When I was a little girl, I was sexually assaulted. It seems like a harsh description for what happened, but when a man fifteen years older than you makes you touch his penis, what do you call it?
I heard The Creep go to the bathroom. I heard the door open, and his footsteps on the carpet as he walked to my doorway. I feigned sleep to avoid getting in trouble for still being awake. Then he was beside my bed, a shadow with scraggly hair blocking the glow from the night light across the room. There was an odor I didn’t recognize.
He took my hand and brought it towards his jeans. I brushed skin. I giggled, yanked my hand back, and rolled to the other side of my double bed. “Just touch me.”
I thought it was a game, like tag. I remember sliding off the other side of the bed still giggling. “Sssshhhhhh” his tone wasn’t angry. He spoke calmly, but quietly, using his voice to soothe me into doing his bidding. We played cat and mouse for a few minutes. Eventually, he gave up and went back downstairs. I still sucked my thumb and my hand smelled funny. I washed my hands and went back to bed eventually falling asleep.
He came back. I remember the feel of the cool, jagged edges of the zipper on my fingers. Then I was abruptly, fully awake, touching him. Again, I yanked my hand back and rolled to the other side of the bed telling him to go away. He kept saying he just wanted me to touch him. This time, I jumped to the floor and landed with a loud thud. This scared him off and my mother came home not long after. Tired and not wanting to get in trouble, I went back to sleep.
The next morning as she was making her coffee, I told her the story of my night time visitor. She would later tell me that I was calm and matter-of-fact. I was annoyed that he woke me and I didn’t like the smell of musk my hands.
There were many conversations in the days that followed and a trip to the doctor. My mom and Dennis were calm and asked me to tell the story again. I never wavered. They found the money to fix the first floor bathroom. They told me he was wrong to be in my room. They told me that sometimes it is ok to stay awake. They told me that he and his girlfriend would NEVER stay with me again. They told me I was right to tell an adult and taught me what to do should I ever be in that position again. It was only then that I started to understand the seriousness of what had transpired.
This incident while a part of my history, does not raise a huge specter in my life. It was an isolated incident that didn’t escalate. I think the impact was lessoned because of the way my mother reacted. I’m sure she was dying inside, but to my face, she remained calm and collected. I told my story. She listened to me and made sure I felt safe. To my young mind, feeling safe meant I would never be left in the house alone with The Creep again.
Later, I would learn that my mother filed charges. The Creep wasn’t convicted because she refused to let me testify. In hindsight, I have mixed feelings about that. The adult in me wants the little girl to testify. But the parent in me understands why she wouldn’t put a child through that experience.
I was lucky. I told a trusted grown up, she listened to my story, heard my fears and worked to chase the monsters away. For me, they never came back.
I’ve hemmed and hawed about posting this story. In light of other stories of abuse, it just doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. Still, I was bothered by a discussion on Facebook about the charges pending against Jerry Sandusky and Penn State’s handling of the whole issue. The poster said “we all make choices, those victims have voices, why didn’t they speak up?”
Even Paterno’s bosses couldn’t get him to step down. He and his inner circle including Sandusky, weren’t just mere mortals. To those that worship at the alter of Penn State Football, they were Gods to be revered, idolized and most importantly, never questioned.
It was easy for me to speak out, The Creep was a stranger, trusted based only on association (he was the boyfriend of the substitute babysitter, the sister of a beloved neighbor). My relationship with my mother was solid and I’ve always been the kind of person who speaks her mind, even at a young age.
Like the victims of catholic priests before them, the boys of Happy Valley never had a chance. To an overextended parent, there is gratitude when a mentor reaches out to a child. I know both from the child’s perspective and the parent’s perspective. They knew no one would believe them. After we’re talking about The Jerry Sandusky, esteemed coach at Penn State Founder of The Second Mile Foundation. Behold, a God within our midst and he wants to spend time with YOU. Don’t you dare waste this opportunity. I guarantee, if it wasn’t said in so many words, it was implied. We raise these people to the status of Gods and then we’re stunned when we find out they are human. Not just once, but again and again and again.
Parents, listen to your children, when they talk to you and to their peers. Really HEAR what they are saying. Kids are kids, but if you pay attention, you can tell the difference between. Bratty behavior and the indications of underlying problems. It is hard work ensuring that your kids know they can always come to you. My mother tried hard, but she wasn’t perfect. Who of us are? Still, she made the monsters go away and made sure I understood what was happening and that I had done nothing wrong. She made the best of an awful situation.