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Column: Teach them to be loud...

Posted: February 7, 2018 1:57 p.m.
Updated: February 6, 2018 1:00 a.m.

Last week, a former physician for the American gymnastics team, who is not worthy of being named, was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for the molestation of young, aspiring athletes under his care dating back as far back as 1997. It is truly difficult to understand the shocking number of gymnasts this trusted team doctor was able to abuse, a number that has reached a disturbing 265 with the sad likelihood of growing. Dozens of parents were in court as their children testified about the abuse. Wiping away tears, mothers and fathers stood silently, stoically in support of their daughters. Weighted down with guilt, many parents wondered how they misinterpreted this credited doctor’s intent so wrongly and how they missed the red flags. The judge in the case was quick to tell them that as the red flags may have been present, they were truly intended to be hidden. The doctor was a mastermind at hiding these unimaginable crimes against his innocent victims. What is almost as alarming as the abuse itself is the growing public knowledge of the scope of the doctor’s abuses and the lack of action after complaints had been made. What kind of message does this send to other young girls wanting to come forward whether in this case or another? Thankfully in this account, courageous voices are now being heard. But dismally I think why these voices weren’t heard before, decades ago. Were they not loud enough?

I wonder about the muffled voices of 13 siblings who were living in unimaginable and horrific conditions in a quiet neighborhood in Southern California. The siblings, ages 2 to 29, were held captive by their parents in a dirty and foul-smelling house, some shackled to the furniture with chains and padlocks. They, as well, were too weak to have loud voices and for years went sadly unnoticed and nameless. Neighbors rarely saw the 10 girls and three boys because they never went outside to play instead were inside the home starving for not only food but for a voice; a voice to rescue them from their misery. And the voice came in the form of a very brave 17 year-old young lady who managed to escape this living hell and be “loud” enough for herself and her siblings to finally be rescued. Again, it is hard to imagine and understand the immense pain and suffering these siblings lived in and for so many years without a voice to be heard even with their neighbors’ homes 50 feet away. No voice, just silence.

At times, young voices aren’t loud enough. As parents, we have to teach our children to speak up, to be louder in certain moments in life, however uncomfortable they may be. We have to let them know they have a voice and we want to hear them. We have to teach our kids to be courageous when they are afraid, and remind them they can always come forward. They need to know that nobody should ever ask them to keep secrets from us, as their parents. Empowering children to speak up, even when it is against adults in authority positions (just like the two fore mentioned cases) may seriously be the only way to stop these kinds of abuses. And our children need to know they don’t have to stop at one adult. They must know that if the first person they talk to doesn’t help them, they have to find the next adult who will. These are sensitive and awkward conversations to have and are guaranteed to be accompanied by eye-rolling, but they are necessary in raising strong, happy, and safe children.

One very important thing we can teach them is to not be silent. May we teach our children that speaking up without fear is the new-norm.

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