My daughter’s coach was recently arrested on charges related to child pornography and alleged sexual misconduct with children. I am not going to go into detail about who he was or what he coached her in – these facts are not what it important to our story. What is important is this was a man we trusted in our lives – in our daughter’s life and he “allegedly” is a very bad person.
Let me start at the beginning – when my daughter was 6 years old, a friend introduced us to this coach, I will call him Bill. Bill had been working with their daughter for several months and was really helping her to improve in her sport. Bill began working with my daughter as well, frequently as often as once a week for nearly two years. He met privately with my daughter either at our home or a local park and either my husband or I were always there. I never had a twinge of uncertainty about him. I am a psychologist who has specialized in trauma work, often with children who had been the victim of abuse. Again, I didn’t have the smallest twinge of discomfort around this man. My daughter was never alone with him, but that was because we liked watching her train. It wasn’t because I was worried about him. I even invited him to one of her birthday parties.
Fast forward to present day. My daughter hasn’t trained with Bill for over two years, not because of bad feelings, but because we just got too busy and the sessions faded away. My husband, daughter and I were on a cruise – no cell phone reception and I hadn’t been checking my emails. We pulled into port, I turned my cell phone back on and it lit up. Dozens of text messages about Bill. A number of people had recognized Bill’s picture on the TV news story about his arrest – for child pornography and sexual relationships with children. My husband and I processed the information and had to have a series of conversations with our daughter. We had to talk about Bill being arrested, what he was arrested for and whether anything had ever happened to/with her. We had to explore how she would not be in trouble if anything had happened and how it would not be her fault. So far, she has repeatedly (strongly) denied anything happened, but we will keep checking in with her. I know kids don’t always disclose abuse. I am somewhat comforted by the fact that they were never alone, but I also know perpetrators just need a moment of distraction to strike.
I had a phone call with the investigator from the police department who had me send over a photo of my daughter to compare against the images on Bill’s hard drive. There was no match. For us, for now, this situation is over. It does give me pause to consider who I allow in my daughter’s life and the type of contact they will be given. Part of the reason I stopped doing trauma work and left Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles when my daughter was born, was the fear that I would feel compelled to raise my daughter in a bubble. I would turn around and see potential perpetrators everywhere (family members, friends, teachers, religious leaders, and, yes, coaches). Maybe the sad thing is we need to do this to some extent. Not necessarily that we need to accuse everyone in our lives of attempting to abuse our children, but being exceptionally selective of who gets access and not allowing that access to be unsupervised. It’s unfortunate to have to take such a cynical approach to the world, but right now it seems so much better than the alternative.