By Guest Blogger Jamie Coombs
Have you ever gotten “the creeps” from one of your children’s coaches? Have you been on the fence about whether or not to say something about it or raise an alarm? Maybe you’ll be perceived as overly sensitive or the dreaded helicopter mom. I believe that women are blessed with a superpower called “intuition.” You should trust your intuition and hopefully this article will convince you to speak up, no matter how awkward.
When I was a young girl I had a basketball coach (we’ll refer to him as Coach X) that was popular amongst the kids and parents alike. He would return each season as a fun, energetic and involved coach. The odd thing was he never actually had a child in the league and most coaches were parents of at least one of the kids on the team. Why did he keep returning year after year? What was his motive?
After gaining my parents trust, he offered to be my ride home after each practice (which made sense because he lived in our neighborhood.) Then he would stop by our house to take a friend and I to the local ice cream vendor. Slowly the outings led into, after ice cream, going down the street to an empty parking lot and us driving his Jeep. No adult ever let us drive before. We couldn’t believe it! He was so much fun!
Looking back as an adult and even writing about it now, everything seems so obvious; all the signs were there. Unbeknownst to me, I was already chosen for the “grooming” process. The “grooming” process I refer to is the term known for molesters gaining trust of their future victims. This “dance” went on for years, going out for ice cream, trips to the mall, driving his car, and of course being selected to be on his basketball team year after year.
There is one girl in particular that stood out to me. Her and I were always chosen for Coach X’s team, her father was always out-of-town, and looking back on it, she was so amiss when she showed up for practice. She picked up on the signs that I had also been chosen for the “grooming“ process. She was always locking arms with me and I can vividly remember her cold hands and arms trembling a lot. When asked to run a drill from Coach X, she would always push me out front to do it first. I now realize, in a weird way, I think she wanted him to focus on me. She knew that if I was next, then he would move on and leave her alone.
Years later it would come out that when her father was out of town and her full-time working mom needed help with the kids, mom would call on friendly Coach X to come and watch her girls. We learned that she wasn’t the awkward accident-prone girl we pegged her to be. She was simply fighting back. All the times she came to practice with a brace on her wrist or a twisted ankle. These were signs of her struggle, fighting against her molester.
She was the one that would unveil his secret, the reason he had chosen coaching girl league basketball for years. Her family moved after she finally told her parents what had been going on with Coach X. To this day I think about her and often wonder what kind of adult woman she has grown to be.
I knew what he had done even before the full story came out. Girls were talking about it at school and there was one night after practice, when helping him pack up the basketball equipment, I found adult magazines in his Jeep. Instead of shying away and hiding them quickly, he asked if I wanted to look through them with him. He was often my ride home and I am so thankful that I had a ride home with someone else that night. I didn’t say a word to him, we just locked eyes and I glared at him as if to say, “ I know, I know what you’ve been up to.”
Believe it or not, amidst all the rumors and speculation, this creep was still coaching. It made me sick to my stomach to hear his voice at practice and yelling at me from the sidelines during games. I just wanted to stop and expose him for what he was, right there in front of everyone; I wanted to yell it from the top of my lungs.
During our last interaction, I did just that. It was during a game and I was sitting on the sidelines catching my breath. Just like he had done for the past several years, he kneeled down in front of me and started rubbing my legs and gabbing about when I was going back in the game and what the next play would be. I got up and ran out of the room into the empty cafeteria. He chased after me. “You can’t just quite a game!” he yelled, “Get back in there.” I yelled louder, “NO! And don’t you ever, ever touch my legs, my shoulders, or me ever again!” It seemed to infuriate him that I screamed this out loud. He came closer and I jumped to the other side of the table. “I’m serious, don’t touch me!”
That was it. The last time I spoke with him.
I cried when my parents told me of the other girls that weren’t so lucky and that he did molest. I knew it was true, but to hear it out loud and know that a judge wanted me to go to counseling, made it so real. I only went a couple times, where a counselor asked me questions behind a two-way mirror.
There are so many lessons to take away from this experience in my life. Now that I’m a parent there’s even more to consider. Although there maybe some signs my parents missed, I strongly believe it was their hands-on, open dialog parenting that gave me the confidence to trust my intuition.
So what were the life lesson my parents thankfully taught me that made him shy away?
Well, I guess they started by covering the basics. They were also very hands-on and asked about every outing with the coach. What did we talk about? Were did we go?
In hindsight, predators’ are not always jumping out from behind the bushes; they don’t have black ski masks on, and are often disguised as friends of the family. If my parents knew what they do today, they wouldn’t have let this relationship go on for as long as it did. Luckily, the basics mixed with hands-on parenting worked.
Never let him into your home without another adult present. My parents were furious when they found out that I had let him into our home when I was alone. I was confused because I thought he was a trusted adult and friend of the family, therefore I let him in. All I can say is “Thank God” for our 130 lb. dog. She always kept herself between him and I and literally growled at his every move. I made that mistake only once and that’s all he needed.
He memorized my parents work schedule and listened closely to conversations at practice to pick-up on times they wouldn’t be home. Then of course he would drop by during those times wanting to come in for a chat. I would go and speak through the door letting him know my parents were not home so I couldn’t let him in. He would then proceed to say, “It’s okay, your parents trust me. I’m sure they were referring to strangers.”
I stood my ground but he was persistent and I soon stopped coming to the door all together. I’ll never forget hiding in closets with my sisters when he would show up unannounced. Why the closet? If the door remained unanswered, he would walk around and pier into windows. Creepy…Um YES!
My parents always reassured me that I could tell them anything, even if I felt like I had done something wrong. Children often feel like they are doing something wrong in these scenarios and may wait longer to tell because of it.
I distinctly remember the day Coach X took a friend and I to the mall. This was yet another test. When I agreed to go, I was under the impression it was purely a ride and we would split once we arrived, because why would a 40 something year old man want to walk around the mall with two 13 year old girls?
We did a couple laps around the mall going in and out of the Gap, Abercrombie and other stores. We came across Victoria’s Secret and he tried to convince us to shop in there. We politely declined. He wouldn’t drop it. For him it was a test to see how far he could go before we withdrew. Finally we flat out refused to go in that store with him and shop for underwear, and the next thing we knew we were on our way home.
My friend tried to convince me to tell our parents what he had tried, and where he wanted to shop. It’s not that I was against telling, but I remember feeling embarrassed and thought maybe my parents would be mad at me. Like I had brought this on myself. The opposite was quite true and my parents came through. Once I told my mom she explained to me why his behavior was so inappropriate and that we did the right thing by saying “NO.” My mom became very inquisitive of his motives after that.
Question everything! My parents always welcomed questions and taught us it was the best way to learn. Boy did I take this to heart… especially with Coach X. My intuition was already telling me something was weird about him. Being a young girl and meeting him before I even understood what sex was, I couldn’t pin point what made me uncomfortable. So I began to question everything.
I know that this in particular, made him uncomfortable. I don’t know if other molesters are like this, but it seemed as though he didn’t want to state the obvious out loud. For example, when he took me on trips to the empty parking lot to drive his Jeep, the only precursor to driving the Jeep was sitting on his lap. Even though, I was particularly tall for my age and could reach the pedals just fine, he insisted it was the safest way.
We would also have talks on the way home about not telling my parents that I drove his Jeep because they would be mad and we wouldn’t be able to go anymore. Once I started questioning why I needed to sit on his lap as I could clearly reach the pedals on my own, we stopped visiting the empty parking lot.
My parents always explained the concept of “trusting my intuition,” even as a young girl. Children not only know what is right and wrong, they can feel it. My mother always stressed to go with your gut feeling. After each life lesson, especially if I made the wrong decision, she would ask, “what did your gut tell you to do?” Sure enough every time, it was the opposite of what I had done.
Therefore, I share my story today, in great detail, as a way to increase awareness about predators and child molesters that lurk in our communities. As mothers, we cannot be there to protect our children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But what we can do, is when we send them into the world on their own to go to school, to play at a friend’s house, to go to extra curricular activities, we can equip them with the proper tools to at least help them. Remember, I was thankfully not a victim, because my parents were so open with me, gave me the tools I discuss above, and made me feel I could come to them about ANYTHING.
If something about your child feels off, I urge you to please investigate. Let people call you a helicopter parent. You’re always better safe than sorry.
I am speaking from experience.
Readers, what do you think? Please feel free to leave Jamie a note here. And please consider sharing this post with other moms to show them the warning signs of predatory behavior, and as a way to teach their children the necessary tools to fight these people off.
Jamie Coombs is a wife and mom to a one-year-old boy Brewer. Jamie is in the process of starting her own children clothing line called Lint Collection. Follow Jamie on her Blog, http://jmecoombs.tumblr.com