Hindsight is twenty twenty, as the old saying goes. My mom wrote the following blog post in hopes of giving other parents foresight about the signs of sexual abuse to be aware of and to look for in their children. She, like so many parents, didn’t connect the dots during my childhood. There is no blame I cast on my parents for not seeing at the time–no shame that they should carry. I seemed happy when I was around the perpetrator because I was disassociating from the abuse. The missed signs I demonstrated that my mom writes about were at times spaced far apart, and certainly not glaring. Sometimes it’s just normal for kids to decide they don’t like a certain food or to not want their parents to leave them with a babysitter. Nightmares and sickness, these things just happen from time to time. How can a parent know when it’s actually a sign of something deeper? I don’t know how to answer that question for parents. All I can do is share my own experience and share what my mom has written, in hopes that something will resonate with you, that it will encourage you to hone your intuition and use all of your senses to connect the dots for your own children.
It Just Wasn’t Enough
By Alyssa’s mom, Leslie Vine
I thought it was all enough to ensure that my son and my daughter would be safe from predators, but it wasn’t enough, and I am among the parents that missed the clues that a predator lived next door and the signs that my four-year-old daughter had been sexually abused. He was so cunning and I did not see it coming.
In short, these are the signs I missed.
Vitally missed signs of a predator’s grooming:
- Embedded in the community
- Had access to many children
- Friendly neighbor
- School bus driver
- former police chief/part time officer that acted aloof in uniform. (This personality change was noticed by all the neighbors, but we all missed it.)
- Gave gifts of food, flowers, pumpkins etc. openly in front of parents, as well as alone
- Had time privately with child
Missed signs of childhood abuse:
- Sudden sickness brought on by panic of not being with parents
- Strange response to certain foods
- Not wanting to disappoint or disobey parents in any way/compliant
- Unusual Halloween costume and stories related to seeing truth
- Fear of certain men and anger at others unrelated to her specific abuse
- Artwork showing signs of unreality according to teacher who mentioned her concern
- My child’s reactions to her abuse were not what I saw in the children I worked with, children that were not always in optimum family and neighborhood situations.
Read on for a fuller insight into the world I was seeing and the world my daughter was actually living.
I thought that because my husband and I shared work and childcare, my children would always be watched over by those that loved them most. We worked opposite shifts, he at the hospital and I taught school, and it was doable. Occasionally, they would have a night time high school babysitter, or the hour between our shifts was covered by a neighbor mother. Their grandma watched them for a weekend event. But we only had every other weekend together due to our shifts. It was a sacrifice we made in our relationship to be there for our children. Teaching allowed me to be home on holidays, vacations and all summer. It was the best job I could have, because it allowed for maximum time with my children, while bringing in needed income to the family. We thought our care and not day care was the best for them. It wasn’t enough.
We moved into a lovely small town, on a seemingly kid friendly cul-de-sac of older homes, great yards for playing outside, families with dogs, horses, gardens and assumed protection. After all, policemen, teachers, school bus drivers and hospital workers lived all around us. It seemed like it would be enough to ensure that playing outside and visiting each other’s homes would be as it was in our day, free and safe. It wasn’t.
I did not understand the grooming process that predators begin with their potential victim. I just thought our neighbor was a nice neighbor, a little quirky in his uniform, loved his own daughter, enjoyed growing big pumpkins for each child in the neighborhood, and had their best interests at heart, like we parents did. I unwisely let my little one visit with him, unsupervised by my husband or me. His daughter or wife were in and out of the house, the neighbors were friendly, and she seemed happy when she came home. Like Alyssa states in her vlog on the grooming process of predators among us, we looked for the best in people. The thought of her being sexually abused never entered my mind. So, we weren’t careful enough.
She did not show the signs I thought I knew from teaching young children. A delightful, singing, dancing, caring child that loved to color rainbows, cuddle up for a story and be playfully gentle with puppies and kitties was what I saw. She was my little buddy, and I never realized she was carrying a wound that was covered up due to fear of being killed. But she was telling us in her little innocent girl way, an abused preschooler that could not form the right words or even know how to speak the unspeakable. How does a four-year-old say, “My innocence was stolen and I was made to do things you and Daddy would not like. He said he would kill you and me if I tell you and I am so scared?” Not only does an abuser of little children rob them of innocence, instill a crippling fear, but he or she also imparts shame into the very depths of the child’s soul. My heart breaks every time I think of what she carried all by herself, and we couldn’t help, because we didn’t see. How could we both have missed it?
Looking back there were some signs: sudden unexplained fevers, especially when I was going out for the evening that often caused us to cancel our plans or wanting me to make a strange Halloween costume for her, so she could go trick or treating as an eyeball. That was a huge clue! What child would want that? What happened to the little princess plans? Deep inside, she wanted us and everyone else to see what she could not express, but didn’t even know it herself at the time. She made up a story about a little blind boy she knew in Sunday School and asked her grandma to pray for him, but he wasn’t real. We didn’t understand that, because she did not lie. Again, it was the “not seeing” theme.
Her art teacher in kindergarten told me in a conference that perhaps something happened to Alyssa, because in every picture she drew, there was a rainbow and she never drew anything sad. I did not understand that thinking at the time. Maybe I should have, if I had drawn the lines between all the other signs. But, since they were signs spaced apart, I chalked it up to her individual, rainbow loving personality.
She was extremely obedient and there rarely was a need to discipline her beyond a gentle word. Our precious daughter was harder on herself than warranted, always feeling so despondent at the thought of disappointing us. That used to break our heart for her and we would just hold her and tell her that we weren’t upset with her. Now that I know what I know, I can see that shame had set in. We just thought that was her very loving and sensitive personality emerging and knew that we were not overly strict. That was another sign I didn’t see. Mother’s intuition failed me in this and so our protection of her did as well.
Life went on. Once Alyssa was in school, the abuse had stopped. After a few years, we moved a thousand miles away from that predator. A new life in a new place began. And we believed that our daughter was unique and developing normally, knowing that she was loved and supported by her family. I did not know about the disassociation that happens with very young children, that have gone through intense trauma. If she had fears or reactions to men that made her nervous, I again thought that it was a protection for her, not a visceral response to what had happened before. I’m not sure even now, but perhaps her need for what I thought as potentially dangerous activities, like parachuting out of a plane on her eighteen birthday, rock climbing, survival classes in the woods, as well as her choices for college and schools far away, was part of facing her fears.
For three decades, it was stuffed down where even she could not acknowledge the horror of the abuse. Because it got internalized and masked for so long, her adult body finally began to show the stress of keeping it all inside. There was a simmering anger at authority figures that would come out in her writing and sometimes in tears. Panic attacks began after the triggers of young adult events happened. At that point, I would not hear about it for a long time after, if I did. She was silent and masking her pain, but everything was building up inside of her. Even still, none of us imagined the foundational sexual abuse that would finally be revealed within her and open our eyes to see and our hearts to hear her voice.
After all this time, when there was a faithful, listening team surrounding her, of a loving husband, family, friends, coworkers, counselors and doctors, the adult words were finally put to the heinous act of a depraved man that had us all conned. It was a frightening time for her and all of us. But through love, faith and open eyes, together we lived through the trauma of the sudden onslaught of mental illness, PTSD flashbacks and the complete revelation of the reason why. Reliving the events of her past, was so tortuous at times for her, but necessary to be free from it. For us parents, it was as well, and we had to deal with our own sense of shame, failure and regrets that could not be taken back, only forgiven. The idyllic life we thought we had, was suddenly ripped from her father, brother and me. That’s what evil does. It comes through willing humans to kill, steal and destroy, and if it can do so with the most vulnerable, it will craftily seize on the opportunity.
My daughter has worked hard to be where she is in her healing process. We are so proud of her and are grateful that we had the second chance in life to really hear her, believe her, and help her in the grueling process of coming to terms with her past and what do with all of it in her life now. We are grateful for her faithful husband, John, and all of those on the healing team over the years, including her dog, Boscoe. The blogs, books, Ladybug project and various other sharing opportunities are one way to be part of another victim’s healing team. Healing goes on, scars remain, and forgiveness by your child is the greatest blessing one could have. We are especially grateful for Alyssa’s loving, forgiving heart.
May all parents reading this, offer enough protection for your child, while letting them grow as God intended them to, safe from predators. If the unthinkable has already happened, may your wide-open eyes and your unblocked ears truly hear the silent cry from your child, no matter what age they are, and what signs you see. That will be an open door to healing and a closed door to the predator and the effects of abuse. When they can form the words to tell you, believe them, treat them gently and hopefully, bring the abuser to justice for them. When you can, speak out for those who cannot. In doing so, with God’s help, we parents can help find the way to forgive ourselves for not being wise enough.