The following story was originally shared on Deb’s piece of the blogosphere, but after posting it she found that it had made her site no longer the safe haven she needed it to be. She asked if she could move it here, and we readily agreed. It is powerful and definitely has the potential to be triggering, so tread lightly, but please show her, as you always do with all our posters, your amazing support and RawrLove.
WARNING: CONTAINS POTENTIAL TRIGGERS
(I shook while writing portions of this)
I wrote “Portrait of a Pedophile” about one pedophile I knew in my childhood.
I wanted to demonstrate that sexual predators aren’t pointy-horned men knowable by their grotesque physical appearance and blatant lechery. In fact, successful predators are successful precisely because they are charming. They’re able to lure people into believing they’re fine and gentle men. Wrote safety expert Gavin de Becker about CHARM AND NICENESS, one of seven warning signs someone is potentially dangerous,
Think of charm as an ability, not a trait–as in, “He’s trying to charm me.” And niceness does not equal goodness. People seeking to control others often seem nice at first–and unsolicited niceness often has a discernible motive.
The problem with my painting a portrait of only one predator is that it makes it seem like only one predator’s acts devastated my family. But, no, there were many, even in our good neighborhood in our quiet town.
One was the pedophile about whom I’ve already written.
Another was a well educated, well paid family friend to whom one sister grew surprisingly hostile. I watched her swinging to kick him while they played out in the backyard one afternoon and thought, “That’s strange.” It no longer seemed strange when my sister explained what he’d been doing to her while his wife was out of the room.
One was an aging speech therapist who tried helping himself while helping my sister.
Another was a man at a park. He dragged one sister into the bushes, but was thwarted by a nearby mother who witnessed the attack and stopped him.
One was a friend of my brother.
Another was the husband of one of my mom’s friends. He showed up early one evening when I was babysitting his son. While I tried to finish watching Beverly Hills 90210, he crept closer to me on the couch. I moved away. Again, he crept closer and put his arm around me while whispering lasciviously. I stood up and said he’d better get me home. He did, fortunately, but that was after some negotiation, and well after I became panicked by the realization he didn’t have to listen to me. When my mom spoke to her friend about the encounter, her friend said, “Yes, my husband told me she tried to seduce him.” My mom then shared some choice words about what eleven-year-old girls like, none of which involve seducing middle aged men. (The same man was later stabbed for touching another woman’s daughter.)
One was an alter abled vet my mom asked my siblings and me to treat kindly. One day, he showed me his penis and asked me to touch it. I ran away instead.
Another was a distant family member. I knew to avoid him because my mom warned me he’d want me to do things no other adult asked of me. Her warning made it easy to see he didn’t offer me money to sit on his lap because he was generous. He was getting something from it. I couldn’t figure out exactly what, but I didn’t need to know. I said no. Then I said it again, and again, because he didn’t want to hear “no.”
One was a family member many found charming. I will never forget finding my mom sobbing on the porch one day in my late teens. “He raped my baby, Deborah. He raped my baby.”
These are the predators who made themselves known to my family, just one small family in one smallish town.
Anyone who says, “Not in my neighborhood!” does so at the expense of the weak and vulnerable within their neighborhood. They favor dishonest comfort over honest discomfort.
Are there predators in every neighborhood? Absolutely. Here, for example, you can generate maps of those few sex offenders actually convicted. Safety comes from recognizing there is no “safe” neighborhood and acting accordingly.
Is everyone a predator? No. There are many good men who couldn’t even imagine abusing anyone physically, sexually or emotionally. I don’t meant to inspire anyone to anxiety or terror. I do mean to open people’s eyes to the potential threats in their neighborhoods and homes.
Open eyes alone can only go so far toward changing the world. To move from fearing every shadow to learning to ask and act on answers to the right questions, I highly recommend de Becker’s The Gift of Fear. He wrote it to help laypeople spot and avoid predators. The book is a lifesaver.
Read the book. Open your eyes. Nurture your safety skills not only for your own benefit, but for the benefit of the young, the weak and the vulnerable around you.
I beg of you, in the names of all those whom you love.