Protecting Girls from Sexual Predators by Being Aware and Making Informed, Intelligent Decisions (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Stop Sex Offenders (Retrieved from converseprisonnews.com, February 27, 2015)

Stop Sex Offenders (Retrieved from converseprisonnews.com, February 27, 2015)

Sexual predators come in all shapes and sizes, all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities. Unfortunately, the all seem to have the same thing in common – committing sexual offenses against others in efforts to show power, control, and domination, and to make themselves feel good while hurting their victims. Another very sad thing about those who commit sexual offenses against others is that they typically see no wrong in their actions. In efforts to normalize their thoughts and actions, they often appear to be in denial, externally blaming others – including their targets – rather than admitting their actions and taking responsibility for them. They often go to whatever lengths necessary to blame their victims, cover up their offenses, and manipulate others into believing their falsehoods.

In this article, I will discuss the manner in which girls can and do become sexual targets. Boys, men, and women may also be targets of sexual predators, and this article does not minimize their experience, but is to solely focus on how society often fails to protect many of its most vulnerable and innocent members.  Perhaps if parents, educators, and/or others in our society are more aware and informed about the manner in which girls are targeted, more girls will be protected from sexually traumatizing situations that they should never experience.

Research has shown that most individuals who are sexually abused or assaulted are those who are known by their targets. Often, those who target them are family members or “trusted” pillars of the community, including those in positions of great wealth, power, influence, and/or authority. Men (and women) who sexually abuse and/or assault girls are those who believe that their thoughts and actions are correct. Their perspectives and behaviors, however, are pathological, including their actions of grooming their targets throughout time, potentially gaining the trust and friendship of the target’s parents or family, and taking whatever measures possible to see that their inappropriate interactions with their targets are secret, silenced, overlooked, and/or otherwise minimized.

Sadly, many sexual offenders are never caught. Many of these highly esteemed pillars of the community are so powerful and influential – or have such strong ties with a connective network of powerful and influential people who believe and protect them – that they continue their inappropriate actions and sexual offenses throughout their lives, always getting away with them. What is to be done for girls to protect themselves from such people? Nothing? If the girls or their families went to police, they would be laughed at and humiliated out of the police station due to the infiltration into police networks by these powerful and influential people. If the girls and their families publicly identified such people, they risk being financially, socially, and professionally ruined by such people and their large network of supporters with whom they are connected.

Must victims of their sexual offenses continue to suffer in silence? No. It is up to survivors to speak out because, in so doing, the offenders are not protected. The offenders count on tactics of fear, intimidation, and ruination to silence and destroy their victims and their victims’ reputations. Being silent only protects the offenders. By speaking out about offenders, society is informed and becomes more aware of those in their communities – and perhaps, even in their own families – who are so powerful that they get away with their sexual misconduct and offenses. In these ways, at least people are informed, whether or not they believe the truth and heed the warnings about the offenders’ harmful and pathological behaviors.

One way that sexual predators groom and prey upon girls is by sizing up their parents and/or families. If those targeting girls judge that the girls’ parents are unaware, uncaring, weak, or oblivious in any way, then their daughters are prime targets for grooming by sex offenders. Parents and/or other caregivers must be loving and caring toward their daughters, having created an atmosphere in which open and honest trust is shared, in order that these girls feel safe enough to be open with them about any inappropriate actions or offenses performed against them.

Next, parents must not be too free – and should be more guarded – about with whom their daughters spend time and what activities they do. A safe environment in which everyone has passed background checks and drug tests are among the most ideal places for parents to believe their girls are safe, however people must recognize that those with enough money and power who are involved in these environments may have had their offenses undocumented. People must not always trust that the authority, stature, and appearances of those in power are necessarily honest, honorable, and respectable.

Particularly in regard to young girls, people should be aware and informed about those with whom they have interaction and contact. Outside of a girl’s family, there are those in church, at school, and at other community events and even regular family outings, such as to the local grocery store, gas station, or other business, who may target her. People, particularly men, who have regular contact and/or interaction with a girl, long enough to speak with her in a way that gains her trust in some way are those who could be suspected of grooming a girl in order to sexually harm her. Should such interactions be overlooked and/or not perceived, then such grooming will continue and likely escalate. The grooming can escalate to sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, and sexual assault. Then, a host of excuses, cover-ups, and denials begin, as well as a discrediting of the victim.

Men who hold powerful positions, and who are looked to as trusted community members, are sometimes those who commit sexual harassment and/or misconduct against girls.  Some of these men may include priests of parishes that have churches, schools, and children’s activities, as well as millionaire or billionaire members of those parishes who lead and/or participate in church and/or community activities involving children. Those men who are so wealthy, powerful, influential, “trusted,” and “esteemed” in their communities and greater regional areas who perform sexual misconduct against girls have already duped everyone before a girl realizes what has happened, before her family can support and/or defend her (if at all), and before the girl’s healing process begins (if at all). Because these men are unwilling and/or unable to be responsible and accountable for their actions, they deny them and do whatever possible to cover them up, discredit their victims, and continue to victimize others.

The small Catholic parish in my small hometown of Gowanda in Western New York State is one such place of which I am aware that several people have had these experiences throughout a period of decades. To my knowledge, no one has ever officially reported the instances of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault that have occurred there and/or as a result of powerful people who are parishioners there. Many of those who have committed such offenses remain leaders and active members of this parish. A current priest there from Salamanca, New York threatened one former parishioner with Mafia action due to her knowledge of his sexual harassment and pedophilia toward girls. The survivors who have left the parish are aware that the shear wealth and power of those people would extremely outweigh anything they could ever say or do in any futile attempts to obtain justice. In effect, obtaining justice is impossible, and the lies, cover-ups, and misconduct will likely continue far into the future since those particular people are tied to the area.

Therefore, people must always be aware of and informed about others. Sometimes, those who dress well, have money and power, and/or be in positions that are spiritually-supportive of others are the very people who should not be trusted. This is further correct, especially if such men have free and open access to children, and even if they can pass every background check. Just because a “trusted” and “esteemed” man can pass a background check does not mean he does not have a sexualized pathology. People must be active in guarding and protecting children, even in places typically considered safe, such as churches. People must be aware that appearances are not always what they may seem, in order to be activists in adequately protecting children.

This is also not to say that all men who are involved in children’s activities are sexual predators. Certainly not. I recognize that there are many more men of honor and respectable character in our society than those who are not. Thank goodness for that! It is simply that, in a world where children have no rights and are often manipulated, controlled, objectified, abused, and/or sexualized, those vested with their care must be more vigilant and effective in our protection of them. Even those who do all they can and who have the best intentions toward protecting children may be unable to protect them. However, we must always do whatever possible to achieve that end.

The Gernatt’s of Western New York State in the 1980s and 1990s (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Dan Gernatt, Sr. and Flavia Gernatt, 1990s

Dan Gernatt, Sr. and Flavia Gernatt, 1990s

As you have likely read in a prior post to this blog, a person who was inspiring and to whom I looked up to as a role model when I was a teen and young adult was Flavia “Feggie” (Schmitt) Gernatt (now deceased).  Growing up, I lived in the same neighborhood of Seneca Heights and Taylor Hollow in Collins, New York in Western New York State as Feggie and many members of her family and extended family.  Feggie and her husband, Dan Sr., lived in Collins, right next to the main headquarters of one of their gravel and asphalt plants.

Next door to Dan Sr. and Feggie lived their son, Dan Jr., and his family.  Just a couple of doors down the road from them and across the street lives her eldest daughter, Patricia Rebmann.  The Rebmann Family has lived there for decades, having raised about 10 children.  And, in a neighboring town has lived Feggie’s and Dan’s youngest daughter, Phyllis.  Phyllis and her family have lived in Perrysburg for many years.  Many years ago, Phyllis and her family gave a cute teddy bear as a gift to my son when he was a newborn.

Gernatt Stallion, Sir Taurus, 1989

Gernatt Stallion, Sir Taurus, 1989

I got to know the Gernatt’s by living in the same neighborhood and by attending the same church, St. Joseph Church in Gowanda, New York and the Diocese of Buffalo, of the Roman Catholic faith.  I was also familiar with some of the Gernatt’s racing stallions since they were housed in my neighborhood.  While the Gernatt’s and Rebmann’s had always attended the church’s parochial school at that time, I also got to know them and was familiar with them through bus rides to and from school.  Donald Gernatt, the youngest son of Dan Jr. and Dolores “Dolly” (Stelmach) Gernatt, and my brother, were friends, striking up a friendship on those occasional bus rides that Don took to and from school (most of the time, he was driven to or from school).  Indeed, my brother’s first employer was Dan Gernatt, Jr. at one of his gravel and asphalt companies.

The older children of Dan Jr. and Dolly are Dianna (Gernatt) Saraf and Dan III.  Dan Jr. and Dolly are divorced, and Dan is married to his second wife, Roseann (Morgano) Gernatt.  As a kid, I also knew some of the younger Rebmann kids, including Dave, Barb, and Jeanne, through church as well as Girl Scouts.  Some of the older Rebmann’s continued to live in Seneca Heights after getting married and having their own families.

The Ulmer Family, 2000

The Ulmer Family, 2000

In my mid-teens, I would often attend daily mass at St. Joseph Church, and discovered that many in the Gernatt extended family did, as well.  Through church and mass, I got to know and become familiar with Dan Sr.’s and Feggie’s daughter, Phyllis Ulmer, and her family.  Phyllis and her husband, Rich (now deceased) have two adult sons, and Rich has two adult children from a prior marriage.  Phyllis and Rich have been involved in the church and school in many capacities.  I also got to know and become more familiar with Dan Sr., Feggie, and Dan Jr., as they regularly attended daily mass, as well.

I remember back to the time when I was a student at the University at Buffalo and on Spring Break that my car had broken down, and after asking Dan Sr. and Feggie to transport me to and from daily mass for a few days, they did so.  They included me as their guest in the light breakfast that followed a 6:30 AM mass during Lent at that time, and were very kind to me.  I further got to know Feggie a bit more while catching up with her and walking with her, occasionally, on walks through our neighborhood.  Feggie was a wise, intelligent, insightful, and strong woman.

The Gernatt and Saraf Families, 1980s

The Gernatt and Saraf Families, 1980s

As a high school junior, a friend of mine began dating one of the Rebmann’s.  This young man was a cousin and friend to Don Gernatt, and so, I asked my friend if she would pass along to him that I was interested in seeing him, if he was available.  It was at that time in 1987 that I dated Don for a few months, until my family’s out-of-state vacation interfered with Don’s prom.  I remember him as an exceptional gentleman who treated me with kindness, appreciation, honor, respect, and dignity, in the manner that I believe that all men should treat women.  Since that time, I have found no one with whom I have been romantically involved to have met or exceeded the standard that he set for me in men.

Looking back, I wish someone had told me that most people would not be as kind or respectful of me as Don was.  Then, I would not have held my expectations so high.  While Don and his family members are multimillionaires who are very powerful and influential in New York State business and politics, and in the Roman Catholic Church, my interest in him had never been about money, but in him as a person.  Indeed, the only financial support I ever received from the Gernatt Family was through a $50 sponsorship when I participated in the Miss Teen of New York Pageant in 1987.  Further, I had always observed Don to be kind and good-hearted, even toward those who were jealous of him during our rides on the school bus.  Don is the only member of the Gernatt family and extended family with whom I have ever been romantically involved.

I suppose that when people get to a certain age, they may recall the past and certain past experiences that are always prominent in their memories.  Don and his family live in Springville, New York, while Dianna and her family live in Hamburg, New York.  And, while we have all gone on our separate paths in life now and I no longer have connections to these families, I can still recall many fond memories that I have of dating my first boyfriend, Don.

All other men whom I have dated since my first boyfriend are those who can take lessons from Don in how to treat a woman with respect, honor, dignity, and appreciation.  I am thankful that I was able to experience from him the manner in which men should treat their romantic partners.  I hope that I will have taught my own son to be as respectful of a gentleman toward women as my first boyfriend was to me.

Sources:

Michele Babcock-Nice (March 17, 2014).  Having a Love for Horses: Remembering Sir Taurus and Elitist.  Blogbymichele.WordPress.com.  Retrieved on May 5, 2014 from http://wp.me/p25c1A-qi

Michele Babcock-Nice (February 3, 2012).  In Remembrance of Flavia C. Gernatt.  Blogbymichele.WordPress.com.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://wp.me/p25c1A-3O

Michele Babcock-Nice (2014).  Photograph collection of Michele Babcock-Nice, 1971-2014.  (Photos of the Gernatt’s, Ulmer’s, and Sir Taurus from their families/owners, 1980s-1990s.)  Snellville, Georgia.

References:

Gernatt Asphalt Products, Inc. (2001).  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://www.gernatt.com/

Wikipedia (2014).   Daniel and Flavia Gernatt Family Foundation.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_and_Flavia_Gernatt_Family_Foundation

Wikipedia (2014).  Gernatt Family of Companies.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gernatt_Family_of_Companies

Wikipedia (2014).  Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.  Retrieved on May 6, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_Diocese_of_Buffalo

Wikipedia (2014).  St. Joseph Parish, Gowanda, New York.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Joseph_Parish,_Gowanda,_New_York

“When Sexually Offending ‘Pillars of the Community’ go Undetected” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Pillar Ruins, Retrieved from wallygrom/Flickr, August 16, 2013

Pillar Ruins, Retrieved from wallygrom/Flickr, August 16, 2013

When men who sexually harass, assault, traumatize, or otherwise violate others, especially when they are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ – and they go undetected and are not held accountable or responsible for their actions – everyone, including themselves, is diminished and victimized.  Recently, we have heard and read about the sexually offensive actions of San Diego’s mayor; nearly 20 women have now come forward with accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct by this man.  Neither is he the first whose actions have violated and offended so many women, nor will he be the last.

Many other men from all walks of life may go undetected for years or even decades with their sexually offensive and/or harmful actions, especially if they are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential.  Often, these men – when faced with the harsh truth of their words and/or actions – blame, punish, revictimize, and do whatever possible to destroy the survivors of their misconduct.  For them, it is a vicious cycle from which they cannot escape because they may often be unwilling and/or unable to honestly admit to themselves that they are wrong, that their words and actions are harmful to their victims, and that they require assistance to overcome their misconduct.  In fact, they may not even see any wrongdoing in their actions, nor perceive their victims as victims; thus, the cycle continues, especially when these men are undetected and are not accountable, nor responsible for their actions.

In 2007, a female parochial school student at St. Joseph’s School in Gowanda, New York described to her teacher and her fellow classmates about how the parish priest, at the time, had sexually harassed her when he was alone with her in the parish rectory.  At the time of the incident, the student was 12-years-old.  This occurred during a time when a party was being held in recognition of the altar servers who gave of their time and service to the church and school at parish masses.  The student reported that she had not told her family about the incident, and therefore, the teacher took responsibility and informed her parents about it.  Sadly, the parents did nothing about it. 

The teacher, being concerned about the girl’s safety, suggested that she no longer be an altar server.  The girl, however, wanted to continue being an altar server – and did so for her remaining year at the school – while the girl’s teacher and certain of the girl’s fellow students made great efforts to be sure that there were no other instances of the priest being alone with her.  That the priest (who is now retired) was in his 60’s at the time, and the student was only 12, suggests that this church leader may be a pedophile. 

When confronted through communications by the teacher that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing rather than a pious church leader, the parish priest retaliated against her.  He privately stated to her, threatening that she “should be afraid” of “the Mafia.”  Far from fearing the Mafia for having done no wrong, this woman continues to believe that it is the priest who should be afraid – not of the Mafia – but of the judgment of God.

During the years 1976-2006, a former female member of St. Joseph’s Church – the church that is associated with the aforementioned school – experienced repeated sexual harassment, as well as two instances of pedophilia by one of the wealthy, powerful, and influential benefactors of these institutions.  The early instances occurred when the girl was 5 and 7-years-old, with one being at one of the man’s businesses and the other occurring while the man was dressed as Santa Claus.  The man sexually harassed this female, treating her like his sexual plaything, from his ages of approximately 35-65 years old.  In later years, the man typically sexually harassed the woman in church and/or on church property, including making sexually explicit actions and gestures toward her in church during masses.  The man has also been known to have sexually harassed other women and girls in his immediate community.

In 2007, the father of the man immediately aforementioned behaved in a manner of sexual misconduct toward the woman by committing a sexual battery against her, privately, while in church after a mass.  The woman remained in the presence of this offender and confronted him, though he simply walked away.  As a man whom this woman considered a friend – someone whom she had known only as a friend throughout her life, and who had provided emotional and spiritual support to her in the past, as well as having dated one of his grandsons – the woman expected an apology at the very least, but got nothing of the sort. 

To have lowered themselves to committing pedophilia, offensive sexual actions, and/or harmful sexual misconduct – and taking no responsibility to correct it, nor to be accountable for it – reflects how men who are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ may go undetected in their sexual misconduct.  These men may be priests, business owners, award winners in their communities, and highly-regarded by most people.  That these men have not taken any steps to correct or seek forgiveness for their misconduct from their victims causes them to avoid identifying and realizing that they have a problem, and therefore, they continue the vicious cycle with other unsuspecting people.  They do not know or care in the least that they have lost the respect and trust of those whom they have victimized; they appear oblivious to the harm they have caused.  Rather than honestly admit and recognize that they have a problem, they do everything possible to cover it up, as well as blame, punish, retaliate, and destroy their victims. 

I feel sorry for men who have such a need for power, control, and dominance over girls and women that they behave in ways that sexually harass, assault, violate, traumatize, harm, and/or intimidate their victims.  That there are many men out there who are viewed by others with admiration and respect, though they secretly and/or discretely perform actions of sexual misconduct, reflects how easy it is for them to go undetected.  In situations where the men performing the sexual misconduct are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ is worse because they have access to so many venues and opportunities to commit their sexual offenses.

Women and girls, in particular, are at great risk for sexual exploitation by the wealthy and powerful.  I have often heard the phrase, “From whom much is given, much is expected,” however in some cases regarding the wealthy and powerful, their sexual misconduct goes undetected and may continue for years and/or decades.  That many men violate the God-given rights of women and girls (and boys) by committing sexually offensive acts against them shows their lack of respect, appreciation, understanding, insight, and compassion toward them.  Many men, especially those who are among the wealthy and/or powerful, can do better to keep their sexual impulses controlled and in check so that they do not rise to the level of harassment, misconduct, assault, or trauma toward others.  By not doing so, they truly have no concept regarding the level of emotional pain, distress, trauma, and/or mistrust they have caused, and continue to cause years into the future.

I would like to recognize and send my appreciation to all those who stand up for women, girls, children, and the rights of women and children, especially toward survivors of sexual traumas and abuse.  In my own personal circle of friends, two of these women are Merrie and Frances.  Both women risked their own well-being and reputations, as I also have, to stand up against sexual harassment, sexual offenses, gender discrimination, and hostility toward women in our communities; we also experienced retaliation for our efforts, and still do. 

The ultimate in love and friendship occurs when people risk and sacrifice themselves for the good of others, much as Jesus did.  While strong women who stand up to protect those who experience sexual trama and offenses toward them are not often rewarded for their efforts, we have been rewarded by knowing that we have done the right thing in God’s eyes.  Our true rewards await in Heaven; the truth has already set us free.