In May, someone I’ve known for more than a decade was convicted of child abuse and related child pornography charges. I think for anyone who knows anything about where I live and what I do, you can put a name to this guy in a second. I won’t, though.
He wasn’t a friend, but a long term acquaintance and colleague, someone I respected and admired. I never had one moment’s suspicion about this man. I would have left my kids with him in a heartbeat. A while ago, clearing out my email inbox, I found an email from him congratulating me on my first baby’s birth.
I am shaken to my core. Not just because of what this says about the world, but because of what it says about me. Some while ago, I decided to respect my “he’s a creep” instincts, and move swiftly and impolitely, if necessary, away from men who gave me the heebies. I was brought up to be polite, to assume the best of people, to presume that my instincts were not terribly important. I suffered for that. Honestly, I have tended to know, at least in the moment, who endangered me (keep in mind that I don’t date/ have sex with men), and it’s been my gendered conditioning that’s made me unable to protect myself.
So I think I’d assumed that, while my children were small enough to keep with me, I could protect them too. And now I know, in the most direct and visceral way possible, that I cannot. My instincts don’t work. I’d have put them in harm’s way and had no idea.
So what can I do for them? Aside from never, ever letting them out of my sight? (Which, believe me, is an option.)
I suppose, I can teach them not to be like me. Teach them to trust themselves, to scream loud, and to tell, tell, tell. To expect respect for their bodies and selves. Not to let that first breach of their boundaries slip past in case they were mistaken, in case he meant it nicely, in case they’ll be thought uptight or rude.
And odds are, sometimes, it won’t be enough. Odds are, someone will hurt my babies. Someone won’t care. So perhaps I can teach them that it’ll never be their fault, that they can always tell, and always be listened to.
And odds are, still they’ll be hurt. Somebody’s babies were hurt by that man I trusted. I have to trust the world with them; I am part of the world that every other parent trusts with their children. So, while it’s a dead weight of fear that tempts me never to let them interact with anyone, I know that’s not the task. The task is to make them strong, and to make the world a modicum safer.