Steffanie Rivers

Children are precious and deserve to be protected. Although most people agree with that statement, last week we realized the practical application of “protect” means different things to different people. For some it means advocating certain laws to prevent harming a child. For others it means reporting those who break those laws. Then there are those who say morality can’t be legislated, because everyone should know right from wrong. The leadership at Penn State is trying to decide where they stand on the issue after it was revealed that two university officials and
members of the athletic department kept quiet about child molestation accusations against a former coach there.

It’s easy to say what you will do if you witness a crime taking place, especially if a child is being
victimized. But the truth is we don’t know what we would do or say until we’re in that position. I have been in a similar situation and I admit that I didn’t do all I could have – some might say should have – to protect the children involved. Here’s the short version of my story:

I had a stalker who was a convicted child molester. We met when I moved to North Carolina for my first career job after college. It was his hometown and he said he had returned there after living in another part of the state. Even though I had met his mother and a childhood friend of his neither of these women bothered to tell me this man recently had been paroled from prison for what in North Carolina is called indecent liberties with children. It’s another term that means a grown ass man was having sex with girls young enough to be his daughters. When I found out about his criminal past I quit speaking to him. It wasn’t because of his past
that I broke ties with him. It was because of his dishonesty about his past and his current activities. I didn’t realize it until later, but this man was using my position as a news reporter and respected member of the community to attract young girls. Just like the Penn State coach, my stalker sponsored various youth activities in the city where we lived. Many of the teenagers participated
because they trusted me. So I quit working with him. Although I could have gone to police to report my suspicions about this guy or I could have written a front page article about his criminal past to warn people about his shady activities, I did what I thought was best at the time: I called the girls’ parents and told them I no longer was associated with the man or his programs. I never fully explained why I was leaving, because I had no first-hand knowledge of any current criminal activity and I didn’t want to create an issue where none existed. Also I was afraid to be linked publicly with a convicted child molester. I didn’t want my first career job to be in jeopardy over my lack of good judgment at 22 years old. When I refused to talk to him anymore and the girls were no longer eager to participate in his projects, he started to stalk me. He broke into my apartment and stole things many times, he cut the
tires on my car many times, and he called my home in the middle of the night and countess other things. It wasn’t too long before he was arrested again for indecent liberties with children and sent back to prison where he is to this
day.

I’ve written a book about my experiences to make young women more aware of how their associations and simple decisions they make can affect their future. Whether you’re 22 as I was at the time or a seasoned career veteran we all make judgment calls. Let’s hope when it’s your time you do what’s morally and legally right.

Steffanie Rivers is a freelance journalist. Send your comments, questions and appearance inquiries to Steffanie at
[email protected].