I haven’t posted here for some months, being more active on my Facebook profile page–which is now public and accepts subscribers, by the way–and my Facebook author page, which you’ll find links to on this blog. I’ve also started back my column in the Trinidad Guardian, and it runs every Tuesday.
Anyway, the reason I’m here posting this today is that my column in today’s Trinidad Guardian was supposed to be formatted in a certain way and it isn’t. The lack of formatting makes it incredibly difficult to read and I am sure it will make no sense whatsoever to whoever reads it there. That’s why I’m here, to repost the column with the correct formatting. I also want to share it far and wide because it’s about child sexual abuse and we can never say too much on that topic.
Break the silence
[Trigger warning: This column contains descriptions of child sexual abuse.]
Most of the alleged sexual abuse victims of US football coach and father figure Jerry Sandusky remained silent during and after the abuse. Most victims of child sexual abuse do.
Unlike Alleged Victim Nine in the Sandusky trial, many of the victims of child sexual abuse never scream for help. Instead, you might hear:
Go away. Nothing’s wrong. Leave me alone. I hate you. I want to kiss you there. I want to sit in your lap and play with your body. I want to show you something. I want to see yours. I hate everything. My belly hurts. My head hurts. I can’t sleep. I have a rash that I scratch till it bleeds. Nothing’s wrong. Go away.
This case, now being tried in the Philadelphia courts, is sickening. Eight men have testified that Sandusky, while a top coach at the powerful Pennsylvania State University football team, handpicked boys as young as eight to be his special friends. They claim he identified troubled boys from a youth charity he founded, the Second Mile, and seduced them with affection and attention, showered them with gifts and took them on extraordinary outings. Some of them testified to a Grand Jury in December last year that he made them feel like part of his family, and that he told them he loved them. To any child, these are powerful inducements. Would every child take this poisoned candy? No. But some would.
We in Trinidad and Tobago might imagine the Sandusky story is some alien thing, and that this could never happen here. We would be very wrong. There is child sexual abuse happening in this country at this very moment. Somewhere not far from you there is a boy or girl being seduced by someone he or she trusts, seduced with cake and money and weed and PS3’s, and love, or the facsimile of it. This seeming love is the thing that draws child victims in and shuts them up. Because the one who is seducing them seems to care, sometimes more than their own parents and siblings. These monsters will give hugs and back rubs and listening ears. They will know just what a child wants and give it unstintingly. And then they will take what they want.
It’s only fair. I gave you this. You give me that.
Why do children stay silent about sexual abuse? Why don’t more of them scream and run away to report it to the police or a parent, a teacher or a pastor? Apart from the fact that in many cases it is these very authority figures who are themselves the abusers, victims often feel an overwhelming sense of love for the abuser, and feel complicit in the abuse.
You knew it was wrong, but you did it anyway. You let it happen. If you tell, everyone will think it’s your fault. And what would happen to your special friend, the one person who treats you like you’re precious? He or she would get in trouble. Do you want to be the one who tears apart the family? Do you want him or her to lose his or her job over you? Shame on you.
Perhaps the most shocking thing about the Sandusky trial is not the men’s stories of being sexually fondled and raped as ten- and twelve-year-old boys, but that so many adults actually saw it with their own eyes, yet did nothing. It is not the victims’ silence that is the most horrifying part, but the silence of their community. The Grand Jury testimony gives stories of people who walked in on Sandusky lying on top of boys, showering with them, having oral sex with them, raping them. Some reported what they had seen to a superior, and those superiors did not do what the law mandated: report it to the police, investigate and take measures to protect the boys who may have been molested. (In one case, a mother did report it to the police, who subsequently dropped the investigation.)
If a child you know says a respected adult is making him or her uncomfortable, what is your first impulse? Is it to ask questions, or to brush the child aside? Do you listen to the silence, or compound it with your own? Whatever the outcome of the Sandusky trial let us take one thing away from the horrendous story: Break the Silence.
For more information about the UWI St Augustine IGDS campaign Break the Silence, go to: http://sta.uwi.edu/igds/breakthesilence/index.asp