But there was something else in that news story that stood out to me. One of his victims, identified as Katie in the article, disclosed what happened to her.
The next day in school, she blurted out to her best friend, "Mel Hall raped me," but she made the friend promise not to say anything. She didn't tell her parents or anyone else.Katie told her best friend. And she wasn't the only one who disclosed, another girl, identified in the article as Courtney, confided in three people in the years following Hall's abuse. In the case of Katie and Courtney, Hall gained access to them by coaching their basketball team when they were 12 and 14 respectively.
"I think part of me was scared, or part of me didn't think they would believe me," she said in a recent interview. "Either that, or I thought my dad would've killed him."
While reading this article, I was immediately transported back to my seventeenth year, to a late night sleep over conversation. There were four of us in the darkened room that night, when a girl who I didn't know very well told us a story. Like Katie and Courtney, this girl, Sally*, told us the story of a coach. I remember every word Sally said that night. I remember feeling a special kind of terror as I listened to her story, because at the time I was living behind a carefully built wall of denial about the sexual abuse in my own childhood. As she spoke, I froze.
Sally told us about her coach. Like Katie and Courtney, Sally was accomplished at her sport, and she was hoping it would result in a scholarship or a chance at going pro. All of her spare time was spent practicing or at her part time job at the sports facility that sponsored her team. Sally's coach was a former professional player, and it was a big deal to be on his team. Employed by the sports facility, he coached, gave private lessons to select people, and traveled with the team for out of town tournaments. He was also one of Sally's bosses.
It was these out of town tournaments that Sally told us about first. Girls whose parents didn't come on the trip being told they should stay in his hotel room to help the team save money. She told us about the abuse and assaults that happened on those nights, and the continued abuse that happened once they returned home.
Although I remember every word Sally said, I do not remember what was said to her in response. I think I managed a, "That's horrible, maybe you could tell someone?" not thinking about the fact she was telling someone right then - three someones. Three someones, who, to my knowledge, never said a word about it after that night. Sally asked us not to say anything to anyone, and we solemnly promised to honor her request.
We all left the next morning after breakfast, and I don't think I ever spoke to Sally again. Like I said, I didn't really know her, and our paths never crossed after that morning. I thought of her, though. Not every day, certainly, but I thought of her when I passed the sports facility. I thought of her years later when, after starting to deal with the abuse in my childhood, I would drive out of my way to avoid passing the sports facility because I had such guilt about my inaction after that sleep over. And I thought of her last week when I read the article about Mel Hall.
This is what I know to be true: we were not prepared for Sally's disclosure. It wasn't that we didn't care. Even through the haze of my denial, I cared. I think it was more a case of not knowing who or how to tell. It didn't happen to us, we didn't actually know the coach's name (although I could have easily learned it with one phone call to the sports facility), we couldn't prove anything. I didn't know how to help myself, and I didn't know how to help Sally. As true as that is, these excuses feel flimsy to me now. If Sally sat in a darkened room with me today, and told me this story, I know exactly what I would say to her. There would be no promises of silence. The police, her parents, and the sports facility would all be informed immediately, and this story would have a much different ending.
After reading the article about Mel Hall, and thinking about Sally for the last week, I realized something... We teach our children about their bodies and proper names for their private areas. We tell them they don't have to obey adults, or anyone else. We give them tools to protect themselves. We have open and honest, age-appropriate conversations about both sexual abuse and healthy sex. We might even tell them about our own stories of surviving childhood sexual abuse. (I hope you are having all these talks with your children, and more, starting well before they hit the puberty years. If not, please start today.) But there is a conversation that many parents miss: telling our children what to do if someone else discloses abuse to them. This is the next, and very needed, step.
There are many reasons why most abused children don't tell the adults in their world about the abuse that is happening behind closed doors. Some children and teens won't tell anyone until later in life, if at all. But there are kids out there who are telling the people with whom they feel comfortable; they are telling their friends. Or maybe, like Sally (and like me), they are telling a peer who they don't know very well. And those friends and peers don't often know what to do or how to respond.
It is our job, as parents and as citizens of this world, to prepare our children for the possibility of being on the receiving end of one of these disclosures about abuse or rape.
It starts with open communication. Talk about everything. As your children get older, you can show them the very real statistics of child abuse and rape. Let your children know you will always be on their side, and give them a safe place to share. Let them know you will also extend that safe place to anyone they know who might need it.
Your child, and you, could very well help to save a life.
*Sally is not the real name of the girl at the sleep over.