Protecting The Innocent
Last year I got clean, in that being honest with yourself and others kind of way. I revealed that my father, a Scoutmaster, had been arrested in the 1950s for molesting my cousin, who was a 13-year-old Scout. I learned this family secret long after my parents had passed away through a box of saved newspaper clippings and letters. I also now know that we left our home in Florida and moved to Tennessee to start over. Relatives and friends took this secret to their graves and as a three-year-old at that time, I have no memory of the abuse charges that occurred. But what I do remember from my childhood was being sexually molested in the Nashville church where my family had sought refuge. I was seven years old when it began and like my parents, I kept a secret for far too long. Coming clean was not easy, but it sure does have a way of bringing things hidden out into the light. And since the beginning of time we’ve known that light is the only antidote for the darkness.
My childhood abuse led to a sexual awakening by the age of ten where in the downtown movie theaters in the 1960s, men would approach me in the middle of a summer day. The same would often occur in the department store restrooms as well. I was offered attention, known as grooming, from men wanting sex which caused me to tell lies, act out my pain and take harrowing risks during my teen years.
I realize now that my mother must have watched my dad carefully because like an alcoholic who is one drink away from relapse, she probably could never fully trust that my dad would not make another mistake forever scarring a child. Her fixed gaze on him and his blank stare for everyone else meant that my parents totally missed the signs that their own son was being abused.
My father’s incident was Scout related and mine, church related. Two organizations where children should have felt safe and yet, we now know that sexual abuse has long plagued scouting and religion. I question if it is true that we didn’t know back then or if we just didn’t want to know that we knew. I understand that signs, suspicions, and feelings are often much clearer in hindsight, but foresight is what we really need.
Sexual abuse awareness and safeguards were not a part of my childhood. And although now in place, is it enough? Not too long ago, I witnessed a single man watching a young family intensely in a fast food restaurant. I then witnessed him follow the child into the restroom. I alerted the father to go check on his son and although hesitant at first, he heard the urgency in my voice and did as I implored. Was his son in actual danger? I’ll never know for sure, but I felt I needed to speak up. If we are truly interested in the homeland security of our most vulnerable citizens then we the people need to act. “If you see something, say something” is a motto we should all want to live by. Take it to heart, and you could save a child’s inner life.
Won’t you join me in speaking up to protect our children? The people who come into their lives can do enormous good or unthinkable harm, and it can be very hard to tell the difference at first. Look closely. Don’t assume any place or organization is safe. My father’s stern facade hid his past arrest while I hid my own childhood abuse behind a smile. Was my own father abused as well? How I wish that I could ask him. And how I wish that he’d asked me.
J. Ronald M. York, author of Kept in the Dark, is also an accomplished musician and founder of York & Friends Fine Art Gallery.
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