Tuesday Sean Shaynak, a teacher at one of NYC's specialized high schools was indicted on 36 charges including kidnapping, criminal sexual act, obscenity, endangering the welfare of a child and sexual abuse. This follows an arrest last August for sending a photo of his genitals to an underage student over the summer.
Yesterday was a day of countless articles and news reports replaying, over and over, the sordid list of accusations.
Today, the finger pointing has begun.
Can we all hit the pause button of hindsight and blame and take a moment to think about and show some respect and kindness for the victims?
The more that is written and reported and discussed, the more these alleged victims are being assaulted. Some of them could still be at school and they now have to walk a gauntlet of reporters on their way in and out of the building (my daughter, a junior at Brooklyn Tech was approached yesterday for a statement on her way home). These young women are now being forced to relive experiences they apparently sought to keep silent for months, if not years. As reported in the NY Times yesterday, after Shaynak's first arrest, no one came forward with any additional information. It was only after a search of his computers and phones that more details and more situations were discovered.
What about their families? Parents grappling with horrific details of what their daughters were subjected to now have to experience it over and over in a very public forum. It seems, as details unfold, they likely didn't know any of this before, as they perhaps would have encouraged their children to come forward and help end Shaynak's appalling behavior and actions.
Fellow students, facing news trucks and invasive questions, are watching their school, a remarkable academic institution, trash talked from a multitude of sources.
Many parents, myself included, are now struggling with how this could possibly have happened.
To me, the biggest and most important question is, how do we protect our children?
Sadly, tragically, there is no answer.
These young women lived with these dark secrets, some for years, apparently not willing to share what was going on with anyone who could make it stop. Peer pressure and conformity are a reality of teenage life. Not wanting to rock the boat, to draw attention to oneself, to accuse a teacher, even if his actions were criminal. What a huge responsibility to expect teenage victims of sexual abuse to be whistleblowers. And while it's easy to now blame the school, fellow teachers, and background checkers for not knowing what was going on, in such apparently secretive situations, where silence seemed the norm and even families were unaware, how can one presume anyone else should have known?
The truth? Hindsight doesn't protect our kids.
But, I used this tragic situation as a powerful starter to a conversation with both my children, one we've had many times before, about coming forward and sharing if they have been exposed to or hear about inappropriate behavior of any kind.
Whether they come to me, someone at school or another adult in their lives, they have to know how important it is, no matter how hard it might be, to take care of themselves or others in precarious situations.
Pointing fingers and posing what ifs won't make a difference. But encouraging our kids to take a stand in the future just might.