You Should Probably Assume That Someone You Know Is a Child Molester

Since the Penn State child sex abuse scandal came to light last week the question I've heard asked more than any other is why didn't someone say something? Why didn't any of the Penn State administrators, football team staff, or their wives--because you know those guys went home and told their significant others what they'd seen or what rumor they'd heard--say anything?

I've heard plenty of talk about money, money, money. We all know that college football is big business, and anything that might mess up the gravy train had to be squashed. However, what confuses me about this motive is that it would've made sense for somebody involved to try to pay off the boys and their families and have them sign non-disclosure agreements. As far as I've heard, that didn't happen. That said, if Jerry Sandusky had been busted embezzling millions from Penn State, we all know someone would've told with a quickness.

Most of the abused boys are black, so maybe the problem is that Happy Valley is a racist place. Who cares what happens to some black boys, right? They're only useful when they're making awesome punt returns or catching an amazing pass in the end zone, but valued, loved, and respected?

I don't think we can say that black boys are valued, loved, and respected in our society. I don't need to rehash the dismal academic stats on black boys to have a clear picture of just how much we don't care about them--especially if they're not Division I athletes.

What I keep coming back to is that the discussion about why nobody said anything has to take place in a broader context beyond what happened at Penn State. If one in four girls and one in seven boys are being molested, there's a whole lot of people out there not speaking up and telling what they know or saw.

Teachers are mandatory reporters of abuse, but I can recall a few incidences where I told colleagues that I was going to report something and I was, shockingly, told that maybe I shouldn't. "She's just lying to get attention," was what one teacher across the hall told me. "Her whole family is liars. She can't help it."

One well-meaning yet completely stupid piece of advice was that by reporting that a student's mom's boyfriend was raping her, I'd be making the student's life worse. "If you report that and they get taken out of the home, they'll probably end up in an even more abusive foster care situation."

I did my duty and reported every single time. But what's sad is that usually the parent knew that no one else would say anything, so it HAD to be me. At the end of some days I just wanted to write a letter that said:

"Dear Parent, Thank you for coming up to the school and threatening to slash my tires and telling me I better watch my back because I reported that your boyfriend has been raping your daughter. By the way, I hope you burn in hell for all eternity."

Yeah, the moms always knew. The neighbors sometimes knew. Nobody ever called the police.

Of course, this isn't isolated in schools. We have a code of silence when it comes to sexual abuse, and it's to the benefit of the perpetrators. They get away with their actions because people--not just those employed by Penn State--frequently turn a blind eye to it. "That's a private thing," I've been told. "I don't want to get the police involved. I don't want to have to be answering a bunch of questions about it." 

The last time I had to report sexual abuse, I wasn't a teacher. I had to report someone that my family knew, and yep, there was no denying that this was the end of friendships, to say the least.

Guess what? I didn''t care. Immediately after I found out what was going on, I called the police and told them what I knew.

What was the LAPD response? "Ma'am, what exactly do you want us to do about this?"

I'm still floored that the officer had the nerve to say that. Sure, the detectives apologized later for the horrible response of the officer manning the non-emergency number, but it sums up the problem in a nutshell.

Everybody wants to pass the buck and act like its not happening. Or we're supposed to sweep it under the rug--let families handle it however they choose--which usually means not handling it.

Frankly, I'm surprised that so many people are shocked by what's happened at Penn State. Do we really think that NO ONE running any of the big football programs is a child molester? If you say yes, welcome to my instant side-eye.

Maybe I'm cynical. Maybe I'm paranoid--but given the stats, I always assume that someone I know is a child molester. It's usually someone you know--and I know that given the chance to be alone with my child, they'd go down that road.

The people sexually abusing kids aren't lurking under a viaduct, waiting for one of my sons to walk by. They're the coaches, just like Jerry Sandusky.


Jennifer Kley said…
I feel sick(er) reading about this. I had a sinking feeling once I heard the words "underprivileged" that that's why they were easy targets. Probably lack of fathers in a lot of those homes, too.
The thing that pisses me off most now is that the coach who actually SAW the abuse didn't act by calling the police. I can't imagine turning away from even the suspicion of such an act. I think the fallout from this--we're only at the tip of the iceberg.
Logical Libby said…
I was listening to something about the Penn State scandal and the "expert" was saying the reason people don't speak up is because they don't want to believe such horror exists.

Isn't that what allows it to keep existing?
Carolyn said…
So glad you put into words what needed to be said. Yes, it happens way more often than most people realize. It's so scary and I have had moments of panic thinking my own children might have been touched. I have gone out of my way to make sure my girls aren't alone with men but I know other parents aren't concerned. It does make me sick to think people KNOW there is abuse and don't DO anything about it.
nick said…
The systematic cover-up of child abuse is appalling. So are the absurd reasons people give like not wanting to make things worse or not wanting to break up the family (or not wanting to discredit a sports coach). But what could be worse than child abuse? It's also appalling that other people criticise the whistleblower rather than supporting them. There needs to be a total sea-change of attitudes before child abuse can be stamped out.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for writing this. It is hard to read, but so very true. The finger pointing has been bothering me since the whole story broke, I just haven't been able to express myself as well as you did. It is something I think about often, especially since I am raising 4 black boys.

I am so thankful that I have the example of my parents who addressed this head on when my sister told them that a family member had abused her. It caused some divisions, but they didn't sweep it under the rug.

Anonymous said…
Thank you for voicing just how very complicit those around the abuser can be. I am firmly of the opinion that abuse like this rarely takes place in isolation - there are people involved (willingly or unwillingly) who have some understanding of what is happening. Yet, for some reason those close to the abuse have rationalised that it's easier to simply stand back and do nothing, and I think that's nearly as horrific an act as the abuse itself.

Stefanie said…
As a Penn State alumna, it is very disheartening that The Second Mile now has a black mark on its name. TSM does a great deal for the community (aside from this, obviously) and a large majority of students who aspire to work with children look for jobs/internships with the organization. I'm disappointed that this is shown under the PSU name, but I'm glad that Sandusky has been brought into the light.

Thanks for not just bad-mouthing the University like most people do, and putting a bit of perspective on it.
Aisha said…
The title just hit me in the gut and it is so very true.
Temple said…
This, Los Angelista!

My mother was very protective of us when we were kids (even my father accused her of being too suspicious, until a family member tried to coerce me at 14). And I have to admit that I'm the same way with my niece & nephews--two of whom I'm raising. Participate in team sports, yes. Stay overnight anywhere, no. I will take them to a play date, stay with them & they leave when I leave.

I feel no need to show ANY goodwill or benefit of the doubt to ANY adult at the expense of "my childrens'" psychological & spiritual health. Adults can be as insulted as they want & smooch my perfectly round bum!
BBJ said…
Hearing you talk about the negative responses about reporting in the schools makes me sad, but it's also a relief to know that I'm not the only one who ran up against. this.

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