“There is always sexual abuse in Intentional Communities” One of my former neighbors casually said that repeating what a friend who had grown up in an IC had told him. My thought was, “Hell No. Not on my watch. And not for my kids.” So, I have formed a group that discusses the issue and shares resources, and support, for all types of Intentional Communities so it won’t be the norm. It has been almost a year since the group formed and it has expanded my knowledge. It is not just an issue for children, but adults also have issues of harrasment and sexual misconduct in Intional Communities. If you’d like to join our group, which meets quarterly, just send a comment.
But this morning I couldn’t fall back to sleep remembering some of the things I’ve learned and reflecting on my experience as a child.
Every summer I would spend a month at my grandparents house by the beach. My grandpa’s sister, Aunt May, would have the family gather on the sand to watch the distant fireworks on Fourth of July. She would pack the sweetest picnic of potato salad, sandwiches, and fruit in tupperware. No wonder the beach is so comforting to me.
Her granddaughter, Kay, would visit in the summer too. We became fast friends as cousins. Most of my cousins are the ages of my siblings – at least ten years older. So I was happy to have one cousin my age. One night, Kay told me a secret. She was 13 and I was 12. She was worried about the family reunion the following day. We would be meeting with way distant cousins that I’d never met before. She said that the summer before, one of those cousins, Tee, in his mid 20s, had touched her in a way he shouldn’t have.
Even at 12 I knew to be afraid of that. That I was at risk of molestation. I knew that certain body parts should not be touched. I also knew to be grateful for her heads up.
So the next day we avoided Tee. One time Kay and I were playing cards and he came up to us and asked if we wanted to take a drive. We both said no. If Kay hadn’t warned me I would have said yes. Months earlier I was visiting at my Dad’s house for a month at another beach town. A cousin that was about 14 years older than me invited me for a drive. We drove around the California hills and it was fun for me. As an adult I now see that I would have expected the same from Tee – an innocent drive and getting to know a cousin. Predators take advantage of a child’s innocence and past positive experiences. Now I am even more grateful for Kay since without her warning I would have said yes and going for a drive would not have been a positive memory.
Later at the reunion, Kay and I were loading up on the buffet-like supply of food when Tee said to us girls, “Why don’t one of you girls give your cousin a hug?” I kept my head down and loaded up on more food and said, “No thanks. I’m getting some food here.” Kay also said no but then her Grandmother spoke up, “Come on, Kay, give him a hug.” Now my poor bestie cousin was trapped. She went over and it was the most awkward hug I have ever seen in my life. She was tense and tried to stay as far away from him as possible.
Kay had told me that she told her mother about it but not her grandmother. LUckily that was the end of that day and I never saw Tee again. I know he went to jail at least once and currently is imprisoned. He became a piano teacher and was caught molesting children.
So, it reminds me of living in an intentional community. One fact I learned in my research – I did a presentation to my community to help prevent and protect children, is that children tell other children. That’s what Kay did. She told me. Her mother knew but not her grandmother so that’s how she ended up in that awful hug.
In cohousing, what if some neighbors know that someone is suspicious but not others?
If Kay’s mother had told more people. If she had told the police maybe Tee would have been stopped earlier before who knows how many children were hurt. I don’t blame them. Most of us don’t know how to deal with this and assume it’s a one time thing. That’s why it is important for intentional communities to discuss it and discuss it and research it and keep working on it. What do you have to lose? If you don’t, the children and the whole community has a lot to lose.
Here is a wonderful resource for individuals and communities: