I had a very interesting day yesterday. I want to share the good news first. I’m not sure if I’ve posted here that I open-enrolled Milly into a different school district this year. I removed her from our home district at the end of the first semester of her third grade year in order to enroll her in a virtual school where she would no longer be subject to the culture and mistreatment of our home district while also preserving her IEP.
Simply put, our home district wouldn’t implement her IEP. These days, it feels like it takes an act of God through the appearance of Moses himself to get a district to give you an IEP. It’s as if they view themselves to be Pharaoh. Entirely above the federal law stated clearly in IDEA and explained even more clearly in the Federal Registry. At least that’s how my district behaves. They finally gave Grace an IEP after our state’s Department of Education, at the bidding of The Office of Ombudsman for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities appointed by our governor, rang them up early one morning and slapped their wrists for “bad behavior”. Illegal behavior really.
Milly wasn’t ready to return to a brick and mortar school last year, so I did the unthinkable. I homeschooled an autistic girl. She needs social interactions to reinforce social thinking scenarios as well as practice, but her anxiety was so high that she wasn’t able to socialize much if at all. So, we pursued academics at home while we worked on skills independently. Finally, at the end of her fourth grade year, she told me that she was ready to return to a public school environment, and she was even ready to go somewhere new even if it was hard and meant making new friends. So, that’s what we did.
But her IEP had expired which meant that we had to start all over again with evaluations. I hate IEP evaluations.
Yesterday, I went to Milly’s IEP meeting wherein we discussed the evaluation results. She got her IEP! What’s more, everyone at this school is there to help her. This school is nothing like her former school. Her teacher adores her and fully understands autism spectrum disorders. Milly takes her breaks in the principal’s office with the principal who helps her with breathing exercises. The environment of the school is validating and cares for the well-being of children. I feel so much better sending my daughter there knowing that she is cared for and about, and she will now be guaranteed services appropriate to her needs.
One topic that was raised during the IEP meeting was the notion that Milly had good boundaries around adults which was unusual for a child her age. She was reluctant to disclose information about herself, and she did not willingly go with staff members whom she had not met to another place in the building even if said staff person insisted that they were trustworthy because they were a teacher or school employee. Milly was suspicious because they were a stranger. It was pointed out by the autism specialist that this was an important quality to have particularly for an ASD girl.
Special needs children and adolescents are often targets for abuse particularly sexual abuse because they often cannot read social cues or discern the intent of another person. They are often too trusting of others–even strangers. Or, due to an inability to communicate, they are abused simply due to predator hubris–“I’ll hurt you whenever and however I please! It’s not like you can tell anyone!”
This was on my mind yesterday when I left the meeting. I have four daughters. I have and continue to raise them to be aware of themselves and others. The world is full of good people, but there are people out there who are not good. People who mean to do harm to vulnerable innocents.
And, wouldn’t you know, I met one yesterday at my local Caribou. I took Milly out for an afternoon coffee beverage. She thinks the Vanilla Coolers are fairly awesome so she begs me to take her to our local Caribou almost every day. I had a jones for coffee (my constant state of existence) so I relented. That local Caribou has become my Cheers. I dropped my grey pashmina in there last week, and two employees yelled my name while waving it in the air. I was both embarrassed and comforted. First of all, how often do I wear that thing, and, secondly, how often am I there? Everyone really does know my name!
While I was licking the whipped cream from the top of my coffee drink, I noticed a man staring at me. Not glancing. Ogling. With his mouth hanging open. I made eye contact with him. He continued to stare. He stared at my mouth. He was seated in such a way that his back was supposed to be to me. In order to watch me drink my coffee, he had to turn his entire body around. I felt more than a little disgusted by his behavior. As soon as Milly started licking the whipped cream from her straw, his eyes darted to her mouth. He leaned in to his stare and shifted in his chair. She’s 11 for crying out loud! I watched him watch my daughter drink her coffee beverage, and I felt anger with a mix of fear.
This man didn’t hide. Oh no, he started rubbing himself as he watched my daughter continue to lick her straw. Right there in a public place! He shifted and rocked and rubbed all the while staring with his mouth hanging open. He never blinked.
I had seen him before. I brought Eadaoin, Grace, and Milly to Caribou a few weeks ago, and he sat behind them in a corner. He had done the same thing then, but I couldn’t see his hands. I saw him shifting, rocking, and staring then, too. We actually left because we were so uncomfortable. He wouldn’t stop staring at us. I had hoped to never see him again.
In the middle of his predatory ruminations, three high school girls came in, ordered coffee, and sat at a table just a few feet from him. He looked like he might explode. He was undressing them with his eyes. He ogled their behinds, their chests, and continued to shift and rock in his chair. Then a girl who looked to be about 10 years-old walked by him, and I saw him wrench his body in his chair to stare at her. He behaved like a starving kid in a candy shop. I wanted to vomit.
I stared at this man. He made eye contact with me numerous times. Milly asked me if I was okay. She said I looked like I was going to kill someone. Finally, I texted a friend. I needed to do something. He told me to tell the manager. It took me a moment to find my courage. I’m a survivor of sexual abuse. There was a part of me that was irrationally fearful of him. Instead, I pretended to text someone and took a picture of him with my phone. I know the manager, and she was there! I walked over to her.
“Pretend that I’m showing you pictures of my kids and laugh,” I said quietly.
She looked alarmed.
“Just do it. Laugh.”
“There is a man in here watching women, young women, and girls. He sits in here, pretends to work on a laptop, watches these girls and women, and rubs himself or gets off by rocking and rhythmically shifting in his chair. I’ve seen him do it today, and I saw him do it another time. I’m going to show you a picture of him now. Tell me it’s cute because he’s probably watching.”
She looked sickened but tried to follow along. As soon as she saw the picture, she said, “I know who that is.”
I saw her jaw clinch. She looked as angry as I felt. I could tell that she was trying to figure out what to do. The assistant manager is a male. She was going to start by alerting him. Most of the employees are women. I then told her to laugh as I walked away. It had to look like we were talking about something funny. So, she laughed. I laughed.
I went back to the table, got Milly, and left.
That’s not an easy thing to do. I was trembling when I left. It’s easier to walk away. It’s easier to never return, but that’s my place! I go there! I’m not going to allow a sexual predator to “window shop” and do nothing! I also want my daughters to know that we can do something. We don’t have to sit there and take it as women. If a man is behaving in a predatory way, then we can and should say something. We are right to do so because young girls and adolescent girls often don’t notice or notice but feel helpless to do anything simply because they don’t know what to do; or, they’re too scared to do anything.
I pondered the possibility that this could be a misunderstanding. What if this man simply had a scorching case of jock itch and lacked any and all social skills? Then, someone needs to school him on how to behave in public:
- It is not appropriate to scratch, rub, and rock oneself in public. Go to the bathroom if you must repeatedly touch your crotch.
- It is never appropriate to stare at people to that extent particularly while rubbing one’s groin.
- Men should not ogle little girls, adolescent girls, and women. If a man wants to stare at women for hours on end, then pay for that privilege and go to a strip bar.
- If a man has an STI or some kind of health issue that affects “groin comfort” to the extent that he cannot even sit still, then stay home while the issue is being treated.
All in all, it was a very interesting day. I hope today is boring.