Washington July 5, 2012 – As the trial of Jerry Sandusky began, I was determined to write about how justice would unfold for ten victims of child abuse in the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa.
As the jury settled in on Monday morning and testimony began, I immersed myself in the details of the trial, swallowing up every bit of information as it emerged on Twitter. I had entered the process with the intention of covering the trial of Jerry Sandusky through the eyes of a journalist who was also a survivor of child abuse. Instead, the journalist in me was eclipsed as I found myself consumed by an avalanche of emotion as the survivor inside me began to relive the horrors of my abuse as each detail emerged.
I had been in therapy for over twenty years learning to deal with the effects of my abuse, but the wounds I had suffered run to the very core of my soul. The details of Jerry Sandusky’s unbridled abuse of young boys hijacked my emotions back to a time when I, too, was a powerless five year old trapped by silence.
I read the details as prosecutors began their case by displaying photos of each of the eight victims testifying, as they appeared at the age they were when they were abused. Their young faces radiated with the invaluable quality that was stripped away from them by the evil of Jerry Sandusky.
Through his horrific acts, each of his victims was sentenced to a lifetime of suffering and left to drift rudderless through the vast ocean of life. Jerry Sandusky eviscerated the innocence of the children he molested, and he called this love.
Despite my own efforts, my abuser was never brought to justice. My attempts to tell doctors, teachers, school counselors or any responsible adult were ignored and resulted in retribution from family members who protected my abuser. I suffered physically with my ribs being broken by a family member after I tried to tell a doctor about the secret I was warned never to reveal.
As a victim of a pedophile you are at the complete mercy of a person who is nothing more than a monster cloaked in the guise of respect and camouflaged with the mask of congeniality. The toxic web of lies and deceit that they weave creates an inescapable trap that forces their victims into silence. Choosing their prey carefully, they select the neglected and forgotten. Deprived of affection or even the knowledge of what it is to be loved, innocent victims stare wide-eyed as his or her prayers are seemingly answered and someone pretends to care.
Drunk on the affection lavished by the pedophile, victims are manipulated into the most vulnerable position possible, and once every exit has been blocked, the perpetrator makes their move.
The child is faced with the loss of the first vestiges of affection they have ever known and the threat of further degradation of their family life. Survivors of child abuse exist for many years unable to trust anyone. Adults in their lives have taught them they are not to be believed and treat them as liars before the first word forms on their lips.
The harsh reality we have to come to grips with is that Jerry Sandusky is the model for a pedophile. Every survivor of child abuse looks at this man and sees the exact behavior that their abuser used to steal their innocence and vandalize their childhood.
During the trial, every time I closed my eyes I would see my abuser, smell the scent of his cheap cologne, and hear the sick words he would whisper in my ear as he took from me the most precious gift I had, my innocence. Every survivor of child abuse I spoke with these past few weeks has been haunted in some way by the memories of a past that still wields power in many of their lives.
The trial of Jerry Sandusky plunged survivors into the depths of their worst fears as thoughts of an acquittal or a mistrial were bantered about in the media.
As hard as I fought to find justice in the case of my abuse, I was always turned away, bruised and beaten as I struggled to find someone who would believe me. I was the only one who made accusations against my abuser, which made my claims easy to discredit. Even after my abuser’s death, I still could not convince others whom I knew to be victims to admit what had happened.
For those of us deprived of justice the case of Jerry Sandusky held the means for our triumph or our tragedy. He became the physical manifestation of the demons that haunt survivors as the echo of our abuse consumed our conscious minds as each day of the trial unfolded. We became swept up in an emotional whirlwind with its roots in the long distant past, and there was nothing we could do about it.
Then something amazing happened. As the first victim took the stand, the courage he displayed in facing Jerry Sandusky inspired us all. Under the stress of cross examination by the defense he began to waver and cried out for help from the prosecution and, receiving none, righted himself and continued on.
For survivors of child abuse this was an act of courage unparalleled by any other event in our lives.
Victims of child abuse seldom find themselves facing their abuser in a courtroom, and the road leading to that moment is one of the most difficult ever travelled. Studies have shown that on the average a child must tell nine adults that they have been sexually abused before they are even believed. As a survivor I will tell you that it can also invite further abuse. When I began to seek out responsible adults with a plea for help, I found myself being molested by the teacher I thought would bring an end to my suffering.
Each victim who came forward to testify against Jerry Sandusky faced the greatest fear they have ever known in their lives and did not turn away. Investigators spoke of interviews conducted while victims curled up into the fetal position, overwhelmed by the trauma of what Sandusky had done to them as children.
These eight young men have humbled us all with their courage and determination to find justice, and what they have done has changed the way the public will view child abuse forever. They are the heroes of our generation, facing their nightmare as it materialized in front of them in the form a broken down old man.
The trial of Jerry Sandusky has become the Pearl Harbor of the war against child abuse. With his conviction the curtain has been pulled back and the mask has been shed and we now know what the face of evil looks like. It is our duty as a society to never let this crime happen again, and to stop the next Jerry Sandusky at the shower room door before the next scream of a lost innocence is heard.
As survivors of child abuse, our struggle has gained momentum over many decades and evolved with the blood, sweat and tears of both female and male survivors. Male survivors of child abuse have been fortunate that female survivors blazed the trail for both healing and justice for our vandalized childhoods. Male survivors struggle most of all with the issue of vulnerability, and their egos hemorrhage self-esteem.
A conflict rages between the societal definitions of masculine invincibility as it clashes with the innocence forcibly taken from a vulnerable child.
The scandal that rocked the Catholic Church as victims molested by priests came forward began the crack that has caused the demolition of the wall of silence that has protected pedophiles. The psychological blackmail that has kept us voiceless for so long has begun to lose its power. Jerry Sandusky has shown the world what monsters really look like, and the State of Pennsylvania has shown the world what fate they deserve.
The victims of Jerry Sandusky continue to inspire and motivate others who suffer in silence to come forward and become not only survivors but to thrive.
Recently I have caught myself swimming in the jubilation of Jerry Sandusky’s conviction, but there are other moments I have to convince myself it is all not just a dream. As survivors we have finally found a North Star that can lead us down the path to both healing and justice. We placed our collective hope in a group of prosecutors in a courtroom in Bellefonte, Pa., and prayed for an end to silence for all victims. In the end our expectations were not only met but also exceeded when Pennsylvania State Attorney General Linda Kelly and her prosecutors showed us what real heroes look like. Her impassioned speech following the Sandusky verdict has shown all victims they are no longer alone and trapped by silence.
The struggle against child abuse has come a long way and although we may pause with the conviction of Jerry Sandusky there is still work to be done. There has to be a standardized program of education about child abuse in our schools and community outreach programs that educate all responsible adults on how to recognize the signs of child abuse. Parents need to be educated and empowered to help them form the first line of defense against the shattered innocence of child abuse. The statute of limitations regarding victims of child abuse has to be reexamined on a state-by-state basis so victims are not robbed of justice for an eternity.
All organizations involved in the fight against child abuse need to find harmony in their efforts so we speak with one united voice.
We have to make sure that not one more child will suffer the tragedy of stolen dreams and a vandalized childhood, and the echo of lost innocence in the next shower room will no longer remain silent.
My dream is that one day with our collective efforts we will finally bring an end to silence.