Well, it's happened again. In this case, it's Bill Conlin, Baseball Hall of Fame sportswriter for the Philadelphia Daily News. (I should say former; he resigned as soon as the allegations were published). As of today, a total of six adults have accused Conlin of molesting them, when they were children in the 1970s. The evidence is compelling, particularly since most of the then kids told their parents, some of whom have corraborated their version of events. (Go to www.philly.com for details).
I could talk about how shocked I am about Conlin, whose brilliant writing I have enjoyed since coming to Philadelphia in the late '70s. But I don't know him personally. I haven't had that gutwrenching experience that so many of his friends and colleagues must now be experiencing. No, I want to talk about fear. Both the fear that protects sick individuals who perpetrate these atrocities, and the personal fear I feel as the parent of an autistic child who does not speak.
More below the fold.
I have never been molested. Once, when I was nine or ten years old, someone close to me asked me to let him place his penis in my mouth. I didn't want to, because I was afraid he was going to pee in my mouth. I had no clue as to the sexual nature of what he wanted me to do. After some discussion, I agreed to do it. How can I then say I was not molested? Simple; he was eleven or twelve years old. And why did he ask me to do what he asked? Simple; he had been molested. He was aping the behavior of the man who had molested him. It was not a family member or a friend. This boy had gone into San Francisco, because he was experiencing feelings for other boys which confused him. He was looking at male magazines at a stand, when the stranger picked him up and used him.
He and I never talked about what had happened until we were in our late thirties. At that point, we had both gotten sober. He was making an amend to me, after a few years sober and intensive therapy. I told him the truth; that I had forgiven and forgotten many years earlier. It was only then that I heard, for the first time, how he had been molested.
That guilt and shame haunted this man well into adulthood, and warped his life. He became ashamed of those feelings he had for other males. And tried, for years, to convince himself that he was straight. Never feeling true intimacy; never accepting himself. I am happy to say that, now, that has changed. He is openly gay, and has experienced true love. But I still mourn those lost years for him. I mourn the childhood that he lost on that awful day.
As with so many cases of molestation we read about, this all happened many years ago. Long past the time that the statute of limitations has been passed. A case like Conlin's, where the victims are choosing to speak up anyway, even though he cannot be prosecuted, and civil damages are unlikely, is fairly unusual. (The case with the Catholic Church is slightly different, as that is an institution, not an individual). But the Sandusky case at Penn State has appeared to changed the dynamic in a very positive way. Perhaps, finally, this country will face the epidemic which is child molestation.
That doesn't change what appeared to happen in the Conlin case. Many, if not all of the kids, who ranged in age from 7 to 12, told at least one of their parents what had happened. And at least some of the parents got together to discuss what they should do. By consensus, Conlin was confronted by one of the fathers, one who was told as it was felt he could be relied on not to physically harm Conlin. Conlin allegedly broke down; nothing happened to those particular children again. It appears that one of the reasons for the public silence had to do with how the families felt about Conlin's wife, who must have been a special woman. It was only after her death that one of the victims went to authorities. You see, she heard Conlin at the funeral, talking about his grandchildren.
There is another issue for me personally, which I alluded to before. My twelve year-old son is a "low-functioning" autistic. He is practically non-verbal. He could not even tell me if something were to happen to him.
So many times, when we read about these sexual predators, they have congregated around loci of vulnerable children. Church, scouting programs, childcare, sporting programs, troubled children, foster children, and so on. There is a wonderful charity here in Philadelphia called Variety Club. Among other things it does, this branch of the Variety Club has a camp for special needs children, both day and overnight. I would love to send my boy there. It would be a wonderful opportunity for him to have fun, and perhaps to gain a greater level of independence. But I can't. A few years ago, a counselor at the camp was arrested for molesting at least one of the children. That could have been my boy. And he wouldn't have been able to tell me.
When my wife left our home, when my boy was four, I asked a friend of mine to move in with me. I had, at that point, already known him for a dozen years, and we had allowed him to baby-sit my son on the very rare occasions that we went out by ourselves. In the years since, we have had one incident, not sexual in nature. I had to go on a business trip about seven years ago. Because of my son's tendency toward behavior which can be dangerous to him, I had authorized my friend to lightly spank him if he engaged in that type of behavior. After a meeting, I went back to my hotel room, and the message light was flashing. I called home. My friend told me that he must have spanked my boy too hard, as it had left a mark. He also told my boy's mother. I told him that he no longer had permission to spank my son, and kept an eye on him for a while. My boy's mom never forgave or forgot. My friend still lives with me, and helps with my boy. I trust him. He and my son are crazy about each other. Except for one night in the hospital, I have not ever been away from my boy overnight since.
We also have a team which works with my son. Special school, with teacher, assistant teacher, teacher's aides, behavior specialist, TSS, occupational therapist, speech therapist, and home aides. Without this team, my son would make no progress; and I would be completely overwhelmed. His mother doesn't trust a single member of the team. She would prefer that we handled him without help. That is ridiculous, of course. But I understand her fear. Every time I see a small mark, I worry. Of course, my boy is a typical twelve year-old in some ways. He is a bruise machine. But that fear in the back of my brain never completely goes away.
We are still working through the issue of toileting. Even at this age, my boy wears pull-ups. We have made progress; I am hopeful. But that means that, usually at least once a day, he needs to be changed after a bowel movement. I am an expert, after twelve years. I am to pull-ups what a Lothario is to bras. But it bothers me that I still have this kind of intimate contact with my son. He's not a little boy any longer.
He also needs supervision when he takes a shower. I don't have to soap him up any longer, thank goodness. But, at least for now, I need to be in the room watching. That bothers me as well.
We slept together for years. It started when my marriage was falling apart, and then collapsed. She lived with us for several months after the end. She slept upstairs, we slept downstairs. After she left, he wanted to remain downstairs, on the couch, with me. His head was at one end, mine was at the other. Things are better now. We have a new place, and I have designated one of the bedrooms as his. Most nights, he starts out on the futon downstairs, and I sleep in his bed. But by the time I wake up, he's next to me. On a rare occasion, he will actually go to sleep in his own bed. I then go downstairs. At twelve years old, I am praying for the day when he does not feel the need to have me next to him most of the time. I know that he is not, in terms of maturity, truly a twelve year old boy. But his body doesn't know that. I see him "clocking" girls and women as they walk by. He clearly has a crush on a close friend of mine, who is a very pretty woman. One morning, after she spent the night (nothing sexual involved), he woke up with a "woodie".
On of the other boys in my son's class has gotten into the habit of pulling his penis out of his pants. Now, these kids do odd things sometimes. But I'd be lying if I said I never wondered if anything sinister was going on at home.
I pray for the day when my son can communicate with me. We are working with a touch screen now, so I am hopeful that, even if verbalization remains problematic, he will be able to communicate his thoughts, hopes and fears with me. And I hope that he never tells me something awful, that has been hidden by his silence. But if he does, I will not be silent. I will scream from the mountaintops. I will protect my son, and make sure that he understands that he is not to blame.
As I wrote at the beginning, I was never molested. I cannot judge what happened to others, or how they may have reacted. But if you have been molested, and you feel able to, and you have never talked about it before, talk now. There are vulnerable children out there, like my son. There are other children who have already been victimized, but are afraid to say anything. There are still other children who know of predators in the neighborhood, but are caught up in a conspiracy of silence. And there are adults who feel alone, who have not been able to have true intimacy because of how they have been harmed.
Maybe you're a parent or a family member or a neighbor. Maybe you suspect things, or know things. If you suspect, follow up. If you know, it's never too late. Come forward now. Whatever reasons you may have for not speaking out pale in comparison to the damage being done to innocent children, and the potential for further damage. I can't speak for anyone else, but I will forgive you for being late to speak. I will stand with you, if only in spirit. You are not alone.
I can only imagine how hard it must be to speak out. But now, it seems to me, is the time. This country has never been so open to hearing the truth. We need to take advantage of this time to destroy the tyranny of silence which has harmed so many children. We need to stop the predators, and let them know that they will no longer be protected by unwarranted guilt or shame or misplaced priorities. Let's bring this edifice of evil down for good.