I feel like I should continue the Casa story as I am afraid these programs are going to disappear forever. At one point, we figured out that I had probably been in several thousand classrooms and worked with somewhere around 80,000 or students during my initial eleven years working at Casa from 1997 to 2008. In my second stint with Casa, I tended to work with the same students for a semester, so my numbers were not nearly as high, but I know I impacted some lives.
While I was doing Kids Talk, for example, I took somewhere around 70 disclosures of sexual abuse. Occasionally this meant waiting at the school for several hours until a police officer arrived to get the information from me and then decide what to do with the student. My job was to find out what happened, who did it, where did it happen, and when it happened. That’s all I needed to know. Sometimes students would disclose multiple types and instances of abuse. It was sad and infuriating and made me think terrible things.
When I first started, there was a team of about six people doing Kids Talk full or part time. A few of these people had been doing it for a while and some people came and went, too. We always had Jesuit Volunteer Corp people in those days, too, who would work for us for a year and receive only a small stipend. I’m still in touch with one, Jen, to this day and they were all amazing people. We also had AmeriCorps volunteers, too, for a few years.
The job would chew people up and spit them out. Some would burn out quickly. It could have been saying the same thing over and over or it could have been the disclosures. It could also have been the fact that you could start to see it on student faces while you were presenting the information that something like this had happened to them. If you consider the prevalence of child sexual abuse to be even 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys under age 18, that’s a handful in every class of 25-30 students.
Sadly, I think those statistics are accurate.
Some of my co-workers ended up having to testify in court. Attorneys representing the defendants loved to put people like us on the stand to make it look like we put words into the child’s mouth. Lovely, right? Again, going to the stats, but people very rarely lie about sexual violence. There is probably a special place in hell for attorneys who have gotten sexual predators off from going to prison.
We got these disclosures because at the end of the presentation, we would tell the students we were available to talk privately, answer questions, etc., for about 5-10 minutes after we completed the class. A lot of times, students would just tell me about a safety rule or how their dog had puppies or that they loved Casa. Sometimes, though, it was something terrible.
The first time I took a disclosure, my first thought was, “Hey, I know where this guy lives. I’m sure I know a few people who would like to make him pay for what he’s done.” The student’s story had really struck a chord with me. His stepfather would watch him take a shower and then dry off his private parts for him before flicking the head of his penis with his middle finger.
When I was growing up and spent a lot of time with my grandparents, their neighbors had a son who was about four years older than me. He was a strange kid. Doug was his name. He was also a budding sexual predator. When I was in fourth grade, and he was in 7th grade we were swimming one day and changing our clothes in the little storage room off the pool at my grandparent’s house that we used to change in. After our swim, he asked, “Do you want to suck dicks?”
This embarrassed and confused the hell out of me. I had no desire to suck a dick. I didn’t know why you would want to do that in those days, whether you were giving or receiving. I said, “No” and he said, “It’s really cool. Everyone does it when they are older.” I stood my ground, though, and he played it off like it was no big deal.
He went on to abuse several kids in our neighborhood and I remembered hearing a story about one neighbor having something similar happen to him when I heard that first disclosure. If I had said something at the time to my dad or my grandparents, I could maybe have saved others from Doug. I didn’t have a program like Casa, though, to let me know that this was not okay, and it isn’t ever a joke. d
So those first few disclosures I took seemed personal. I thought long and hard about visiting a few of these people and doing a little vigilante justice. I thought about telling a few of my friends who have spent time in prison and shared with me what happened to child molesters in there. It’s not pretty and it’s exactly what you’ve probably heard.
After a while, though, I realized the best thing I could do is just take the information, remind the child it wasn’t their fault and that I believed them, and then get out of that loop as quickly as possible. I learned to not take my work home with me and began to understand why people told the most fucked up jokes in our staff meetings. We all were learning how to be, in a way, bulletproof. If you couldn’t get to that point, you wouldn’t last at Casa.
After my second year there, I got the opportunity to be part of the program for 7th-12th grade students and it changed my life in so many ways. The program is called POWER and it stands for Positive Outcomes Within Every Relationship. I may have to write several blogs about this time of my professional life.
See you tomorrow.
Rhondi took this. It has nothing to do with this blog, but it is a cool picture.