Warning: this article talks about child molestation.
Kayla Harrison is an inspiration. She has won the US its first gold medal in Olympic judo. Because she knew Olympic judo doesn’t typically lead to lots of commercial endorsements and a big sports career, she had planned to return home and train to be a firefighter. That’s also inspiring.
But then she won the gold, and suddenly the press realized they had a gold mine on their hands. Harrison had previously talked about her survival of child molestation, and now they had an “abuse survivor triumphs to become gold medalist” story – in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky debacle. Maybe that’s cynical of the press, but for once their interests are aligning with those of other victims.
Because we need to hear more stories of victims getting justice, and that’s Harrison’s story. She was abused by a previous judo coach for three years before telling a friend who went straight to Harrison’s mother. Her mother called the police, the FBI got involved, and the molester is serving 10 years in prison.
For those wondering why Harrison didn’t go straight to her own mom immediately: when a child tells a parent she’s been victimized in some way, she’s putting a huge burden onto that parent, and kids are sensitive to this. Kids frequently overestimate their ability to handle something on their own, or underestimate their parents’ willingness or ability to help. And it gets worse when kids become teens (Harrison was 13 when the abuse started), because they feel the need to take on more responsibility and independence – they also tend to assume they’re at fault. The fact that she kept this to herself does not indicate family shortcomings. If you’re a parent wondering how to make sure your child will come to you with anything like this, you need to tell them in clear language: “If anyone ever touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, I want to hear about it so I can help you, even if you’re embarrassed or think it might be your fault somehow.”
Many victims – most, I would guess, going by anecdotal stories – don’t get this kind of justice. Molesters take steps to ensure they won’t:
- They often target kids who lack support at home (not in every case, as evidenced by Harrison’s story)
- They use psychology to convince the kids they’re at fault, so they will keep it to themselves
- They threaten to hurt someone the kid loves if the kid tells anyone (this can include pets)
- They work hard to get themselves into positions of respect so people will be stunned to think this lovely pillar of the community could be a pervert. (If only human beings were intelligent enough to realize bad people don’t have “Evil” conveniently tattooed across their forehead.)
- They make a point of not abusing certain kids, usually privileged ones, so the important parents of those kids can honestly tell the community:”We left out child alone with X for ages, and s/he never tried anything.” If only people realized that how someone treats you may not be how they treat someone else.
The justice for Sandusky’s victims came way too late, and it was way too little as well. He was aided and abetted by who knows how many people at Penn State who preferred covering up for him (or cowering to Paterno?) to preventing child rapes. It’s nice to hear a story about things getting done properly in one of these cases.
If only these recent events would inspire people to wonder what they can to do prevent child sexual abuse. Because there is so much we can do! It’s not a freak of nature. It’s a problem of culture, and culture can be changed on a dime.