Abuse does not happen in a vacuum. Most of the time, we who have experienced it were vulnerable to it because of prior life experiences.
Mine was a childhood filled with emotional neglect and fear. When I was born, the oldest in the family was 11 years old. I was the 8th child. Do the math. That’s a lot of kids for a mother to take care of. My dad was building his business, getting ready to build a house and already an alcoholic. He was of little help to her.
He scared me to death. There was a look in his eye that sent chills down my spine. I, along with my siblings, scampered to bed and shut the light off when he came home late at night so he would think we were asleep. A punishment from Dad was harsh – a hard spanking or a whipping with a belt.
I felt like I was in the way and a huge burden to them. My siblings didn’t want me around and let me know it. My best friend was a cat. We often went off together and I would tell it my problems. It never rejected me, listened intently and loved me just as I was (I thought).
I was convinced that if I ran away from home, no one would realize that I was gone, so I never bothered.
I never received physical or verbal affirmation of love from my parents or anyone in the family.
When the priest abuser came into my life, accepted me unconditionally and made me laugh, I was hooked. I not only had a friend and a father-figure, I had someone who loved me. And he knew it. He saw his openeing when he met me and he went for it.
I believe the first line of defense in clergy sexual abuse is giving every child a solid emotional start in life. Making sure all their relationships are solid – family, friends, school – will make them less appealing to a predator, less likely to be drawn in to one, and more likely to stand up to one.
Clearly some child abuse actually begins at home, but for the majority of children, it can be prevented from within the home.
Love your kids. Make sure they have good friends. And see to it that they are treated right at school and elsewhere. Diocesan safe environment programs are necessary to protect children. Educating them on self-protection is essential. However, the foundation you lay in their formation is the best prevention there is.