Standing 6’2” you would imagine Adam Joseph (not his real name) to be towering above his classmates. A solidly built African American young man of 15, Adam was a “real” student I had the opportunity to work with for two months, as I filled in for an English teacher who was out on leave at an alternative school in Texas (not the actual state). As a certified teacher, I was available for several months while I was off from commercial bookings.
The student population was filled with students who were expelled from their traditional public schools for behavior problems and this school was their last ditch attempt at qualifying for the GED. Any infraction could get them expelled without a moment’s hesitation. The majority of the students were street smart, had gang affiliations, and were from single parent households. These students had seen and heard it all and many were fortunate to still be alive, much less still be in school.
Adam was different. Rather than stand proudly at 6’2”, he always wore a hooded sweatshirt and seemed to try to lose himself within the darkness of the hood, almost allowing himself to be swallowed up inside of its security. His posture was purposefully stooped. His steps weren’t long powerful strides, but tiny baby shuffles where his legs barely parted for him to walk even a short distance. He was struggling to get his GED and get out of school.
Due to state testing guidelines, Adam qualified for preferential seating, but chose to sit at a table in the back of the room, alone. Paperwork on him informed me that he wore glasses, but I never saw them and he always claimed he had forgotten them at home. Adam was allotted extra test taking time, but never stayed after class to receive it. The school had a special education instructor that would sit in class in the event he needed help or clarification on the subject matter (inclusion), but he rarely asked for any assistance. Adam was ashamed to address the class when I would occasionally incorporate public speaking activities to give the students a chance to learn to be confident orators. He seemed painfully shy.
Raised by a single mother, Adam and his older brother had basically raised themselves. With a great deal of encouragement and the benefits of a low teacher/student ratio, he learned to trust me and would write essays from his heart. I would go over them with him, individually. We would talk about grammatical correctness; but we spoke of the content of his essays, which read more like journal entries.
Over time, he told me the most important person in his life was his mother. She was a hard worker, working two jobs, and trying to raise foster children in addition to her own biological children. She stressed to them all the significance of being in church every Sunday. Adam spoke often about women’s rights and the good qualities that women possess based on his admiration of his mother. In turn, I had to remind him about the good qualities of men, as though he seemed to think they had none, even though he was part of the male gender.
One of his essays opened the door for me to ask him some probing questions. Had someone hurt him? Had he shared this with his mother? In a very guarded way he told me that his mother’s boyfriend had “hurt him” for many years, but that he was no longer in the picture and had been gone for many years.
According to the advocacy organization Childhelp, “Of the reported rapes of children under 12 years old, 90% of the victims knew the perpetrator.”
He had recently told an aunt, but couldn’t bear the thought of telling his mother. His exact words were, “I want to be a successful surgeon and when I am successful, then I will tell my mom, because she will be proud of me no matter what happened.” My heart broke for this student who suffered such low self-esteem and was full of self-blame for years of abuse that was never his fault. I asked him if he wanted me to talk with the counselor and he said no, that he didn’t like or trust her. However, I did speak with the principal about the situation, and allowed them to take the legal course of action they needed to.
With the short time I had left at school, I tried to encourage Adam to be a strong and proud young man and to be proud of his stature and who he was as the special person God made him to be. He had told me that one of his proudest moments was a small part he had been given in a church play. He was to hang a green Christmas ornament and recite a few lines. His mom had videotaped him during the play and he was shyly elated. I told him that there was nothing he couldn't accomplish and hoped his mom would continue to love him in spite of his fears of her knowing his "secret."
When I left school, I gave him a copy of a book called The Search for Significance. He cried and hugged me and told me he didn’t want me to leave. I wished that I hadn’t had to and I still pray for Adam and the students like him who have to struggle through school, while carrying the huge burden of sexual abuse.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “Roughly 33% of girls and 14% of boys are molested before the age of 18, according to the U.S. Justice Department. Nearly 2/3 of all sexual assaults reported involved minors and roughly 1/3 involved children under the age of 12. In most cases, however, child molestation goes unreported. Estimates are that only 35% of sexual abuse is reported. Kids can be frightened or embarrassed and many times do not say anything.”
Additional statistics according to Childhelp:
Children are suffering from a hidden epidemic of child abuse and neglect. Over 3 million reports of child abuse are made every year in the United States; however, those reports can include multiple children. In 2007, approximately 5.8 million children were involved in an estimated 3.2 million child abuse reports and allegations.
Based on these statistics, sadly, a large portion of our nation consists of the "walking wounded" — those who have survived childhood sexual abuse, but will be forever haunted and scarred by its far reaching tentacles.
For many years, people in highly regarded places of influence — churches, schools, and government — swept under the rug a scourge on innocence that was slowly spreading and laying vast ruin to the lives it touched. Whether it was because it was an uncomfortable topic or part of an elaborate cover-up, the victims were all the same — innocent children who were made to feel afraid and ashamed for having their bodies used against their will.
Thankfully, the tide is turning and people seem to now feel passionate about this issue. Sadly, I can recall a history class years ago where a professor said that laws were established in the US to protect animals from abuse long before there were laws to protect our children. While I appreciate all that is done on behalf of animals, and am myself an animal lover, let us not forget our most precious commodity — our children.
Many Adams may cross my path or yours in the future. I hope and pray everyone, not only teachers, will have the confidence and conscience to compassionately assist any victims of childhood sexual abuse so they may get the help they need. Fortunately, through teaching Adam, I've learned that education is more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic.