“Gather strength from life’s storms”
I was going to write about this earlier but then went to DC and put it out of my mind for a while. Neighborhoods are interesting places, you have all kinds of folks living there, some with big dark secrets and others who you never know are even there, and then the ones who you bond with. Ours is no different.
When the kids were young they ran in a pack. It felt very safe as we live on a circle and there were mom’s located all around the circle watching out for the kids. When they did go into the woods they went in a group, never alone and usually with at least four of them. So again, trying to be mom’s like our mom’s we let them go out and do their thing. We did not have the paranoia that parents today seem to have.
The Schenectady Gazette had an article at one time about sexual abuse and pedophiles. Not something any of us wanted to think about. There was a list in the article about signs and symptoms to watch for and about how usually the predator was someone known to the children as a family member, neighbor or friend. Not usually a stranger. Never having thought about that before I was startled to have to think about it. Growing up we had been told about the man who might drive up and offer you candy to get you near his car and not to go near the stranger and to run home as fast as you could. That warning gave me nightmares. The scary stranger, but never did anyone warn me about the person you know touching you or assaulting you. I wish I had had that talk because later in my very early teens a friend of my brothers went after me in the basement of our house while every one was upstairs and I got away but I never told anyone. As an adult I wondered if he had ever tried things like that again with young girls.
At least society was starting to pay attention to the issue of sexual abuse of children. One sad day we all got a call from Sue. Her step-daughter had gone down looking for the kids and thought that might be at this house where there were no children but a nice man who let them play in his front yard and gave them treats etc. She approached the garage and looked in and saw him being inappropriate with one of the teenage girls in the neighborhood, not our kids age but a very vulnerable kid. She was just standing there letting him touch her, kind of frozen in time.
Sue called a meeting and we started to talk about things as a group of mom’s. Putting things together it of a sudden in dawned on us that our kids were not safe. There were several incidences which caused light bulbs to go on in our heads. How blind we had been! How trusting! What was the matter with us that we had not seen it? We talked about what to do next. In the article I had read they said to call for help. So we did.
That evening or the next evening, we were all gathered with husbands in tow at Sue’s house. After our discussion about who would do the talking etc the police and the sheriffs department guys arrived. They listened to our stories and our admission of having been blind to what was going on and they told us what they planned to do. They told us to stay where we were and they were going down to the fellows house and arrest him. Then they would return to let us know what the story was and what the next steps would be. We all nervously waited for their return. Part of us felt terrible for having to do this to a neighbor but the greater feeling was that we had let our kids down by not seeing the situation for what it was. The rides to the library, the offer to purchase bikes for kids who did not have ones as nice as the other kids, the letting the kids play in his yard, on and on.
The police came back and informed us that he had been arrested and that when they went into his house there were pictures of our kids and other children all over his walls. That made it even more scary. Of course, only the girls pictures were up there. They would take him to jail and he would post bail and then go to court. The DA folks would let us know the next steps or the police department.
I know you think well he must have gone to jail or moved away as the police had predicted that he would. But no, neither of those things happened. In those days there was no offenders list, there was the feeling that if you slapped his hands he would stop the behavior etc. well those things did not happen either. One of the contact parents got a call that they had decided to let him plea bargain so the children would not have to go to court and had given him six months in contemplation of dismissal if he attend counseling and stayed out of trouble for six months. We did not know any different so we went along.
At the end of six months one of the neighbors received a phone call from the perp. He said he was now not under the courts and had attended counseling and would we let him continue his friendship with our children? After the shock wore off this neighbor told him if he so much as came near any of our children we would be calling the police again. So it appeared that he backed off.
In the mean time we had asked social services to send in a counselor to do a group session with our children. At that session it was the boys that amazed us, they stated clearly that they knew this man did not want them at his house but that the girls would not have gone there if he did not let them be there as well. They got it before we ever did. The social worker did a session on good touch and bad touch and it was interesting, the parents of the young teen who was being molested that started this whole thing said right out “they were losing their sugar daddy” He bought their daughters all kinds of things and took them places so they did not have to do those things. We were shocked… I would live as simply as possible if it meant my children were safe from that kind of abuse. I would do what ever I had to to keep them safe.
After things calmed down and we no longer were dealing with this issue on a daily basis we kind of put it out of our minds. The children all knew they were never, ever to go to that house for anything and they were happy to comply. They knew what was happening was not good. He had been picking and grooming various kids and looking for the ones who would not get parental backing if they said anything. Good thing most of us were mother tigers because we would do anything to protect our kids. Life went on….
Then one day we all got a call from one of the mom’s. Her daughter was now in High School and volunteered as part of an improvisational theatre at the Girls Club. She was doing a performance and looked out in the audience and what did she see? This same person with a little girl sitting on his lap. He was a volunteer there. She went ballistic! How could he be there? What could she do about it? After her presentation she went right up to her adult leader and said that man sitting down there is a pedophile and you need to get him out of here. She told him the story of our neighborhood and shortly thereafter they checked with her mom and he was no longer a volunteer there.
Over the years we have found that he was a volunteer in many agencies that take care of vulnerable children. When we have had that happen community members have made phone calls and encouraged the people to check with the police and the sheriffs office, that is until it was discovered that because of his plea bargain he does not have a record anymore. And did he move away like the police thought he would, nope, he stayed for years until he was too old and dying. But at least our children were saved from him although it is obvious that some of them did suffer damage because of it. The kids are now approaching middle aged and all seem to be doing well but one never knows what they carry around with them as a result of that entire chapter in their lives.
So, if you have children be a tiger and keep them safe. Talk to them about good touch and bad touch. And make sure they know they can come to you and talk with you about anything that happens. This was a bad chapter in our lives and we all paid for it in various ways. I wonder if he ever really paid for it.