Trigger warning: contains sexually explicit material concerning a child predator and child molestation. This may be very difficult for some to read. This was originally posted on Removing The Fig Leaf June 21, 2016.
I started writing this post in 2013. I never could quite finish it. However, about a week ago I was with a group of other business people and community leaders taking a tour of our local county jail, and I saw my abuser there. Apparently he had been picked up for tampering with his tracking device.
People make fun of the word “triggered.” It means, to many, “I’m being overly sensitive and I want the world censored for me,” but I was standing in the control tower of the jail, and I saw his face and I was immediately flooded with memories that I’ve tried to pretend weren’t there for years. I immediately said it out loud to the person standing next to me, “That man molested me 20 years ago,” and she just stared at me not sure what to say. I don’t know why I had to say it outloud, but I did. I felt sick the rest of the day.
Last November (2012) I found out that a man had been released back into my community who had, 15 years prior, molested between 15-20 boys. I was one of them.
Before I continue this, I think it’s important to know that I’m not writing this to promote myself or ask for sympathy. What happened to me did cause some confusion during a tumultuous time in my life, but I’ve worked through most of those things and am quite comfortable discussing them. The point of this post is to give parents some tools to help them identify child predators and protect their children, as well as to ease discussion of a topic that is treated as taboo.
I’m not certain of the exact number of victims he left in his wake, but between 15 and 20 young boys at his karate school had been singled out to do things ranging from touching to more sinister acts. These acts were recorded on camera for his later enjoyment, and he was only caught and found guilty when his wife discovered the cassettes containing the abuse. I was not one of the boys on camera who told his parents about it. Every boy was silent while this abuse occurred – it took a chink in the predator’s armor to catch him. The victims themselves will rarely make it known unless the parents ask direct questions.
My abuser focused on young boys who had no father figure in their lives, or who had unreliable ones. He attempted to become friends with his victims and took them to movies or to his house to watch wrestling or MMA pay-per-view without parental supervision. He knew that the mothers of these children, like my own, would be glad that someone had taken an interest in their child when the father had failed to do so. They would be unlikely to suspect that the reason he wanted to spend time with us had nothing to do with our benefit.
The Grooming Process
Grooming is the process of establishing a rapport and friendship with a child and their parents in order to lower their inhibitions and ease the predator’s access to them. Child molesters are almost never fly-by-night predators. They generally insert themselves into the lives of their victims long before making them victims. More often than not, the predator is a family member or person close to the family. They don’t go into bathrooms dressed as women and rape kids they’ve never met. That’s not reality.
Jeremy Smith started by taking an interest in my development as a student in the class, letting my mother pay late or letting me attend for free if she couldn’t afford it. This escalated to him driving me home after class, and further, to taking me to the movies to watch the newest Jackie Chan movie (Rumble in the Bronx is one I distinctly remember). Movies turned into sleepovers. The excuse was watching Pay-Per-View wrestling matches. He told me that there would be lots of kids there, but there was only me.
I don’t remember the timeline of events, and I couldn’t tell you how long it took for one thing to lead to another. I don’t think it took long at all. Jeremy Smith had a kind face; he still does. He had a gentle demeanor, and I imagine he still does. My mom trusted him. She didn’t have a reason not to, and I’m sure she was glad someone was taking time with me. Looking back, it must have been so easy for him to gain my mother’s trust as a seemingly well intentioned man who just wanted to spend some time with the kid who had a deadbead dad.
Litmus Tests and Manipulation
Child predators will often perform what I call “litmus tests” to determine where they are in the process of grooming a victim. These serve to let the predator know what steps to take next and how best to manipulate their victim. They are testing the waters, so to speak, and it starts as soon as they determine their next potential victim.
I remember the first time my abuser ever attempted anything sexual with me. It was long before I ever went to the movies with him, before he ever drove me home after a class. This happened in the changeingroom in the back of the karate studio. He came in behind me and told me that when I got to middle school I’d be changing in a locker full of boys and that he wanted me to get accustomed to it, so I should change in front of him. I resisted, but he said I had to get used to other guys seeing me naked. I relented and changed in front of him. I didn’t understand his face at the time, but I still remember his expression, and now I recognize it as lust
He would do this with some frequency. I later learned that none of the other boys thought anything of it because he did it with them too.
Once he started to give me rides to my home, he would intentionally go past my driveway, pull in a couple of houses down, and park (out of sight of my mother). He told me that I needed to learn how to kiss because I didn’t want to be a bad kisser when I met a girl I liked. I was always so confused by that because it felt weird and because I thought you were supposed to practice on your hand like Kevin on The Wonder Years. I gave him a peck.
“You don’t kiss girls like that. You have to open your mouth.”
I kiss him with my mouth open.
And that becomes normal.
At his house one night after watching some Pay-Per-View wrestling event, he wanted to have a serious talk with me. He wanted to tell me how to protect myself against any man that might try to sexually abuse me.
He sat in front of me with shorts on and no shirt and told me that if a man ever asked me to perform oral sex on him (I think he used different words), that I should grab his testicles, yank them as hard as I could until he passed out, and then run to a neighbor’s house call the police. This conversation lasted a bit, and I had questions. I was processing this, and also imagining the scenario right then and there. I wanted to make sure it would work. He then watched me take a bath then slept with me cradled in his arms in a sleeping bag on the floor as he touched me through the night, skin on skin. This behavior, in particular, really confused me.
It felt like love and protection, not abuse.
Putting the Pieces Together
I don’t remember exactly how the information traveled at that time, but if I’m remembering correctly, I was in the back seat of my mom’s car headed to karate one Wednesday shortly after that sleepover. There were police there and parents…a buzz in the air…I stayed in the car. My mom got out to find out what was going on, then got back in and told me that Jeremy had been arrested for child molestation. She said that his wife had found videos that he had made (this may have been detailed to me later, but it all seems to be part of the same turn of events now), and that there was a list of the victims at the police station.
We proceeded to the police station. There were a lot of parents at the police station. I was in the car, and my mom was in and out. I don’t remember being asked. If she did, I lied. My name was not on that list.There was never a video camera present during any of my abuse or grooming. He saved that for later.
I realized that day that all of this effort and this time and affection was leading up to something. I later realized that I was fortunate that he was caught and arrested when he was, before his behaviors with me had escalated. However, I felt voiceless and invalid for years, as if my victimhood didn’t count because he never made a video with me or raped me, though he likely would have done so within the span of another month. I felt guilty too, because I knew that I was fortunate enough to have escaped what some of the others had experienced. He was never charged with any crime against me and that makes me wonder how many others there are like me.
I could pretend that there haven’t been long term effects, and perhaps I often do. However, when I saw him the other day, for the first time in a 20-year period, I knew instantly that my experience with him caused a profound and irreversible change in my life.
Soon after recognizing that the only male role model in my life was in no way a positive one, I became deeply religious. That story is tragic in its own way and has created its own scars and sexual hang-ups, which were only exacerbated by this experience.
I struggled with fears about my sexuality for some time. I thought kissing him meant I was gay, and in my religion that was bad. Of course, I don’t think that now – but adding additional confusion made an already confusing time at puberty no easier.
I have yet another reason to feel uncomfortable around men, especially alpha males, which has often caused me to retreat into my shell or to overcompensate.
I overanalyze my posture toward women and children – this one is hard to explain: I fear that anything I do or say, a look or a phrase taken the wrong way, could make me seem odd or perverted. This fear prevents me from interacting with women I don’t know well, and it makes me generally avoid children altogether. My two greatest fears are being suspected or accused of any sort of harassment and failing to prevent someone I care about from any sort of abuse. I believe this is because many people associate a history of being abused with also becoming an abuser, especially when the abuse is sexual in nature (This is why I don’t have children and will not have children).
I’m overprotective, to my wife’s lament.
I have vivid dreams/memories of these events, but remember absolutely nothing else from this period of my childhood. I’m extremely suspicious of men, and I overanalyze their relationships with children. On the inverse, I overanalyze the emotions of my female friends and suspect that they have been abused without their telling me (Even though most of his victims were boys, I have counseled dozens of female victims of similar or worse abuse).
Awareness and Prevention
I don’t know that there exists any way to totally ensure your child’s safety short of locking them up in a tower. I don’t know what signs my mother should have looked for in someone so masterful at manipulating people, aside from the fact that this person wanted time alone with her son. I do not believe that she should have been suspicious of all men in the same way that I now am. So, how do you protect you children and prevent their harm?
Ultimately, I think it comes down to communication and knowledge of what sort of threats are out there. My mother and I had a wonderful relationship at the time. We talked about all sorts of things – but not this. I don’t know that I would have told the truth if asked direct questions, or if pressed. But with some consistency, and if I had known that what was happening was abnormal and something she needed to know about, I would have been far more inclined to tell her. Telling her about it would have stopped everything incredibly fast.
Talk to your kids, know that there are people in this world who can and will harm them, and ask direct questions. Most importantly, ensure that they know you are trustworthy, supportive, and willing to protect them no matter what. I also think it’s important to recognize if your child is particularly at risk: Are you a single mother? Do you live in a lower income bracket? Are there men taking a particular interest in your child’s life?
Should you check your local sex offender’s registry? Of course. But most predators have managed to avoid the registry because victims remain silent. They are children, after all. Rather than suspecting that someone is going to follow your child into the bathroom and do them harm, take a look at the people in their lives: their pastors, youth pastors, teachers, instructors in extra-curricular activities – people in the position to have easy access and who are easily trusted by parents. That doesn’t mean an immediate criminalization of every person who has a vocation and an opportunity, but no one should be given carte blanche access to your child.
People have to talk about this for the safety of the next generation and for the sanity of a generation who have already been harmed.