Saturday, June 23, 2012

Casting a life-long shadow: child molesters

The trial and verdict in the Jerry Sandusky case prompted a flood of memories for me, not the good kind.

Back in 1995 in Birmingham, Ala., Don Corley, a man considered by many to be a pillar of the community -- Scout leader, active church member, friend -- was convicted of child molestation and sentenced to 30 years in prison. We were members of the same church and my then-husband had worked with him on different projects involving communication and videotaping and sound. Among other church-related activities, Don led the church's Boy Scout troop, known for the number of Eagle Scouts it produced, and actively mentored the boys, including several who were from single parent households.

When he was arrested and convicted, it was a huge, horrible shock -- and in our household even more so because our daughter had not only attended school with the victims but had been close friends with at least one.

These wonderful young people had had their lives changed forever by the sick perversion of a man who preyed on boys in what was considered to be a safe place, just as Sandusky did.

Corley's victims have created a website with information about Corley and possible parole, and are devoted to making sure the man serves his entire sentence. It has a great deal of information about child molesters as well. I applaud their bravery and acknowledgement of how this crime has impacted their lives, and their work to bring awareness of the issue of child molestation.

But before that, another man (who I knew fairly well)  molested someone very close to me, also gathering his victims in what was thought of as a safe place, and threatening them with the loss of their families and friends should they tell, much as Sandusky did with at least one of his victims. I was unaware of the closest molestation until just a few years ago, although I knew about others who had been hurt when the man  was prosecuted for molesting the five-year-old daughter of friends -- others, who we knew of, did not choose to be part of that case, unfortunately. He served a very light prison sentence, released early for 'good behavior.' I now know more details  of his behavior than I wish I knew.

Like the children molested by Corley and Sandusky, these young boys and girls bear lifelong scars. Even now the memory haunts and taunts at least one victim, causing severe mental distress and vocal and physical hallucinations, despite therapy and medication.

I find it difficult to even consider forgiving such acts. While I understand it is an illness, there is no acceptable excuse  to molest children, ever.

And while the families of the perpetrators may have been blindsided and horrified, there are also always signs, looking back, that they either chose not to see or that they took pains to overlook for any number of reasons -- financial or social, for instance. They bear a different kind of responsibility and grief and remorse.

But we all have a duty to be watchful of the children we know, to listen to what they say, to teach them how to respond and to be honest, to help them understand that there are indeed bad people in their worlds but that they should not be afraid to tell a parent or a counselor or a pastor or a friend if they are being hurt.

I pray for the victims of Sandusky and Corley and the unnamed man, but I cannot bring myself to pray for those sick, twisted men, to grant them the release of forgiveness from any source. Justice in these instances will never really happen, no matter how long their prison terms.

Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime. --Herbert Ward

If I Had My Child to Raise Over Again
by Diane Loomans

If I had my child to raise all over again,
I'd build self esteem first, and the house later.
I'd fingerpaint more, and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.
I'd take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I would care to know less and know to care more.
I'd take more hikes and fly more kites.
I'd stop playing serious, and seriously play.
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I'd do more hugging and less tugging.
I'd see the oak tree in the acorn more often.
I would be firm less often, and affirm much more.
I'd model less about the love of power,
And more about the power of love.