"I experienced no touch like that...from any other adult man in my life. I didn't know at the time...exactly what about it made it so weird and strange. I just knew...it wasn't like, you know, the touch of another adult man in my family..."
After talking to Craig, Cooper spoke with CNN's legal contributor, Sunny Houston, who used to prosecute child sex crimes. She explained that Sandusky's behavior with Craig was pretty much text-book for the child molester.
"...child predators groom their victims. And it usually does start with that sort of uncomfortable touching and then the boundaries get pushed and pushed and pushed."
While listening to Craig and Houston it was impossible for me not to be reminded that I had once been in Craig's shoes. In my case the predator had been a man who I not only looked up to but had purposely and decidedly chosen as a father figure. He was also a man whose care I was often placed in. While this happened to Craig when he was a preteen it happened to me when I was about 8. At first this guy would just put his hand on my knee but eventually he started putting his hand high up on my inner thigh, which of course would involve his hand going slightly up my skirt. And as was the case with Sandusky and Craig, the touch wasn't overtly sexual. It was just on my thigh...and yet I knew it wasn't right. What made my situation different is that Craig says he didn't really understand what was going on or why the touch was weird. But in my household sex had never been a taboo subject. I knew all about it and I knew where those touches would lead if I didn't do something.
So I told. I went to people who were required to help me.
And they didn't. I was basically told that when I was with him I should stay more than an arm's length away. This was an important person I was accusing. He was needed. So it was explained to me that I was to keep quiet about what had happened. No one confronted him.
The funny thing is, the same individuals who shrank from their responsibilities were also the people who had told me in various ways, several times over, that even as a child, I had rights. Yes, I was expected to follow most adult rules but if any adult tried to violate my rights I was not only allowed to defend those rights I was obligated to. I had internalized that message and so I did protect myself. It wasn't always easy. There was one evening when I was put in a situation where fully protecting myself was an impossibility. After that I confronted one of the adults I had told (by then I was nine). I explained that my continued silence would come at a price. Basic protection. At the very least I had to be assured that I would never again be put in a position where keeping his hands off me would be excessively difficult. I can't recall the exact words I used or the words used by the adult I was confronting. I do remember the look of pain, guilt and absolute distress on that individual's face. What I didn't understand then is that this person hadn't been able to fully grasp or handle the information I had given them before. They hadn't been able to make it into the right shape to fit it into their brain and so even though they didn't exactly think I was lying they also hadn't fully been able to accept the truth of it. But after that conversation things did improve for me. I was still sworn to secrecy but I was never again put in a position where this man had a serious advantage over me.
But several years later this guy tried to get close to me again and that brought everything to a head. The people I had told spoke with individuals they admired and asked for advice. In other words the complaint was kicked up the chain of command. Eventually this man was confronted and he chose not to confirm or deny my allegations. And no on pushed it. He was important, he was needed, and to be honest, he was loved. And because I had done such a good job of protecting myself my complaints just didn't sound so bad. "He would never have really hurt you," I was told. "He just never loved anyone before and he didn't know how to appropriately express that love."
I swear to God, I'm not making that up. Those really were the words that were used.
But here's the thing, the people who had tried to keep this quiet and who made just so many bad decision in this area were actually good people. People with morals and ethics. People who had stood up against sexism, people who had stood up for me against racism. People who had always encouraged me to pursue my dreams. So how could they have failed me in this one area so egregiously?
Well, they failed me because the subject of child molestation makes people so uncomfortable they don't know how to handle it. They don't want to believe it even when they're confronted with it, particularly if the person being accused is someone they love and/or need. No matter how many horrible stories we hear about the priest, the teacher, the coach, the uncle, the babysitter, the nice neighbor and so on we still cling to the idea that child molesters are these creepy guys who drive around in run down, dirty vans. So when confronted with the possibility that the charming guy who we have formed a deep connection with on a personal and/or professional level, the guy who we have learned through experience to trust and confide in is actually capable of hurting a child we don't know how to deal with it. And because so many people have a tough time coming to terms with this they do whatever they can to just make the problem disappear. They don't want to talk to the police about it. They don't want to talk to anyone about it because that would make it more true and they just can't handle that.
But before we simply assume that these men made these intolerable errors in judgement because they're really just monsters we need to take a look at how we, as a society, talk about and confront child sexual abuse. We need to make it a part of our national dialogue. We need to give people the tools they need to react appropriately to something they can't wrap their minds around...something they are so disturbed by they would do almost anything to avoid dealing with it.
We have to teach our kids that while they need to respect authority they do not have to surrender certain rights.
We have to create a culture where our children know they can talk to us about these things. And when they do talk to us we have to be prepared to respond with swift, immediate and powerful action. No matter how badly we want the situation to just go away.
Bestselling Author of:
The Sophie Katz Murder Mystery Series,
SO MUCH FOR MY HAPPY ENDING