Tearing down the wall of silence: Victims of child sex abuse speak out


WASHINGTON, November 27, 2011—The world of college sports had been thrown off balance by recent allegations of sexual abuse against Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State University. Sandusky is accused of having inappropriate sexual contact with young boys he met through the “Second Mile” charity he founded in 1977, and using the athletic facilities at Penn State as a haven for his abusive actions.

Since the release of the grand jury report on November 4 of this year, a growing list of victims have come forward to speak of their abuse by Sandusky. The most recent accusations have come from one of his own grandchildren.

Allegations of sexual abuse first rocked the Catholic Church beginning in 2002 and the reverberations from this scandal placed a crack in the wall of silence that has imprisoned victims for many years. Accusations have recently surfaced against Bernie Fine an assistant basketball coach at Syracuse University and a Citadel summer camp counselor.

The Penn State scandal has begun the demolition of the wall of silence surrounding pedophilia, and like the liberation of East Germany, those victims of childhood sexual abuse now have a fighting chance to find justice for stolen childhoods and vandalized dreams.
As victims of childhood molestation boys face significant and unique barriers in reporting what they intuitively know is inappropriate behavior. Approximately 1,460 children died in 2005 due to child abuse or neglect. Seventy-nine percent of these children were under the age of 4 years old.

Statistically one in eight males are a victim of abuse and a child has to tell seven adults of suspected abuse before he or she is taken seriously. The male ego is conditioned by society with an aversion to weakness, and the crime of molestation incites a lifelong hemorrhage of self esteem that can become fatal if not treated. Rates of suicide among male victims of childhood sexual abuse are 14 times higher than the norm and they are 38 times more likely to die from a drug overdose.

Male victims are also prone to more aggressive behavior than female victims. A male victim is 53% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile compared to others and 38% more likely to be arrested for violent crime as an adult. Victims face a lifetime battle with depression, anger, addiction and possibly suicide and the cost to society is the loss of a productive individual who could have changed the world if it were not for their victimization. Society also bears the cost of providing Mental Health Services and incarceration for those who resort to crime.

I have a unique perspective on this issue because as a boy of three years old I became a victim of physical and then sexual abuse that lasted for years. I was molested and then trafficked sexually for seven years by a man who seduced my mother and then used me as a sex object. Born to a teenage mother who lacked the maturity to adequately care for a child I became unwanted baggage that attracted anger at the burden I imposed. Married at seventeen and divorced at twenty my mother banned my biological father from contact after his physical abuse of her.

Forced to move with Grandparents who cultivated a culture of dysfuctionality while my mother often disappeared for days at a time. I was left at the mercy of my Grandfather whose angry outbursts left me scarred from beatings that drew blood at every instance. My mother spent her life in a dysfuctional haze stumbling through a succession of failed relationships and marriages that invited the abuse I suffered into my life.

I have battled the wounds inflicted by my mothers irresponsibility my entire life and struggled with depression. More well known male survivors of childhood sexual abuse include James Dean, Carlos Santana, Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Connolly, John Peel and Massachusetts senator Scott Brown.

Pedophiles are masters of disguise and span social class and ethnicity. They are pillars of the community and use that position as a shield from public scrutiny. On the average those convicted of sexually abusing a child serve less than a year of jail time and 32% to 46% serve no jail time at all.

The world of dysfunction is their hunting grounds and they manipulate their victims with kindness and caring forming an bond absent in the child’s life. Emotional blackmail is the most effective tool in the Pedophile’s arsenal. They target and isolate a child of dysfunction and shower them with the affection that their lives have been severely lacking. Once their victim has been sufficiently conditioned the Pedophile begins a series of inappropriate touching or other behavior that escalates. A fragile sense of self worth is exploited to coerce the child into participation and silence.

Jerry Sandusky is alleged to have used the charity he founded in 1977, “The Second Mile Foundation,” as a dysfucntional shopping mart for victims. Allegations were leveled against him in 1998 by an 11 year old boy who said Sandusky had inappropriate contact with him in the shower of Penn State’s athletic facility. An investigation by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and University Police evaporated with Sandusky promising not to do it again.

The hard fact is unless there are credible adult witnesses who are willing to testify or video evidence the prosecution of a pedophile is like ice skating uphill. The brave few who speak out find themselves further victimized by the persona of the pedophile, cultivated to disguise their true nature. Supporters flock to their defense vouching for their unimpeachable character.

A thief prefers stealth over discovery and the act of stealing someone’s innocence is done with skill unrivaled by any criminal. Victims and their supporters are subjected to immense pressure to retreat to a world of invisible suffering and that has to become unacceptable in a society based on each voice being heard. Sheer numbers can sometimes overcome the obstacles to reports of abuse being taken seriously as in the case of those abused by Priests.

However, the process of giving testimony reopens deep wounds and throws victims into a tailspin when they are forced to relive such a traumatic event. In playing the “Devil’s Advocate” I am sure there are accusations that can be unfounded but that is why we need a credible and unbiased investigation of abuse claims by an organization with no ties to the alleged perpetrator that has credibility with survivor networks, Mental Health Professionals and Law Enforcement.

Another important issue is that of the abused becoming the abuser. It is the typical defense strategy of any pedophile who faces imminent prosecution. Jerry Sandusky’s lawyers probably already have this story in place for use at trial. The bottom line is that you cannot justify the monstrosity of abuse by repeating it.

Jewish victims of the Holocaust did not round Nazi’s up and subject them to the horrors they experienced. They transformed their horror into something constructive and allowed their persecutors to be tried by a War Crimes Tribunal. The majority of sexual abuse survivors find the notion of victimizing a child so offensive they would rather die than repeat the same violence done to them.
So trying to win sympathy after you have stolen someone’s childhood away and doomed them to endure a personal hell their entire life by saying you were abused is like putting a fire out with gasoline.

I am no longer embarrassed by the fact that I was molested and trafficked sexually as a child, though for a long time I was. I was ashamed that I allowed it to happen to me because in my own mind I didn’t process how vulnerable I was as a child, until I had my own children. Having them has been the single most healing experience of my life and with the help of a gifted therapist I have learned to accept happiness into my life.

However, there are many languishing in the adverse effects of victimization by predators exploiting their dysfunctional circumstances. Alone and suffering due a lack of health care coverage or trapped in an over medicated haze by a system that prays at the altar of the drug companies many choose suicide as an end to their pain.

To effect change the voice of the abused is only effective when buttressed by those who support and care for them and it is only through their voice that things will change. There has been a groundswell of support since the revelations of abuse in the Catholic Church and organizations such as Male Survivor and RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network are bringing those who have been sexually abused together.

Victims of childhood molestation now have a model for change in the way society sees them. Starting with the revelations of abuse by priests in the Catholic Church and progressing to the allegations against Penn State Coach Jerry Sandusky victims have the chance to incite their own “Arab spring.”

The tide is now rising in States like California where Sen. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego has introduced new legislation. It would require coaches at higher learning institutions both public and private to have the same legal responsibilities as doctors and therapists in reporting instances of abuse. It would also increase penalties fir those who “willfully fail” to report abuse.

The states of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey have seen a significant increase in reports of child abuse since the allegations against Sandusky became public.

It is only by the courage of sheer numbers that the system can be changed permanently and what we are seeing now is a gathering crowd in the Tahrir Square of humanity’s conscience and a rising voice for change.


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Jerome Elam
Jerome Elam is a survivor of child sex trafficking, child abuse, and child pornography. He is also the child of an alcoholic and a child survivor of domestic violence as well as a child of divorce. Raised in the south, Jerome enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at the age of seventeen to escape the nightmare he had become trapped in. That day, Jerome’s life found a new beginning as he embarked upon a journey that would show him the world and open his eyes to the strength of the human spirit. After his enlistment was finished, Jerome attended college and graduated to work in the Biotechnology sector. Motivated by the painful memory of his past, Jerome began to speak out about his abuse and found the healing force of God’s unconditional love and the joy of starting his own family. He is a fierce advocate for all children deprived of their voices, a speaker, a Staff Writer and Columnist for Communities Digital News and a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. When asked to describe his life Jerome says,” I have struggled against many things in my life and somehow I found a way to survive. Writing is my passion and it keeps me in touch with the wealth everyone holds deep inside their hearts and minds. I share my experiences in the hope that those suffering in silence will find the courage to speak out and share their voices. I have been blessed to have God reveal his purpose for me in saving innocent children from predators.”