By Nicole Bucka
(This is personal reflection and not a formal communication of the School Committee.)
This week’s headline in East Greenwich has flooded me with memories. I don’t recall my exact age. I only know it was well before high school, so I was younger, but still – it was an adult I trusted. An authority figure, and I was a child. I am now 44 years old. Over three decades have passed and I am still affected by the recent headlines – first, a teacher and coach from the high school I graduated from in North Kingstown and now an assistant coach in East Greenwich.
When it happened to me, I told no one. I was scared and ashamed – afraid I would get in trouble or that I would upset people I cared about or worse, that somehow it was my fault. There was a stigma there that is all too real even today. I cannot say with more sincerity how proud I am of the young women who went to adults for help. Your courage is amazing. I don’t know you, but I am filled with admiration and love. I want to give you a hug, assure you that you did the right thing, and that you will get through this.
I wasn’t as strong as you. Maybe it was because I was younger. Maybe it was just different times, but it doesn’t matter – I am in awe of you. You have done what I wish I could have done and your families are doing what I was afraid mine might not. I want you to know that each and every one of you are going to be amazing women because you are already leading the way, changing the world, and for any of you who weren’t strong enough – I see you, too. I am you. You will get there, and it’s okay if it takes time. As you can see by my writing this, I have the strength now to help others. While you process and heal, please take this simple letter as evidence of the impact you have made on people you haven’t even met, like me. You give me hope and strength.
I know now, as an adult, that what happened to me wasn’t my fault. I also know, unfortunately, that it likely wasn’t the only time this person had done this. In college, I learned about grooming, predatory behaviors, and the psychology of abuse. As a child, my instincts were all about my own survival – I was afraid to be alone with any man after that, never mind that particular one, but as I grew up I realized that by not telling anyone, others could have been assaulted after me. There. I said it. Assaulted. It took me over two decades to say that word. My mind went from describing what happened as “weird” and “uncomfortable” to “inappropriate” to finally where I could say what it really was: assault and abuse. Words matter. For me, the words were a reflection of my growing awareness of just how not okay this was. I needed time to process that, I needed to grieve something my innocence couldn’t even put words to, and if you do, too – that’s okay.
As for those who feel strongly we should call it what it is and not stand for it – great. Then do so, but not by putting it on these courageous young women and their families who need time to heal. I am now a grown woman and a mother. I can be brave now, by saying all this as a testament to these young women, because I have had time to heal. I can now join you in a way I couldn’t back then: Let’s talk about power dynamics between coaches and athletes (as a start), let’s talk about consent and boundaries, and let’s take actions ourselves as a community by naming a culture in athletics where not doing what an adult says can result in loss of playing time or other commodity. That’s not okay. Let’s remove the stigma attached to coming forward and give people safe ways to do so. I look forward to supporting this in any way I can – for you, for me, and for all those out there quietly grieving their own pain.
I hope we can come together as a community to give these amazing young women the hero’s treatment they deserve and to remove the stigma that too often further hurts the innocent.
Nicole Bucka is a member of the East Greenwich School Committee.