What if… A Post-Penn State Fantasy About the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse


Roxanne is a fictitious 27-year-old mother of six-year-old Sarah. A single mom since Sarah’s birth, Roxanne has finally found the “love of her life”-– 35-year-old Justin. He’s got a steady job, only drinks on weekends, and seems to just adore Sarah. He loves playing with her and even has been willing to babysit whenever Roxanne needs a girls’ night out. Quite frankly, Justin almost seems too good to be true.

Six months ago, Roxanne and Justin were ready to take their relationship to the next level so they moved in together. Justin pays most of the rent and gas so things are looking up financially for Roxanne. They have even talked about marriage, prompting lots of chatter between Roxanne and her girlfriends about when Justin was going to “pop the question.”

Sarah was SO happy when Justin moved in. She’s never really known her father and always felt jealous seeing her best friend playing with her dad in their front yard.  She secretly hoped her mom and Justin would get married.

Three weeks ago, Roxanne grew concerned when Sarah started to wet her bed, something she had not done for years. Sarah also seemed especially clingy at bedtime, not wanting to say goodnight or to go into her bedroom alone. Roxanne needed to lay down with her at night in order to get her to go to sleep.

Once, when Roxanne went to lay down with Sarah, Sarah’s bed smelled like cigarette smoke. She didn’t smoke, only Justin did. In the morning she asked Justin if he had been in Sarah’s room and he shook his head, looking at her as if she was crazy. Another night, Justin came home late and Roxanne happened to wake up and hear the door to Sarah’s room creak.  She thought it was strange because Sarah almost never gets up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. A third time, Roxanne found Justin’s shoes underneath Sarah’s bed  — “That’s strange,” Roxanne thought, “well, maybe Sarah was just playing her make-believe games and used Justin’s shoes.”

In a post-Penn State sex scandal world, maybe, just maybe, the following would transpire.

Like millions of other Americans, Roxanne has been riveted by the news about the alleged sex abuse by Jerry Sandusky at Penn State. On CNN’s Late Night with Anderson Cooper, she sees an expert talk about how most people think of sex abusers as creepy perverts, lurking around playgrounds, but in fact over 70 percent of sexual abusers are known, and often loved, by the children they abuse. They point out that true prevention of sex abuse will only happen when mothers, grandmothers, neighbors are alert to the possible signs of troubling behavior by their boyfriends, uncles, the next door neighbors. They need to pay attention to their gut feelings when they think something isn’t right about the sexual behavior of the person they know. It’s hard to face the possibility that someone you’ve trusted may be hurting a child, even harder to speak up.

Suddenly, Roxanne flashed to the smell of cigarette smoke in Sarah’s bed – “why on earth would Justin be in Sarah’s bedroom without me knowing about it. There must be an explanation.  Maybe he was just tucking her in that night and I didn’t know about it. Maybe I’ll ask Sarah.”

When Roxanne asks Sarah, Sarah looks away and doesn’t say anything. When Roxanne asks her again, “Has Justin ever come into your room at night?” she quietly says, “no.”

“This isn’t possible,” Roxanne thinks, “Justin is SO good with Sarah. He adores her and she seems to like spending time with him. There’s no way. Finally, I’ve found the man of my dreams. Everything is working out. I might even get married. I love Justin. But, I can’t stop thinking about this.”

The next night Anderson Cooper reports:

“One of the most disturbing parts of the Penn State sex abuse scandal is how many people likely either had direct information or suspected Mr. Sandusky of abuse and failed to come forward and speak up on behalf of the victims. They were passive bystanders, not active ones. Think how many victims could have been spared if JUST one of those adults had come forward and had the courage to not let it rest.”

Roxanne suddenly feels like she’s been kicked in the stomach. “How many times now have I had this yucky feeling about Justin. I keep wanting to put it out of my mind. WHY does it keep nagging at me? All those people at Penn State, they looked the other way. Am I looking the other way? It CAN’T be possible, but maybe…I have to talk with someone.”

The next day Roxanne has lunch with her girlfriend. “Can I talk to you about something? This is going to sound so strange, but I just can’t get it out of my head…” and she goes on to tell her friend about what she has observed ending with “I’m sure it’s nothing, right?”  Her friend looks stunned, “I CAN’T believe you’re saying this. Justin has always struck me as a little creepy. I never told you this, but I saw him sort of hitting on a 13 year-old girl. I didn’t think anything of it, but it was WEIRD. Once, when I was at your house, I heard him tell Sarah that her butt was cute in her tight jeans. I didn’t think it was anything so I didn’t tell you. But, it did seem really inappropriate. ”

Two days later, Justin came home again in the middle of the night. Roxanne stayed awake this time. Again, that creak of Sarah’s door. When Roxanne burst into the room, she saw Justin lying next to Sarah on her bed. He immediately stood up and yelled, “What the hell are you doing here? I was just tucking Sarah in.” Justin had clearly been drinking. Roxanne threatened to call the police unless Justin left immediately.

When she talked to Sarah about what had happened, Sarah said that Justin had been coming into her room numerous days in the past month. He always woke her up, lay down next to her, and talked about how she was so special. He always had alcohol on his breathe. He’d kiss her face and rub her back. When Roxanne asked if he had touched her on her private parts, she said “no”, but she hated when he came in. She couldn’t fall asleep at night thinking it might happen again. Roxanne said, “Sweetie, I’m so sorry this happened. He will never do that again to you. I promise. I swear.”

As Roxanne sat awake in bed that night, she could barely contain her rage. “But, at least I caught it before anything really bad happened. It could have been like those boys at Penn State. Thank God I trusted my gut. Thank God I talked with someone. Thank God I spoke up!!!”

Now THEN we’d be making progress on preventing sexual abuse of children.

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