I was fifteen when I learned "safe adults" can cross the line of innocence.
|I was an anxious fifteen year old gripping the steering wheel of a 1965 Chevy Bel-Air. It was my third time to drive. I was concentrating on trying to keep my hands in perfect position and watch everything in front of me.
Suddenly, a large hand was placed on my knee. I held my breath, shocked and confused. I was wearing a dress because this was considered a school class. It was a short dress, as that was the style then. The hand started creeping up my leg further until it was almost between my thighs.
I spoke with as much authority as I could to an adult.
"Mr. Robinson, if you don't move your hand, I will run off the road!"
He moved the hand back down to my knee. "Kathie, I think you are beautiful and want to show you a good time."
I gritted my teeth and began to turn the steering wheel so the car was now bumping over the asphalt edge of the two lane road. My brain was running in circles. I was trapped with a maniac as big as my Dad. As long as I was in charge of the wheel, I prayed I had the advantage. I was too frightened to stop the car. This guy could take over easily and do anything to me.
The roving hand moved to turn the car back on the road.
This was the way I learned that all adults aren't what they seem. Even when you think you are safe, it can be an illusion.
The roving hand belonged to my Driving Instructor from high school. He was as old as my father. The rule was two students were to be with the instructor. The other girl had supposedly called in sick. I didn't know this until we had been on the road about twenty minutes.
It was 1968 and the life we saw on television left me with conflicted feelings. The world around me seemed very frightening with the Vietnam War. President Kennedy, his brother, and Dr. King had been killed by lunatics.
My personal life was mostly a smooth ride. I wanted to act grownup. After all, none of the world's terrible things were happening in my "family bubble".
I was dating a guy in a garage band and had my first taste of alcohol and pot. Sexual feelings were new. I was still a virgin but had gone far enough to know that throbbing between my legs. It was a new and enticing feeling that my Mom had talked to me about. My boyfriend's touch was exciting. This old man's hand on me was disgusting.
It never occurred to me that a grown man would do anything like this. He was a teacher, a "safe" grown-up.
Mr. Robinson now had the car back on the road. My hands were still squeezing the wheel so tightly, my fingers felt like they were breaking.
Now his tone changed and he was pleading with me. "Kathie, I'm so sorry. I'd never hurt you. I've never done that to anyone else. Forgive me. We'll forget it, ok?"
I didn't answer, I was crying and felt like I was going to vomit. He was talking about losing his job and how his wife would divorce him. He wouldn't be able to see his children.
In a flash of maturity, I said the only reasonable word, "Sure."
I wanted to get home where I would be safe. So I continued to drive, my heart beating like a freight train in my chest.
Before turning into my driveway, he had me promise once again that I wouldn't "tell." He said it wasn't any big deal since he had "only touched me." My face was on fire.
Mom was making dinner. Her voice carried down the hallway, "How did it go, honey?"
I headed straight to my room. I put on the Doors album with 'People are Strange' and cranked it up loud.
l looked around at a pink room with a princess motif. Dad was going to paint the walls and get new furniture for my sixteenth birthday. Then I could hang posters and put my little girl things away.
Then I cried. I had crossed the line into a new world that felt dirty. I was feeling ashamed. Like I had done something to make this man think it was okay to touch me.
It was two weeks of silence around my parents and skipping driving class. Then I overheard another girl in the bathroom talking about that "creepy driving teacher." She said he had tried to kiss her. I spoke up and asked who she was talking about. It was him. We started asking other girls if anything had happened to them. There were five out of the twelve girls taking the class that he had 'come on' to. When swapping stories, we all agreed that he had asked leading questions about whether we were dating. He seemed to be going for the girls that might have some experience already. All were afraid to tell anyone.
Now, I felt safer somehow and could go home to my parents and tell them. It took those other girls to make the disgusting experience feel real and like something we shared. My Mom called the Principal at home. The next day the School Board met. Each of the girls had explained their experience to a female counselor.
Mr. Robinson was fired but there wasn't a court case.
It still amazes me that none of us had told anyone, what if he had raped us?
We found out this man had been a teacher and they had given him the driving job because he had used swear words in the classroom.
How many young girls has this happened to and they have kept silent? I don't believe I am unusual and I know of at least twenty women who have been molested as children or raped on a date. Most of them lived in "nice" homes.
I lived in a nice home and my Dad or brothers never touched me in a sexual way. They would have gotten physical with any guy that didn't respect my wishes about my own body.
Besides Mr. Robinson, I still had two grown men try to touch and/or kiss me when they drove me home after baby-sitting.
As an adult, I realize that fear cripples you, just like shame. That man didn't care how I felt. Once you can let it go or forgive, you regain strength.
By Kathie Stehr
Added in 2020-
In the age of the "Me, too" Movement, women have the choice to come forward and I certainly agree with that.
I know that over the years since I married and had children, I have had many men touch me in suggestive ways. As a registered nurse in the hospital, some of the physicians would hug, pat your bottom or "bump" into you and laugh. I never reported them because it was a kind of innocent flirting but I would be furious if this happened to my grand daughter. It is a very sensitive area and you can ruin someone's life with accusations. I believe you have to decide how threatened you feel about this kind of touching. There is a line and sometimes it is a fuzzy one. All people, no matter sex or age, should be believed and able to safely tell someone.