Recent high profile cases concerning the sexual abuse of minors have turned up the usual response. People are shocked or even disbelieving.
First of all, there is the Duggar family, made famous by their appearance in the TLC series 19 Kids and Counting. The revelation that their teenage son had molested young girls, including his own sisters, was greeted with dismay.
More recently, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has been in the public eye after his indictment on charges that he committed bank fraud and lied to the FBI to cover up alleged sexual misconduct with a former student or students at Yorkville High School, where he worked as a teacher and coach before entering politics.
Reactions to the allegations are mostly disbelief. A former wrestler said he never had any inkling that Hastert had done anything “unprofessional” or “irresponsible” during his tenure at Yorkvile. (abcnews.com) Current House Speaker John Boehner was quoted as saying, “The Denny I served with worked hard on behalf of his constituents.” (abcnews.com) A friend of Hastert’s even stated, “He perceives himself as the one being wronged. He’s done an incredibly good job for the people, he’s done that and done as well as he could.” (cnn.com)
Our shock and denial speak to our unwillingness to entertain the ugly thought that sexual abuse most commonly occurs right under our noses. The vast majority of sexual predators know their victims quite well and are often family members, teachers, church leaders, or coaches.
Yet we persist in our image of children being snatched off the street by strangers or lured away at the local park. I am not saying that strangers never abduct and sexually abuse children. But it is far less common than abuse by adults the children know.
The danger in our faulty perception is that we go to great lengths to teach our kids about “stranger danger” and to protect them from the outside world while completely letting down our guard with – or worse, refusing to see – what is happening in our own backyard.
To combat the terrible scourge of child sexual abuse, we must first be willing to admit that someone we know and even possibly someone we love could be capable of molesting a child. And we must teach our children healthy physical and emotional boundaries and encourage them to come to us whenever someone makes them feel uncomfortable. By recognizing that there may be pedophiles among us, we have a better chance of stopping them from hurting children.