You would have to have been living under a rock for the past month to not hear about the latest round of child sex abuse scandals. It started prominently with Jerry Sandusky and the abysmal handling of the allegations against him by Penn State for years and followed closely by allegations against associate men’s basketball coach for Syracuse Bernie Fine and a former cadet from The Citadel. And right before I headed home tonight to type up this post, my eyes fell on a cover story about police abusing children in their care.
Children. Children are being raped and abused and as a society we are not doing damned near enough to stop it. It is not enough to cluck disapprovingly after the fact, or to make comments about how you’d be sure to kill someone if you found out they were a predator, especially when some of those making these grand threats are the same to turn around and joke with friends the next day about how “if there’s grass on the field, play ball.” We need to do more, and it starts with treating children as full human beings deserving of respect in their own right.
If there are children in your life then teach them, and keep on teaching them, that their bodies belong to them alone. Respect them when they say “no”, even if it is at a doctor’s office for needed shots and even with hug-inclined relatives over the holidays. An adult’s hurt feelings is worth infinitely less than a child’s hurt body or sense of self. Teaching a child that everyone needs to respect the boundaries he or she places on their body can even make it easier for them to come forward and tell someone if this nightmare happens to them. It may even help them to respect the boundaries of others themselves as they grown into adults.
It’s not enough to just respect their physical boundaries though. We also have to respect their words and experiences. If a child is telling you they’ve been abused, then shut the fuck up and listen to them. Don’t shut them up or tell them they must be mistaken. Don’t respond, as Brownwood police chief Virgil Cowin did when told about one of his officers molesting a young girl, “You’re just a child. You’re just making it up.” Let them tell their stories in their own words. Believe a child who says someone has hurt them. The alternative could cost them their life. It doesn’t matter if the accused is your spouse, parent, boss, or best friend. You owe it to the girl or boy trusting you to not further shatter their childhood.
Call out the people around you who act like the reputation of an adult matters more than the well-being of a child. The college students who rioted in the street after Joe Paterno was fired are disgraceful. The high school students who bullied one of Sandusky’s victims out of school, as well as the school officials and parents who encouraged this by teaching their children that football is king, are absolutely disgusting. It took a satirical website to write something spot on about the horrifying reactions when the Sandusky story broke. Tell your friend it doesn’t matter how good of a director she thinks Roman Polansky is. He still drugged and raped a child and needs to face the consequences. Let your cousin know that it’s great that the Catholic Church helped him through a rough patch in his life, but that doesn’t chance the fact that the church facilitated and covered up the sexual abuse of children for decades. Explain to your coworker that even if he was never molested by the teacher or coach now in the news, that’s not proof that no other child was either.
If for any reason you strongly suspect that someone you know actually is abusing a child, then for the love of whatever you believe in, don’t put your head in the sand! Your disillusionment will crumble eventually, and who knows how many more children will have been irreparably harmed in the mean time. That doesn’t mean you have to call the police at the slightest twinge in your gut, but do err on the side of caution for the children, not the one potentially doing harm. A mother breastfeeding her child for longer than your personally feel is appropriate is not a sign of child abuse. Blood in a diaper is.
Finally, if one of you reading this has had sexual thoughts towards children, please, please, please get help. For your sake and for theirs. Find a therapist who can help you find ways to keep your thoughts from turning into an actual nightmare for an innocent person.
This list is by no means definitive but can help those affected by child sexual abuse.
If you suspect a child is being abused, Childhelp USA (1-800-4-A-CHILD) can help you figure out where to report in your area, and let you know of local agencies that could help.
STOP IT NOW! (1-888-PREVENT) is a confidential helpline that offers help to friends and family of sexual abusers or victims, as well as to adults who believe they are at risk for molesting a child.
Dr. Absinthe is neither a doctor or a drink. She’s a real woman who really hates it when kids get hurt.