The recent news story, which unfolds more every day, about the elementary school teacher who subjected his students to various acts of disgusting forms of abuse has shone a bright light on the damage that can be done when a child’s voice is ignored. This teacher, who has been with the school district for 30 years, was discovered to have photographed the children blind folded with cockroaches on their faces and being fed a milky white substance. That substance was later determined to be this teacher’s semen.
Decades ago children tried to talk about what was going on in the classroom at this school. One girl even told her mother of the abuse. That mother brought it to the attention of the authorities that, after what I can only imagine was a shoddy investigation, found that there was not enough evidence to pursue the claim. A counselor that was approached by other children was actually reported to have said, “You must be imagining it.” As the current investigation takes place evidence of additional abusive teachers at this school is beginning to surface.
In my opinion, the abuse perpetrated by this clearly disturbed man, was followed up by a series of adult behaviors that only served to exacerbate the damage done to these children. The children’s voices were essentially ignored, which left this predator free to continue to abuse new groups of children. It is inexcusable that the school counselor did not honor what these kids were telling her and did not investigate further.
As parents we want nothing more than to keep our kids safe, and while there are many potential dangers out there, we do have systems in place to help us achieve our goals of safety. How many times do we have to hear stories of abuse that have gone on for years; while adults closed their eyes and ears (think Sandusky,) before we accept the fact that children don’t lie about these things? Of course there are well known stories of false reports and children being coached, but those tales are few and far between and should not in any way shake us from our resolve that children should be taken seriously.
If we set the stage at home for open communication, then we teach our children early to come to us with information about their day, whether good or bad. We need to give them that message directly by talking to them and indirectly by our actions and lack of judgment. If we honor their feelings, even if we don’t understand them, then they will be more likely to share them with us and to trust their own instincts. Trusting one’s own instinct, or listening to our guts, is a key element to safety. This concept is wonderfully described for adults in Gavin de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear, and is a skill that should be learned very early in life.