by Erin Bergen, Director of Student Advocacy
At Into Account, we use owl imagery to represent our work. Watchful, fierce, wise, protection. Creatures attuned to being attentive in the soft, cold darkness.
Nearly a year ago, on the longest night of 2020, a year filled with plenty of long nights for many of us, a brave soul I have known for most of my life reached out to me. She let me know that Kent Peters, someone who I had also known for most of my life, had been targeting young women and girls for nearly as long as I had known him. I felt the piercing yellow eyes of owls and expansive wings come out to protect this person who was coming forward from the scrutiny of the small community we came from.
A week later, I was on Zoom with three survivors witnessing the most tender, heart wrenching moment of when survivors of the same person hear parts of their story coming out of the mouth of someone else. Fueled by one too many mugs of jasmine green tea, I could have run the 1300 miles to tell these survivors face to face that we were going to stop this.
I wish this was a story where we told and he was immediately and publicly held accountable. Where the community that held and raised Kent Peters and his survivors chose to be brave, and work to heal the betrayal and harm that happens when a person with considerable community status, like Peters had, abuses that power.
Kent Peters is not a safe person to work with young women and girls.
Last year, when I was teaching second grade we created a classroom agreement called, “Say it nice twice.” If someone was saying something that annoyed you, your goal was to ask them in a kind tone of voice two times to stop. If the person continued, your third time could be different. (There were of course exceptions that we outlined). We discussed how it was easier to listen to someone when they were asking “nicely” (this is a loaded term, so we defined it within our room), and how it felt to be ignored (frustrating! sad!).
I did not realize, dear reader, when I started working with these survivors that they had not only asked nicely twice, but that most of the organizations where Kent Peters held power had been informed of his grooming behaviors. By the time I reached out to ask the institutions to be brave, many of them already knew and had chosen otherwise.
It should not be up to someone who was groomed and abused from their childhood to have to say nicely to a place that should have protected them that this man should not have the power to take away a sense of safety from anyone else. This was not an exception I outlined in my second grade classroom, because it is ridiculous to expect anyone to ask nicely to be kept safe as a child.
This year, I’m teaching kindergarten. I’ve told my kindergarteners explicitly that if someone is not keeping you safe, you say what you need to in whatever voice comes out.
So now, we will say it in whatever tone of voice we need to. Kent Peters is not a safe person to work with young women and girls. This is not us being mean, this is just what is. As advocates, we are attuned to the cold, soft darkness. We also know the importance of a well placed nightlight.