I’m not telling you this with the hopes that “if I can reach just one person….” I strongly dislike that trite statement. No. I want to reach all of you. Stop bellying up to the “Can’t we all just get along?” table and accepting behavior that you know in your heart is just straight wrong but doing nothing about it because it’s not PC or because somebody’s credentials scare you.
It’s hard to put into words something that your mind never fathomed but always feared would happen in your family. Being a survivor myself, my paranoia over my daughters becoming victims of any sort of sexual assault was something that I wrestled with constantly. No one could be trusted, everyone was a suspect, and no matter how close your familial connection or otherwise, you were on my radar. It’s as if I viewed my children as walking around naked, vulnerable, an ever-present vagina and source of sick stimulation to twisted, perverted people.
And then it happened. Just like that, right under my nose, on my watch. It happened. And what I’ve found is that words just aren’t enough. They aren’t enough to describe the searing pain, the agony, the unbelievable sadness, the guilt, the level of betrayal, the destruction of faith and trust, the loneliness or the isolation. It’s like every emotion you could ever feel, amplified and on steroids, magnified by at least four times its original strength.
He was my daughter’s best friend’s father. And my gut instinct regarding him had told me who he was — a full year prior. But I mostly ignored it. We did confront him about his inappropriate conduct. He’d been referencing sex around our daughter, but he’d done it in ways such as explaining what his dogs were doing when they were in heat. He’d also been patting our daughter on the rear as she and her friend would run by, as well as doing that to his own daughter. All of this made us uncomfortable, so my husband had a chat with him.
He was taken aback and sincerely apologetic. His explanation was that he was simply treating our daughter as he does his own and that he never meant any harm — that he was being overly friendly and “family-like.” But he also said he understood where we were coming from and promised he wouldn’t do it again.
I still watched him. And our daughter was no longer allowed to spend time at their house. However, this man was skilled at what he was doing, and he disarmed us. While I expected a level of anger on his part, he met us with meek humility. While I thought he’d be reluctant to speak with us, he engaged in quiet conversation when we’d see him on walks with the kids. He acted transparent and kind when I’d expected defensiveness. Over time, I began to wonder if maybe we’d overreacted. Maybe he was just an older man, from an older generation, and we “young folks” just got ourselves constantly worked up over things that “back in the day” really weren’t significant. Maybe we were wrong. And I felt a little ashamed of my accusations.
As the months went on, we started to accept the invitations from his daughter to ours to play at her house — always with the instruction that if he ever did anything that made her uncomfortable, she was to immediately come home and tell us. The visits were initially short. But as our daughter repeatedly came home and told us that, no, he must have “really learned his lesson” and was no longer doing anything that made her feel uncomfortable, we continued to second-guess ourselves. And we let her go over for longer and longer periods of time. I’m deeply ashamed to admit that, eventually, we would let her spend the whole day over there. We thought we could trust him again. We thought we were wrong about our concerns.
But what came crashing down around me after it all came out was that I always thought to be true. I always knew that this man was not right, that something was not right. And though I felt it in my heart and in my gut, I fought against it. Somewhere in my cells, I felt that this man knew how to play these cards, and at some point, we were going to regret letting our guard down. Yet I continued to fight against that.
He had been a teacher for 31 years, working with special needs children, and had a child with special needs in his own home. His wife was from an astute and respected family and was prominent in the community. Who were we to doubt that they were safe? Who were we to try to mar their credibility? Who we were turned out to be parents who were lulled into security by credentials and status and soft conversations. And we were stupid and naïve and almost cost our daughter a lot more than what was lost.
Fast-forward to today, and we are embroiled in a case where two felony charges of child molestation have been filed against this man with all of these credentials. We have attended every court hearing. I have spoken with judges and been in the prosecutor’s office countless times in tears and rage. We have called upon Bikers Against Child Abuse and met with attorneys. More victims have come forward. Now we have our daughter in therapy. Our marriage has nearly fallen apart. My friendships of 25 years have vanished into thin air, and our daughter has lost her best friend. Every day since the disclosure, I cry.
Our family is isolated and alone and terrified, our world turned upside down. And this man is facing 30 years in prison, but I don’t even know with any certainty that he’ll get more than probation.
My message is this: You’ve heard it a million times and you’ve probably ignored it as much as I have: Trust your gut! For the love of all that is holy, trust your gut. I thought I had learned that lesson. For all the times in years past when I hadn’t trusted it and had lived to regret it, I truly thought I had made progress in that area. I thought I had learned to listen to that small, sneaking, quiet voice that said, “This person seems a little off. This situation looks okay, but something doesn’t feel right. That person’s expression just belied what came out of their mouth.”
I really felt like I had made huge advances acting on those small and, sometimes large, instincts. I wouldn’t let my daughter play with certain friends or engage certain people. I trusted that I saw a person beyond what they were trying to present. I was listening! But give me a situation where people have status and clout and age, and somehow, I decided it didn’t need to be adhered to. And to say I’m kicking myself now doesn’t even begin to cover it. I was an idiot.
Listen. That old adage, “You have these instincts for a reason,” could not be more true. Just listen. For a person who only functions in having control, I’ve given it all up. And I had it all in my hands. I gave it up. I am now at the mercy of other people making decisions, high-powered attorneys taking my fragile daughter and slicing and dicing her, alienation from those my trust in had never wavered, I gave it up. For what?! So that I wouldn’t rock the social boat and accuse a man who, on paper, looked like he’d never dream of hurting a child? I risked my child’s well-being and the trajectory of her entire life for that? Absurd.
Trust your gut and listen. Make sure your child feels safe telling you things. Make sure when they tell you something that seems a little weird (especially if they are sensitive and ridiculously insightful like mine are), you don’t scoff or admonish them and say, “Oh, don’t think like that. I’m sure that’s not the way they meant you to take it.” Children’s instincts are often fine-tuned, so don’t tell them to quiet that voice like we’ve conditioned ourselves to do. Listen. They’re likely seeing and hearing something that you’ve grown accustomed to. Had I not had the open relationship that I do with my daughter, I doubt she would have come to me. She would have thought I wouldn’t hear her and would have thought she was being ridiculous. But she knew something was wrong and she told. She listened. And I’m so grateful that she did. She did better than I did.