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Adele Elliott: The children's hour

 

 

This is the column I never wanted to write. 

 

I could not say the word "rape" until I was in my 40s. I refused to read news stories about sexual violence, especially concerning children. My world was a self-made bubble, a sham attempt to protect my own imaginary innocence, to push pain back into a very dark place in my consciousness. 

 

Today the news is too, too filled with the sordid details of Jerry Sandusky and his crimes. I cannot avert my eyes. 

 

Volumes have been written about this; there will be many more. Most of the writers are so much smarter than I am. However, most of them do not know what I know. 

 

I was the victim of sexual abuse by a baby sitter when I was about 4 years old. I never told my mother. I was the victim of a violent sexual attack by a stranger when I was 11. Few of even my closest friends know this. 

 

For many years, I wondered if I wore some sort of invisible banner that said, "Hurt this girl. She is insignificant. She will keep your secret." 

 

Serial abusers, like Sandusky, are devious. They know how to choose the most fragile, the most needy, the ones who will not tell. The horror is that they are ubiquitous, charming, snakes in soft clothing. 

 

Sandusky set himself up in a position of power, a common ploy. Many pedophiles have status, as teachers or coaches, or philanthropists going the "Second Mile." Places that attract children draw molesters. We call them monsters. The tragedy is that they have no horns, no pointed tails, no eyes the color of blood. They come in the guise of swim trainers, scout leaders, priests. 

 

Often these people have impressive barriers of protection. Power does that. Sandusky had the formidable Athletic Department of Pennsylvania State University shielding him. Their attitude seems to say that a child is not as important as a winning team. Even his wife was complicit, calling one of the boys' mothers to do damage control.  

 

If you read the Grand Jury report, you will see a series of man-on-boy rapes that go back many years. Most of the boys were about 10 years old. There were even witnesses to the crimes. (An eyewitness to a rape is almost unheard of.) Penn State graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, walked in on one. He claims to have been traumatized. So, he reported it to his father. He is still employed in that school's athletic department, but currently "on leave." (Now, nine years later, he tells friends that he did go to the police.) 

 

(I can't help but wonder what would have happened if a woman would have walked in on something so horrendous. The response may very well have been different.) 

 

I am not a psychologist. Certainly I am not qualified to give advice to parents, except that I was once a very frightened little girl with knowledge that cannot be learned from newspapers and CNN. All I am trying to say is, be vigilant. We now know that the Big Bad Wolf is not always hidden in fairy-tale forests. He can also be lurking around our own familiar corners. We must try harder to unmask him. 

 

We expend a great deal of energy on protecting the unborn. Perhaps living boys and girls still require more guarding and defense than we realize, more of our attention. 

 

Adults who are excessively generous or attentive to children may have ulterior motives. Sleepovers with little ones and non-parental adults should be viewed with great suspicion. Do not believe that your children will report questionable behavior. Almost none of Sandusky's victims did. 

 

Many readers will view me differently now. However, I truly believe that it is better to expose wickedness than to cloak it. Evil is real. 

 

Your children are a gift and a responsibility. Protect them. The world is full of people like me, grown children, our damage veiled, our wounds still just below the surface. Do your best to save your child a torment that never ends. 

 

This is the story I never wanted to write. But, I had to.

 

 

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