During the first two years of college, I swore I would never be a nanny. Because I was a journalism major, it wasn’t a résumé-builder nor did it give me any practical experience in what I considered to be “the real world.”
Instead, I chose to work at other, “more professional” jobs, including ticketing, marketing and editing. These were great jobs that all came with a small paycheck, but by the end of my sophomore year, I knew I needed something that brought in more money.
After much discussion with friends who were babysitting and nannying, I finally decided to give it a try. After all, both of my parents were teachers and I had a younger brother, so how hard could it be? What could possibly go wrong?
At my university, we have what we call “The Babysitting Book,” located in the Career Development Center. After flipping through it a few times and doing a couple of interviews with different families, I finally found a well-paying family in River Bend. The family had only one son – a 12-year-old boy named Michael. It was perfect.
I visited the family for an initial meeting at the beginning of the summer. They had small-but-nice house in one of the wealthier parts of town. Throughout the meeting, I kept thinking how nice this family was. They seemed so... so normal. Their son had his headphones on and was glued to his iPad, but for a tween boy who was also an only child, that was the very definition of normal.
I officially started nannying Michael in July. He was a rambunctious child with lots of energy and very little discipline, but I hadn’t expected anything different. My expectation of a wealthy, only child was very low, and he met those expectations.
His parents never told me about his discipline problems. I assumed they generally just ignored his bad behavior. After all, punishing a child actually takes a reasonable amount of effort from the parents. I missed that this was a red flag.
In the fall, I found a bottle of medicine sitting on the counter. It was medicine for either ADD or ADHD – and it was for Michael. Strange. His parents never told me he was on medication.
In the spring, I noticed that Michael’s behavior was a lot worse than I remembered. He liked to hit me and try to antagonize me any way he could. When I said to do something, he wouldn’t listen. He joked about killing animals and hurting other people. Many young people like to talk about Hitler, but Michael seemed to obsessively idolize him. Even as a youth leader and someone who has worked in homeless ministry, it was scary.
At this point, I probably should have said something to his parents. Looking back, I know I should have. However, this was my first nannying job, and I needed the parents to like me. I needed this job, because it paid well. I knew that one day, I would probably have to quit, but I would need this family as a reference. I needed them on my good side.
So I said nothing.
Then, I had a day like no other.
I was in the living room working on my laptop, and Michael was in front of me, playing on one of his many digital devices – probably either his iPad or Xbox. Getting up to go into the kitchen, he tried to power off the laptop sitting in my lap. He had done this many times before, usually without success. Previously, I had ignored it, but this time, I was through. I had had enough.
Putting down my laptop, I followed him into the kitchen. He was going to be disciplined for this.
“Whatcha gonna do?” he antagonized.
The next thing I remember is the single thought that pounded through my head.
Oh shoot, he’s pointing a knife at me.
Part of me hoped this was a sick joke. If it was a 5-year-old, I would have said it was, but this was a 12-year-old boy with a mental disorder who was as tall and possibly as strong as me.
Thankfully, I had an idea of what I needed to do. I had worked in foreign missions for nearly 2 years and had spent that past summer working with the homeless.
In a situation like this, the first step is keeping yourself out of immediate danger. That can either mean getting out of range of the weapon or putting some sort of barrier between you and your assailant so he can’t reach you.
I chose to put a barrier between us, as there was already the kitchen island separating the two of us. He couldn’t hurt me – at least, not at that immediate moment.
I knew I had to take control of the situation, which meant getting the knife out of his hand.
“Michael, put the knife down.” I kept my voice low and serious and kept my voice steady so he wouldn’t hear my fear.
After awhile, he laid the long, steak knife down on the kitchen island. When Michael’s eyes shifted from the knife to me, I grabbed the knife he had been holding and threw it onto the kitchen table behind me.
I had regained control of the situation. Crisis over.
Except it wasn’t.
When Michael realized he no longer had the knife and had lost any sort of power over me, he glared at me. It was the most menacing look I’ve ever seen.
“OK, fine then,” he taunted.
Turning around, he reached behind him and pulled something out of the wooden block on the counter. It was another knife, one larger than the previous one. And now, he was pointing it at me.
Truth be told, I don’t remember how I convinced Michael to put down the knife. There are some things in life that are best pushed to the deep recesses of the mind. This was one of them.
I left work at my usual time, I ate dinner with the same people I do every night and then filmed a project for class. The seriousness of what had happened didn’t fully hit me until the next day when I was in the honors college’s administration office asking what I should do about the incident. The honors college staff told me there was no way I was going back, and I quit later that week.
I thought the worst was over, but really, my nightmare was just beginning. Studies show over 60 percent of female assault victims experience PTSD for the first two weeks after being assaulted. My name became added to the 60 percent list.
I was paranoid all the time, and nightmares haunted my sleep. Because I quit a month before my expected end date for the semester, I ended up forfeiting 600 dollars.
Living paycheck-to-paycheck meant that I needed that money, and when I asked that the family give it to me, I was answered with letters from some of the best lawyers in the state representing the family. I couldn’t afford legal counsel, much less lawyers. That 600 dollars? I wasn’t going to get it.
While struggling with PTSD, I was communicating with nearly a dozen university faculty and staff members – ranging from professors, librarians and Career Development Center staff to assistant deans and provosts and campus police – all to figure out what to do about the incident.
I learned how to write a resignation letter and a legal demands letter. Most importantly, I had to ensure the family never ended up in the University Babysitting Book again.
Over the next few weeks, I constantly questioned myself. I asked myself numerous times if there was something I had done wrong that led to having a knife pulled on me.
Were there red flags? Probably, but as far as the question of whether or not this incident was my fault (as their lawyer implied), the answer is simply “no.” No what ifs, ands, or buts attached. I couldn’t blame myself for Michael’s actions. He committed a crime. He, not me.
When overcoming the effects of assault and its aftermath, I cannot stress enough the importance of community. The number of friends who stood beside me, constantly loving me, was a huge blessing. Professors and university staff supported me, helping me track down resources for writing a demands letter and seeking legal counsel on my behalf.
Police may have a bad rap, but our female campus police officer was perhaps one of the most encouraging people. She was the one who constantly reminded me that it wasn’t my fault – Michael was, quite possibly, a sociopath. If I hadn’t gotten out when I did, I may not have been alive today to tell this tale.
I never did get justice. Part of me is still frustrated by that, but the other part of me is OK with that. I was assaulted with two knives by a 12-year-old boy I had nannied for almost a year. I escaped, and that was enough for me.