Begin at the beginning
I often read articles like the one I am about to write, and it seems they all start the same way. “I have been meaning to write this for a while” or “I am not sure how to start”. I used to laugh at that, because I didn’t realize how difficult it is to get the words rolling. Now I understand, because I have been meaning to write this for a while, and now that I am writing it, I don’t know where to start.
It all started decades ago, my parents split up and I moved around a lot. I started by living at my grandparents house in Connecticut, and my mother lived close by, so I saw her on weekends and randomly throughout the week, while I lived with my Grandparents, my brother lived with my mom. I am not sure where my father was at this time. Some things were just not discussed with us children.
Without much warning, we (my brother and I) found ourselves being moved again, this time all the way down to Georgia. In what was, even now 25 years later, a strange occurrence, my father was granted full custody of both of us. This was a difficult time emotionally for my brother and I. It was difficult only having one parent instead of the two you were used to. It was hard not seeing one of your parents for months at a time.
My father was very sought after in his field, so we moved around a lot with him. From Georgia, to Massachusetts, to Alabama, to Utah. And in most cases we moved two or three times within each of those states. By the time I dropped out of high school, I had gone to 17 different schools, and packed and unpacked my belongings at least as many times.
I had also been through two step fathers and one step mother. I had very few close friends, due to the fact that I moved so much and had no time to make close friends. And I was not particularly close with my family, both because I was an idiot teenager, and because when you go through what me and my brother went through, you find it difficult to let anyone close, even the people who you should be close with because they are your family.
I tell you this, not to excuse myself from any judgement, but so that you can attempt to put yourself in the shoes of a kid who didn’t feel comfortable anywhere, and spent most of his youth following his single father around the country. A father, who at the end of my teenage years, I didn’t like very much. But now, I realize he was playing the hand he was dealt, and even though I think we can both agree that mistakes were made, he did everything he could to try to raise two boys without a full time partner. And if the measure of success on parenting is a child who is not in jail, and contributes positively to society, then my father succeeded on both counts for both his boys. And, just to ensure that opinions don’t go down the wrong path while I meander to the point of this post, my father was not the perpetrator of the focus of this article, and he is absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing in relation to these events. He was never in the same state, nor was he my guardian at the time.
When looking back at what happened, I often wonder to myself, “Why did I let it happen?”. Not to say I blame myself for what this man did to me, but I now know that with one sentence, or mention of what was going on, I could have stopped it at any time. I never felt fear for my life, or the lives of my loved ones, and I wasn’t threatened into silence. My silence came from me, and to this day I don’t understand why I stayed quiet. And in fact this inaction is the number one reason I do feel guilt to this day. I feel guilt for those who were harmed after me. That guilt is real to me, and more than likely will be with me forever.
One theory I have about my silence is the question What is Normal? I was an 11-13 year old boy who just plain didn’t know what the hell was going on. I didn’t have stable relationships with kids my age, I didn’t have multiple adult role models to talk to, to understand what people did. I also didn’t have any idea what or what was not appropriate physical contact between an adult in a position of authority and a child. For a while, I simply didn’t realize what was going on was not normal.
And so the seeds of silence are planted. It starts out with me thinking that this is what happens. Obviously if a man who was put in charge of a Boy Scout troop says that he needs to touch you in certain places, you think, “Ok, he has a reason for this”. An 11 year old doesn’t think, “Well, I bet you he is getting sexual gratification from this”, no you think he is doing it for a valid reason, and it most likely is for your safety. Shoot, you don’t even really know what sexual gratification is at that age. And the vague idea of what sex is does not include a child and a man who is 30-40 years older than that child.
Well, now you have a history of this activity happening. And every time it happens a small part of your brain sends the distress signal. At first it is too small to notice, then you dismiss it as something to do with the fact that you didn’t put on clean underwear, until it gets too big dismiss. At that point I was months, and dozens of times past the point where someone who did know what normal was, would have said something. And that is when I realize I am ashamed of myself for not realizing it sooner. I don’t want to talk to anyone about it, because the first question I assume I am going to get is “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”. And that is a question I can’t answer, and because of that, I am scared to say anything.
Hindsight being 20/20 I know that not a single one of the adults I would have talked to would have reacted like that. In fact, based on the responses when they eventually did learn about it, I can say that they would have handled it many times better than I initially thought. But I didn’t have the gift of that hindsight, or adult knowledge that I have now writing this. So I stayed silent, even beyond the point where I did know what sexual gratification was, and I knew for a fact that he was doing it for just that.
This all happened during the summer, I was in Connecticut to see my mother during her yearly visitation. I am not sure how she knew the guy, but the first summer I met him, I was coming up from Georgia, and I was set to become a Boy Scout, so that I could go to camp for a week during the summer. He was the scout leader of a troop, so that is how we met. New Boy Scout and his new Scout Leader. It also turned out he offered to give me a job during the summer, so I could earn some money. This job was at his floor covering store doing odd jobs, like weeding the planters, organizing the samples, and general custodial work.
Power and Ignorance
Like I said before, it started where I didn’t even know something was strange. He simply asked me to weed the planter beds, and then after that, he needed to check me for ticks. Seemed caring enough, this scout leader who owned a business, just wanted to ensure that there was no blood sucking bugs on me. And of course as I was told, those ticks go for the dark warm places, so that meant he had to check my crotch. I am going to choose not to go into graphic details surrounding these acts because I don’t need to relive them in vivid detail, and the exact details don’t help tell the story. So for the sake of understanding, just know that multiple times a week, I was assured I didn’t have any ticks anywhere on my body, and he always did a thorough check.
This man was either extremely lucky, or extremely cunning. I think it was the latter, he knew exactly what he was doing. He knew he was in a position of authority and inherent respect due to his “pillar of the community” status based on being a scout leader and business owner. Using that respect and authority to prey on young boys.
As my ignorance went away and I started to realize something was wrong, that is when the power side started to really play in. Along with the fear that I would be in trouble for not speaking up sooner, I start to think I might also be overthinking things. How could someone in the position this man was in be doing something wrong. Boy Scouts wouldn’t let him be a Scout Leader, right?
Over the next 2 years, during my summer vacations in Connecticut, I would go work in his store and go to Scout camp with him as the leader. And tick checks were not the only times where there was inappropriate contact. There were also special massages, and even non-physical situations where sexually explicit conversations would happen. I don’t have an idea of how many times things happened, but I can say that it happened every time we were alone together, and it was more than 20 times a summer.
Guilt and trusting the system
After the second summer, I went home, and went on with my life. I didn’t think about what happens over the summer. At least I tried not to, and when I did, I would do my best to stop thinking about it as quickly as I could. At this point, I knew what was going on wasn’t OK, but the distance from the issue allowed those doubts that I always had to intensify.
Then, one day, my father asks me a very strange question. He asks me what I feel about my scout leader. Such as simple and innocent question. But I knew exactly where he was going. Had he asked about any other person, I would not have known the second question, but here I knew exactly what the follow up would be. I told my father that my scout leader was “OK”.
“How about when you are alone? What is he like then?” my father asked.
I felt confronted with a shameful thing I had done. I felt the same as if he had pulled out a bottle of whiskey from under my bed and was asking me what it was doing there. How did he know? Did I not bottle it up enough? How could anyone else know? I was scared, and not sure what to do. So I did that thing that all kids do when they think they are in trouble. I lied, I admitted to only what I thought could be proven.
“He’s just a Scout Leader” I said, hoping that I sounded sufficiently apathetic. Like I was talking about someone who I never thought of and barely had interaction with.
“Because, yesterday, he was arrested for molesting a Boy Scout in his troop.” my Dad said.
The surge of emotions that hit me were confusing, and intense. First came kind of relief, because not only did it erase the doubt that I was blowing the issue out of proportion, but it also showed me that my dad didn’t know that I was involved. Then came the realization that I had lied about what happens when we are alone, which meant I couldn’t go back and tell the truth, I didn’t want to get in trouble for lying. (I want to break in here again and say this what was going through my child brain, not any actual threat, I know now that telling the truth would not have ended up with me getting in trouble.) Then came the most confusing and honestly the most sickening emotion I have felt through all of this, and that was the feeling of rejection. I actually felt rejected by this predator, I thought “Was I not enough?”. And finally came the worst emotion, the one that has stuck with me through all the years, guilt. I suddenly realized that I wasn’t the only one. I realized I might have been the first, and that me not saying anything meant that he hurt other kids. I felt responsible for this kid, who I still to this day don’t know, and the trauma he was going through.
The guilt rendered me speechless. I simply told my father that I knew nothing about that, and if the kid says it happened then it probably did.
Over the next couple of weeks I continued to feel the guilt come in huge crushing waves. Every time it hit me I became more and more convinced that I had done something horribly wrong. In my head the question “Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” became “How could you let this happen to other children?”. I heard all the adults saying that.
I told myself that he had been caught, so that meant that he was going to get punished. I didn’t know anything about the criminal justice system. I thought that when someone who was arrested for doing something, and they did it, they would get the punishment they deserved and that punishment would be the maximum punishment you could give someone.
I knew he did it, so I figured that the police and the lawyers had all they needed to send him to jail. I was never contacted by the police or lawyers, so I was never asked if it had happened to me. If I lay any blame for where we end up on at the feet of law enforcement, it is that they didn’t interview all the scouts in his troop. This would have solved two problems, one it would have given me one more chance to come clean with someone who I might have felt would not be as judgemental. Two, it would have put my name on record in the investigation as a member of the troop.
Later, I was told that he was sent to jail and it was over. And I thought that at least that was over, my guilt for the other boys would always be there, but there would not be any more. Even when he got out of jail, he would be marked. They don’t let these types of sex offenders around kids. He would forever be kept away from people he sought to harm. And the best part, I would never have to see him ever again.
Months turned to years, and while I now know that some of the issues I have had in my life stem from the damage this man caused, those issues are for another post. The guilt would be there always, sometimes deep and barely identifiable, sometimes right there on the surface screaming at me. The day I found out that he had also hurt my brother (who is 4 years younger) it hurt more than anything had ever hurt in my life.
And this is the only point where I think my father handled the situation poorly. I understand that it was an emotional day, and now as a father myself, I understand the anger and despair that goes along with the realization that your child was harmed. But he asked me the question that that I dreaded the most.
“Why didn’t you say something? You know that it would have prevented your brother from getting hurt” my father said.
All my insecurity came back. Suddenly the reason I kept quiet was proven right. And in the same stroke, it validated every single ounce of guilt that I felt. It was my fault those other kids, including my brother, were hurt. I could have stopped it, but I didn’t. Even though I was an adult now, I couldn’t see what was going on, I only saw that I had failed my brother, I failed my father, I failed my fellow scouts.
Faith in the system was misplaced
Again, I attempted to go on with my life. Years past from the day that I learned about my brother. I became a father two times over. I served in the Army. I slowly became successful in my field at work.
Somewhere during this time, I was made aware that child molesters could have their record expunged if they petition an appeals court. A friend of mine who was molested as a young child by her father had to testify against his record being expunged. I thought this might be a reason for me to talk to the police in Connecticut about my experience, if nothing more than to have my name on a list of people who could speak against my scout leaders record being expunged, or even, if as I hoped, against his release from prison.
I didn’t exactly decide against it at this point, I simply had other things going on in my life, and I thought that I would eventually get around to it.
After all of that, around 20 years after the abuse, I landed in Portland, Oregon. I became the software developer for the local sheriff’s office. And as I became part of the law enforcement community, I started seeing stories of people who were repeat offenders, and had someone simply spoke up against their release, or against the removal from them from the sex offenders list, then that person would have had less chance to harm other people.
I decided to take action. I contacted the Berlin Connecticut Police Department. I wanted to simply add my name to the list of victims.
The officers I spoke to were extremely understanding and helpful. Not once did they challenge me as to why I waited so long. I explained the entire situation, and had to go into the graphic details of the abuse. The detective I spoke to was patient and honest with me. He explained that due to the time past he believed that we were past the statute of limitations. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that at the time, seeing as to me it didn’t matter if he was brought up on charges, just that I was able to speak at any hearings involving his conviction.
About a week after I first contacted the police, I got a call from the detective that sent me into a spiral of depression. It was at a very inopportune time as well. I was traveling as a chaperone for a group of teens traveling to Georgia. I had this telephone conversation sitting alone, away from that group, in the middle of Atlanta Georgia at the Olympic park. But it was important, so I apologized to the other leaders and had the call.
The detective explained to me that indeed the statute of limitations had passed on the opportunity for me to report the crime. I was disappointed at this, mainly because after all these years I was finally strong enough to stand up for myself, and now I couldn’t. I made a decision as a child that I now have to live with as an adult. I also was a victim of something that over and over has been proven to lead to shame, so having the legal system tell me that succumbing to that shame made it as if it didn’t happen felt like a betrayal.
But the second blow knocked the wind out of me, and caused me to be a grown man sitting in a park in Georgia crying.
The detective told me that my understanding of what happened to my abuser was incorrect. According to the record, he had accepted a plea deal, which kept him out of jail. He also was exempt from having to register as a sex offender. I also learned that a background investigation would not yield a result as a sex offender. This man who had abused at least 3 boys (that is all I have knowledge of, but I can’t believe we are the only 3) didn’t see a single day of prison, doesn’t have to warn parents that he wants to abuse their children, and given the opportunity, could pass a background check to allow him to be alone with children.
I felt betrayed by the system. I felt the stabbing guilt again. I felt hopeless, helpless and unsure what to do.
I discussed my options with the detective. This didn’t help much. I was told that legally there was not much to do. Seeing as the only way to add him to the sex offender list would be to have new charges, I will never be able to ensure that happens. My sexual abuser will live out his days without having to tell people what he has done.
Without new charges he will never see the inside of a prison. I only care about this because as it stands he never did time for a crime he committed. I have suffered for years. In other posts I will detail the issues I have endured because of his abuse. And all he had to do was promise not to break the law again, and he went about his life.
He also can continue to do business in the community where his victims came from. His business is still operating, and there is nothing preventing him from being around children at this business of his. Nothing stopping him from picking another victim and checking them for ticks, and giving them special massages.
I am relatively sure that he is no longer a Scout Leader, however, there is a listing for a Scout Leader with the same name in the same area. I have no way of knowing if that is him or his son, or even some other relative (he has a very unique last name, much like mine, you can assume if you meet one, we are related at some level). But this uncertainty should not be possible. If he was a registered sex offender I could be 100% sure that it is not him.
I finished the call with the detective, he assured me that he will do everything he can, but also told me that I shouldn’t get any hopes up as he was certain that not much could be done. I went about my trip with my group, but a black cloud followed me. Hopefully I wasn’t too much of a downer for them, I don’t think I was, but sometimes you never know.
Where do I go from here?
The dust has settled from this last blow I received. I have begun the process of attempting to rebuild my emotional stability. I am working on understanding the guilt I feel so that I can deal with it. I have started working with a therapist to attempt to understand why I kept silent as a child, and by understanding attempt to come to terms with it. This process will be long and difficult. But I have support from my family and I am going to get through it.
But, the betrayal I feel from our justice system won’t go away. That betrayal is deep and it can’t be fixed. The only thing I can do is attempt to do something positive to rebuild the trust of the system, and attempt to prevent this betrayal happening to others.
First, I need to make sure that every single child understands that silence will only hurt them more. This is a lofty goal as I am not sure how to even start, but I will not let inaction be the story of my life. So I start by telling my own children that they can tell me anything. I have made promises to them to remain nonjudgemental, and to do everything I can to protect them if they feel unsafe by telling me. I promised that telling me something that they are ashamed of will never be met with anger, it will never be met with judgemental questions, and I will do everything in my power to start the healing process for them.
This promise to my children will be difficult for me to keep. As a parent I tend to want to teach through consequences, so I have to not do that. My children can’t think that there are going to be consequences if they tell me something like this. I also have to make a promise to myself that I will act appropriately and not attempt to take matters into my own hands. I can’t let anger rule my reaction.
I need to continue this by ensuring that not only my kids, but everyone’s kids feels safe talking to someone who can help. I let my kids know that they can talk to their aunts or uncles if they don’t feel comfortable talking to me. I have an agreement with my brothers and sisters (birth and in-laws) that if my kids confide something in them, and they can safely keep their confidence, then they can. If I have to be informed, my kids will be informed that I need to know, and with their aunt or uncle, they will both tell me.
I would love to see safe places like this for all kids. Some don’t have aunts or uncles, or grandparents, or anyone other than parents who can help, so I think it would be nice if schools had this for them. This would require the understanding from parents that their kids could confide in someone else.
But even on a smaller scale, if you are a parent, and you have read this, I urge you to simply tell your kids that they have a safe place to tell you things. Outside of consequence, outside of judgement, and in a way that they will feel safe. Sexual abuse doesn’t happen to every kid, and hopefully it will never happen to the kids of anyone, but it does happen, and telling your kids they are safe to talk to you may prevent much more pain than what they already went through.
Second, and this is just as important, I am going to be a force for change. Let this post be the official start of my movement to remove the statute of limitations from all crimes involving physical harm to children.
I am asking every person who reads this to join me. Come together and ask every single representative you have in the government to introduce laws that allow for reporting of crimes against children at any time.
I have started this process with my representatives, and hopefully this work will yield results here, but I only live in one state. And states set the statute of limitations for crimes committed in their state. This means that if I am successful here, 49 other states will still have statutes on the books allowing my abuse to avoid punishment. And those states would include the state where my abuse lives and committed his crimes. Unfortunately, I am not a resident of that state, therefore have not representative there.
If you don’t know who your representatives are, let me know, I will help you find that information out. I want to be as helpful as possible for this, so if there is anything I can do to help you, let me know.
If my story didn’t convince you that there is a problem, I would also like to know that. I would like to understand that position as well. If there are harms that I am not seeing then I want to know what those are.
Finally, I want to thank you for taking your time and reading this. I imagine there were points where it was uncomfortable, and if you stayed to the end, that means you continued anyway.
If you yourself were a victim of sexual abuse, I urge you to report it if you haven’t. If you have, I commend your courage. I wish I had had that strength. If it is too late for you, add your voice to mine and let’s work together to change the laws. If you aren’t a victim, but know a victim, help them report it, don’t encourage silence, and don’t assume that just because they told you that means they are OK and don’t need help. Report it now, they will be thankful they did later.
As a parting request, I ask that you share this post with people. I want enough voices calling for change to actually see the change realized. If you stayed with me this long, please take the extra couple of seconds to share this post.