When I was a kid, I watched “Let’s Make a Deal,” with Monte Hall almost every day. The show has recently made a comeback on CBS, with Wayne Brady. I haven’t seen it, but I assume it’s very similar. In the show, contestants are often given something of value right away, then given the option to either keep what has been given them, or risk giving it up for something unknown that may be wonderful, or may be worthless.
Human nature is often to keep hold of what we have. Losing something we think of as valuable creates huge anxiety, sadness and remorse. And yet people volunteer for this anxiety on the show. People line up to be put in this difficult position. And we watch, because we know that MOST people would rather hold tight to what has been given them because it’s too scary to let go.
Abusers know this human tendency and benefit greatly from it. Victims also know this and it’s a big contributor to keeping silent. It’s known as grooming the community. We would like to think of abuse as happening in a dark alley, or a vacant park, with no one around, done by random strangers that we can vilify when caught. In reality, abuse rarely happens that way. It happens in families, in churches and in schools, in broad daylight, when bystanders are just around the corner. It happens inside the context of our lives.
My abuse happened in the church, sometimes when the ladies were meeting for Bible study upstairs. Jerry Sandusky abused boys while others were milling about. And when it is revealed, we as bystanders ask two questions about the perpetrator:
- How did I not see this?
- What does this mean about the context in which the abuser interacted with me/us?
And then we start to weigh things. We weigh giving up what we thought we knew vs. coming to the aid of the victims. We weigh the good memories we have vs. the possibility that we were misguided or manipulated. It’s a hard choice for many family/community members. It’s why we can witness something that seems wrong, or inappropriate, or harmful and dismiss it. We struggle with things like “he coached my kids in Little League and he seemed like a great mentor,” “He presided at my mother’s funeral and said things that helped me through it,” “she donated a children’s wing to the hospital that has saved lives,” “without his job, we could lose the house.” Abusers don’t normally jump out of bushes. They set a context in our lives and they put things of real value in our lives because they know that as a society we are not going to want to sacrifice or even rename those things.
We can end childhood abuse, but in order to do so, we as a society, are going to have to stop valuing things over the abused, and we personally must be willing to grapple with the fact that someone we admire and trust could be harming our children and not turn our backs, or walk on by.