Friday, February 8, 2013

Safety and Innocence

I've debated writing this post many, many times and I think I've actually written a few drafts before deleting them. This is such an important topic, and yet, it can be a very personal one, too. And clicking on "Publish" won't be easy for me.

I've seen all over Pinterest mothers pinning a link to a post on protecting children from sexual abuse. This is great. Moms and dads should be informed on how to keep their kids safe from predators. The site has a lot of good information and I suggest everyone who has kids or takes care of kids or spends time with kids in any way read it and study it.

There's something missing from this website though. And it's something I never would have thought of until it was thrust upon my family in a way I never want to repeat.

Most of you who read my blog are LDS, but I know some of you aren't, and yet are still religious and go to church.

Please don't think your church buildings are safe from the filth and evil of the world. Don't let your children wander the halls alone without supervision. Please.

A couple years ago Megan, Emma, and I participated in the musical, This is Kirtland! It was a wonderful, testimony building experience. We had the opportunity to practice the musical in the church building in Kirtland, just blocks from the Kirtland Temple and Whitney Store. We loved it and we loved the people we got to spend so much time with. In fact, Emma still cries for the friends she made while in the musical. One night during rehearsal, there was a man working in the Family History Center located in the church building. He was a member of the church, but I didn't know him because our family attended church in a different building closer to our home. In fact, I didn't see more than a brief glimpse of the back of his head during the time we were there that night. This man had a friend come visit him in the Family History Center, a man that was not a member of our church.

While I was on stage, the director came up to me and told me to go find Emma. I didn't realize it then, but the entire cast was on stage except her. Because of our roles, I never interacted with Emma at all in the musical, she played the adopted daughter of Joseph and Emma Smith while I played Ann Whitney. Emma wasn't written to be on stage at that point, and so she'd been left in the hall behind the stage and given a game to play with. I went to get her and as I got down on her level to pick her up, a man, the friend of the man already there, came into the building. It wasn't his first time entering the building that evening.

I picked her up and took her on stage and she was written into that scene so she wasn't left alone. The director soon after came up to me and said that someone had told her a man had entered the church building and approached some of the young women in the musical, trying to get them to come to him by saying he'd found a purse and wanted to know if it belonged to them. We kept close tabs on all the children for the remainder of the rehearsal and sent some of the men to search the building to see if he was still around.

As we were leaving that night the director told me it would be a good idea if I asked Emma if anyone approached her during the few minutes she'd been alone. I thought for sure nothing had happened. I thought it must have been the man I saw coming into the building when I went to get Emma and that we must have just barely escaped any possible interaction between the man and Emma. But I figured I should ask anyway. So with a non-leading question, I asked her.

Scariest moment ever followed. The man had approached her and he'd touched her. We don't know the extent of the touching. Emma was barely 3 and had a hard time communicating what exactly happened. She did say the man came up to her, talked to her, and touched her, that much we know for sure.

The next morning I took her to the hospital to have her checked out. There was no sign that she'd been touched sexually, so that was a relief, but then again, that only means that there was no obvious sign. Then, following the directions of the hospital staff, we went to the Kirtland police and filed a report.

It was a nightmare. The man was never found.

Nathan gave Emma a priesthood blessing and she was promised that she wouldn't be affected by that experience. She would continue to be the happy girl she was before. She had nightmares for a few months about the man, but they were rare and eventually left. Sometimes she asked about the "bad man" and we'd reassure her that she wouldn't see him anymore. That he was gone.

Today she never brings him up, doesn't ask, doesn't have nightmares.

I'm still terrified. I still panic if my kids are in the church building and aren't by my side. I hate letting them go to the restroom alone. I know what usually happens at church events and parties.  Groups of kids run around playing in the halls and primary rooms. I know that on Sundays we don't feel the need to walk our 9 yr olds to the restroom. I know it's nearly impossible to keep our kids by our sides after a linger longer or baptism.

All I'm asking is that we teach our kids that we still need to use safety measures at church. Even though we'd like it to be, church isn't a place we can let our guard down.

This is so personal and writing it has not been easy. But I don't want what happened to Emma and what could have happened to her if I hadn't come to get her exactly when I did, happen to another child.


Michelle said...

I understand how hard this must have been to share, but THANK YOU. This is an important message to share. Hopefully we can all learn from it.

Marilyn said...

Thank you for sharing this. I want to be more on guard and careful. There are so many dangerous things out there to protect our children from, it is all a bit daunting. Luckily, we have the spirit to help guide and help protect us if we stay tuned in.