Jun 14, 2012

If not you, then who?

Tuesday morning, Nathaniel came in my room while I was getting ready for work while listening to the Today Show on TV.

As “luck” would have it, just as he settled onto our bed, a summary of the Jerry Sandusky trial began. If I’d rushed over to the TV to mute it, 1) he still would’ve heard the first sentence (“Jerry Sandusky, accused of the sexual molestation of many young boys …”), and 2) he would have been even more curious about it because of my hasty attempt to avoid it.*

Also, Nathaniel is almost 10 years old and is away from us and in the company of other adults the majority of the time, really. He attends public school, the extended-day program after school, YMCA Camp and daycare during the Summer, Cub Scout camp (for now, with Grayson, but next year will go on his own), and is taking karate with adult male instructors.

[I qualify that with this statement: I trust ALL of the adults in each of these programs implicitly, and if I did not, our kids wouldn’t be enrolled in any of these programs.]

All of those things went through my head in the two seconds it took me to decide not to change the channel or mute the sound when Nathaniel came in the room. I didn’t initiate a discussion about the content of the story, opting to wait and see if he would ask about it. Sure enough, he did. When the newsreader moved on to the next topic, Nathaniel asked, “Mommy, what did that man do that was bad? Why is he in a trial?”

I took a deep breath and started. “Well, buddy, he was in charge of a program, kind of like a camp, for disadvantaged kids. Kids who often didn’t have another place to go. And he also was a football coach at a college. And apparently when he’d earned their trust, he took advantage of them. He let them see him with no clothes on, touched them inappropriately, touched their private parts. You know that it’s inappropriate for someone other than yourself, or me or Daddy if there’s an issue or something, or – one day – your wife, to touch your private parts, right? That’s why they’re called ‘private parts.’ ”

He said he understood, and I went on:

“Well, he never should have done any of those things. And it sounds like the kids were too scared or too unsure to tell anyone what had happened, or if they did, the adult they told either didn’t believe them or didn’t do the right thing about it, which was to tell the police. If anyone were EVER to touch your privates or make you feel uncomfortable, you would need to tell me or Daddy right away. No matter WHAT the person said to discourage you from doing it. Do you understand?”

Answering as candidly but as gently as I could was hard. But I feel like it was necessary. I respect our kids too much to lie to them, even about something as repulsive as this. I haven’t even had the “birds and the bees” talk with Nathaniel yet, but I feel like this might have been even harder to discuss … because this is an act that is unnatural, unconscionable and ILLEGAL.

I feel as though, if the innocent children who were allegedly molested by this man had been educated about what’s right, wrong, illegal, immoral, etc., and – most importantly – if they’d felt comfortable talking to their parents or someone else in authority about it, many, many boys might have been protected. If THE VERY FIRST CHILD had told a trusted adult what had happened, and been believed, tens of other children wouldn’t have suffered. And that very first child wouldn’t feel responsible for what the others later endured. To live not only with the abuse but also with the burden of feeling as though your silence led to the abuse of others is unimaginable to me.

I’m not suggesting that you rush over and start discussing uncomfortable topics with your kids. But I urge you to listen to them, and answer their questions, and assure them that YOU are a trusted adult. YOU are their haven in a storm. YOU are their advocate. As their parent, it’s all YOU. Because if not you, then who?

* This was a news story about the trial beginning, not coverage of the actual trial. No testimony had been given at this point, so there were no graphic details included about the nature of the alleged abuse. I HAVE shielded him from the actual testimony that's been covered later this week.

1 comment:

Jami said...

I hate it that we have to talk to our kids about this. Cooper is only 4 so I still turn the channel when things like this come on. It's a probably a good thing, that man makes me want to hurl things at my tv.

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