I woke up that Sunday afternoon, groggy from an after church nap, wiping sleepies out of my eyes and wondering why my friend was standing there next to me shaking and crying. As I blinked into a form of consciousness, I feared what this moment would reveal, how it would change our lives. The longer the silent wailing marked only by her visibly shaking body stretched between us the more serious I knew this news would be.
She tried to force words out, but they wouldn’t come, too horrific to be spoken aloud. Her body convulsed with the pain and agony of what she wanted to say but couldn’t, and my terror kept inching up the Richter scale. I knew that in this moment, everything would change. And I feared the how and why of it. And I was right to.
Then the words erupted with a gale force wind that swept through our lives and changed them forever, “I just pressed charges against Jim for touching my daughter.” (Jim is obviously not his real name).
Her daughter. The same age as my daughter. Our friend, a frequent part of our lives. Someone we knew and loved. Violated by this man, the father of another friend. A friend who had just spent the night before in my home. These three families woven together in time and space, now being rewoven in truly horrific ways. In this moment, I knew, everything would change. The truth is, it had already changed for us all some time ago, we just didn’t know it until that very moment.
One of my main goals in life is to keep my children safe. Emotionally. Physically. Sexually. I just love them fiercely and want them to get out of adolescence in one piece, a gift that way too many of our children don’t have the privilege of achieving. This world breaks them into tiny fragments and some of the pieces get so lost we can never put them back together whole again. That’s how it seems for far too many of our kids.
A victim of sexual abuse myself, at the age of 12, the idea that my daughter is now 12 haunts me. I am hyper vigilant. I am on alert. I am afraid.
And it turns out I was right to be.
My daughter is safe. She was not harmed by this man, in part because I had forbidden her to go into their home, my alarm bells always going off in their presence. And not without reason, there was a safety issue that happened the first – and only – time my daughter ever spent the night there and she has never been permitted inside that home again.
I watched for two years as my daughter struggled with loneliness and rejection as preteen girls went in and out of this house that she was never allowed to cross the threshold of. Her aching heart caused me so much parental pain. I doubted. I worried I was making the wrong decisions. But my gut, my instinct, said that I must keep firm on this path. In the summers, I tried to help her find other ways to fill her moments, and these girls were always welcome in our home. But every time I thought about letting her inside this home alarm bells went off inside me in a way that they never have before. I had to listen, their insistence demanded it. What happened that time before, though in no way the same, just couldn’t be ignored or explained away.
For the briefest of moments I felt a moment of relief as my friend stood there, wracked with the painful knowledge that her child’s life had been forever changed. But then the realization of what it all meant hit me. These girls, our friends, their lives would never be the same. Someone had taken something from them, someone we knew, someone she had trusted.
That day I had to sit down with my daughter and make sure. I had to ask questions no mother ever wants to ask. I needed to know for a fact that nothing had happened to her. And we had to talk about how she could support her friends during this time. Even though nothing had been done directly to her, even though she was in fact safe, a bit of innocence was taken from all of us that day as the dark corners of the world became all too real. We could no longer close our front door and pretend these things didn’t really happen, because they do. They were. There were happening right now, right here, among people that we loved and cared about. They are happening. This is happening.
I have walked around for days now with this shaky feeling inside me; my body hums with a painful vibration of memory and fear. I have to keep looking at my daughter and remind myself, she is safe. In this moment, she is safe. Nothing happened to her. She is safe. She is safe. She is safe.
But I also remember, none of us are safe. There are predators who walk among us in human skin. They are the wolves that prey upon our innocence and feast upon our pain. And until the wolves go extinct, I will continue to talk about sexual violence. And you should to. Information is power and light, knowing about the darkness makes us just a little bit safer from it, at least I hope it does. Because information is the only weapon I have and I’m going to use it. No parent should ever have to utter those words, “he touched her.”
Because when my girls reach the end of this life, I want to be able to repeat my mantra – she is safe – and I want it to be true. She is safe. She is safe. She is safe.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual violence, please contact RAINN. For more information on The #SVYALit Project (Sexual Violence in Young Adult Literature), please visit our project index.