Biggest regret

I hate bandwagons.  I really do.  But sometimes something comes up in the news that I have a hard time shaking off.  The Penn State scandal is one of these things.  There is no reason for me to repeat how awful it all is.  No reason to speculate about what should be done in the football world, of which I care so little about, but there is reason for me to talk about childhood sexual abuse and whistleblowing.

Accusing someone of sexually abusing a minor is a big deal.  What are we supposed to do when we suspect—when we have a gut feeling—that someone we care about is being abused?

That was my situation.

I never witnessed any actual abuse, but I began to suspect that something bad was happening.  My suspicions were based on the behaviors of the victims, the children, and the fact that the abuser gave me the creeps.  I didn’t have any hard evidence to go on, but as I was getting more mature and learning more about the psychological fallout of sexual abuse, things began to add up.

Still, I didn’t say anything.

I was afraid of being wrong.  I was afraid of not being believed.  Even though the clues were all there, I doubted myself.  I even tried to convince myself that I was wrong because to be right about such a thing meant that a family I loved would be torn apart.

Eventually, the truth came out and the abuser was exposed.  But his downfall had nothing to do with any courage on my part.  The victims, the children he hurt, were the ones who were brave, and they had so much more at stake than me.

Every day I wish I had said something.  I wish I had confronted the abuser.  I wish I had talked with the children, established myself as a safe person to talk to.  Instead I let my fears and my insecurities keep me quiet.   I let denial and Christian goodwill cloud my better judgment.

The very ugly truth of the matter is that had I voiced my concerns in some way the abuse might have stopped sooner than it did.  I suspected that something was very wrong and yet I was so worried about being wrong or causing a scene, that I said nothing.

Many years have passed since all of this happened and I still ask myself the question every day.  “What could I have done?”  I never draw a blank. I can always think of something I should have or could have done.

I am ashamed and I am sorry.

Author: Teresa

From my house I can see glaciers, mountains, the amazing Kachemak Bay and occasionally a moose family or a bear (but not Russia.) I write--primarily but not exclusively fiction--and work part time in a library.

13 thoughts on “Biggest regret”

  1. Teresa, we all share in this. I do know I asked once and it was very much denied by the child I asked. Bottom line: in our society nothing can be changed until the child finally has the courage to tell or one actually is a witness of the crime. Still we all ask ourselves “What could I have done??”

    1. You’ve got a point, Mom. I feel compelled to write about it so that hopefully we can learn better how to act on our hunches and support the kids who go through this. Love you.

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Teresa. Unfortunately, I have had a similar experience and it still haunts me as well. The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing- but no matter how things work out, they can never have a happy ending once a child’s innocence is lost. My cousin and I were victims, and she actually did tell of our abuse and guess what? Denial is a powerful thing. No one wants to accept that such a thing can be taking place. I wish I’d had the courage to talk to someone, but I was too scared. I pray that this subject finds its way more and more into mainstream media and the light is shown on these cockroaches who victimize babies. It’s been swept under the carpet for way too long.

    1. You are right. Innocence cannot be returned to a child who has been abused–and I hate that! We can believe them and love them unconditionally. I’m sorry to hear of your experience and you bring up a good and important point: most kids who are abused will not talk about it, even if they are asked directly if something is happening to them. To live in that kind of fear must be horrible. Thanks for thoughtful comments and love to you.

  3. Part of forgiveness is allowing yourself to come to grips with the reality that you can’t go back and make the past a better one. When I grapple with regret I remember this and instead of dwelling on “I should have.” I focus on what I can control “next time.” Hind sight is always 20/20 but I can’t even count the number of people that I have been able to relate to, help, share courage, and maybe point in the right direction because of the experience my family went through. That and until life is over and all things are brought to light you will never know just how big of difference you have actually made in peoples lives. The way I see it is each day we have an oppurtunity to be someones miracle, someones answered prayer.

    1. Thank you Dan. I have learned from the experience and have forgiven myself for not doing everything I should have, and likewise I have been able to talk with other people, help them, encourage them or just plain believe them. By writing about my experience I wanted to bring up the dilemma that comes when you have a hunch or a gut feeling that something is wrong, but no actual evidence. I hope more people will trust their gut and speak out even if that’s all they have. Thanks again for your awesome attitude and the beauty and love you bring into the world.

  4. You should congratulate yourself on achievement of some of your goals.

    You now have more tools in your toolbox than you did before this situation had your attention.

    Working your way through, trailblazing your way, you now are sure of how you feel, and after having time to process and work out who you want to be, Its very easy to understand the words

    “The only thing needed for evil to prevail, is for good men to do nothing.”

    Interesting group of letters. isn’t it?

    So you know yourself better. You know what it feels like to turn a blind eye to duty.

    And your conscience cant abide. (An absolutely necessary charterer trait that I would choose to guard my back, and pick for my team)

    Also you know better the meaning of Duty.

    This makes you stronger, more sure footed, and more motivated to not be weak. Precisely because you know how it feels.

    This is what being human, and growing and learning is. You are doing the right thing. You learned better who you are.

    And because of your taking the risk of being a writer, and sharing your feelings about the journey of learning yourself, you touched me.

    It is a very beautiful and brave thing to look our conscience right in the face and except truth and grow.

    To eschew cognitive dissonance, and really want to be harmonic with health and love.

    Watching your empathy, and humanity, and seeing your regrets, hearing the story of how you process this. Makes me proud of you and just a little less afraid in these times of history, when we need a little more of what you have.

    If I was the abused child of whom you speak, and read your words, forgiveness wold be easy to trade for your hard earned wisdom.

    Ghost

    1. Thank you Ghost, for your kind words and your vote of confidence. The kids (who are now adults) in this situation are some of the most forgiving and loving people in the world. Words cannot express how proud I am of them. I’m fairly overwhelmed by the responses I’ve had to this post, and it gives me hope that some good can come from my admission of not doing all that I could have. I really appreciate your support.

  5. We are all learning in this culture how to deal with sexual abuse, because in a sense there is almost more onus put on how these issues affect and inconvenience the adults (look at this news story, it was about poor Penn State recovering its reputation, etc…). How DO we question and talk with children so they establish trust? WHO are the resources, the help, that we can go to when struggling with something? As a teacher I’m a required reporter, but I have resources like counselors that I can discuss things with to figure out a course of action, what to ask, how to investigate to find something out. Many times I’ve suspected sex abuse going on, but there’s little I can do without more information. So I work on building relationships with children, because that’s what enables them to be honest. Now, growing, thinking, learning, understanding more yourself, you can make a commitment to act and investigate in the future, to reach out yourself and talk with others and get the support YOU need to make the right call.

    1. Thanks Lynn for your thoughts on this. Like you said, there is still so much to be learned about how to deal with sexual abuse. There are more resources now than ever before and I appreciate the idea of everyone having the resources they can go to- to get the support they need- in order to make the right call. I’m sure some of those things were available when I needed them, but I was unaware. It’s good to know teachers like you are there for the kids, caring and listening.

  6. Dear Teresa,
    It is good to learn from our past mistakes and better to do something about it for next time. Thanks for writing your article and hopefully giving others courage to speak up and help others.
    Mo

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