The Pain, Memories That Never Go Away

By Cindy Lange-Kubick
Lincoln Journal Star
April 7, 2002

Chances are when a priest - or a neighbor, or a teacher, or a grandfather touches one child, sexually abuses one child, he will abuse others.

And chances are the others never tell. Because statistics show nearly 70 percent of children don't tell. Ever.

Just like statistics show that the average pedophile abuses 20 children before being found out.

Robert Hrdlicka, a Catholic priest who served Cathedral of the Risen Christ until 1986, went to prison seven years later, after he was found guilty of assaulting four young boys in South Carolina.

Last week, news came out that four brothers from Lincoln who once attended Cathedral are alleging they were victims too, back in 1978.

Were there others? In South Carolina? In Lincoln? In places unknown?

Debbe Andrews of the Child Advocacy Center in Lincoln was in Seward last month.

She was in the small Midwestern town to talk about allegations of sexual abuse at St. John's Lutheran School.

Last year the school principal apparently committed suicide after allegations of abuse surfaced and this winter a former student made similar charges against a retired teacher.

"They're thinking that's been going on for 30 years,". the child advocate says. "Thirty years of kids being abused and no one's talking about it until last year."

It's not too late to start talking.

The pain doesnt go away when you grow up, Andrews says.

"It never goes away if you never talk about it.'

Other people can't see it - it doesn't show like a scar, an angry bruise - but it's there all the same.

Hidden by victims who transform themselves into emotional Houdinis, adept at leaving their bodies. Played out as anorexia, as phobia, as anxiety as depression.

Numbed by alcoholism or drug abuse, by promiscuity or a simmering rage at the world.

" They push it back and push it back," says Andrews.

She remembers more than one child describing her method of shutting off the past.

"She said that when the memories surfaced she turned the radio up in her head."

And when the music played loud enough she couldn't feel the pain.

If the abuse is chronic, the child may not remember every time the perpetrator touched her, says Andrews. But what he or she does remember will come back like yesterday, sparked by a sound, a smell, a familiar song.

Even if it happened decades ago.

"The scent of cigar smoke sent me into a tizzy until I was 40 and that was 24 years since the last time," the woman who now helps other victims says.

Four years ago Andrews shared her story in this column. For years as a child she'd been sexually abused by her stepfather, Bob.

In 1998 a poem she'd written "And Mommy Wouldn't Help" was published in an anthology, and with the prize money Andrews funded a scholarship at Lincoln Southeast High for a young woman in need.

He told me it was our secret, only ours. And I would be naughty if I told anyone ... I prayed he would stop, it happened more. Was I so bad-even God wouldn't help?

Andrews was married, a mother of four, when she wrote that poem. She'd spent years, decades, turning the radio up, refusing to think about what Bob did.

But in 1989 something happened that changed all that.

Bob was accused of sexually assaulting his 1-month-old granddaughter, Andrew's niece.

It had happened to someone else. And so she testified against her stepfather - testimony that sent him to prison for 15 to 50 years.

At the trial she recalled events stretching back 28 years.

After the trial she couldnt hold back a tidal wave of memories.

So she understands how, when stories surface now - of principals who molest students, of priests who violate altar boys, of stepfathers who assault their stepdaughters how easily the past is resurrected.

She understands the statute of limitations on sex crimes against children applies only in a legal sense.

"You can fake it for a while," she says, "but there's going to be a day when you have to deal with it.

" The radio will only go up so loud."


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