“I can’t imagine being in your shoes” is one of the most common things said to me. “How do you face people? What’s it like?” Those are valid questions, and they are questions that need to be addressed.
For almost forty years our family was “the family” — adored and respected in our church, among our friends, within our small community, and even across state lines. We were a uniquely large family, especially for this day and age, having eleven children. Even more unique was the fact that they were good kids. Good Christian kids, most of them attending Harding University,
a private Christian college.
Suddenly the head of our family, perhaps the most respected of all, made big, bold headlines in newspapers that reached across three state lines and beyond! How did we live through this? What was it like having to face this kind of shame? And, let’s face it. There really is a stigma attached to the word pedophile. Since John’s arrest and incarceration there have been hundreds more arrests of child sex offenders, and those who don’t know my situation freely sling those not-so-nice terms around often saying things like, “You can’t tell me that none of the family members knew!” Family members are often “attached” to the pedophile by harsh thoughts and unjust, cruel words. How do you separate the pedophile from the rest of the family? Do you see what I mean?
I can’t tell you how much that hurts. I really can’t begin to put it into words. The wife is not responsible for the actions of the pedophile, but we were clumped together as the “family of a pedophile.” I know it’s hard to do, but the family members must be separated from the offender. This situation is hard enough without the shame and disgrace of being marked by others as being part of the problem.
But, we’ll save that thought for another time. For now, what was it like facing everyday life with people who were just as shocked as I was about finding out this horrific truth? What kind of support was there? Who came to help?
Sadly, there was very little help at first mostly because nobody knew what to do or say. Let’s face it. This was truly the shock of a lifetime! There are still people this many years after John’s incarceration who will say they can’t wrap their minds around this. They cannot believe that HE molested children. Not the man they knew! Not John, the kind, caring, giving man. Not the family man, the minister, the youth pastor. How could this be?
I can vaguely remember those first few weeks following his arrest. The initial reaction of others was mostly tears. People would look at me and just burst into tears and turn away.
I understand. They had no words.
There were also the ones who were just plain nosey wanting to know details of what happened. Thankfully, there weren’t too many nib-nosers because I was in no frame of mind to tolerate anything like that. And, believe me, it was easy to feel sincerity versus nosiness! They create two polar opposite emotions within.
The majority of friends were kind. Honest-to-goodness kind. They might not have known what to say or do, but I knew they were suffering right along with me and the kids. Thankfully, many of our children lived out of state by this time, so they didn’t have to face this mess head-on. They had a bit of time to digest what had happened and they were able to tell their close friends about the events that were taking place in our family at their own pace. The media doesn’t help soften the blows of grief and trauma! As we all know, the media feeds off of stories like this one.
But, for those of us who lived right in this tiny community of Somerset County we had no choice about taking time to digest the news of John’s arrest. Everyone knew that John was in jail. Everyone knew why John was in jail. As shameful, as humiliating, as hurtful as it was, we had no time to grieve privately. Our world as we once knew it, was turned inside out and upside down. And, the media made sure that everyone knew “the news.”
So, how did we get through this initial blast of public humiliation? We could stay buried in the house for months too ashamed, hurt, and pained to face people. Or, we could do what we ultimately chose to do: face the church, the community, and our friends and pray that they would eventually give us some support.
I’d never want to go through it all over again, but we did what we had to do. And, we survived. And, if you’re going through something similar, you’ll survive, too. I can remember my head feeling like it was going to split wide open. I went to my family physician and he said my blood pressure was “sky high.” Immediately, he put me on medication. He hung his head as he quietly said, “I had no idea. I’m so, so sorry.” He was also John’s physician for years. He was our family doctor taking care of our children, too. John had given no clues to the physical about the double life he was living.
I was going to a counselor once a week for almost three years. At first I simply needed validation that I wasn’t going crazy. I explained all of the strange things John did that made me feel crazy, and she concluded he probably had a personality disorder. One day after John’s arrest made the newspapers and radio broadcasts, my counselor sent me a message that she was so very sorry. She couldn’t put the pieces together, either.
I was worried sick about the kids. How would the local ones handle this? Nobody wants their family to make the front page of multiple newspapers — not this way! One of my boys was driving truck at the time. Truck drivers can be a rough bunch of guys, BUT…….THANK GOD…….they showered him with kindness in their own truck driver way. Can you imagine being in his shoes? He was one of the ones that was so very proud of his dad. He hunted with John since he was a wee kid. He spent weekends camping with his dad. They were a closely knit father and son team. How do you try to explain to others that “it’s okay” when it really isn’t? It’s never okay when you’re hit with the news that your father has been molesting children for years and years. It horrible! There is so much brokenness and wreckage left behind when a father has been molesting children. It’s nearly impossible for the mind to separate all of the different emotions. How do you love and adore your father one day, then get hit with this kind of news the next day? My heart is breaking as I’m writing this. It’s so terribly hard and so very painful.
Did people talk about us? I’m sure there was a fair share of gossip going on, but for my own sanity, I chose not to think about the few who were doing that. Instead, I formed a close circle of friends to help me get through. I love this crazy group — one man has turned eighty, and the youngest of “my group” is thirty-two. Eight people helped keep me from losing my mind simply by being my friend and treating me as they had always treated me. They never brought anything up unless I said something. And, for months following the media mess, they sheltered me. I often found it difficult to even step into the hallway at work to get water. So, they got water for me! They held me up when I was too weak to stand on my own.
Little did I know that the emotional trauma of headlines in the newspaper was only part of the difficult path that was ahead. The first few months after the media blast was the easy part…….if I had to choose an easy part. Next time we’ll focus on the layers of trauma that came in succession. I’ll also let you know what helped.
While we’re on the subject of trauma, there is no trauma of mine that is in any way comparable to that of the trauma experienced by those children who were hurt by John. I will do all that I can humanly do to advocate for ALL victims of abuse, but most especially for children of abuse. It is my constant prayer that as you read and share this blog, a growing awareness will continue to spread throughout the WORLD as to the horrifying pain of any kind of abuse. There is NO ABUSE that is acceptable! NONE.
Thank you so much for reading. Thank you for being a voice with me and my son Jimmy. Please be sure to visit his blog, jimmyhinton.org, and please listen to our podcast. I know reading about abuse is hard stuff, but you must be educated if you’re going to help end abuse.
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Again, thank you so much for reading. Thank you for caring. Together we must become a strong voice in order to end abuse!