Every now and then I trip over a news story and I get stuck on it. I read everything I can on it. I become sort of embarassingly well-versed on the backstory — which I don’t quite realize until I’m talking about it with someone and they give me a look and ask, “How do you know so much about this?”
Right now, it’s Jerry Sandusky.
I wonder how it could’ve happened. I wonder how the victims are doing today — are they able to live normal lives? Are they ok? Do they think about it every day? I wonder how to protect my own children.
I tossed and turned all night after the verdict. The next day, I woke to a bright, sunny morning. One of my first thoughts was that I hoped Sandusky’s victims were able to appreciate the beautiful morning, with the knowledge that Sandusky could only glimpse the day through the window of his jail cell. There would be no barbeques on the deck for that monster. No swimming in a backyard pool. The only time he would ever smell freshly cut grass again is when they mow the prison yard.
But I don’t know if the boys that Sandusky victimized are capable of any true relief or joy after what he did to them.
A slow seduction
I remember years ago Oprah interview several child molesters.
If you have children, you should watch these clips. They are difficult to watch, yes, but super instructive.
The biggest takeaway: Those child molesters are a crafty bunch.
Sure, some of them jump out of the bushes and snatch kids off the street.
But, by and large, they don’t.
A lot of them do it Sandusky style. As Oprah — a victim of child molestation herself — has often said, it’s a slow seduction.
The best I can figure, is that it often happens much like things unfolded at Penn State.
It starts with the friend or family member who takes an interest in a child. Listens. Gives gifts. Spends time.
The child molesters Oprah interviewed mentioned that they often selected kids who were marginalized in some way — latchkey kids, kids in single-parent homes, kids who were troubled in some way.
The predators gain the child’s trust. As in Sandusky’s case, they may even gain the parent’s trust. Sandusky took at least one of his victims to a bowl game in Texas.
But it doesn’t have to be an overnight trip. Maybe the predator offers to drive the child to school or run to the store with them to get milk.
And then it’s not always the vicious assault of having a wet, middle-aged, defensive coordinator ass rape a boy in the bright light of a Penn State locker room. At least not to start anyway.
Often, molesters try to pleasure their victims. Why? Because if the child felt pleasure, he or she would be less likely to tell someone about it later. If the victim felt like they were a willing participant, they might assume that they had done something wrong.
Apparently, even Sandusky often worked up to his assaults. He’d workout with the kids and then suggest a shower. Then he’d instigate a tickle fight or have a “soap fight.” He picked one boy up and held his head near the shower nozzle to “rinse his hair.” The boy says he doesn’t remember anything after that.
Some kids told their parents. One of Sandusky’s victims told his mom that Sandusky showered with him. She called the police.
Another told his mother that he thought Sandusky was gay. She told him to stop lying.
Some kids were silent.
A teachable moment
I listen to NPR in the morning while I’m packing lunches and making breakfast. One morning they were reporting on the Sandusky story when my 8-year old walked in. Apparently one of the accusers had testified that Sandusky told him that he’d never see his family again if he told anyone what happened.
I was furious and it must have shown on my face.
“What’s wrong, mommy?” Megan asked as she put her breakfast dishes on the counter.
For a second, I considered saying, “Oh, it’s just this news story.”
But instead I decided to tell her. “There’s a story on the news about a man who touched a bunch of boys in their private places. Remember how we talked about how no one should touch you anyplace covered by your bathing suit? Well, he touched them there. And he asked them to touch him there. And then he told the one boy that if he told anyone about it, he’d never see his family again.
“So listen, I just want you to know that if anyone ever does anything to you — or asks you to do something to them — and they say something like that, they’re just trying to scare you. If someone ever tells you not to tell your parent something, that’s EXACTLY when should tell me.”
Sending them into the world
Megan and I have been having talks on stranger safety since she was about three (which means it’s probably time to start talking to Benjamin about it now). The Safe Side DVD is an EXCELLENT tool for starting these conversations with your kids. It introduces the concept of stranger safety in a way that kids can understand. It also gives you a vocabulary to talk about the topic in an age-appropriate way. Plus, kids think it’s funny.
Now Megan is on the verge of turning 9. She wants to ride her bike around the neighborhood, go to friend’s houses and join things at school.
I believe in supervision and being vigilant about knowing where my children are and who they’re with.
But I won’t put them in a bubble.
I need to know that as Megan goes out into the world, that she has a certain set of tools to look out for herself. There’s no fool-proof system. And I certainly don’t want her to live her life in fear. But I do want her to be aware that there are people with bad intentions out there.
Here are some things we’ve talked about:
1. Scream your head off. I took a self defense class in college. The instructor said that most people don’t scream when they get assaulted because they’re just in shock about what’s happening. In the case of children, the Safe Side DVD tells them to yell “This is not my mom!” or “This is not my dad!” Tell them to yell it LOUD and practice it with them. If you go over this, kids are more likely to internalize it and be ready if and when they need to be.
2. Fight. I tell Megan if anyone ever tries to grab her, she’s supposed to fight like crazy. I tell her to claw at the person’s eyes. If it’s a man, I tell her to her punch or kick between his legs. And (sorry guys), I tell her to grab really hard, squeeze and twist (another tip from that self defense class). If someone grabs her from behind, I showed her how to stomp her heel down hard on the top of the person’s foot. (There’s a nerve there that, when hit, can make a person nearly pass out.)
3. You have private parts on your body and they are no one else’s business. Anything covered by your bathing suit is a private part. No one else should ever ask to see those parts or touch them, unless it’s mom or dad helping you to keep clean or a doctor for a medical reason. No one should ever show you or ask you to touch their private parts either. If any of this ever happens, tell mom or dad immediately — especially if the person tells you not to.
4. Be aware of tricks. I told her, again referring to the Sandusky story, that people who do these kind of things to kids like to make the kids think it’s their fault. The bad people give the children nice things, so the kid thinks that because they took them, they did something wrong. Or, when the person does things to the kid, the kid doesn’t tell them to stop so again, they assume it’s their fault. I told her that it’s NEVER THE CHILD’S FAULT when an adult does something like this — and again, it’s important to tell a parent right away.
Of course, this is all a lot to digest. I don’t always hit her with all of this at the same time. But I do try to remind her and work things in where I can. I drill her: “What do you if someone tries to grab you?” Big, bored sigh from her and then this reply: “Scream my head off, mommy. Can I go ride my bike now?”
Blogmuffins, we’re all in this together. I’m curious: What do you tell your kids? If you have something to share, please comment here on this page rather than my Facebook wall so everyone can see it. I’d hate for someone to miss out on a good tip.