Guest column: Breaking the silence

Editor’s note: The following column includes sensitive subject matter. — MD

How is it possible that more than 150 girls, gymnasts when children, were sexually molested and abused for decades by the team doctor (hereafter, referred to as doctor pedophile)?

How is it possible that no one, absolutely no one else, knew or said they knew?

How is it possible that those who were told dismissed the girls’ claims and distress about doctor pedophile’s behavior?

We’ve been here before when we learned about a similar crime occurring over decades in the Catholic church by trusted Catholic priests. The only real differences between them is their crime involved boys who were children, usually not girls who were children, and was perpetrated by many Catholic priests in many different places instead of one doctor.

We, this community, need to start this conversation by attempting to answer those questions so we don’t repeat the mistake. We know, and the authorities know, that the crime of sexual molestation and abuse toward children occurs on the Olympic Peninsula.

I will tell you more about the conversation and an event to start the conversation that is occurring Feb. 22 in Sequim in my next column. The column will be more about the event and prevention of sexual abuse toward children.

For now, I want to talk about the damage done to children from sexual abuse and the conspiracy of silence that allows it to go on.

Most of us are saddened and appalled by the stories of the gymnasts who gave victim statements to the court. They are now young women who were speaking about their experience as children. I understand the doctor’s abuse started with children as young as 10 years old and continued for years.

Deafening silence

One story I heard from a victim, now a young woman, who agreed to an interview for a television show. She was friendly, but her body was tense and wary like most of us who experienced the silence of sexual abuse are when questioned about our experience.

The part of her story that went to my very soul was that she talked about telling a responsible adult who counseled her about what she should do. The next time she saw the doctor, she apologized for causing him any problem.

Her apology delivered an invitation to doctor pedophile to continue molesting her at will. The invitation could have been written with the child’s blood for all the responsible adult cared.

Harsh? Yes. Growing into a mature body doesn’t take away the sense of being unsafe, ashamed and betrayed.

I have a story, probably the only one I could write that would be printed in this family newspaper.

I think I was around 14. It was a Sunday and my parents were holding a Sunday dinner in our house for a few family members. I walked into the living room. A male relative noticed me and called me over to sit by him.

I didn’t want to, but I did. He flung his arm over my shoulder and grabbed the emerging evidence of my womanhood. He laughed and made a comment to other family members, men and women, in the room.

I don’t remember the comment. I went dark almost immediately. I closed my eyes and closed my ears. I’m not sure where I went; my body was present, but I wasn’t.

All I heard was silence. I froze until he removed his hand; I probably didn’t breathe. The male relative started a different story and I started coming back. I waited until I thought I could leave without bringing any attention to me.

Finally, I had the strength and presence of mind to get up. I walked to the kitchen which was separate and where my mother was doing some last-minute preparation.

I longed for her to say something about what happened to me.

Silence.

I went to my room. I probably ate dinner with the family. I don’t remember.

All I remember is silence.

I’ve wondered with my adult mind how I so quickly went dark. I believe that I was practiced and learned well how to protect myself.

This male relative was not a pedophile. He was a thoughtless brute. My family members are decent people who failed a child on that occasion.

It helps to remember that my childhood was generations ago and a time when some men grew up believing that women were for their pleasure. I can imagine that alleged perpetrators like President Trump, Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose watched their fathers do to women what a male relative did to me.

What hurts to remember is that these child gymnasts and some of the victims of priests are only now young women and men generations younger than I.

I suspect many are like me. My body and something else in me remembers. I adopted a chronic alert system and habits like not wearing anything clinging anywhere on my body.

Mostly, we learned that people just didn’t care; our pain, our shame, our humiliation didn’t matter enough to rock some facet of their life like a worldwide religion, a star girl gymnastics team and a Supreme Court justice.

The good news is that the conversation has started. Millions of women have marched in protest and broken their own silence. The irony is that some, probably many, if statistics are to be believed, were triggered by our country electing someone who thought it was OK to intimately grope women because he was a celebrity. Now, he is President.

Next week: “Beginning the Conversation.”

Bertha D. Cooper, co-founder with Shenna Younger of “The Beginning;” will moderate the program and panel appearing at Keeping Our Kids Safe on February 22, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Sequim High School Auditorium. Bertha spent her career years as a health care organizational and program administrator and consultant and is a featured columnist in Sequim Gazette.

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