When I was in elementary school, there was someone within the administration that randomly asked me to sit on his lap one day. It was an awkward moment, an uncomfortable moment and one that later defined how I raise my own son. Luckily, I was taught to recognize the signs of a pedophile, but I still didn’t talk to my parents about what that administrator had asked me to do until I was much older; I often wonder if he was successful in getting other kids to fulfill his perverted desires. It’s because of this very experience that I’ve worked hard to maintain an open-door policy with my child. But how many of us communicate regularly with our children, our nieces, our nephews and grandkids? How many of us can openly discuss what is appropriate and what is not? And I don’t mean just telling our youth ‘you better not let anyone touch you’. There is a massive difference between saying those words and teaching them about their bodies and the actual signs of a pedophile. In the wake of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, perhaps we all need to truly start teaching and listening to our young ones. We must throw our old school attitudes to the wind.
Earlier this week, filmmaker Tyler Perry published an open letter addressed to an 11-year-old boy who is one of the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s alleged assaults. “You have nothing to feel ashamed of,” says Perry in the letter. “I want you to know you didn’t do anything wrong. Please know that you were chosen by a monster. It’s not your fault. You didn’t ask for it and, most of all, you didn’t deserve it.” Perry calls the boy “my hero” and also goes on to reveal details of his own ordeal with sexual abuse as a child. It was a bold move by Perry, but one that was especially necessary because so many in our community would like to act as if child molestation doesn’t occur in our neighborhoods. And we all know that isn’t true.
A prominent journalist named Goldie Taylor also recently unveiled the name of a high school coach who she says sexually abused her as a teenager. If the Penn State saga has taught us anything, it is to finally accept the reality that molestation and abuse takes place in all sectors of society – including the Black community and within our homes (yes – you need to check what’s going on in your own households). And as such, we must – we must – talk to our young people about what’s acceptable behavior and what is not so that they may speak up before anything life altering and traumatic transpires. We must make sure that our children feel comfortable enough to tell us ANYTHING. If the lines of communication aren’t open across the board, then how will we ever know if something horrible has happened or is about to happen? How will we be able to prevent another Penn State tragedy from occurring again?
The number of accusers against Jerry Sandusky and other football coaches/teachers continues to rise in a disturbing manner. If the allegations are in fact true, the poor young men and boys will undoubtedly be scarred for life. But all of us can do something to ensure that this never happens to the young people in our own lives. Whether an abuser is Black, White, Brown or Yellow is irrelevant; the reality is that our children are being molested and we can no longer remain silent. Speaking up is sometimes the hardest thing to do, but how can we tell our kids to do so when we’re afraid to open up ourselves?
So the question is, what can we do today? Don’t think for one moment that the children in your house haven’t heard about the Penn State fiasco. They watch the news, they’re online and they speak candidly with one another. So today, make sure that YOU have an honest dialogue with all the young people you know – it may be the most important conversation you ever have.