Saturday, June 17, 2006

My eyes have been opened...

The day before I began my VBS teaching adventure, I attended a special class required by our church's diocese for anyone who will be teaching or watching children at a church-sponsored event or location. The class was about the sexual abuse of children, and how to recognize a child who has been abused and how to protect your children in your care from possible abusers.

My eyes were opened that day, to a world of which I now feel so blessed to not have firsthand knowledge.

According to the class material,* one in eight males will be sexually abused by the age of 15. The numbers are even worse for girls--one in four females will be abused sexually by 15 years of age. As our teacher pointed out, that means that at least 5-6 of the people attending our class had been abused at some point in their growing up years--a fact that drew open gasps from our group. Given that our course material was published three years before, the numbers could be even higher today.

But, what was most disturbing about this course, was the video that went along with it, which included testimonies of children who had been abused, as well as accounts from convicted molesters explaining how they lured their victims and then scared them into keeping silent about it.

You see, that's the most frightening part of that statistic. Those numbers are only for those who have openly admitted to being abused many years later as an adult. But, many victims of this horrific crime stay silent out of fear, embarrassment or self-denial.

I walked away from this class feeling like I looked at the world a little more cautiously. I, personally, have never had this happen to me, although I have known people who have or have suspected that might have happened to them and they repressed the memory. But, what upset me the most were hearing some of the signs of a sexual predator and my own suspicions about someone distantly related to me.

The abusers on the video all admitted that they would seek out settings where children were always around. They began getting their victims to relax and to get used to them by starting tickling matches or wrestling--any game that involved physical contact. This contact that would slowly lead to touching in places that are not acceptable, at first seemingly by accident, and then later openly and forcefully.

There is someone I know who I have been scared to have my kids around. This person had an event in his past that raises question to his morality and possibly to some sexual deviances that exist. The event was very traumatic to his family, but they stayed together and his children, as far as I know, know nothing of it. And, all of us who know about this event have held inside the frustration and the worry that what happened was a sign of some other problem, something kept hidden from his family...or worse yet, something not hidden from them but from all of us. And, there's a great anger, that we are expected to treat this person normally and pretend like the incident never happened, even though it happened in our city and we were all forced to know about it because of the circumstances.

I realize that what I'm saying is vague, but it has to be, out of respect for my family. Because all of this happened so many years ago, and yet I still can't seem to let my guard down around this person even to this day. Something keeps me from feeling comfortable around him. To anyone on the outside, he's a very friendly and nice guy.

But, I see the emotional problems his children are having and it scares me. I avoid having my children around this person when I can, and definitely never allow them to be alone with him. Sometimes this is very difficult and makes for awkward situations, but I do not care. Oh, and one more thing, he loves to wrestle and tickle children at social gatherings. He always has done this, as long as I can remember.

I live in the fear that the incident we found out about was not a error of judgment or a bit of confusion about who he is, but it was a warning sign of something hidden. I worry for his children who have so many problems. And, I fear for my own children who have to be around him occasionally. What if that feeling in the pit of my stomach is warning me of something that is true? Our class material reported that less than 5 percent of sexual abuse allegations turn out to be false. Most of the time, when this is suspected, it is found to be true.

Why would I leave this class with a sick feeling in my stomach and my mind on this one person, if there was not something there? I am not in a position to confront or do anything about this person at all. It would be very detrimental to everyone around me if I said anything to him directly. Yet, I worry and wonder now, more than ever, if I should say something. If I should DO something to find out why I have this worried sense when I'm around him. And, I live with guilt. Guilt that if something has been going on, I did nothing early enough to prevent it. And, then more guilt for if I'm completely wrong about all of this and I'm misjudging a human being for something so heinous.

The second day of my VBS class, my newly-formed radar went off. A happy little girl who openly gave me the biggest hug on the first day that she met me, suddenly became extremely hysterical. She had gone to the bathroom that morning, and as the policy of our classroom was, we left the light on and the door half open while I stood close by. (Another safeguard that is now made in schools to protect children from being victimized in a closed area.) She was absolutely fine.

But, at the end of the day, Mary began crying hysterically and screaming, "The potty! The potty!" She was not a native-English speaker, and sometimes it was hard to understand her words from her thick accent. I kept asking her what was wrong and if she needed to go potty. She'd shake her head no, but danced around like she did. She continued to cry and frantically pointed to the bathroom door. I walked over with her to the bathroom, and she refused to come close to it. She pointed up to the top of the door where there was a lock and a note that read, "Keep door locked at all times when classroom is not in use."

This behavior went on for about 10 minutes until finally I realized what she was trying to say, "Did you want me to lock that bathroom door, Mary?"

A relieved look came over her terrified little face and through her sobs she said, "Yes! Lock! Lock potty! Lock potty, NOW!" I locked the door and watched her breathe a huge sigh of relief. Within five minutes, she was happily playing with the blocks as if nothing had happened.

When I told the school administrator about the incident, she brushed it off saying it could just be a fear of the dark as so many children have. But, as I tried to console a three-year-old in her moment of terror, I felt that familiar sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. This was not just a fear. I could not be sure, but I really felt something else was wrong here.

Later, I told her mother about it, and she didn't seem to be very concerned at all. The rest of the week, Mary was fine in my class and never acted strange or upset again. She was a happy and very loving normal little three-year-old girl. But, her reaction that morning to the bathroom was not normal at all. It did not add up. Had she had any other abnormal behavior, I was prepared to go to the administrator again with my concerns.

This sort of abuse can and DOES happen all around us every day, my friends. My suspicions of a distant relative may or may not be true. But, I can promise you that most every day you meet and encounter people who have been victimized. And, we must do something to stop this from continuing. The health of our children and their future is what is at stake. We simply can't ignore those warning signs anymore. It isn't worth the risk of another child being harmed or another soul being smothered beneath a mask of fear.

*Statistics from "Safeguarding God's Children," Copyright 2003 Church Pension Group.


Blogger Vanessa said...

That's a difficult situation you're in, with your family, and I don't know what I would say to him, but you might try talking to other relatives and see if they know any more than you do. It would be a start. You're correct, that this happens all the time and we rarely know about it until it's too late.

6:57 AM, June 19, 2006  
Blogger Nicole said...

Hmmm....I don't know what I'd do in that situation either. Maybe do some more "research" and if necessary make an anonymous report to CPS for them to investigate. I have a very close friend who suffered abuse for years. I think it's worth ruffling some feathers to make sure his kids are safe.

3:13 PM, June 19, 2006  
Anonymous Vicki said...

That is sad - and true. I can't go in to it either but I had feeling about a person that was a friend of my BIL. I finally said something and was dismissed as crazy. It turned out the guy was and had been doing it for years to a little girl of one of their friends.


5:28 PM, June 19, 2006  

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