Like a lot of young girls, I baby-sat for people when I was in my early teens. A neighbor mostly whose kids I adored, and $20 back then for a couple of hours of doing hardly anything was damn good money. I’m sure I spent it on crap from TG&Y or the latest issue of Tiger Beat so I could drool over Scott Baio and Leif Garrett. I had it bad for those two, let me tell you. Every issue had a pull-out poster stapled in the center, and with a little Scotch tape (which my mother hated but still tolerated, bless her heart), their handsome, acne-free faces immediately became wallpaper for my bedroom walls and fodder for a million versions of a teenage happily-ever-after.
My half-sister from my dad’s first marriage asked me to babysit for her once. She had a son that was about 3 or 4 at the time, and I was probably 13. By the time my sister and her husband came home late from their date, we were already in bed on a fold-out couch in the living room. My sister took the baby to his room to put him in his own bed. Meanwhile, her husband slipped his hands under the covers and groped my breasts. I stayed still, feigning sleep, and as soon as he heard my sister returning, he stopped, but still kissed me on the cheek before leaving the room. I curled up in a ball, confused and embarrassed about what he’d just done to me, and eventually drifted back off to sleep. But the next morning I couldn’t get away from there fast enough and I never baby-sat for them again. Never allowed myself to be alone and vulnerable near him again. I also never told a soul.
I’m not sure why I kept quiet. I guess I was afraid that I would upset my sister or make her husband mad or no one would believe me. I’m sure I was ashamed and bewildered, but the one thing I did know for certain was that what he’d done to me was wrong. Now, of all the horrific crimes that are committed against children and young adults, I realize what happened to me was minor. I won’t use the terminology that I was lucky, but I acknowledge that it could’ve been much worse.
Kids have built-in coping mechanisms that are hard for adults to understand. Somehow they’re able to keep moving forward, to compartmentalize the injury away somewhere deep inside them in hopes that it never finds its way out again. But the fact that my awful memory still resurfaces all these years later with certain triggers like the Sandusky trial proves what a lasting mark even the slightest violation can leave behind.
Trust me when I say you don’t want to know the level of harm I wish on Mr. Sandusky for eternity, and even that long won’t be enough time for him to pay for his crimes. And really, the word “crime” doesn’t suffice, does it? That lumps it all together with selling pot and petty theft. I couldn’t give a shit whether or not he’s been found “guilty” by a jury of his peers yet. He’s a monster, an abomination, and even an eye for an eye is not suitable repercussions for the heinous acts he’s committed against his victims. No matter what he’s sentenced to, you can’t go back an undo the things he’s done. Those children and young people now have permanent scars they have to try to cope with forever. Putting him in a jail cell won’t make those scars disappear.
It doesn’t do me any good to wonder what might’ve happened if I had spoken out because I didn’t. I naively kept quiet. I don’t know what my parents would’ve done about it. Probably nothing too severe, and truly, I don’t mean that as a slight against them. They loved me and I always felt protected and safe when I was with them. My dad might’ve had strong words for him but that likely would’ve been the end of it. No more contact but I handled that part on my own. But when something like that happens it’s also a reflection on them as parents too, right? People will point fingers at them and call them negligent for putting me in the situation in the first place. That type of reaction is senseless and unfair, but it’s still going to occur.
And then there’s his side of the story, if my parents were to make the accusation. Of course, he’d call me a liar, then it becomes his word against mine, and my sister wants to stand by her husband. She has a child with him herself so she needs to believe that he’s incapable of doing something so perverted and wrong to another child. So she convinces herself that I’m the one who’s lying so she can feel better about her own situation, so she feels better about leaving her young son with his own father, even though there’s still that little nagging voice in the back of her head whispering doubts that she should pay heed to. She should but she doesn’t. By not listening what has she done to her own child? Is he being abused too when she’s not looking, when she’s not there to protect him?
Do you see where I’m going with this tangent? Am I making any sense?
I should have said something, yes? My sister divorced him a few years later and her ex eventually went to prison for molesting his daughter from his next marriage. So there were signs he was headed down that path. There are always signs, it seems, but they’re well-disguised behind a charming personality or charitable nature or a religious title like priest or pastor. Maybe if I would’ve said something, it might have sparked an action, a reaction, at least planted a seed in someone’s head that this guy was not the perfect husband and father. He wasn’t a good guy at all.
Maybe that’s why I’m sharing this, to try to make amends for keeping my mouth shut. Maybe I harbor some guilt because I didn’t speak up, I don’t know. Lots of things bubble to the surface when you start analyzing things closely. And I know I shouldn’t feel any guilt at all because I wasn’t the one in the wrong. I understand that, but you still have to wonder, and perhaps in some ways purge. It helps to get it out, it really does.
I like to think there’s a special place in Hell for people who harm children, in any way. To me it’s as awful and unforgivable as taking someone’s life. Isn’t the perpetrator killing off some piece of that child? Brief or sustained, once or fifty times, it doesn’t matter. That’s why I titled this post the way I did. It’s never okay. Never. Kids don’t have a gauge or a scale to go by when they’re being abused, they just know it doesn’t feel right. The older they get, the more they’re able to realize the injustices that are being done to them. That doesn’t lessen the severity one iota, but a 2 year-old can’t articulate as well as a 13 year-old. They’re not old enough yet to know the distinctions between right and wrong. They’re too young to comprehend.
If one person reads this post and it sparks a conversation between them and their children then it was worth writing it. Parents have to have those talks with their kids. It’s not negotiable. You owe that to them as their caretakers. They rely on you to take care of them, to guide and protect them, and even if you’re not with them all the time, if you’ve talked to them about this subject then you’ve planted the seed. They should know it’s never okay for someone to touch them in ways that makes them feel uncomfortable, no matter what the degree of contact. Even a hug or a tickle or a peck on the cheek. Even if there’s no contact at all. If they don’t like something that is being done to them then they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty or ashamed of their natural reaction. I think we all have built-in alarm bells that go off internally to tell us something isn’t right, intuitions that we should listen to. Have that conversation with your kid and they’ll be more apt to heed those warnings.
I pray that all the victims out there find peace and are able to get past their traumas and be well, perhaps even whole again someday.