To Stop a Predator: How One Mom Stopped a Predator from Accessing Her Child
Can just a couple sentences change the course of a child’s life? I am proof that they can and did. All my Mom asked was, “Honey, what’s wrong? I can tell from your expression something is off.” Those words spoken to me at the age of 15 changed my life. These questions were posed moments after I had literally escaped a predator’s grasp.
With that conversational opener, my mom invited me to tell her what was troubling me. It was a moment of intentionality and honest inquiry. Just prior to her asking, however, I had zero intent to tell her what was going on. The zero intent can be chalked up to how a teen’s brain works.
In my mind, the predator was “The Creep”. On that day he had intentionally ramped up his grooming behaviors toward me with talk about my breast development especially compared to other girls. He complimented my maturity and uniqueness. Then he moved into the physical realm by offering to give me a back rub. When that didn’t work, he insisted I clean his immaculate bedroom with him in it. The requests for a back rub intensified. He insisted I sit on his bed to take a rest… as I was “working too hard.”
Terror struck when he touched me and brought out a hand held item that I had never seen before. He calmly relayed to me that the item was for back rubs. It terrified me that he wanted to touch me with it. My heart pounded. How would I get out of this? All my antennae went up and my mind raced looking for an out. Unfortunately, I was dependent on him for a ride home.
In desperation to get away from him I engaged in some fast talking. I claimed that I suddenly felt sick. Miraculously, it worked. I asserted I needed to be taken home immediately. That got me out of his bedroom and into his car for the drive home. As we left he asked me to keep our “special relationship” secret. The reason? He named some men from the church who just would not be able to understand “”us” and our “special relationship”. I didn’t like being at his home or in his company, but I knew that next week it would be expected that I return again, to clean his house as scheduled.
Interestingly, when I reflect back on it, the ruse of falling ill had worked. I felt great relief to be free of him at that point. The fact that the freedom would be temporary, however, didn’t even dawn on me. At the moment I was out of his clutches. A week seemed a long way away to my teen brain: “I don’t have to think about ‘The Creep’ right now. I will deal with it later.”
For some reason, though, Mom’s simple and well timed inquiry encouraged me to spill it all. Out came everything. My mom’s reaction was immediate and very clear– what “The Creep” was doing was wrong, wrong, wrong.
Assurances that she would never allow me to be alone with him again filled me with relief. She clarified for me why I felt so put off and fearful of being with “The Creep”. She validated my gut feelings. She encouraged me to always follow my gut whenever I felt unsafe, taken advantage of, or put in a compromising or high pressure situation.
Healthy Thinking Knocks Out Grooming
One comparison my mom gave at that time quickly righted my assessment of “The Creep”. She posed the following question; “ Could I imagine my dad, brothers or church men doing the things that “The Creep” had done to me?” Absolutely not! For me, everything focused sharply on that one question. I felt confident that never again would I be lured into “The Creep’s” control. By taking a moment to intentionally speak truth to me, my Mom had really empowered me.
I realized that my teen brain was really in a quandary about how to process “The Creep’s” behavior. My mom’s words gave me a frame of reference that cleared any cloudy acceptance of his actions. The things he had said and done were unthinkable because all the men she cited were truly good men who had never crossed boundaries with me. What my mom did by honestly inviting me to talk and then intentionally identifying things that could give me grounding, was to undo all the grooming and mind control junk “The Creep” had tried to instill in me. His power over me was taken away. The change in my thinking was instantaneous.
To be more specific, this pivotal conversation changed how I framed “The Creep’s actions and gave me language to codify it: inappropriate, dangerous, not ok, must stop, never again, not my fault, no grown up should do or say such things and so on. Mom used the word “wrong” to describe “The Creep’s” general behavior. Those words created a protective barrier for me and gave me the way to escape from the noble but unhealthy and abusive side of , “Obey your elders and show respect” mode. To the respectful edict, “Obey your elders” an all important qualifier of “when the adult is not violating boundaries” was added. Now in a more grounded position my thinking was, “Obey your elders when they are appropriate”and “Show respect when the adult is not violating boundaries”. This was critical for my teen brain to process and understand. It allowed me to judge his behaviors, and those of future violators, for what they truly were: the sexual grooming of a minor.
Another thing that moment with my mom gave me was courage over victimization. Until this point I did not know I had the power to judge an adult’s behavior. Mom helped me understand in no uncertain terms that when “The Creep” had sworn me to secrecy, he really was doing so to protect himself, his image and mask his wrongdoing. He was attempting to silence me as he did not want the truth to come out, I am sad to report that tragically, “The Creep” went on to molest other girls in our church. This was in spite of my mom and I reporting my situation to church officials.
Intentional Open Communication
My mom had spent my entire childhood delighting in every developmental stage and engaging in wonderful open communication. During elementary school she had established a habit of waiting, sometimes with cookies, on the front porch for us three kids to arrive home excited to share our day’s news. Out tumbled our accounts of the goings on at school and the ups and downs of our little lives. She guarded that time. We bubbled over with delight at the attention. It was a magical time that set the stage for ongoing conversations as we aged and developed. Mom purposefully and intentionally devoted her full attention to what we had to say and she read between the lines for insight into relationships with teachers, peers, coaches, church folks etc. This was a time for us to shine and share our news. She avoided directives and admonishments. She simply enjoyed us! The porch conversation extended beyond the porch itself. Car rides to athletic events, scouts, meetings, etc.were used to speak into the lives of my siblings, my friends and myself. For me it was so important in changing the trajectory of a potentially damaging event that unfolded when I was fifteen.
Your Own Porch Conversation
This article and the subsequent entries I plan to share with parents on this site are intended to inspire and equip you to do the same for your child. Given the high statistics on children experiencing molest, you will want to do all you can to avoid your child becoming a victim. Cultivating an ongoing conversation with your child increases the chances for you to intervene and stop full fledged abuse from happening. Educating yourself is the first step. You can avoid your child becoming a statistic. Here’s to getting your Porch Conversation going!
Things to consider. Think about your communication style and your child’s. When do you best connect? How do you protect that time? Is it when you are driving your child to school? Is it in the quiet before you tuck her/him into bed at night? Is it the time spent around the kitchen table? I love the story one mom told me about a worn out coffee table in her family room. She described it as gouged, colored on and definitely showing its age. She couldn’t bring herself to replace it, however, because it held so many memories of connecting with her sons over board games, homework, craft time and snacks! That was her place to really connect with her kids. Take a moment to identify where and when you connect and then begin to introduce intentionality to your discussions.
Cultivate time that is all about communicating and developing communication skills. Some kids open up while playing a game, while meal prepping, doing homework,drawing, completing puzzles etc. Kids love to have your undivided attention. It makes them feel listened to and important. Study your child and yourself and come up with a plan to dedicate more time to this type of connection. Be open to practice better listening skills when it comes to allowing your child to freely share with you what’s on their mind and heart. This will help you be a communicative parent with an established habit of honest openness. This in turn will help you to know when things are not quite right and spot potential danger points because “something seems off.”
Don’t miss my next blog on identifying “grooming” and how to establish body safety boundaries with your child to increase their level of resilience and protection.
Child Advocate and Educator
Judy Neufeld-Fernandez earned a BS in Elementary Education and a MA in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. She has taught every grade level k-12 at some point in her educational career. Her teaching experiences include donning a red wig as Miss Frizzle from the Magic School Bus and teaching alongside a real live elephant. However the vision of schools free of harm has compelled her into child advocacy. Judy is most passionate about sex abuse prevention and protecting the innocence of children in youth serving organizations.