Apropos of a harrowing work day for me, my husband shared a story from his childhood as he worked the knots out of my neck and back. The words slipped casually from his lips, belying the emotional impact of the subject:
“I’m sure I’ve told you about what happened to me in 6th grade?”
“I don’t think so. I’ll stop you if I’ve heard this one before.” I assumed a light tone. I didn’t know what was coming.
“I didn’t tell you about the teacher who took me to his house after school and showed me pornography?”
No, Eric had not shared this story with me before. Porno for pre-pubescents is not something one easily forgets. Here’s what happened:
At the age of 11, Eric attended a religious school (which is no longer in existence) on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. His parents sent him to this particular school, in part, he said, because of the permissive environment of some of the other schooling options, as well as the very public early 70’s “sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyles of several teachers at those institutions.
His school employed a young male teacher who was especially popular with the kids. He was fun, “one of them,” and sometimes snuck them over to McDonald’s at lunch time in defiance of the school rules.
One day, he invited Eric and a few of his buddies to stop by his house — close to the school — and watch some TV with him. How cool was that? They were singled-out; they were special. They went to his home.
We are adults.
We know what comes next.
They were children.
They did not.
Keep in mind, they were children with good parents, parents like you and me, who had warned their kids about situations like these. But children are…children.
He served them snacks, encouraged them to read the array of pornographic magazines spread out on his coffee table, and began setting up his reel-to-reel projector, all the while telling them how as young men they would love the movie he had to show them. He told them that they were really lucky, because most of the other boys did not get to things like this, but he, their favorite teacher, would share this with only them.
Eric recalls the fear and uncertainty he felt. He didn’t dare sneak a glance at his two friends until Mr. X left the room. Then, they quickly made a pact to offer up an excuse about needing to go home and get the heck out of there.
Time fuzzes up his memory of what happened next, but he does remember that he didn’t tell his parents.
Did y’all catch that?
He didn’t tell his parents. Neither did the two other boys.
Why? And this is important, so take note: they were afraid of getting in trouble because they knew they should not have gone to the teacher’s house. The “compromising situation” theme is common with pedophiles. They often create conspirators by coaxing children to take tiny steps over line after line, until the child feels too complicit to speak up.
Eventually, they told some friends, and one of those friends told an adult. That adult brought the parents and school into the know, and, ultimately, the school parted ways with Mr. X and he parted ways with the island.
This was not the education the school had been hoping Mr. X was imparting to their youth, obviously. The school had no idea. The parents had no idea. Most of the kids were oblivious as well.
So, as parents, what do we do? How do we keep our kids safe?
One option, with many pro’s and con’s, is home schooling. Of course, this only protects our children from predators at school. Pedophiles don’t restrict themselves just to schools, although many do seek ways to work with young people.
Another option is to communicate frequently with your kids about this issue and make it safe for them to talk to you; reward truths when you can, rather than punishing a child’s bad choices. We also believe in keeping our kids busy; less “mall” or “cruising” time. This option does not guarantee success, either.
No option does. It’s a rough world out there.
We decided to sit down with our teenagers again last night and re-discuss this issue. We shared Eric’s story with them. We related it to their life and activities. And we prayed about it.
“Why didn’t you just deck him?” 160-pound 15-year old Clark demanded, sounding angry but scared.
“We were three 90-pound kids, and he was a 240-pound adult.”
“Still…” Clark didn’t know how to reconcile the predicament of helplessness demonstrated by Eric’s story.
There’s a corollary to this story, also gleaned from my husband’s life experiences, that deserves mention in this post. While an adult, my husband watched as a childhood friend went to prison for allegedly molesting the teenage friend of his step-daughter. Several years into his incarceration, he was exonerated by the teenage girl. It turned out that her own father was sexually abusing her, and she had sought an end to it by means that felt emotionally safer to her — at the time — than accusing her dad. Eric’s friend made it out of jail, but he had contracted AIDS. He died shortly thereafter, penniless and ruined.
Why do I include this last story? Just as it is important to protect our children, it is also important to protect ourselves. Think carefully about your interactions with the youth in your life. Be sure that you do not leave yourself open to dangerous situations, to yourself or to them.
Eric and I do not ever allow ourselves to be alone with children other than our own; we are also very careful with our respective step-children. We love our kids’ friends, but we do not fool ourselves that we can ever know all that goes on in their lives, or what that might mean in terms of their actions and our lives.
….And, a strong, beautiful woman of my acquaintance was raped by the father of one of her childhood friends during a sleepover.
This issue cuts in all directions.
Not fun to think about.
Not something you can ignore; make the time.
Do anything but remain silent with your children on these issues.
Everyone has their serious days. This was mine. Cheerful Pamelot will be back soon. Until then, educate your kids, educate yourself.