Eight years after Barbara’s murder, in 1981, I was molested by a male police officer — our town constable — who lived next door to me.
A budding entrepreneur at the time, and smart enough to capitalize on my cuteness, I spent weekends towing a red wagon around town, out of which I sold pens and stationary and sundry office supplies.
Making money was only half the joy of the endeavor. The other half was the parental license to travel far and wide for hours. I was my own man, as it were, carving out my destiny, making my mark on the world.
Which is why I didn’t bother going to the constable’s house until some months into my business excursions — his house was literally next door; it held no sense of adventure. Also, I saw his wife every day in school. She was the librarian.
Eventually, however, having already bled dry every other neighbor within walking distance, I finally knocked on their door. The librarian answered. She told me to come back at such and such a time — when her husband would be home.
She was the quiet sort, of course, and in hindsight I can only speculate that watching was her thing. The day I returned, she actually baked cookies while her husband, just a few feet away, molested me.
I went home with a stomach ache and the sense that I’d been party to something that wasn’t right. I wasn’t traumatized so much as baffled. I told my mother what happened. She told me the constable was a “dirty old man,” and I should stay away. To this day I am grateful to her for not involving (any other) police in the matter.
I told no one else until I was an adult.
Neither the constable nor the school librarian were ever charged with crimes. Their son, who was several years older than me, went on to become a librarian at a nearby college, and was later arrested for possession of child pornography.
The author’s synopsis for his 5th-grade short story: “School of Satan,” which shocked his teacher less for its content and more for requiring her to read over 20 pages (while adding “Satanic Accult” to the lexicon, apparently). Fellow historians of the Panic will note the coincidence of the use of name “Franklin” here, several years _before_ the now-infamous Franklin child prostitution ring allegations. (Note, too: although the author’s story in centered in Kansas rather than Nebraska, the two cornfield states might as well have been the same, in the mind of this Yankee author at age 10.)
Beginning in the 1980s, child sexual abuse became a national media concern, featured in nightly newscasts and on daytime talkshows alike. Prosecutions for “child-sex rings” and “ritual abuse,” even “satanic ritual abuse,” also began to make headlines. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, prosecutions for these alleged crimes led to several hundred people being sentenced to lifetimes in prison — and most of them were innocent. [See my essays “The Cost of False Cases of Child Sexual Abuse” and “Believe the Children” for a historical perspective.]
At the time these cases were unfolding, few people in the U.S. questioned either the media reports or the prosecutions they covered. An era glibly referred to now as the “Satanic Panic,” these dark days were indeed my formative years as a writer, influencing my work (see 5th-grade story synopsis in photo) both then and now.
It’s also a grave mistake to believe that everything has changed since the 1980s. Prosecutors in wrongful child-sex-crime cases today use precisely the same methods that were effective then. They are less likely to invoke the specter of diabolism, but they are also less likely to need to do so. What was “shocking” about child-sex crimes in the 1980s is now taken for granted: juries today have little trouble believing that every school principal, every priest, every Scout leader, is a secret pedophile, despite the statistical rarity of pedophilia; just as television would have us believe that child abduction and murder is a near daily occurrence in the U.S., despite the fact any given child here is approximately as likely to be struck and killed by lightning.