The Chelsea Foundation’s Executive Director, Kathleen O’Malley Brown, discusses child safety and the importance of creating a safe space for communicating with children before any trouble starts.
By Kathleen O’Malley Brown, Executive Director, The Chelsea Foundation
My girlfriend stared at a picture of her daughter and said, more to herself than to me, “I don’t know how I didn’t know!”
“Know what?” I asked.
We were going through her collection of family pictures in search of something in particular that she wanted to show me when one picture stopped her and pushed her deep into thought.
My question prompted my friend to tell me how she found out that her daughter had been molested. It was not something that could be defined as physical rape, but definitely offensive, uncalled for, and enough to do serious damage to her daughter. How the situation was handled added to the damage.
Her daughter did not tell her mother when it happened, but waited years. Yet, when she did reveal what had happened, she was still enough of a child that the fact of what she was saying could come into question, be easily denied, never spoken of, and it left the tale wrapped in a lot of silence, and therefore, did more damage. It was no surprise that the child’s school work was affected, and her behavior became more defiant when her telling was not received as having been truthful.
The daughter quickly grew into a troubled teen, which ended in the court system viewing her as an incorrigible child. Once married, having children of her own and spending time with her cousins, she finally received validation as the family secret spilled out over everyone—she had not been the only girl who was a victim in her family!
Guilt filled my friend, and worse, she felt that she and her husband had helped to keep the secret with their silence. She felt outrage as she talked with her nieces and nephews to find out that her husband’s sisters, too, had helped to keep the secret. As my friend looked at the picture of her daughter and saw the sadness in the child’s face, she pulled out other pictures of the child. Looking at the before and after pictures, you could easily see the change in the child: a profound sadness had taken over her face.
Sometimes a predator can be found in the family. Sometimes they live in the neighborhood or are camp counselors. Even church can be a source of this terrible tragedy! Classmates, friends and siblings can be predators. And the victims are not always girls!
My mother never allowed sleepovers. When predators can be found so close to home, why assume that your daughter or son is safe in anyone’s home, especially when it is hard enough to keep them safe in your own home? It may be an easy call when it comes to free babysitting, but the reality is that your child could pay a much higher price—and for the rest of his or her life. These are wounds that never heal. Therapy helps, yes, but I suspect that my mother’s vehement hostile attitude toward sleepovers was the result of her going on a sleepover. I have listened to many victims’ stories, some in therapy and some not, and I have concluded that sexual wounds never completely close or heal.
How to Reach Out Before the Trouble Starts
1. Always put your child’s safety first. Stop doing whatever you are doing if they start telling you about the behavior of an adult, no matter who the adult is.
2. The first five years are all about discipline; the next five are about teaching; the following five can equate to coaching, and after that you can work on being friends.
3. If your child is on a sleepover, and he or she calls you after you are asleep, asking you to come and get them, no matter the hour, go!
Kathleen O’Malley Brown is the Executive Director of The Chelsea Foundation. She was both a parent and a foster parent and has participated in child education classes. A trail-blazer in sales, she has traveled five states, calling on engineers and plant managers. She volunteered at a national children’s hospital for 10 years, tending to sick children and helping out the staff. She is well-known for being able to put any child to sleep in fifteen minutes or less (sans threats, trauma, bribes, or drugs).