by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Over 100 children. An idyllic beach town, population 16,000. Often the violations occurred with adults mere feet away. The man rigged protective sheets and pin lights and tiny cameras so parents wouldn’t catch on. Abuse occurred in the basement where he kept the toys he handed out to his victims. He allegedly abused children repeatedly over the course of nearly ten years. The person who finally brought down one of our country’s most prolific pedophiles? A two year old girl whose parents believed her when she said the man had hurt her.
He was her pediatrician – and thousands of other children’s. His patient list included 3,100 children. Nearly 500 counts of criminal conduct have been lodged against him, including words no parent ever wants to utter: rape, sexual exploitation of a child, unlawful sexual contact, continuous sexual abuse of a child, assault, and reckless endangering. The doctor reportedly videotaped many of the assaults. These are the crimes the police and parents know about. There could be hundreds more. Bail has been set at $2.9 million.
Such are the shocking, disturbing, no-sleep-for-mom-tonight details about Dr. Earl Bradley, a Delaware pediatrician indicted in one of our country’s worst serial child abuse scandals. His alleged crimes occurred in the central Delaware town of Milford and the small coastal town of Lewes, Delaware – a popular vacation destination only 120 miles from Washington, DC and Baltimore. Patients, parents, employees and other doctors complained about Bradley over the years. But his role as a trusted community pediatrician protected him, along with the lack of credibility, sexual sophistication and verbal skills of his young patients, allowing Bradley to target children long after serious suspicions arose.
I know you don’t want to hear these sordid details. No parent does. However, there are lessons here for all parents – some of which I discussed with moms (one of whom is a pediatrician herself) on Michel Martin’s Tell Me More NPR segment, “Pediatrician Accused Of Child Molestation Puts Parents On Alert."
First, talk to your child. Abuse thrives only in silence, so you defuse its destructive power by talking openly about it before it occurs. Explain – in age appropriate terms – what sex is. Try, no matter how clumsily, to explain that some adults want to have sexual contact with children. Emphasize that because adult-child sex is wrong, your kids should tell you if anyone every touches them in private places. Regardless of whether they agreed --some perpetrators persuade kids they want the sexual contact. Regardless of whether it felt nice (genital touching usually does, no matter your age).