Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Be a real father figure to help end child abuse

In high school, we had a choir director who took our singing groups to many a competition, which we won much of the time. I was in men’s glee and choir three of the four years in high school and had the privilege of experiencing some of that success.

There were also rumors that the choir director seduced and slept with many of the young girls in choir. We’d joke on the football field that there was no way the geeky choir director was lucky with the young ladies (yes, football players can sing), although that’s not exactly the way we put it.

But there he was, with what seemed to be a constant entourage of girls following him at break, at lunch, after school. Some were even seen taking rides with him on his motorcycle.

Introverted girls. Girls with emotional problems. Girls that weren’t popular. Girls with low self-esteem. Girls from broken families.

Girls who needed a father figure.

You get the picture.

Shortly after we graduated, he got fired. He had indeed been having illicit affairs with young girls for years and it was said that the administration turned their heads for years as well. Finally a few girls had come forward, brave enough to tell the tale of a man with power and manipulative persuasion who seduced and exploited their insecurities and need for comfort and a father figure.

Girls who needed a father figure.

When asked what he would do now that he would never teach again in any school, he said he wanted to be a truck driver. Years of school and graduate work (he had at least two masters degrees in music) and now he wants to be a truck driver, to see the world.

It’s an insult to truck drivers as far as I’m concerned. We laughed about it then, somewhat nervously while I internalized anger; he should’ve been in jail.

Fast forward to now and me having a little girl of my own and the story of the San Jose swim coach, Andy King, who sexually abused his female swimmers, some as young as 10, for the past 30 years.

What started as a "tender, fatherly kind of thing'' ended with King having sex with her for years.

Girls who needed a father figure.

Same story. Different day. Different year. Different city, state, zip.

Why did the girls wait so long to tell?

You're talking about young girls who were faced with the threat: "I won't be your swim coach anymore and you won't be able to swim anymore. That's what was said to a lot of these victims."

It’s all power and manipulation and controlling those weaker and more vulnerable: the children. There’s no love involved at all and it’s usually someone the abused knows and trusts. I know this because I went through it myself.

Responsible parenting and adulthood means paying attention to your child’s behavior, or a child you know, and seek help if need be. Don’t overreact if you think something’s wrong, but don’t under-react either. It’s the latter that’s the biggest problem of all.

Under-reacting leads to a lifetime of emotional problems for the child, or worse.

Reported cases of child sexual abuse in the United States are estimated at 80,000 children each year, according to federal statistics. One in three girls will be sexually abused before she reaches the age of 18. One in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Fewer than one in ten of these children will report the abuse. Most of these children will carry the emotional scars and guilt of abuse for the rest of their lives, and many (especially men) will sexually abuse others as adults.

Fewer than one in ten will report the abuse. Remember that and be aware.

Here are some important checklists I found online when it comes to identifying sexual abuse.

The following are behavior changes that may occur in children who have been sexually abused:

  • Fear or dislike of certain people or places
  • Seductive or "sexy" behavior towards adults or peers
  • Problems in school, poor grades
  • Withdrawal from family, friends, or usual activities
  • Advanced sexual knowledge for the child's age
  • Regressed behavior, such as bedwetting
  • Eating disorders, eating very little or excessive eating
  • Hostility or aggressive behaviors
  • Drug or alcohol problems
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

Most children don't tell even if they have been asked, refuse to talk about it or deny that something happened because:

  • Are too young to put what has happened into words
  • Were threatened or bribed by the abuser to keep the abuse a secret
  • Fear that they will be taken away from their family
  • Are afraid no one will believe them
  • The abuser promised gifts or rewards for keeping the secret
  • Blame themselves or believe the abuse is punishment for being "bad"
  • Feel too ashamed or embarrassed to tell
  • Worry about getting into trouble or getting a loved one into trouble

What Can Parents Do To Keep Children Safe?

  • Remember, the person who abuses a child is to blame for the abuse, not the child!
  • Always know the people who care for your children, including names, phone numbers and addresses.
  • Be actively involved, carefully supervising your child‘s activities.
  • Be sensitive to changes in your child’s behavior or attitude, paying close attention to your intuition indicating that something isn‘t quite right.
  • Teach your child to listen to his or her intuition or “gut feeling” and communicate it to you.
  • When your child tells you they do not like someone, ask them to tell you why and listen carefully.
  • Teach your child that it’s okay to tell, no matter who, no matter what!
  • Talk about safety and sex with your child, using proper names for genitals.
  • Supervise and establish clear rules and guidelines for your child’s computer use.
  • Educate yourself (read, listen and ask)

If you suspect abuse has occurred, call your local police department or the child abuse hotline for help: 1-800-4-A-CHILD.

Be a real father figure to help end child abuse. My little Beatrice is counting on us.

3 comments:

  1. I have two girls who are now in their teens, 15 and 18. I always worried that someone would take advantage of them. I am one of the lucky ones who did not have to face that problem. I am appalled to see the statistics, but in my heart I knew they were bad. I hope if I was ever confronted with this I would not over- or under-react. Child abuse and sexual child abuse is such a violent crime because of the victims, those who can't help themselves. Thanks for a very enlightening post. BTW, the coach should have been in jail, not touring the country in search of more victims.

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  2. Thanks for posting this message. It's very important that fathers understand and can recognize the signs of abuse.

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  3. I am the father of two girls who have been sexually abused by their step-grandfather. We prosecuted and he is now in prison serving a ten year sentence.
    I have found that there is little to no support for the fathers of sexual abuse victims. I can tell you all from experience that this turns your life and your families life upside down.
    In an effort to seek support for myself and to offer support for others I have started www.myspace.com/woundeddad
    If you are the father of a sexually abused child or know of one, please pass this along. This is a lonely place to be and I am sure that we can all help eachother. Thank you and have a great day. Wounded-Dad

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