By Lisa Cherry
Until a few years ago, I would have dismissed the Penn State scandal as a rare and bizarre problem ripe for the AOL news feed, but remote from my small-town life. Until one day in 2002 when my own family’s world was turned upside down. An $800 cell phone bill revealed a secret abusive relationship between our 15-year-old daughter, Kalyn, and a 46-year-old “responsible” man from our church.
Image courtesy of Dave Dyet
That day we officially joined the throngs of those asking “How?” How could something so ugly happen to our child when we thought we were going to extraordinary measures to protect her? How could a trusted family friend face us with a smile, knowing what he was doing to our daughter in secret? How could our intelligent, bright, high achieving girl fall into such a dirty trap and still not ask our help to get out?
Kalyn’s own words penned while still in her teen years provide us some clues…
“I had fallen in a pit over my head, and it was beyond my ability to climb out. Unable to escape the cycle of excitement, guilt, pleasure, and deception that tormented me, I felt trapped—not just by a person, but by the powers of darkness seeking to destroy my life. I was torn. I had seemingly found the acceptance my teenage heart so desired, but with it came the devastating effects of sexual abuse day after day.
I lived in a fantasyland within my own mind. Whenever my thoughts wandered into reality, I felt trapped in a predicament with no way out…
I learned to pretend as though I enjoyed the sexual exploration and desires communicated to me by this much older man. Terrified of losing his “love,” I went along with all his perverted ideas, even when they made me feel filthy, violated and used. I believed the lie that he needed me to meet these needs in his life lest he be lonely and miserable…
This perverted man had found a way into my young life, shattered my values, and convinced me to believe his sick lies. Yet instead of running from him, I ran to him night after night, giving him my fragile heart and all my trust. I was no longer my own, but I was possessed by this horrific monster whose manipulation had overtaken my life.
This was my secret hidden from the world, the source of my secret pleasure and my inner turmoil. I would do anything to keep it from being exposed, yet deep down I longed desperately for someone to detect it and pull me out of this sinking pit.”
from Kalyn’s Secret, page 42-43
If only someone had known about Kalyn’s abuser and had blown the whistle...but would they have done it? Would they have been able recognize the abuse for what it was? Would they have had known what to do, and had the courage to do it? Or would they have been intimidated and fearful of offending the perpetrator?
Ignorance is one of my greatest mothering regrets over my daughter Kalyn’s life. I had lectured her well about saying “no” to bad touch and running from the trench-coated in the park. But like 90% of abusers, he was known to her. We trusted him. We didn’t realize he had groomed Kalyn and us for his evil purposes.
As the story continues to unfold from Penn State, I believe we will learn of the recognizable predator characteristics that were missed and the long trail of clues that were ignored. The questions we have should cause us to face head on the silent monster of sexual abuses lurking in the shadows of our hallowed halls.
All around us are others waiting to be rescued from their tormenting pain. With estimates ranging from one in three to four girls and one in five to six boys being sexually abused in America by age 18, obviously thousands are in desperate need of help! Are we, as the church, prepared to hear their cries and respond? Who will be Jesus’ voice of compassion to them?
Protecting our children and healing our walking wounded will require a special grace from our Heavenly Father. The church—not just the government—must prioritize this issue if we are to see a generation made whole. Ignoring the epidemic and pretending it would never happen to us “good Christian folk” is both naïve and dangerous!
Will you begin sharpening your understanding and alertness even today? Start by taking the Sexual Abuse Awareness Test which shatters some of our long-held views.
God, help us to know our kids’ world and constantly stay alert to hidden dangers that they cannot see. Help us to extend Your healing, redeeming hand to those we encounter who are trapped in a secret world of pain.
Lisa Cherry is the author of Kalyn’s Secret: Every Parent’s Battle to Save Their Children, and co-founder of POTTS (Parents of Teens and Tweens). She speaks to parents at Acquire the Fire events, and co-pastors Victory Dream Center in Carbondale, Illinois with her husband Doug. They are the parents of ten children and the grandparents of three. Follow Lisa at POTTSgroup.com and FrontlineMoms.com.