I spent the past few weeks working on issues surrounding Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) for two different organizations. While I welcome those opportunities, sometimes the burden of talking about the ugliness of CSA gets a bit heavy.
So, when I recently read at least half a dozen Facebook posts claiming “we never had to worry about our safety when we were kids. We could walk around our neighborhoods, ride our bikes, and play at the park until suppertime without fear,” I thought, Really? The thing is, I grew up in the same era, and I was not safe walking the three blocks to the park. And, even though they didn’t know it, neither were they.
As elementary-school-age kids, a friend and I would hurry home on winter afternoons, grab our ice skates, and head off to the ice rink at our local park. We usually walked from school to her house, then to my house, then to the rink, all within a few blocks of each other. Donning our snow pants and skates, we’d hit the ice and spend about two hours skating around the oval rink—trying new moves, jumping onto a “snap the whip” line, diving onto the ice just to see how far we could slide.
It was a great time with lots of laughter. At five o’clock it would be time to go home. We’d tread to the park entrance, feeling like our skates were still on our feet. Then we parted ways, she would go straight, and I would turn left to get home.
A sex offender lived across the street from the park. I don’t think my friend ever knew he was there. She probably walked past, still giddy from our skating adventures, feeling no fear. I would walk past with rising anxiety, hoping not to encounter him. With my heart pounding and eyes darting, happy thoughts of an afternoon of winter fun melted away.
Winter was a safer season than the others. Spring and Fall, he was more likely to be outside. I don’t know if he really enjoyed gardening and yard work that much, or if he was outside looking for kids (or victims) coming from or going to the park. Summer was the worst. He didn’t just hang out at his house. He spent a lot of time at the park’s swimming pool, trolling for victims.
No, the little girls at the park or walking by his house were not safe. Although, most of them never knew they were in danger. For some of us, our lives were forever damaged, a piece of childhood lost forever. And because of the silence, secrecy, and shame associated with CSA, most victims never told anyone what was happening. That is how non-victims can be ignorantly thankful they grew up when the world was a “safe place,” blissfully unaware of the danger that lurked in their neighborhoods and the fear and pain some of their closest friends endured.
So, did they really live in a world where kids could walk around their neighborhoods, ride their bikes, and stay out until suppertime without worrying about being harmed? Fortunately, for them, that was the world as they knew it. I wish it had been the same world for all of us.
The man who abused me died a few months ago. A known offender is dead—our world is a little safer. Or is it? There will always be another to take his place, shattering the safe world of select children. Offenders may never be caught, but they, too, are wrong if they think they are safe. God is just.
“Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.” Zephaniah 3:19 (ESV)