The case in which Jerry Sandusky, an assistant football coach at Penn State, is accused of the sexual abuse of some 10 boys, whom he met through his charity foundation, is now occupying the attention of US news followers. It should occupy the attention of all parents here, as well; for whether Sandusky is found guilty or not guilty – note, we did not say “innocent” – there is a lesson to be learned and learned well.
Questions have arisen, as they always do in such cases, as to why the alleged victims, now young men, did not report the abuse they claim was perpetrated against them, in one instance, for as many as five years. Those who claim they know Sandusky well describe him as a generous and genuine do-gooder and a “class act.” Others, disbelieving the young men’s claims, have latched onto the notion that they are now crying foul only because they are after money. Whatever the truth in this instance, and wherever it lies, with the defense or with the prosecution, this we know for sure: Many a child molester comes cloaked in good deeds and nobody knows this better than a molested child.
Here, in Antigua & Barbuda, such accusations and denials are not unknown to us. On a regular basis we read in the newspaper how some grown man has been charged or convicted of “interfering with” a minor, usually a girl-child. Generally, the story merits a shake of the head or, if the perpetrator or victim is known to us, some speculation as to why he did it, whether she brought it on herself, and a bet that the man will serve only minimal time. Outside of Gender Affairs, maybe, most of us don’t even think of the victims who never make it to the news: the scandals that are hushed up through either shame or money; the abrupt end of girlhood for many; the distance and distaste that arise within the family unit; and the lifetime of dysfunctional gender relationships that are the result of such abuse.
It was only a few months ago that POWA hosted a Have Your Say programme titled “The Care and Nurture of the Girl Child,” in which we looked at the often casual way in which girls are raised, or left to raise themselves, in this country. And it was not too long ago, either, that we wrote, in this column, that boy-children are often of even less value than their sisters, if their congregation on street corners, their low graduation rates, and their high incarceration rates are to be looked at objectively. But, like most everything not related to politics or money-making, the messages went in one ear, found it blocked, and exited by the same route.
We need to listen, however, because it is boys like ours – boys who are unimportant to mothers and unknown to fathers – who most easily find themselves victimized by sexual predators, lascivious wolves parading in sheep skin: The committed camp counselor, the championing coach, the stern but caring Scout master, the concerned teacher, and even the sanctified preacher – none is above scrutiny. For in this world of two- and three-job parents, especially single parents – where we mind the store and kids mind themselves – we, ourselves, might be guilty of delivering our children into the very hands that will undress them, unmake them, and undo them.
As women, none of us would have yet forgotten the serial rapist that made us uncomfortable in our homes, our dresses, our skins, a few years ago. That single predator (maybe more) turned this country into a nation of one-eyed sleepers; a population of armed and dangerous females; and a people who watched neighbours with more than the usual curiosity. But how did it begin? Not with the first woman known to be raped, for sure! For we know that rape is never about sex, but about power, about anger, about revenge. The warping of the mind of this sexual marauder would have begun, very likely, with some molestation in his childhood – by the uncle with whom he was made to share a bed; or the grandfather who took him fishing every weekend; or the kindly neighbour who kept him so his mother could work nights. It may have begun with a little play-fighting, or tickling, or this meal for that touch. But that was only the beginning….
It is a fact that, in this region, the abuse of boys – while it may occur as commonly as that of girls – is much less likely to be admitted, never mind reported, because there is too much at stake. Too much that is ego-driven, that is. For we still view a boy victim not just as having sex forced upon him, but as having his manhood compromised. (We tell ourselves that girls will “get over it” since force is a “normal” part of their entry into womanhood.) Hence, a boy is even less likely to tell that he is being abused; for he knows that the sympathy for him will be that much less and the scorn that much greater. And so he buries it, if he can, in antisocial and defiant behaviours, including taking it out, when he can, on girls and women to prove, to himself, that he is “still a man,” despite being used like a woman….
There lies the danger to him and to all of us in the society. That is why we need to realize that molestation is only the beginning of a vicious and virulent cycle. That is why we need to punish and counsel molesters, whose misbehaviour has far-reaching and sometimes deadly consequences. And that is why we need to protect the children, who have both God-given and State rights to our protection, so that they grow up to be neither victim nor victimizer.