SPRINGFIELD – I felt the hay scratch through the back of my thin white T-shirt.
The man’s hands gripped my spindly arms as his weight bore down on me. As I struggled beneath his powerful frame, he kissed my sweaty face and I struggled to break free.
I gasped, “Let me go,” as his hands grasped on my writhing form.
I was 12 years old and I had come face to face with a predator.
Most folks who know me now think of a big man. But back then I was slight, no match for a full-grown man. But somehow I broke free and ran.
In my 52 years, I’ve never had a more terrifying moment. Never.
I told my mother what happened. She listened quietly as we sat at the kitchen table. She told me to take a shower and then instructed me to never speak of it again.
The predator had come to work on our farm to help bail hay that day. He’d graduated from college and was an aspiring academic. An adult.
For years, I blamed myself for what happened. Like many 12-year-old boys, I could be loud and sometimes obnoxious.
But I was a child. And he was an adult.
That kind of behavior is never acceptable. If I hadn’t broken free, far worse things could have happened.
It is never acceptable to touch someone against their will, let alone throw a person on the ground and kiss and grope them. That isn’t “roughhousing” or “horseplay.” It’s criminal assault.
I know that now. But back then I blamed myself. It was especially hard because I was forbidden to ever speak of it. I wondered what I did to provoke him? What did I do to bring this on myself? Was I a bad person because this happened to me?
Those aren’t unusual things to contemplate. Over the years, as a reporter, I’ve talked to plenty of survivors of assaults. They, too, wondered what they did wrong.
The answer is nothing. No one but the perpetrator is responsible.
The lasting impact of such crimes is great. A decade later, I’d wake up in terror in my college dorm room reliving the incident.
It shaped me. I’ve always been a bit shy and awkward in my personal interactions and this incident made me sink even further into myself. And I became reticent to trust others.
After more than 20 years passed, I thought only I remembered what happened. Then my mother mentioned it, her voice cracking.
She was a good woman, unprepared to deal with something like this.
In the 1970s, such incidents almost always were swept under the rug.
It was often viewed as “workplace misbehavior” or “boys being stupid.” But such incidents rarely were viewed as the criminal acts they are.
So why do I bring this up now? After all, 40 years have passed.
Well, I’m now the father of a 12-year-old. I don’t want anything like this to happen to her or her two sisters.
I survived. And it has made me wiser and stronger.
I know this: crimes like this should never be swept under the rug.
- SCOTT REEDER is a veteran statehouse journalist, who has covered government for almost 30 years. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area, where he lives with his wife and three daughters. He can be reached at ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.