By Cathy Paige
The more I thought about the whole thing the more uneasy I became. At first I had thought nothing of a couple of seven year-olds being curious about each other’s body parts. But then I started thinking about what the inspector had said about how kids who are exposed to certain “situations” at home act those out at school. Frankly, I started getting grossed out. What exactly had gone on between Peter and Katie? What had she suggested to him? Even, what words had she used?
I also started to get worried. I remembered that back in first grade my son had complained that Katie followed him around on the school yard. “She wants to be my friend but I don’t want to,” he had said. When I had mentioned this to the school psychologist she had called it “stalking” but had not really done much about it. I also remembered that a couple of months ago one of the girls had said that Katie said and did “gross” things.
I called up a local sexual abuse center to get their take on things. They also immediately perceived the situation correctly and confirmed what the police inspector had said about children who are abused themselves or witness sexual abuse at home. They wanted me to bring my son in to be “evaluated” for damage. But my instinct told me that would be going too far. I didn’t want to make a bigger deal of this than it was. I called up a therapist friend of mine who validated my concern and said that sometimes we could do more damage by over-intervention. She recommended a therapist with a less alarmist perspective.
Peter went to that therapist a few times and she assured me that he was a resilient and fundamentally healthy boy. In the process, however, he told her about how Katie had done the same thing to another little boy in first grade. I documented all of this and shared it with my son’s school and inspector Bradley. While I wanted to make sure that my son and I would not be perceived as the ones at fault in this incident I was also hoping that Katie and her mother would get some help.
And help they did get – only the wrong sort. Next thing I knew there was a meeting between school staff and an advocacy organization that had taken up the cause of Katie and her mother. Apparently this organization had already been involved in whatever abuse case was going on with Katie and her mother. As I learned later, both Katie and her mother had been sexually abused by the mother’s various boyfriends. The police were certainly aware of that – which is why the inspector was so reassuring when he spoke to me. The strategy of the advocacy organization, however, was to give blind support to Katie’s mother and “protect her rights” by making aggressive demands on everybody else. This organization put the school in a very defensive position and basically bullied them into taking things out on me and my son.
When I returned my son to school after taking him out for a week I mentioned to the school psychologist that I was afraid that Katie’s mother would come up with new accusations against me and Peter. Her response shocked me. She said that it was true that Katie’s mother might do that again, and she suggested that I stay away from school for a while or have someone with me every time I showed myself around school. My husband was outraged at this suggestion. He wrote an angry letter to the principal objecting that I should need a chaperone every time I went to school. Again, having talked to inspector Bradley I was reassured that it was my right to go to my son’s school as I did before. Again, the inspector very diplomatically told me that the police were not too happy with the strategies of this particular advocacy organization.
The outcome of the meeting between Katie’s advocates and the school was that my son was transferred from his classroom to another one. He was also banned from playing in the main playground so as to avoid contact with Katie. So it looked to the entire school as if my son had been guilty of some crime against Katie and that I was under suspicion of violent behavior toward her. What the police knew could not and would not be told to the school community.