Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Own Private Penn State Was... Everywhere

The Penn State scandal is everywhere.  Turn on television, radio, open a browser, pick up a newspaper or magazine and there will be some mention of the sensational allegations of child abuse.  Most of us believe there is real substance behind the heart-rending accounts, but I use the word "allegations" as even Sandusky is entitled to his day in court. Hopefully it won't end with the injustice of the Casey Anthony trial.  Personally, I think we may never know the real number of boys whose lives were irrevocably damaged.

Sexual abuse is a silent killer that alters a child's sense of trust and self-worth.  It lays waste to the very principles that parents labor to instill in the minds and hearts of their children.  All of us still struggle to find a balance between teaching respect for authority and when to ring the alarm bell.

I find it hard to listen to reports and testimonies from anyone who has been victimized, and wonder if there is any adult out there who has been fortunate enough to have never been subject to some form of actual or attempted abuse.  We've seen the shocking number of priests whose crimes were swept under the rug as the church shuffled them from parish to parish.  It seems every month or so there is another account of a coach or teacher accused of some form of predatory activity.

My book, "Ednor Scardens", didn't start out that way, but eventually became a vehicle for purging some of my own experiences as a young girl.  And yet the anecdotes recorded there hardly scratched the surface.  Some will likely go to the grave with me, but I still find it hard to believe that these all happened during the 1950's and early 60's, a time that most people naively think of as a more innocent time.

Unlike some kids, my own exposures began soon after puberty:  Between the ages of 11-14, there was a flasher at the library, a guy with a hooded sweatshirt who appeared at the kitchen door, a bus driver at the end of his route (my aunt lived at the next stop....the first on the new route), two different men sitting in parked cars on the way to school, and the father of two of my neighborhood friends.  I know those girls must have wondered why I stopped coming to play at their house, but it came so closely on the heels of an assault by a man who worked at the ice skating rink near my home that I didn't go anywhere for weeks.  The other incidents will remain buried as the men responsible are deceased.  They are beyond reach and distressing their family members serves no purpose.

My parents never discussed improper touching, but most kids know instinctively when someone has crossed that line.  What they don't realize is that it isn't their fault and that they need to tell a parent or other trusted adult. I never told because I was afraid of losing the small amount of freedom I'd earned by virtue of my preteen and teen threshold.  And by the time I reached fourteen, I was no longer a quiet, trusting child.  I was athletic and finally capable of defending myself, or at least out-running someone.

So to those who lament the wounds inflicted on the mighty Penn State dynasty, your tears are wasted on me.  And if you are a parent, and haven't discussed this issue with your children, don't wait.  It is one that must begin early and be repeated periodically in age-appropriate ways.  We live in a sadly dangerous and confusing world, but it's always been that way.  We just didn't know it. 

9 comments:

jenny milchman said...

Excellent post, Kathy, and kudoes to you for being so honest. Kids everywhere should know exactly that--it's not your fault, and if the first adult you talk to doesn't help, find another, and another, another--and keep going till it STOPS.

Danielle Raver said...

Such a sad story. Your book sounds like it was written from the heart. You speak of your experiences with such courage. I'm glad you were able to move on from it all. <3

Johanna Garth said...

I struggle with this issue all the time when I'm demanding that my children "respect authority, do what they're told, etc..."

My kids skew towards defiance, but in the back of my mind I'm always worried. Am I going too far? They know what's inappropriate right. Okay, much to their discomfort we're going to have another talk tonight!

Collette said...

Kudos to you, Kathy, for speaking out. You're absolutely right in that it impacts you in so many ways and helps shape you as an adult. What is so important is realizing that you can get help - there really are people who will speak out about the wrongs. As Jenny says, keep talking until you find someone!

Gayle Gross, 10 Day Book Club said...

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Pame Brennan said...

This is an AMAZING book! My daughter IS getting it for Xmas! Thank you for sharing!

Sandy said...

I applaud you for your bravery in discussing this very difficult and personal subject. It is my sincerest hope that all parents read your book and have a long discussion with their children.

Kathleen Barker said...

Thanks to all who read this and especially to those who took a moment to comment. We all learn from each others' experiences.

Lisa Zhang Wharton said...

HI Kate, I finally get to comment on this blog. I have my own "Private Penn State" and it is currently featured in my blog: "I'm the Chinese Girl WIth the Dragon Tattoo: I was raped and didn't know about it: http://lisazhangwharton.blogspot.com/