Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Speaking Up...

So, I just got some surreal news. Well, not really. It's the kind of news you never expect to get, but in a way, I expected it. And that makes it worse.

A couple of years ago I met a young guy starting up his own business teaching. We were introduced because I have a skill set that would have worked well with him. After meeting him, though, I sensed that there was some growth that needed to occur before working with him would be profitable for anyone, so I took a step back.

After that, I ran into him once or twice until a common friend told me that this guy had taken the plunge and expanded his business. Did I want to check it out?


So we went to his new space, which was very ambitious considering his student base. The guy was so enthusiastic, though, that I figured he had his numbers in a good place. He had just gotten married and he and his wife were the only staff. After the last class was over, he took me on a tour of the place, which was 70% unutilized, but with plans for every square inch. I nodded my head and moved through the tour mostly biting my tongue (since many of you can imagine that I had input and questions he may have not liked hearing), until he brought me to the last room. It looked like a messy kid's bedroom. Mattresses lay on the floor with scattered blankets. Toys covered the ground and there was a large screen TV for video games. Given that the rest of the school was meticulous, I raised an eyebrow and asked, "What room is this?"

Again, with enthusiasm, the guy explained that he'd made the room for his nieces to stay in. Given that he and his wife ran the business full time, this allowed them to babysit as needed.

At least a dozen responses went through my head, and I nearly opened my mouth to say, "Be careful. With a room like this, people will think you're Uncle Molester when you're babysitting," but I didn't know the guy well enough to make a "joke" like that. Besides, he had to know what the room looked like to an outside eye, right? And I made the mental leap to assume that his wife babysat with him... and maybe they were investing so much money into the business that the place they lived was too small to accommodate guests.

My mind created story after story justifying the room, so I asked instead, "And their parents are cool with this arrangement?"

"Oh yeah!" he said happily. "We get some extra dough and they get on-call babysitters. They love it."

I took one last look at the Wii and stacks of toys and settled on saying, "Well, you must be the most popular uncle in your family with a set up like this."

He blushed with pleasure, we finished the tour, and I never went back. Yeah, I thought the room was weird, but mostly I sensed that the business wasn't viable, so even when I was asked to teach there on future dates, I declined. All in all, it just seemed like a place I didn't want to associate my reputation with.

Then, last night, I get the news from our common friend: this guy is in jail with a $500,000 bail for 15 felony accounts, including aggravated sexual abuse, rape of a child, and dealing harmful materials. The kicker: all counts of abuse occurred at the school.

And my first thought? "I knew it."

Of course, I didn't know know it. But when I toured that school so many months ago and saw the room, my very first thought was that it was textbook molester set up. A billion toys, awesome games, and no rules or clean up? Rock on!

But I hadn't say anything. I didn't voice my concern to a soul. I assumed that since the parents of the children were aware of the set up and giving their thumbs up to their young, newlywed brother that it was none of my business to say anything--even to friends in the form of venting. After all, if there is one thing you don't want to accuse an innocent person of, it's this kind of abuse...

I got the news of his arrest 24 hours ago, but I'm still processing it... I, a grown adult, walked into a situation and saw it for what it was. I then proceeded to discount my conclusion, quash my discomfort, and walk away, mentally chastising myself for being such a cynic and always looking for the worst.


There's a lesson in this. I know there is. I'm not one to overreact, and I've never been a gossip--both reasons I never brought this up with anyone in discussions, but this situation has affected me for certain. For the sake of being polite, I played the "It's none of business" card and left a bad situation to fester on. My last thought when I left the school that day was that one of the parents of the students should report the room, just so it was on the radar of authorities and other parents. That way this guy would know to watch his step and keep the school more professional.

Notice how I excluded myself from that equation and justified why someone else should do it. Not me. I didn't have a kid there, but if I did, that room would freak me out. Yet other parents who went there knew of the room and hadn't blinked.

It was me... I was weird--perverted even, to go there mentally. I was anything and everything but responsible for reporting it. Because, seriously, how awkward would that be? And I hate awkward. I avoid conflict like the plague. But one of those parents... a high-maintenance, complaining parent should stomp their feet and cry foul. And I told myself that if anything were really wrong about the set up, one of them would.

Personal responsibility. It's amazing how easy it is to shirk onto someone else. And the reason I'm sharing all this with you is in hopes that you never have a similar moment. Maybe, by reading this, someone will pay more attention to their instincts in the future. Maybe you'll be in the situation like me where something is clearly off, and remembering this will give you the courage to speak up. Because I think the times are coming when, like this guy, perpetrators of crimes will do what they do so openly and nonchalantly that we'll doubt what we know we're seeing.

After all, if this guy was committing felonies in this room, wouldn't it be a secret? Wouldn't he take it off the tour and hide it away? Wouldn't his demeanor change when he walked in? How could someone abusing kids walk you through the site of the crime without the slightest hesitation or moment of pause?

Now, in retrospect, I see how. I remember cues I picked up on from the guy that tickled my suspicions at the time. I remember how I blew them off, choosing to believe that no one could be so nonchalant if they were guilty.

Au contraire.

So, yeah... still processing it all. And the subject really borderlines on being too personal for a blog, but isn't that the point? That this stuff, while occurring daily around us, is not spoken of openly? That no one I know has ever shared a story like this, even though they've known people who have gone to jail for the same thing? That people I know who had been abused never talk about how their perpetrator got away with it for years. It's just too private.

In the end, it's not about blame. I really think it's about sharing knowledge and speaking up--people sharing what they know and how they learned it. The writer in me is all fired up now, wanting to write a book about "How They Get Away With It." I've always been fascinated at how apathy fascilitates crime. This time I was the apathetic one. I pray it's the only the only time. And if posting about it here helps even one person in the future, then this was worth posting in my book.

Just sayin'...


  1. Ohhhh man. I'm so sorry you have this burden to bear, Sheralyn.

    However, the parent's also are responsible. *They* should have toured the school--and who's to say they didn't, and didn't rationalize it all away just like you did?

    Still, you are right. Despite the fear of embarrassment and ridicule, if something tweaks our spidey-senses, it's better to speak up. Always.


  2. You asked on Twitter if this was too personal for a blog ... I don't think it's too personal at all. It's good for people to be made aware of what child molesters are up to and how blatant (and arrogant) they can be about it.

    Good for you for bringing up the subject, and warning people to be careful with their kids!

    (And I'm soooo sorry that you ended up in this situation.)

  3. The hardest thing you can do sometimes is speak up, even when your body is humming with energy that screams "say something!" I know. I almost burned myself to bits trying to protect the children because I didn't think anyone would believe me. But that's a story for another day--not a blog comment.

  4. So glad you spoke out, Sheralyn. The hardest things are sometimes the most important things. What a lot of courage it takes to admit when we shrug off things that maybe we shouldn't have. I'm proud of you. I respect you. I hope to be more like you.

    I agree with ali though. Just because you may have noticed, it doesn't negate the responsibility of a parent to research, speak out, and be the front line of defense for their kids. In no way do I blame them--I blame the man who committed such a terrible crime--but we ought to be mindful of that precarious line and be willing to step over it. We're the advocates for our kids. If not us, who?

    Well said, Sheralyn. Again, I'm proud of you.