There are stories in the news almost every day about people who have been sexually abused or harassed. I’m afraid I have one more to tell today. A man contacted me and asked if I would share his story while keeping his identity private. I agreed, and said I would refer to him as Tim. I want to make clear he was never abused in any school or by any school staff member, but there is a school connection that I will explain later.
Tim is now in his mid 60s, and he said he was abused from the time he was 4 or 5 until he was about 10, and there were a couple of isolated incidents after that. Statistics for today show that one in five girls have been abused in some way, and one in 20 boys. According to the American Society for Positive Care for Children, victims who were abused as children are more likely to develop poor self-images, have difficulty trusting people and forming close relationships, and have a higher likelihood of turning to drugs and alcohol.
Tim agrees with that assessment. “Although I was lucky enough to marry an understanding woman, even now I have trouble letting people get close to me, both physically and emotionally. When I was in my late teens, I used a lot of drugs, but somehow I was able to overcome that addiction and find a decent job.” Tim said his wife died of respiratory failure a few years ago, so he spends a lot of time alone. They did not have any children together.
I told Tim that my articles deal with schools and education, and I needed to know why he contacted me and not a regular Citizen reporter. This is what he told me: “I didn’t understand why at the time, but I would often act in a way that would definitely be considered socially inappropriate in class, especially for a boy of 8 or 9. My teacher sent a note home describing my behavior. I know it wasn’t her intent, but that note made my situation much worse for a while.”
Pamela Deacon O'Grady remembers the first time she met him.
I asked Tim to elaborate, but he only said he was basically warned, if not threatened, not to do whatever it was he was doing in class again. He also added that throughout his abuse, he was told he was the “naughty one,” and that he should never tell anyone what was happening or there would be consequences. He said he completely understands why some people have waited 30 years or more to speak out, if ever.
I called Jeffrey Pirozzolo, the superintendent of the Auburn Enlarged City School District, and asked him how school policies and teacher training have changed over the years. “We have multiple reporting avenues in place,” he said, “Teachers, counselors, SROs (school resource officers). School staff are mandated reporters and have annual training in child neglect and abuse recognition. The safety of our students is always our No. 1 priority, no matter what.”
I assured Tim that if a child acted today the way he did then in class, the teacher would not have sent a note home, but would have notified someone in the administration, who would then investigate the situation.
Since abused children eventually grow up to be adults, but still carry the pain and scars of their abuse with them, I asked Jon Loomis, an Auburn clinical therapist, what he recommended for men and women in that situation.
“They should get into therapy,” he said. “Any therapist would be of assistance, but there are some who specialize in that field. They could also contact SAVAR, Cayuga Counseling or an online resource called RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network).” Loomis added, with an edge to his voice, “What bothers me is when this happens to boys it’s not seen to be as harmful to them as it is to girls, but it is. The guilt all belongs to the perpetrator. Abuse is a symptom of the brokenness of the abuser.”
Tim said he does see a therapist regularly, and he hopes that by saying so, others will realize there is no stigma or shame in seeking therapy, any more than there is seeking a doctor to treat an injury or illness.
I would like to end this article with a quote from Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the United States: "Children are our most valuable resource."