The Weight of the Words We Use

(Read these tweets bottom up)

Just consolidating some tweets here from an interaction I had this morning with a few men in a local Panera. News broke this week of Oregon State pitcher Luke Heimlich being a registered sex offender for having molested a 4-year-old for two years. He pled guilty to it when he was 15 and the child – a family member – was 6.

For two days now, I’ve seen sports fans debate the merits of keeping him out of the College World Series Super Regionals this weekend. And a theme I keep seeing from unabashed sports fans wanting their star pitcher to pitch no matter what, is this: “Should he be punished his whole life for something he did when he was 15?!!”

What’s become quite clear to me is that the word “molestation” fails to convey the weight of what likely took place. It offers us no visuals. The best way I have found to break through that gap in understanding for people who question the severity of molestation is to paint pictures for them with my words. I remind them that 4-year olds still have that sweet, high-pitched voice and stumble through big words and difficult consonants. They have little bodies and little hands. And I ask people to imagine a scenario where a 15-year-old sees all of that and thinks to himself, “I can’t wait to put my penis in her little mouth. Or inside of her small opening.” Or maybe it’s “I can’t wait to put my mouth on her small body and do disgusting things to her.”

And then he does so. And he does it often. The child, confused and unable to verbalize fear and a desire to not do these things stares up at her abuser – someone she trusts, wide-eyed and questioning. And the abuser stares back, aroused and enjoying it. THAT is what takes place during ‘molestation’ – a word that apparently does not horrify people enough.

Sexual assault of children – our MOST vulnerable population, should be a crime that haunts you the rest of your days. And I say that not out of bloodlust and vengeance. I say it because there are crimes in this world that should carry a stain large enough to deter others from choosing that route. For the child sexually assaulted, he or she suffers a life sentence. It permeates every aspect of their development physically and emotionally. Some girls have to have hysterectomies because of the damage done to their organs. And some children forced to experience arousal in the most perverse of circumstances must relearn what a normal and healthy sexual interaction looks like. So many never regain that. Child victims who become adults often express feeling an emptiness and a worthlessness that led them to activities meant to quell the unending pain – drugs, anorexia, abusive relationships.

But we as a society debate if the perpetrators have suffered enough for their own actions. In this case, Heimlich was a juvenile and therefore spared wider public shaming due to the court sealing his record. My great regret in this public fiasco is that the victim must be in excruciating pain as her friends and her acquaintances perhaps start figuring out it was her that he harmed. And she likely feels the inexplicable guilt child victims feel because someone they love harmed them but yet they don’t want their abuser to suffer this way.

There are no winners here. But the last thing anyone should be thinking about or talking about or arguing about is baseball.


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