TW: Mentions of child sexual abusE and Sexual assault
This week, I was at work when I received a notification for a news article concerning an arrest made by Floyd County officers for aggravated child molestation and sexual exploitation of children, among other similarly egregious charges. Upon reading the article, I realized that not only was the man a teacher, he was also my high school teacher. I’d like to say that my reaction was one of surprise or shock, but after reading the article, all I could think about was being told by kids in the grades above me how much of a “creep” he was or all the times when we would talk to each other about how uncomfortable he made us feel. The rumors and whispers and “be careful’s” were suddenly given form, like someone had flipped a light switch and all that was not said was shown to us instead.
I bring this news up not to give him attention (though I hold no sympathy for his name being made public—the article makes that reasoning self-explanatory) but rather to make a point. Our society has a really hard time believing kids, teenagers specifically. They’re either not taken seriously, brushed aside, or flat-out accused of lying to get attention. Especially if the accusation is made against an authority figure.
I’ve done a lot of work in the darker spheres of our criminal justice where sexual crimes against both adults and children reside. Besides spending the last four years intimately studying the minds, patterns, and tactics of the people who commit these crimes, this semester marks my second full-time immersion into this job. I’m writing my senior research thesis on the topic, and while I don’t attest to being an actual prosecutor (yet—give me three years) or a victim advocate, I have seen and studied quite a few of these types of cases. And too often, the power dynamics in the situation have an adverse effect on the victim. Having a parent, teacher, or boss as the perpetrator already makes it more difficult and significantly less likely for the victim to come forward. If the victim does expose the abuse, the conversation quickly turns to There’s no way they could have done that or This is just a shakedown/rumor/way of getting even, and by the time the dust has settled, the majority of other people have started to believe it, too.
I hate to break it to you, but abusers groom their witnesses just as much as they do their victims.
You cannot fathom that John (or Jane—yes, it can also be a Jane) Doe down the street would ever do such a thing because John and/or Jane Doe would never let you see it. Abusers want everyone to believe that they are upstanding members of your community, and they are very good about hiding in plain sight.
But your children are not pulling accusations out of thin air. Your 10-year-old son isn’t lying about his coach hugging him for a little too long, and your 15-year-old daughter didn’t imagine her teacher looking down her shirt. Setting aside the fact that false allegations of sexual abuse are statistically insignificant, the scrutiny and shame placed on those who do come forward, by peers, superiors, family, and the legal system itself, all but eliminates the desire for such “attention.”
When children talk, we have to start listening. Because predators hunt in circles where they are trusted. “Stranger danger” protects kids from only a small percentage of all victimization. Most of the time, they aren’t random people you meet at the McDonald’s. They are parents, teachers, coaches, family friends, the people you would trust with your children implicitly. And it doesn’t matter how nice the school is or what zip code your suburban dream home is in or how long you’ve known them—predators are everywhere, in every school, city, and community you can name.
Your child’s safety is so much more important than any position of power or authority someone else can hold.
Please, listen to them.