When I was a youth track coach a decade ago, I found that running with the kids every day was like a fountain of youth. The experience transformed me for life and was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. The parents loved me, and I loved (most of) them. But I must confess years later that I look back and find myself shocked at how so many of these parents (especially single Moms) trusted a grown man around their children.
Jerry Sandusky, the former football coach at Penn State, also made himself out to be a role model for “lost” children. He, too, said he loved his kids and took pleasure in spending time with them. He even formed a charity around the idea and was hailed by the community as a savior for lost kids who didn’t have much parental support.
The problem is that Sandusky loved his young, male football players for reasons that are both repulsive and unforgivable.
He and other sexual predators often present their affection toward children as a carefully veiled disguise for their desire to take advantage of youth who don’t have adults to protect them.
These “lost children” — who don’t have a father in the home — become targets of child predators in the same way pimps prey on young girls with low self-esteem.
One of the saddest effects of the breakdown of the Black family is that many of our kids experience sexual abuse, because someone is allowed in their lives who doesn’t belong. Single Mothers who are desperate to find male role models for their children can sometimes leave their kids vulnerable to any man who takes an interest without wondering if they may be putting their child in harm’s way. A Mother looking for love may allow a strange man around her kids, not knowing that this man is lustfully observing her teenage daughter or son.
This happens more often than you might think.
Oftentimes, we don’t find out about the abuse until years later, after the damage is done. In many cases, we don’t find out about it at all.
The truth is that we must teach our kids to identify sexual abuse when they see it and to alert an adult when it happens.
Many Black Moms worry incessantly about whether or not their man is secretly gay (thanks to Oprah Winfrey and the “down low” effect). But I don’t hear nearly as much chatter about whether or not your man is the kind of guy that will sleep with a 15-year old. Many millions of Americans will shake their butts in a minute to an R. Kelly song, but care nothing about the fact that there is a substantial amount of evidence (and a videotape) suggesting that he has an interest in women as young as 12 years old.
Sexual abuse is real in our community and we must confront it.
We have to warn our kids on how to identify sexual abuse when they see it, and how to report it to adults. Once we receive this information, we must act on it without hesitation. Also, remember that human sexuality is a deep abyss for some, containing secrets that they guard to the death. So just because a man is nice to your kids, that doesn’t mean that he’s right for them. You must vet people carefully when they come around those you love.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.