The Washington Post

Helping children in the wake of Penn State abuse

While entering a restaurant today, I noticed an older woman standing outside the men’s bathroom while holding the hand of a little boy. I would guess he was about 4, 5 or maybe 6 years old. I sensed the woman (let’s assume grandmother for now) was perplexed about something.

Penn State students gather at Old Main, at the center of Penn State University's campus, to express solidarity with the alleged rape victims following a night of rioting in response to the firing of head football coach Joe Paterno in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal November 10, 2011. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images) (Jeff Swensen/GETTY IMAGES)

She paused and gave me time to think - maybe it wasn’t my place to say. However, as I started walking away she said, “I know, but he doesn’t want to go in the Ladies room any more.

He wants to go to the men’s room like a grown man.” Not wanting a woman to follow him, he broke away and proceeded to push the heavy door. When he reached a sticking point, I helped him with the door. I, like his grandmother, was hoping he would complete his manly task on his own, but was also very fearful of what perfectly normal looking pervert could be lerking around in the bathroom.

Instead of leaving, I decided to hold the door open and stood between him and his grandmother until the big man finished his task. I then looked at the grandmother and saw the relief on her face. As he walked from behind the short stall, he looked at me and pointed towards the soap dispenser, “Soap?” I motioned to him how to press the dispenser.

He did so, and was just tall enough to wash his hands thoroughly. He then looked at me again while trying to recall the next step of this critical procedure. I pointed to the lower towel dispenser motioning how to press it. He pressed it, ripped the towel away, dried his hands, threw it in the trash, and walked out like the distinguished gentleman that he is.

As I released the door, two men entered the mens room. The grandmother: “Thank you so much.”

I love to see growth in progress, but the fears that now pop into our heads following the sickening occurences at Penn State University are really frightening. This time everything ended up fine, but what if I would have said nothing and just walked away? Would he have still been in there trying to clean his hands while the two men entered? People, let’s all assume that we can make a difference just by paying attention and acting from time to time.

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