The unthinkable

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.

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4 Responses to The unthinkable

  1. Vonnie says:

    Yes.

    I got some fantastic training from a psychologist named Joe Nee around the concept of “The Big Secret” and how sexual abuse is still taboo because nobody talks about it. It took me a week just to be able to talk about it, seriously mindblowing stuff and I made a point of explaining to my eldest about his personal boundaries but how do you do that without scaring your children? I guess really there is no way to do it – we just have to hope that by arming them with the strength, wisdom and courage to stand up for themselves that will suffice.

    We’re in a very similar situation to you right now. A long-term friend of my husband’s has been arrested and charged with raping a young boy – husband has known this guy for years, our kids have been in his company and it’s totally hit us for six. It’s an eye-opening situation, for sure.

  2. Pollyanna Sunshine says:

    Oh, how awful. I don’t have any good answers, but I suspect my instincts on this (or my willingness to trust them) are no better. But I think your approach to teaching your kids is exactly right on.

  3. Arwyn says:

    Yes yes yes! (I’ve been saying that on blogs a lot lately…)

    So sorry that you’re having to deal with this, but I think you’re right-on about how to approach it.

  4. KB says:

    It’s a hard lesson that instincts alone will not be enough to keep your children safe and may sometimes even put them in harm’s way, but most people never learn that, and you’ve got the right idea to teach your kids to resist, run, and report on anything creepy someone tries with them.

    Also, you can learn more about how these kinds of criminals work and teach yourself to look for specific behaviors (called grooming). The key is to shift your focus from your own gut feelings to a person’s actual behaviors. Anyone who goes out of their way to charm your child and earn your trust is someone you should keep at a safe and supervised distance from your kids. If the person is a friend or relative, all the more reason to put aside your feelings and rely on detached observations alone.

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