If you’re like I once was, you see the occasional stories on television about teachers and coaches who have sexually abused their students, and you think it could never happen to your kid.
After all, you and your child talk. You’ve told him or her what kinds of adult behaviors are inappropriate. Plus, you just assume that if one of your child’s teachers was exhibiting strange behavior, you’d know. Everyone would know. The kids would be talking about it. The other parents would be hearing about it, and taking action.
Believe me when I tell you that it just doesn’t work that way.
Several years ago, one of my stepdaughters was on a sports team with an assistant coach who was really setting off my inner alarm bell every time I saw him. For one thing, he was single and childless. That by itself wouldn’t necessarily be cause for concern, but I definitely wondered in the back of my mind why a young, single man would be interested in coaching tween girls.
It wasn’t long before the girls began telling stories about “Tom” when I took them home after practice. They said that Tom had made up special nicknames for all of them. They said Tom was swatting them on the butt after plays. They said Tom was always finding excuses to touch them. Hubs and I talked to my stepdaughter about it and we agreed that it would be unfair to take her off a team she’d played on for years, but she promised to stay as far away from Tom during practice as possible, and to tell us if Tom said or did anything directly to her that was inappropriate or made her uncomfortable.
Before long, my stepdaughter mentioned that Tom had started bringing pizza for her teammates during lunchtime at school, and eating at their table.
Um. Okay. What the hell was a single man doing coming into a school and having lunch with tween girls without their parents even being notified? Hubs called the principal, had a little chat, and Tom was quickly barred from coming to the cafeteria for lunch (and anyone else who wasn’t a family member of one of the kids, for that matter—the administration solved the Tom problem merely by tightening up the policy).
Despite this, Tom didn’t back down. We began hearing that he was sending e-mails to the girls’ private accounts. At one point, we were told that he sent some of them a “funny” picture of a man’s bare butt. By this time, we had given Tom so many dark glares during practice that he was studiously avoiding my stepdaughter. Instead, he seemed to be focusing his attention on the girls on the team whose fathers weren’t in the picture. These girls were giddy with the attention Tom was giving them, and loved talking about all the inappropriate things he said and did when he was around them. There was no doubt in my mind that Tom was on the hunt, and even though I was a brand new stepmom and didn’t have a whole lot of influence among the other parents on the team, many of whom had known each other for years, I began discussing the Tom problem with some of them.
As it turned out, one set of parents had actively begun trying to get Tom kicked off the team. The mother had even confronted Tom face to face and told him to stay away from her daughter.
The other parents? Well, they “didn’t want to get involved.” It would be uncomfortable and messy. And Tom was friends with the coach, and with another set of parents on the team. Oh, they all agreed that his behavior was inappropriate; they just didn’t want to “rock the boat.”
I was flabbergasted. There was no question that Tom’s behavior was way out of bounds, but no one wanted to do anything about it?
It wasn’t until Tom called the coach’s house and said some “creepy” things to her daughter that he was finally, finally kicked off the team. It seemed obvious to me that his behavior was escalating. Despite this, he showed up at one of the girl’s sleepovers a few months later, ostensibly to hang out with her single mom, and stayed all night.
I can only write about this now that several years have passed and Tom is out of our lives for good. But the whole experience changed me. I will never, ever assume that other parents won’t stand for a potential sexual predator hanging out around our children. Because you know what? They will.
Tom couldn’t have been more overt. When eleven-year-old girls are calling him a “perv,” well, it doesn’t take a fool to figure out that something’s amiss. Yet almost no one was willing to do one thing about it. These were typical suburban parents, too, who attended all their kids games, came to parents nights, and volunteered at school events. But they weren’t willing to step up and do whatever it took to remove a problem adult from their girls’ lives.
I hope every single parent who reads this post pledges to be on heightened alert when it comes to the adults that are around your children. Who are your child’s teachers, teachers’ assistants, student teachers, coaches, assistant coaches, and tutors? Who exactly is around when your child goes to a sleepover? Is it just the child’s parents, or do they have adult friends who will be there too? Asking questions can be so uncomfortable, but if my children are ever put in a situation in which they’re fending for themselves against a pedophile, I feel like it will be my fault. I have to do everything in my power to keep that from happening.
90 percent of sexually abused children were abused by someone they know.
I challenge all of you with children to take this statistic to heart and consider it every time your inner warning bell is going off, but you don’t want to “rock the boat.” Go ahead. Rock it. We like to pretend that children aren’t sexually abused in our nice little middle class neighborhoods and communities, but unfortunately, they are. And you can’t rely on others to ferret out the sexual predators. You are your child’s number one advocate. You are your child’s protector. When you ask questions, when you voice your concerns, when you listen to that warning bell going off in your heart, you’re not being a pest. You are just doing your job.