The failure of adults to take the safety of children seriously isn’t new. Pullman had its share of situations when I was growing up that weren’t really handled properly according to today’s standards.

The first incident I encountered was my mother warning me to stay away from the home of one of my classmates. I could play with her at my house, but I couldn’t go to hers. When I was old enough to understand, I learned that the girl’s mother was a prostitute who regularly entertained in her home U.S. Army Air Corps soldiers who were in training here at the college. I later learned that there was a second mother-daughter pair in my class in school. As far as I know, none of the local authorities did anything about it, though I believe it was common knowledge.

When I was a few years older, a fellow moved into the basement apartment next door to us. We immediately had him pegged for an oddball when his house trailer got stuck in the ditch in front of our house. We watched as he took trip after trip carrying bird cages into the house. I forget the number we counted but I’m guessing it was more than 40. One day, he invited my folks into his apartment to see his birds. It didn’t take long for them to decide he was odd and told me to stay away from him. We later learned that he was inviting music camp kids in to see his birds on a regular basis. The authorities did act this time, not by arresting him, but passing the problem elsewhere when they strongly suggested that he leave town.

One encounter I had was when I was on my way to the city swimming pool, taking the shortcut from Maiden Lane down the path next to Don Lee’s Midway grocery, my usual route. An older boy attempted to proposition me. I kept shaking him off when he grabbed my shoulder and I managed to reach the street by the pool safely. Since there was no repeat of this, I never reported it. I guess I was afraid of losing access to my shortcut to the pool if Mama knew about it.

All these incidents happened in a different time, when such subjects were rarely discussed or received the kind of attention they do today. Would I have had the vocabulary or nerve to describe what had happened if I were ever faced with the need to describe a rape? Such subjects were rarely talked about in polite company. At least these girls in the news now who were abused were old enough to understand what was happening. Not only that, they had the guts and vocabulary to describe it.

That the authorities failed to act is reprehensible. I have to admire the girls’ courage to make an issue of it. I want their situation to receive the attention it demands. For the authorities to have done less was a failure of duty and responsibility.

With more and more mixing of the sexes in all sorts of occupations, and more and more women performing what has traditionally been considered men’s work, we are going to have to pay more attention to the way women are treated in the workplace. Men have got to learn that we aren’t going to be silent or passive any longer. Likewise, females have to behave themselves too. It isn’t fair to lead a guy on then slap him in the face when he follows her lead.

All this said, there is no excuse for the failure of the FBI to take appropriate action to deal with the abuse these girls suffered. If we want these incidents reported and keep our girls save, those responsible for their safety need to perform their sworn duties to protect them.

Harding lives in Pullman and is a longtime League of Women Voters member. She also has served on the Gladish Community and Cultural Center board. Reach her at lj1105harding@gmail.com.

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