I can still remember a lot of what happened that day. It was a sunny afternoon and my mother and I were in Lincoln Park for a church picnic. I was probably around 5 or 6 years old. I can’t recall how I met the man, but I do remember him telling me to ask my mother something. Perhaps he had given me a quarter and told me to tell her I found it and ask her if I could go buy something. All I know is that I walked down a hill (in reality it was probably just a grassy slope). I remember the man (who was white), standing on that embankment with his hand in his pocket and jiggling it like he had a lot of money.
I remember my mother was talking with Rev. Tompkins. I recall interrupting them and like most adults who are involved in their own conversation, my mother readily agreed to whatever I asked. My next memory is of the man taking me into the bushes and putting his hand over my mouth. He pulled down my pants and began rubbing me. I can’t see his face because my head was turned away from him.
I can remember the panic I felt. The tears were flowing from my eyes when I saw another white face peer underneath the bushes. His face was long and narrow and his nose was sharp. He had on a grey hat and when he saw what was happening, he didn’t hesitate. He came into those bushes and pulled the man away from me. My hero never hesitated, debated or even gave it a second thought.
I still remember my hero walking the other man away and talking with him. My hero never called the police. Perhaps a little black girl in the early 1960s being molested by a white man wasn’t worthy of arresting a pedophile. But what the man was doing to me wasn’t acceptable.
I don’t know who my hero was who peered beneath the bushes that day. He must have seen the other man take me in there because I wasn’t in those bushes for very long. But my hero prevented me from being penetrated, raped and perhaps even killed. I am forever grateful to him to this very day.
I have never had repressed memories of that day. I have had guilt. Guilt because my mother, like far too many black people, tended to impose adult attributes on children. She would constantly tell people that she didn’t worry about Arlene because I was so mean. So how does a child who hears her mother say such things admit that she stupidly went with a man who then molested her? The child doesn’t. I didn’t want my mother to feel guilty for what happened to me, and at the same time I felt guilty for having allowed it to happen. I was probably in my late teens to early 20s when I finally did tell her.
I thought about that incident when I heard about the Penn State molestation case. Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant, had seen Jerry Sandusky, the defensive coordinator, molesting a boy in the shower. I also thought about how we as a society have changed. Since when does one need to go home and discuss molestation and try to decide what to do? I thank God that the man who saw me being molested over 50 years ago didn’t have to “think it over.” It says a lot about this society when children can be molested and adults aren’t sure what to do.
The Penn State case also highlights what is wrong with this society. We profess to care about children and then demonstrate the exact opposite. Take the R. Kelly video as an additional example. All one has to do is look to see how the girl in the video was castigated, and it’s no surprise that the victim never came forward to identify herself. Far too many people had made her the villain even though she was a child whom we should have been protecting.
Or the young boy who was in the shower with Sandusky. How can anyone in their right mind be more concerned about a coach losing his job than a child was molested? How can fans be more concerned about a football program and not the mental health of a sexually assaulted child? Is it any wonder why we have so many disillusioned young people? As a society, we have made them that way.