True confession: I vanity search myself. All the time.
What this says about my nature, I’ll leave to my next therapy session. Among other reasons, I Google myself periodically to make sure there’s nothing untoward attached to my good name. Most of the time it is harmless narcissism.
Then, last fall, someone hacked into my professional website. I had to rebuild it from the bottom up.
What was the first clue of this violation? A vanity search, which revealed my site and all its links were going to a free payday loan operation. So, while I’m aware that excessive self-searching is on par with repetitive mirror checking and compulsive stove knob checking (to make sure the burners are off, for the uninitiated), I’m defending the practice.
In all this Googling, I realize I am very findable. If someone were to stalk me, it would be an easy assignment. I wouldn’t think much of this except some of the people I’ve tried to find have no known online presence. Are they technophobes or savvy? It’s always possible their alter-egos rule the online world.
My uncontrollable Googling took a dark turn when I began searching for particular people, including the bad doctor. I hadn’t thought of him in a while. The last time was during my latest ill-fated attempt at therapy.
And here’s the thing: I Googled him and right away I learned he lived within walking distance of my house.
How do I feel about this?
Like someone tackled me from behind, knocking all the air from my lungs, and when I get up to look in the mirror to check for damage, I see the ignorant, vulnerable and gullible 12-year-old me in the reflection. For a moment. Here’s another thing: I allowed myself to travel through the range of emotions and then I let it pass.
He is an old man now. How harmful could he be?
I am a grown woman now. How vulnerable could I be against an old man?
I did a little more digging. It looks as if he has turned around his life. But, who knows? His outward life appeared fine then, too. Family man. Accomplished in his field. The comforts of the upper middle class. This kind of thing is kept hidden, especially among the well-heeled. But it’s what I want — need — to believe. That he is reformed.
What I still wonder are these things:
- Is he aware that what he did to me and others was wrong?
- Was he drunk/high when he did those things?
- Did he do those things to his children?
- Did someone do those things to him?
- Was this a compulsion that he could not control then and continues to fight daily?
I don’t suppose he wonders how I am. I’m guessing he wipes his brow in relief from time to time that I kept my mouth shut.
Further research on the old boy showed that he has lived in my shadow for all my life. We’ve basically migrated along the same path around this metropolitan area. Coincidence? It has to be. He has made no contact with me since the ’80s.
Maybe he Googles me? and others? It’s something to consider: How much of what is precious to me is accessible to bad people?
While I no longer fear him, I fear his kind. I am a middle-aged woman who still harbors a serious doctor phobia. I delay physicals and ignore health symptoms as long as possible to avoid the clinical environments and naked probings of such places. When I can control the gender choice of doctor, I do. When I am ill enough, I give in.
The important thing here is my children, one still an innocent, the other with one foothold in adulthood but still sheltered from such things. How findable are they on the Internet should some twisted freak conduct a search? How much do they know about what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to other trusted adults in their lives? It is my job to make sure it is clear to them the course to take not only if they suspect something but also to speak up right away.
Even more important: Parents need to act on the courage of their children. Doubt later. Punish a lie later. Act now.
— April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Child Abuse Prevention month