Friday, November 11, 2011

Horrified and Outraged

That's me---by the news unfolding this week about the authorities at Penn State who allowed obvious sexual abuse of children to occur, abuse which was observed directly and could have been stopped in the moment by those who saw it. Abuse which was not reported in a timely way and which resulted in the blackened reputation of Penn State authorities and the university itself, to say nothing of the untold damage it did to its victims.

It took me back to my days as a junior high school counselor who blew the whistle on two colleagues who were revealed as sexual predators and who victimized two of my students. Both of these men were people I had worked with on a variety of projects; one was a high school principal and one was a teacher in my own school. I liked both of them very much and it never occurred to me that either would prey on children.

I turned them both in and suffered the numbing realization that men I liked and had trusted could betray children, their parents, me, and other colleagues in this dreadful way. They, in fact, betrayed a whole community of school district employees and residents of the district, as well as their own families.

These weren't scummy guys on the surface---they were well-thought of, highly trusted employees. Neither of them looked suspiciously deviant; both were well liked by students and fellow employees.

Yet the naked high school principal attempted to lure a teenage student of mine into his bedroom one afternoon, on the pretext of giving him a tip for mowing his lawn. The boy said no thanks and left, went home and told his dad, who told him to notify me the next day. I told my principal, as the law required, and waited in his office while my principal called the district superintendent. The offense was followed up internally, the man was reassigned to a job where he was not in contact with students, but he was not prosecuted, to the best of my knowledge. I have never felt comfortable about the resolution of this situation; it was handled more as a personnel matter than as a prosecutable offense. But the boy had not been touched, just invited into a creepy situation. I suppose that was their rationale and, at that time, the parents had the right not to press charges, which they did not do.

While I was serving the same small junior high, a group of girls came to my office to say that they were uncomfortable with the way a teacher was treating one of their friends, inviting her into a locked teacher's workroom for a long spell of time from which she would emerge with her hair and makeup mussed up. I invited the girl in for a conversation in which she admitted that the relationship with the teacher was intimate and that she was in love with him. Risking her trust, I notified my principal, who went farther this time and notified the police; her parents pressed charges and the man lost his job. He was eventually deprived of his teaching certificate, but not until he had gone to another district and done it again, befriending a 13 year old girl who was vulnerable to his attention and then becoming intimate with her.

Why does the public not understand the horrific damage done to a person whose identity as a human being is warped so indelibly by sexual abuse? Our sexuality is such an integral part of our being, our identity, that to have it misused is to create a confusion that may never go away. To allow this to happen to any person, young or old, is immoral, unethical, and illegal. In my years as a counselor, I learned to ask every pre-suicidal kid "have you ever been sexually molested?" Nearly every single one of these kids had been violated sexually, in some way.

I am always concerned when I hear a male friend say that an older person initiated him sexually when he was a child or young teen; I am not surprised when that male friend has trouble with relationships, trouble with addictions, trouble with homophobia, trouble with peace of mind. For him it may have been a chance to brag about losing his virginity to someone who saw him as sexually desirable; many of these men suffer consequences that they do not associate with this experience and I feel sad about that.

If you learn that something like this is happening, please do the right thing and report it. It's worth risking the loss of trust by a child, who may well see later that you were not betraying him or her but rather intervening in a life-threatening situation.


Christina Martin said...

This doesn't just cause homophobia. It also causes homosexual confusion. Almost every homosexual friend I have was either initiated or propositioned as a pubescent or prepubescent child by an older person. Makes you think.

Mile High Pixie said...

I always think it's amazing that some schools/companies/institutions stifle or ignore these situations where someone in power is preying on those who trust those very people. They think it will go away or maybe the situation is being exaggerated. But what happens instead is what we're seeing now at Penn State--lives are irrevocably damaged, families suffer so much pain, and a great institution is marked in a way that will take them years to overcome. Ignorance is NOT bliss.

ms. kitty said...

It's important to remember that most pedophiles or predatory people are not homosexual but heterosexual; nevertheless, the confusion about sexual identity is real and damaging.

Thanks to both of you for your thoughts. Let's pray that something good will come out of this awful mess.

Miss Kitty said...

Thank you for posting this, Ms. K. You speak SO eloquently for those afraid to speak of their own horror and abuse at the hands of these wretched excuses for people.

Hearing/reading all the news coverage has brought back the pain of my own abuse, years ago. I cannot believe the ignorant questions people ask...questions whose nature asks children to be adults and to operate with the adult's mind that they do not yet have.

Thanks again for posting this. I'm not sure if I'll be able to post anything about it. :-(

ms. kitty said...

I'm so sorry that this has re-raised so many old pangs for you, Miss K. People are mostly ignorant of the wide and deep swath of injury inflicted by abuse. Its aftermath is not something that can be shrugged off and ignored, as one person recently suggested to me.