I teach grade 8 Health and Career Education. Today we had the lesson on child abuse. It might be one of the hardest lessons I've ever taught.
I tried to be gentle, but matter of fact. I gave notes on the board outlining the different kinds of abuse. The room was silent behind me. I told them the long term effects of child abuse. I watched their faces as we discussed what, exactly, crosses the line into abuse. My heart hurt while the child in the front row turned silent, doodling on her paper obsessively.
A girl stated "I've heard that most abusers are people who were abused themselves as kids. If a person grew up like that, and knew that they might do it to their own kid, wouldn't they be scared? Shouldn't they, like, not have kids?"And I tried to not show that she had tapped into my own personal greatest fear.
I smiled, and said "If you tell someone you trust, like a teacher, that you are being abused, they will help you." I didn't tell them that in my experience, the system chews up the children and spits them out, bruised, battered, and right back where they started. Only now with a pissed off abuser.
I outlined the signs of abuse, and tried to not look too deeply into their eyes as they realized that it's not a secret. It's so close to being out there, public, known to everyone.
When they talked about what kind of sick person can hurt a child, parents who get pleasure from touching a small child's body, and how it is totally impossible to understand such people, I kept quiet. I did not yell out that it could be anyone. Like a minister. That these monsters are excellent at hiding and fooling everyone around them.
"If that happened to me, I would have to kill myself," one girl declared as we discussed incest. I bit my tongue. I didn't tell her that yes, she might consider that, but really it is possible to move on. To get past the horror, and live. She continued, saying "I bet it would wreck your whole life."
I spoke up. "No. It doesn't wreck your whole life. It certainly hurts you, but you are strong, and you make it through, and then you hopefully become better than the person who did that to you."
Then I gave them a time killing assignment, and sat down, knees shaking. Hoping against hope that this will be the group that defies statistics, and never ever experiences today's lesson first hand.