Recently, reporter Don Lemon admitted live on CNN that he was a victim of a pedophile when he was a child. This admission seemed to really take people by surprise, not the least of which was Lemon himself. He prefaced his statement by saying he’d never said this on television before and followed up by sharing that he’d not even told his own mother until he was thirty. Unfortunately, his story is all too common.
I, too, was a victim of a pedophile as a child. I was still in elementary school and my abuser was a much older distant relative that my family visited in the summers of my childhood. I, too, didn’t tell my mother or anyone else what happened until I was an adult. My mother asked why I never told and I’m sure many people wonder why victims do not come forward at the time of the abuse to put an end to it. I believe there are many contributing factors.
My first reaction when my mom asked why I’d not told her was to ask her, “What does an 8 year old know? I didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about it.” In hindsight, I realize that the answer is even more complex.
My abuser was like many I’ve heard and read about. He was skilled at manipulating my emotions, telling me as he did things to me that I was “special”. The emotional trauma that came when the abuse suddenly stopped, when I was no longer “special”, is a subject for another time.
As I viewed the video clip of Mr. Lemon’s admission in front of the panel of Bishop Long’s church members, I found myself particularly disturbed by the young woman’s statements that Bishop Long didn’t seem like a pedophile. I am not here to debate the Bishop’s guilt or innocence, but to shed light on one simple fact – there is no “look” for a pedophile. Pedophiles, by most outward appearances, are just as “normal” as you or me. They blend into their communities. They hold jobs across the spectrum. They go to church (or not). They have spouses and children. They volunteer. They are human. They are sick and twisted, but outwardly there is no scarlet letter to alert potential victims or parents to who they are.
So what can we do? How can we protect the children of our communities from such predators? I believe the first step is already being taken – breaking the silence of perceived shame that surrounds this crime. We have to talk about it. Sure, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s necessary if we want to break the cycle. We have to find age-appropriate ways to talk to our children about sexual abuse so that they know that if they are approached it is not their fault, there is nothing to be ashamed of, and that they have a safe place to talk about what is going on.