So I'm sitting here not sure about how to write this one.
The child sex abuse scandal at Penn State is absolutely atrocious. I know there are many many people that are justifiably irrate about what happened, how long it happened, how many people knew it had happened and did nothing, etc. There is nothing 'okay' about the situation and just writing about it makes my palms sweaty, my throat tighten, and my stomach ache. And I have to write about it.
The thing is, I was sexually abused when I was a small child. The abuse happened over approximately 4 years, starting at an age when I shouldn't even be able to recall memories, but I do. My experience was pretty standard; there was a family 'friend' who was trusted, not only by my parents but by the entire community and in the end, he should not have been trusted at all.
All I can think about right now when I see stuff about victims is that we MUST learn something from this. We can't just sit around and talk about how mad we are that this could happen or write on Facebook about who should/shouldn't get fired. We have to somehow use this situation to put us in a better position to not allow this to happen again. Ever. I am no expert, but I have survived abuse... so here are my thoughts:
IF YOU SEE SOMETHING HAPPENING BETWEEN AN ADULT AND A CHILD THAT LEAVES YOU FEELING SUSPICIOUS, UNCOMFORTABLE, CREEPY, ETC., SAY SOMETHING... TO THE ADULT. IMMEDIATELY.
Behavior between an adult and a child that appears inapporpriate, most likely IS inappropriate. I would bet in most cases, the child knows it is inappropriate too. And the child probably wants it to stop, but doesn't know how to make it stop. You do. So do it. Put yourself out there, speak up, and stay with the child until the situation is resolved.
I know it might be intimidating to approach the situation, particularly if you are alone and witnessing the behavior. However, the situation is no more intimidating for you than it is for the child.
If you are concerned that the behavior is not what it appears to be and you are worried about insulting the adult, ask yourself the following:
* Is there EVER a reason for an adult and child to be alone in a questionable situation?
* Would you want your child in this situation?
* Which is worse, insulting the feelings of an adult or scarring a child for life?
Now, I'm not saying everyone should be going around pointing fingers at others and making allegations of molestation. Obviously, use your head and your good judgement. Approach the situation carefully and tactfully. But NEVER EVER put the adult's career, wealth, or community standing above the rights of that child.
IF YOU WITNESS CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE AND DO NOTHING ABOUT IT, YOU WILL BE 100% GUILTY OF INFLICTING LIFE-LONG INJURIES ON THAT CHILD.
I can say from experience, that young kids know that any sort of abuse is "wrong." It is not supposed to happen. For a young child, the only way to make sense of the situation is to internalize it and assume it is happening because of something they did. Obviously, that line of thinking is so completely wrong, but it is just what happens in the mind of the child. I grew up with unclear memories of my abuse. However, as long as I can remember I felt there was something "dirty" or "wrong" about me. I hated myself (I remember writing, "I HATE ME" on a ruler in 3rd grade) but knew I wasn't supposed to feel that way, so I then hated myself more for feeling that way... and so goes the cycle of just another thing wrong with me. IF you do nothing to stop a sex offender from hurting a child you are essentially telling that child, "Yep. You are not worth it to me to step out of my comfort zone and say something." YOU will be doing the damage too.
FOLLOW-UP WITH THE AUTHORITIES AND PUT IT ALL IN WRITING!
I read the Grand Jury Report from the Sandusky case last night. Soooooo many people "can't remember," "don't recall," are "unsure" about what was said exactly and when. That is crap. Completely stinky crap. If you find yourself in the terrible position of witnessing a child being abused, I'm sorry, but you need to take responsibility. Make a report in writing, keep a copy for your records, and follow-up with the authorities on what is happening. If they aren't giving you information, follow-up with someone else. Write down who you spoke with and when.
TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT SEXUAL ABUSE, TALK TO THEM EARLY AND OFTEN, TALK TO THEM CALMLY.
My parents spoke to us about abuse. I do NOT blame my parents one tiny bit for what happened to me. They were diligent, loving, very involved in our lives. No one could blame them. So I do not write this as "I wish my parents had done this differently" but as "This is something I have learned from my experience."
* Do not say "Sexual abuse is 'bad' or 'wrong'." When I was abused, I knew it was bad. When my parents told me it was bad, I thought that I had done the "bad" thing. I prefer to say something along the lines of "If someone touches you in your private areas, you need to tell mommy because it's mommy's job to keep you safe."
* To some extent, allow tattling. I know it gets really obnoxious when you spend all day listening to, "Johnnie is eating Suzy's cookie," "Bobby just threw his toy," "Mo-om, Tommy won't share with me." But you also need your child to know that (s)he can ALWAYS come tell you when someone is doing something they are not supposed to. They need to know they have a safe place to tattle when tattling needs to be done. In our house, we try to establish a "thank you for telling me, is anyone getting hurt? if not, please try to work this out on your own" response.
* Remind your children as much as you can that there is NOTHING they could ever do to make you stop loving them. There is NOTHING that could ever happen that would make you leave them on purpose. No matter what happens, you are ALWAYS their mommy/daddy and NOTHING could ever change that. I was told I would be sent away if I told my parents. I believed it. My parents were incredibley loving and reassuring, so I'm not sure what else they could have done. I just keep telling my kids that they are always safe in our family, that we will always love them even if someone says we don't, in the hopes that it will be so engrained in their little hearts that no one could ever make them doubt.
* I know it is a very scary thing to talk to your kids about, but I believe if you do it calmly and repeatedly, your kids will not have to grow up being afraid but AWARE of the dangers in the world.
AS A SOCIETY, WE NEED TO GIVE KIDS/TEENS A WAY TO DISCUSS SEXUAL ABUSE IN A SAFE SETTING.
Schools and other child/teen organizations need to realize that child sexual abuse is happening and those children desperately need a place to go to report the abuse. The children need to know they will be taken seriously and their reports will be pursued. If it could become common knowledge that a child in an abusive situation had a variety of outlets to report the crime, maybe just maybe that would hinder the offender.
This has been a difficult topic for me to write about. I wasn't sure how much I wanted to share, or if I should share at all. I have decided to limit the details of my particular experience; it is a part of my life that I am not ashamed of or want to deny, however I am not ready to put those details out into the great unknown of the internet.
I do ask that if you have conversations about the Penn State scandal with your friends or co-workers
... please remember that the BIG DEAL of all this is not a college football team's coaching staff. The BIG DEAL is that there are many many victims and there will continue to be victims if we don't get honest about what is going on and have the courage to take steps to make it stop.