On Friday night Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach at Penn State University, certainly got his comeuppance. He was convicted of not one, not two, not three, but of 45 of 48 counts of sexual abuse. Yes, this avuncular looking man was found guilty of the most heinous of crimes -- molesting vulnerable young males who he ironically had access to through his charity for at-risk youths, The Second Mile. And, yes, his behavior of molesting and threatening them put them at a higher lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, relationship issues, and other psychological and physical issues.
This man who looks like somebody's uncle and not necessarily like the monster he is being described as faced multiple charges of abusing several boys over a 15-year period. He was found guilty of one tragic crime after another.
Yes, the conviction of Mr. Sandusky might prompt victims to speak out more quickly and to revisit their histories of being treated inappropriately. Perhaps institutions will be more likely to respond promptly when they become aware of such situations.
I believe, though, that there is a greater lesson to be learned here -- a much greater lesson. There is absolutely no benefit to teaching our kids that child molesters look like, act like or have any resemblance to monsters. Yes, we may think that they commit monstrosities, but our children should not expect monsters and molesters to be one and the same. The truth is that molesters are usually someone the child knows; friendly people who become close to our children and groom them for the upcoming molestation by being unusually attentive to them. They are often well-liked and trusted by the children's families. They don't resemble monsters that kids see on TV, in books or in movies. In fact, we are doing our kids a major disservice if we somehow lead them to believe that everyone in their life is safe unless they look like... a monster.
Please teach your kids to come to you, their parents, with any concerns about unusual behavior or attention from adults. Kids sometimes have the unrealistic idea that parents magically know if they are being treated inappropriately. I have seen this many times in my years of working with children, teens and adults. I ask them why they didn't confide in their parents and they say that they assumed that their parents knew. Kids have all kinds of ideas about what their parents are thinking and know. Check in with your kids frequently. Monitor how much time they are spending with adult mentors, particularly people who have easy access to them like coaches, teachers, boy scout leaders, babysitters, etc. I certainly do not mean to offend anyone in any of these groups, but it is those who have easiest access to our kids who are most likely to abuse them.
Keep the dialogue going with your kids. Start to teach them at an early age about appropriate and inappropriate touches and give them more information as time passes. Always try to be balanced in your approach so that they don't think that the world is a terribly threatening place and intimacy in general is in the bad category. There are many shades of grey in this area, but we need our kids to feel like they can tell their parents anything -- and to teach them that bad people come in all shapes and sizes.