Washington, February 17, 2012 – The serene exterior of Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles provides a false facade hiding a house of horrors where child sex abuse was part of the curriculum. Authorities charged two teachers, Mark Berndt and Martin Springer, of sexually abusing the students placed under their care by unsuspecting parents.
Parents in this largely Latino neighborhood are consumed with outrage over the sacrifice of their children’s safety at the altar of silence. School officials knew for more than a year that authorities were investigating the activities of the two teachers, but told parents nothing.
Mark Berndt has been charged with committing lewd acts on 23 children between the ages of 6 and 10. Authorities say he used students for twisted games of child pornography that included spoon-feeding semen to children. Martin Springer has been accused of fondling two seven-year-old girls. The pair worked at Miramonte their entire career, Berndt since 1979 and Springer since 1986.
Last week, a female teacher has been implicated for supplying victims to Berndt. Reports state that she would take children from her class to Berndt.
Administrators closed the school for the past two days and replaced the entire staff of 128 people at the school. The school stated it would replace everyone with properly vetted personnel.
As a victim of childhood sexual abuse, I cannot dispel the anger I feel over the tragic nightmare these perpetrators saddled their innocent victims with for the rest of their lives.
As a child, I suffered physical and sexual abuse both at home and at the hands of my teachers. For the victim, the barriers to disclosing the horror of sexual abuse are immense.
As we have seen with Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State Scandal, pedophiles swim in the tidal pools of societies most respected figures.
Those who idolized Sandusky were pressured to keep quiet as to not harm the Penn State image; their silence conspired to mask his molestation of innocent children.
Background checks and references are a limited tool in screening out pedophiles, and counseling for victims will not “un-ring the bell” of childhood sexual molestation. Since the abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church hit the press, society has begun to slowly educate itself on the tragedy of childhood sexual abuse.
The Sandusky scandal has changed the tenor of that lesson into a crash course that has resonated around the world. Last year, the Dutch Catholic Church was gripped by scandal as allegations of childhood sexual abuse rocked its members. Each time abuse is revealed, the wall of silence begins to crumble more and humanity sails into uncharted waters, frantically searching for a map to navigate the horrible reality of childhood sexual abuse.
The teacher who molested me was someone who had mastered the art of both blending in and gaining the trust of a child. This monster-predator made sure no one would believe my allegations and when I did not meet his demands, he manipulated others, to punish me for acts I did not commit.
In my anger from the abuse I suffered, I often acted out at school and in my disobedience teachers labeled me a problem child, making it easier for my abuser to take advantage of me.
Children from dysfunctional families are easy targets for pedophiles and their hunting grounds are the sidewalks of America, where lonely children wander avoiding toxic parents. A lack of interest in a child’s progress at school is a flag to those who prey on the weak of vulnerability.
My molestation ended when my perpetrator grew tired of me and moved on to another victim.
During the time I was being molested as a child, my hands were forever bloodied as I beat them against the “Wall of Silence.” In my desperation to escape the endless nightmare I was trapped within as a child, I spoke to those who I thought could bring an end to the abuse I was suffering.
What happened was just the opposite. In response to speaking out, I received death threats and was subjected to endless beatings, one of which led to three broken ribs at the age of ten. Doctors were not so inquisitive during that time, and a story of falling from a tree satisfied the curiosity of many who had the chance to save me from the hell I endured.
I never gave up hope and never let the child in me fall into to the abyss so many survivors have slipped into. I have had close friends, both men and women, lost to a drug overdose or gun shot to the head when the pain of their abuse became too great to handle.
One Sunday morning after repeated attempts to contact a close female friend remained unanswered, I drove to her house to check on her. Opening the door, I could not prepare myself for what I would find.
Her father had molested her and we had met in a support group for survivors. We became fast friends in the platonic sense and supported each other during painful times in our lives. She had spent a great deal of time trying to get her father and her family to admit that her abuse had occurred and that there is a result of such abuse.
Some victims feel an intense drive to reconnect with their families and want an admission of their victimization as a gateway to returning home. I am sad to say that in her case, as well as in many others, the family would have no part in the admission of guilt. My own family turned their backs on me so quickly I could feel the breeze when I confronted them about my abuse.
I felt a great deal of pain in their abandonment and it took a great deal of time for me to get past it
My friend was not so fortunate: she decided a bottle of pills was the only alternative to the pain her family inflicted. The image of her lying there will always haunt my mind but the memory of her wonderful sense of humor and undying friendship is one of the reasons I fight for victims today.
In the search to bring an end to the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse, there are no easy answers. There are, however, important steps to take. Education is a key factor and reaching out to parents, teachers, coaches, family members and anyone who has the responsibility of dealing with children is mandatory.
Changing legislation regarding the reporting of child sex abuse and lifting the statute of limitations on prosecuting Pedophiles is also vital. Survivors like Erin Merryn are working tirelessly towards these goals.
She is transforming the pain of her childhood into action, traveling around the country working with State legislators to help pass “Erin’s Law.” That law would create a task force that would investigate modalities to reduce child sex abuse in that state. Organizations such as Stop Abusing Your Children started by Los Angeles based actress Stacy Asencio-Sutphen are educating the public on the dangers of child abuse and collaborating with other organizations in their effort to combat abuse.
The tragedy of child sex abuse sweeps across gender and race, religion and sexuality, and we all suffer the pain in our own way. Recent events have unified us into a collective voice to end childhood sexual abuse and educate society on how best to accomplish that goal.
Miramonte can serve as the Pearl Harbor in the war against child abuse that brings everyone into the fight or the loss of our Humanity. We can stand by and watch the future born in our children’s eyes slip away like grains of sand through our fingers or find the determination and the means to change the future.