This is a common misperception–that families of pedophiles had to know that a perpetrator was in the family. Think of Ariel Castro. His family was quickly indicted in the eye of the public. The questions abounded: How could he have 3 girls tied up in his basement for years and nobody in the family had a clue? You mean nobody noticed anything odd about his behaviors? And what about Jerry Sandusky? In his case, people did know that abuse was going on and covered it up. This fuels the perception that already exists in the public. What’s going on? Do family members and close friends know and just choose to cover it up?
As the son of a pedophile, I cannot speak for other families but I can share my experience. Here are a few of my observations:
We Family Members Did Not Know–Not only did we not know, but we daily live with the guilt of not knowing. At the end of the day, our ignorance did nothing to stop him from abusing so many victims. The questions for me usually appear in the form of nightmares (literally). How did I not see it? How could I not have seen the signs? Why did I never question odd behavior that I had seen over the years? Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat after seeing faces of children crying out for help. The guilt of not knowing never leaves.
There Was No Cover Up–To state, suggest, or imply that the family of a perpetrator somehow covered up abuse only adds to our multi-layered pain. It is a traumatic thing for a family to find out that one of their beloved family members had been abusing young children for years. My world stopped 2 years ago when I found out and there are still days when I wake up and have to wrestle with the reality of my own father being a pedophile.
Imprisonment Is Not High-Five Worthy–Now that we do know, and our dad is currently serving a life sentence in prison, we do not celebrate that fact. Don’t get me wrong. He is where he needs to be and worked hard to get there. But it brings no comfort to know that he will die in prison. He is still our dad and, as such, comes a whole gamut of raw emotion. Many of my siblings are still wrestling with whether they should contact him for the first time since being incarcerated. Holidays are weird, too. Do we bring it up? Do we pretend that everybody’s happy? Certain places trigger different memories and emotions for different family members. We try to be sensitive to that when we get together for holidays.
There Can Be Redemption In Not Knowing–Because my family did not know, I have dedicated my life to teaching others how to know that someone is abusing children. Admittedly, much of my drive is fueled by guilt. I get very mad at myself for not taking time to educate myself on abuse, or opening my mind to the possibility that one of my family members might just be an abuser. Because of this horrible experience, I am hopeful that I can offer help to others and stop abuse before it happens. I’m not under the illusion that abuse will cease. But I live under the reality that each of us has a responsibility to inform others and protect the innocent. It’s people like you readers who are making a difference. We need you.
In between college and seminary, I took one year and drove truck coast to coast. It was always something I wanted to do, and I’ve driven off and on over a 10 year span. In 1,000,000 miles, I’ve seen a lot of treacherous road conditions and have witnessed hundreds of accidents, many of them fatal. Nothing, in my estimation, compares to the deception of freezing fog. One night in 2008 I left home and it was 35 degrees and foggy. I climbed to the top of the mountain on US 30 before my descent at a 6% grade for the next 8 miles. Only a small guard rail separates the road from a cliff that drops down a few hundred feet to the bottom. The road was perfectly dry and everything seemed good. However, I had a bad hunch. Something didn’t feel right. I decided to “stab” the brakes on the flat to test the dry pavement. Instantly, all 18 tires skidded. . . big time! I was on sheer black ice–freezing fog. I was faced with the challenge of getting an 80,000lb truck down a 6% grade on a sheet of ice. It was quite literally the scariest time of my life.
What’s my point? There were enough signs telling me that black ice was a possibility. Thick fog, high elevation, near freezing temps, and dry looking pavement. Yet, even with knowledge and experience I’m repeatedly fooled by black ice. I can count at least a dozen times that I’ve nearly lost control from unexpectedly hitting a patch of black ice. Yet every time there were definitive signs which I ignored: cold temps, saturated air, a glassy look to the pavement, a different sound from the tires (tires get quieter when you are on ice), ice building on mirrors, and “soft” steering. In each and every one of those scenarios, I legitimately did not know that I was entering an ice patch. There was no cover up! But I’ve driven enough to know that ignorance is not an excuse. We have got to always be vigilant, be defensive, be attentive to signs, and pass on information that can inform others and ultimately save lives. Let’s work together to help families identify ways that they can protect their children before abuse ever happens.
Here is a video for your viewing pleasure, so you can see just how fun black ice can be. Stay safe!: