Today, with the verdict in the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case still outstanding, with the jury deliberating, I’ve been stuck by all the energy being burned on Twitter calling for Sandusky to be summarily executed, or raped repeatedly in jail, or strung up on the courthouse steps. To me, this is exactly the problem: as a society, we get fired up when a molester is finally caught, but we show less interest in taking the necessary steps to prevent such abuse from occurring in the first place.
There is no good that can come of this case, except one: we can use it as an opportunity to talk openly and frankly about how we as a society, as adults, can protect children from serial abusers like Sandusky.
If you have kids in your life–as a parent, a teacher, a relative–I hope you’ll consider taking these steps to protect the ones that you love.
If your kid says that they feel weird around a certain adult, that they think that adult is creepy, listen to them. Kids have very powerful radar for creeps. Trust it, and empower your kids to trust it, too. Don’t believe me? Read Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear. Despite the title, it’s an empowering book. It’s not about manufacturing new fears, but about learning to listen to your gut, your instincts, and then act on them.
If your kid says they don’t want to have physical contact with a certain adult, don’t make them. Again, rely on the kid’s creepy radar. Even if it’s grandpa, or somebody from church, or an uncle. Don’t force your kid to hug somebody that they don’t want to. Trust the kid first; worry about “hurting someone’s feelings” later.
Talk to your kids in an age-appropriate but straightforward way about sexual abuse. Remember, 95% of abusers are people that you and your children know, that are part of your everyday lives. Don’t focus on stranger danger; instead, teach the kid what kinds of touches are not ok, give them the words they need to express that, and empower them to say NO and then to tell you about it. I don’t have kids, so I imagine that conversations like these are easier in theory than in practice.
But I don’t care, and neither should you.
Your first instinct should be to protect your kids, and to do that, you need to be straight with them about sexual abuse. That’s the best way–I’d argue the only way–to protect them. You can’t be with them 24/7, you can’t monitor every interaction they have with other adults, and nor would you want to. Suck it up, blush your way through it if you have to, but give your kids the verbal and emotional skills they will need to avoid sexual predators; and, if, god forbid, they are abused, ensure they’ll be ready and able to tell you about it.
If your kid tells you that they have been abused, molested, raped: believe them. Despite what you may have heard in the media, or seen on Liftetime, or read in the paper, kids don’t lie about sexual abuse, ok? They don’t. If your kid tells you that this has happened to them–as children or as adults–support them. Believe them. Listen to them. You will be horrified. You will need to grieve, because you’ll probably know the abuser.
You’ll likely have trusted the abuser, welcomed them into your home, trusted them with your kids. But your first instinct should be, must be, to make your kid feel safe. Grieve on your own time, be pissed on your own time, wrestle with your doubts away from your kid. Then call the cops. Get your kid into therapy. Love them, support them, and give them what they need to heal. Because healing will take a very long time, for them and for you.
Shame is what allows sexual molesters to operate, to stay under the radar. If there’s blue sky between you and your kid–between you and the kids in your life that you love and want to protect–on the topic of sexual abuse, then predators like Sandusky don’t have a chance.