The Penn State scandal is keeping child sexual abuse in the headlines and in our national conversation like nothing else ever has.
I think that it's great.
It's great because child abuse is rampant in our society and we still haven't figured out how to handle it when it happens, what to do with the perpetrators or how to prevent it. We've been treating it like it's just going to go away every time we uncover it.
I watch the discussions on news shows and talk shows. The new tactic is to show outrage. Nancy Grace is the queen of outrage. Dr. Drew is vying for a piece of that pie as well. It's as if we think yelling through the TV screen at child molesters will make them stop.
Then Jerry Sandusky gives a telephone interview to Bob Costas and tries to explain to all the screamers that he was only horsing around and that he really enjoys young people. Nancy Grace and Dr. Drew don't realize they are not speaking the same language as the alleged child molester.
I keep wondering how to explain the experience of child abuse from the inside. I'm going to try to explain what my world was like when I was sexually abused. The thing you have to remember is that this was the thinking of a child.
I was 11 when I was molested. It was like a nuclear explosion going off in my life, destroying everything. The things I thought I knew about the world were all wrong. The things I thought I knew about myself were wrong too. I was left with nothing, and in the wake of this nothing I had to figure out how to make myself safe again.
One of the questions I hear over and over when child sexual abuse comes up is, "Why didn't they tell?" When I was trying to figure out how to be safe again, telling was one of the first options removed from the table. I didn't have anyone to tell.
My family dynamic was incredibly dysfunctional. One of the primary rules was never to tell anyone outside what goes on inside the house. My father was my molester and he was also our only means of income. I didn't have a great relationship with my mother. I thought about telling her, but I was trying to make myself safe again and it didn't feel like it was going to get me anywhere near my goal in a short amount of time. I just wanted what was happening to me to end and to end quickly.
Things were beginning to fall into a rhythm, and once that rhythm had established itself there was a rapid escalation in the scope of the abuse until I was stretched to capacity. Finally, I couldn't take much more. I came to the conclusion that I needed all of this to just stop.
The next time was going to be the last time. I decided to resist and to resist with all my might. When he tried to start the ritual, I pulled away, but he easily dragged me toward him so I started pushing. I learned quickly that he was much too strong for this to mean anything. Besides, for him, this was ground we had already covered. I was supposed to go along.
The molester is like a salesman gathering agreement to little indiscretions along the way. Once the child has already said yes to something in the past, it's considered a given that it's okay to do that again. So, my father actually started to laugh when I resisted, like it was a game. "Just horsing around."
He picked me up to stop me from pushing him away. I was ready to make it a fight if I had to, so I bit him. I clamped down and bit his shoulder as hard as I could. At first, he didn't even seem to mind, so I tried to bring my teeth together. Then I was sailing across the room. He had tossed me away to stop me from biting him. I believed that this was the end of me. I was sure he would beat me to death at this point.
My father had a real anger management problem, so I was steeling myself for a real beat down when I heard him speak. He sounded surprised. "Why are you trying to hurt me?" he asked.
"Because you're hurting me!" I yelled.
His next words were shocking. He apparently didn't realize I didn't like what was happening. He said something like, "Oh, you don't like it when we do this?"
That's why I laugh at all the Nancy Graces and Dr. Drews yelling from the TV. Many molesters perversely believe their victims are enjoying what's happening. While they're screaming, the molesters are agreeing with them; they say they would never touch a child who didn't want to have that kind of fun.
My father never touched me again. Never even looked at me funny. He understood that I wasn't into his kind of fun. I recovered my boundaries, my safety was restored and I hadn't created an even bigger mess by telling and ripping apart our flimsy family structure.
No, I am not saying that not telling is a good solution, but it might make sense to an 11-year-old.