles I interviewed for my book told me—in no uncertain terms—that they look for unaccompanied children. Is this a reason to turn into a helicopter parent? Absolutely not. What I believe is any child old enough to ride her bike to the playground is old enough to be given accurate information about the male and female sexual anatomy. The child should understand how to set and hold boundaries and know that they can and must share anything out of the ordinary and all adult interactions with their parents. While no one can diagnose “grooming” behavior from a single anecdote described by a child, parents need to be aware of every adult in their child’s life and draw their own informed conclusions.
Giving your child information about sex requires a different skill set than providing them a well-fitting bike helmet (a trained clerk in a sporting goods store can help you with the latter form of protection). When it came to providing my child with the tools about sexual health and safety, I knew I was the best source of information. It’s not easy and yes, it may even be uncomfortable but find the courage to talk to your child and explain what you want them to know. This parent-to-child communication is better and more effective that if the information comes from a third-party.
Free range or not a child needs language and information about sex to help keep them sexually safe and healthy. Free-rangers believe in “common sense parenting in uncommonly overprotective times” and so do I.
Parents of young kids spent a lot of time worrying about pedophiles these days, as well they might. We read articles about how pedophiles ingratiate themselves into the lives of children, like ‘coach’ Sandusky allegedly did with the vulnerable young boys served by a charity he helped found. Many parents have heard the term ‘grooming’ used to describe the way that pedophiles seduce a child through friendship and affection, then use that trust to coerce a child to keep their dirty secret. Once the seduction is complete, pedophiles trade on shame, guilt and fear. They threaten to remove privileges the child has earned, and instill shame by convincing young victims that their physical autonomic response to stimuli meant that they were complicit in the sexual acts.
But adults who sexually abuse children are not all pedophiles! There are other predators in our midst who find themselves sexually attracted to older kids and teens, the ones who no longer look like children, but certainly, in many respects still are. This recent story about a teacher/student relationship provides an example of a reason for parents to be vigilant about all adults in their child’s life; a 40 year old teacher acting on his ‘crush’ on a high school girl is a predator, no matter how he wants to dress it up. In contrast to the dark tools used by people who seduce little children, these predators gain compliance by offering prestige, status and romance!
A teenager is developmentally incapable of being an equal in a relationship with someone expert on the matter of manipulating a young person to comply with his wishes. In fact, a predatory teacher is demonstrating is a tragic misuse of every developmental psychology course taken to earn teaching credentials!
Parents may breathe a sigh of relief when your child reaches puberty and ages out of the attraction range of pedophiles. But open lines of communication about all aspects of sexual health and safety can help your child have the strength not to succumb to the charms of more grown – up predators. Learn more at www.SexWiseParent.com