Jacob’s Hope

Editor’s note: Minnesota Parent asked Alison Feigh, program manager at the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center (and a former classmate of Jacob’s), to answer the question: “What can parents tell their kids in light of the recent news?” Here’s what she wrote.

I would tell children that I wish I could have changed the ending of this story.

Jacob’s story was bound in love. The first chapters were full of family adventures, childhood games and those everyday moments to remember forever — April Fool’s jokes, Halloween costumes, favorite foods and favorite people.

Then, out of nowhere, in the middle of all of the good, everything changed.

One man made a choice to break the rules. And he took Jacob’s life.

What happened to Jacob isn’t how his life story was supposed to go. It’s not fair. Jacob had done nothing wrong. Jacob was special and deserved to be safe.

You are special and deserve to be safe. No one has the right to hurt you and no one had the right to hurt Jacob.

All kids need safety-net people in their life who they can go to when they’re hurt or scared or confused. Safe-net people can help you. They can be parents, friends or family — or people at school or in your community.

Jacob’s safety-net people started working right away to try to help find Jacob when he was lost. So many different people helped by looking, by praying, by asking the question, “Where is Jacob?”

We’re thankful for all of the helpers. There are always more people who want to help than the person who caused the harm.

Most people want kids to grow up safe and strong, but this one person had a different kind of heart, a heart that wasn’t full of love, and now Jacob is gone. 

A new chapter

It’s important that we don’t stay stuck in that one chapter. When harmful things are done to children, it’s really easy to jump right away to angry feelings and to want nothing but bad things to happen to the person who made those choices.

Sometimes being angry is easier than thinking about how to help the people who were hurt or how to stop this kind of hurting from happening again.

It’s OK to be angry or scared, but we can’t stay there forever. If we stay on the scared pages, we miss out on the good things to come. If we just read those angry pages over and over again for the answers, then we have lost the message.

We shouldn’t let Jacob’s story be about what happened to him.

Those few pages shouldn’t get to be the main part of the story.

Jacob’s story is still bound in love.

In fact, other families’ stories were changed — for the better — as a result of Jacob’s story. A new movement was created to fight for safe childhoods for all. 

As Jacob’s story unfolded, other heroes began to emerge, other people who had survived harm.

These heroes proved over and over again that people can heal — and they can help others heal, too.

Your body-safety rules

What happened to Jacob is VERY rare. There are children who have been hurt in different ways, including sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is when someone doesn’t listen to the rules about bodies and doesn’t respect your private parts.

Your body belongs to you. No one — even people who you love very much — should ever force or trick you into any kind of touch. You have the right to talk about touches that you like and touches that you don’t like and to ask questions about ANY touch that you’re not sure about.

You should be taught the right names for your private parts so that it’s easier to talk about touches and to ask important questions.

No one has the right to break your body-safety rules. If someone breaks the rules of your body remember that it’s not your fault and that healing is absolutely possible.

Standing up for good

This is a sad story, but if there’s one good thing to find amidst the sorrow, it’s this: YOU get to help write the ending to Jacob’s story. If it ends here, in September 2016, then we get forever stuck in the angry, mad and sad part of the story.

We need you to help take what we’ve learned about Jacob and spread it around. That means we start right away by making a decision that our lives are going to be for helping and not for hurting.

It means we stand up instead of standing by when something is wrong. It means if we ever meet someone who isn’t following the rules about keeping kids safe, we reach out to our helpers until we find someone who can help.

We’re stronger when we work together. It takes strength and courage to speak up and try to help others be safer or get the help and support they need. You don’t have to be strong all by yourself. This is a job for “we” and not a job for “me.” We can ALL be a part of the movement that stops this from happening. No one should ever be able to hurt children.

Jacob’s 11

Another way you can help is by living out Jacob’s 11 traits.

If we all work to be a good friend, to be gentle with others, to be thankful, these daily choices can create a Revolution of Kindness. We’ve seen what happens when bad stuff happens; it’s like a rock, thrown in deep water, and the ripples touch many hearts and many lives, sometimes changing how we see the world.

But we can choose not to focus on fear. We can choose not to let our anger build up or control us. We can throw goodness into dark spaces and let the ripples touch hearts and lives. We can build on what is good. We can build something beautiful.

And, if all of the hearts start working together to create joy, we help make sure this story doesn’t have an ending. It’s just good stuff that continues to spread.

That is what we’ve learned from the Wetterlings.

That is what we have learned from the helpers.

That is what we’ve learned from the heroes.

We are, and we will always be, Jacob’s Hope.

Alison Feigh is the program manager with the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, a program of Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center in Minneapolis. She is the author of two books about children’s safety —  I Can Play It Safe and On Those Runaway Days from Free Spirit Publishing. For tips from the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center on how to teach kids about personal safety, click here.  You can also set up your own family safety awareness/preparedness night with these tips.