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Longtime Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky has been charged with 8 counts of child molestation and two Penn state officials have been charged for not reporting suspected child abuse to police and perjury for lying in a subsequent grand jury investigation. What emerges is a typical case of how adults fail repeatedly to act to protect children when signs are all around them of adult sexual involvement with children. While 8 victims have been identified, Jerry Sandusky’s involvement with at risk boys for over 30 years. What stands out, is how he was repeatedly observed having sex with boys appearing to be as young as 10, by adults who did nothing which stopped it. University officials who learned of these abuses, also did not stop it. No one took the step of reporting it to police. Even a police investigation in which Sandusky admitted to “inappropriate contact” in a shower, had no consequences. It continued for over 10 years more.

Commission Frank Noonan of the Pennsylvania State Police correctly identifies culture as the problem. Important lessons can be drawn from this case showing how our ideas and cultural training about boys, men and sex get in the way of protecting children and actually contribute to allowing and permitting this to happen. I will discuss other information about sexual violence as it particularly affects male victims.

How adults protected a sexually abusive adult instead of the child

In a press release

Commission Frank Noonan of the Pennsylvania State Police details the long culture of denial about sexual abuse of boys at Penn State and how adults protected adults and allowed boys to be abused for years.

He states how :

In 1998 : Jerry Sandusky made admissions during a police investigations to “inappropriate contact” in a shower. Nothing happened to him, and the sexual abuse continued.
In 2000 : Janitors observed a sex act (oral sex in the grand jury report)in the shower room between Sandusky and a child but fearing for their jobs, did not report it.
In 2002 : A graduate assistant reports seeing a sex act (anal sex in the grand jury report) between Sandusky and a child said to appear to be 10 years old, to university officials and again nothing happens. Nothing changes.

Finally, Commissioner Noonan makes the correct assumption that these are not isolated cases. And continues by assuring boys and girls that the police will believe and help them if they have problems like this. And calls on adults who may have knowledge to shoulder their responsibility “as a human being” to call 911 and report their concerns and observations.


Learn the signs. Learn to think, investigate and act!

I believe the solution to this problem involves a change in culture. We need to start seeing child sexual abuse because it is happening everywhere all around each of us. I've heard many people talk about their abuse (I mean child sexual abuse in this diary when I say "abuse") or the abuse of their child and again and again, there are clear signs repeatedly ignored by adults that something was wrong. Adults are so uncomfortable with this possibility they simply "avoid seeing it". Demonizing perpetrators of child sexual abuse ironically serves to make it even more difficult to think about. The perpetrators are often family members, trusted adults or respected community leaders and rarely strangers to the child. It's a separate diary to write about perpetrators, but I encourage you to get to know someone you "have a funny feeling about", who you think might be abusing a child in order to discover what's really going on. Perpetrators are I think best seen as damaged people who must receive specialized help but we have to stop pretending like they don't exist in our lives. In fact, from the best research we have, they are all around us.

Stop It Now has the Warning Signs in Children that should trigger questions and actions in your mind. Also, the Signs in Adults that they may be abusing a child or Behaviors with Children to watch out for.

Teens and children are often sexually abusive to other children and there are signs to notice and follow up on. Frequently they are repeating behavior they learned by being abused by an older person themselves in a "traumatic reenactment". Simply put, they are expressing sexuality like they were taught, but we often prefer to blame them, not their teachers. Again, that's adults protecting adults instead of children.

Responding to these many signs of abuse involves asking questions and careful observation of your reactions and others reactions. These are difficult conversations to have and issues to understand and you  should shoulder your responsibility with the understanding that there is a lot of help. A great idea is to look for help in how to have conversations with adults about your concerns with their interactions with children in a neutral, non-accusatory way when all you have is a "feeling", suspicion or odd remark to go on. Often, it takes a lot of "detective work" to find out more facts appropriate to report to authorities who cannot act because "you feel he's creepy". At some point, police and child protection should take the lead. As commissioner Noonan says, you call 911, but I think the solution is also narrowing the gap between situations where you, me, everyone asks questions and checks it out and professionals with limited time investigate on the record.

To that end, Download and read the "Let's Talk" brochure to see how to have those "difficult conversations". Think about people and children in your life and do a little practice. The trick is to keep the idea of sexual abuse in mind while behaving in an appropriate way. Mostly, that has nothing at all to do with accusations or blunt uncomfortable questions. You might just notice Jeffrey suddenly doesn't want to hug his uncle, and talk to both of them about their relationship. Or he suddenly doesn't like his baby sitter. Get to know how they interact better.

While there would appear to be a certain good old boy network was at work, I don't think this analysis is best. I suspect that analysis is just more comfortable than something that involves ourselves. Rather, it's more the extreme discomfort we have with taboo sex that shuts us down. For example, here at DK, the only other diary about the Penn State cases got 55 comments and 25 recs (if I understand how recs work). While people frequently say things like the crime of child molestation is "the most disgusting", extreme or merits long prison sentences, it also appears it's not gotten much attention here. I submit to you, we all tend to look the other way. Making this about men or protecting your job is easier emotionally but reading the grand jury report, there are numerous signs people observed that could have been acted on without risking anything.  Outside of that, I believe many people (all genders) saw signs that could have lead to more information about this, and eventual reporting. While 8 victims are identified, Sandusky was involved with youth for 30 years. Again, this isn't about a few bad men. It's about how our culture fails to protect children.

Sandusky's 1998 admission to police of acting inappropriately is interesting in suggesting he might have been responsive to discussing his behavior with children. I wonder what conditions prompted that admission as well as why police didn't act. Often people assume molesters would never disclose their activities so there's no point talking to them. I don't believe that's true, nor helpful. Often I hear molesters are conflicted or of a dual mind about their behavior and would talk to someone they trusted. This of course would be part of how we could intervene to protect a child and nothing to do with become silent or complicit.

I'll now say a bit about male victims of sexual violence:

Truth

1 in 6 boys
Approximately 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before age 16.Recognize what this means. You know lots of men who were abused and suffer the effects if you know many men at all. They just aren't talking about it. Similarly, you know boys who are, or who are going to be abused. You could learn to spot it with some effort, and save them a lifetime of lonely struggle. I might add, the (mostly female) partners of male victims suffer a kind of vicarious victimization when the unrecognized effects play out in his relationship. I've heard many women struggle to understand their husbands when he is silently struggling with a history of childhood sexual abuse.

Men and women respond similarly to sexual violence but express it in ways typical of their gender. The harm is the same.

All my reading and work with men has proven to me that men are severely effected by sexual violence as children and adults (and both). Men are socialized to always act strong and deny vulnerability, but just because they don't talk about it doesn't mean it's not happening, or they aren't suffering. We are more comfortable seeing alcoholism, depression or anger/rage in men and boys and avoid seeing the root cause when it's sexual violence victimization.

These are acts of violence and not sex.

Calling them sex degrades what sex should be, and normalizes violence. Sex is consensual, playful, affectionate, empathetic.

Men can have difficulty knowing and expressing their consent to sex just like women do.

Again, it has an expression typical of their gender. Men tend to think all sex is good for them because our culture tells them that's what they are like.

Knowledge and understanding of male victims of sexual violence is decades behind that of female victims.

That does not mean it doesn’t happen. I like to point out that we can understand sexual violence issues for male victims, if we look back to about 1960 in the women's anti-rape movement. There are a growing number of men who are becoming aware and able to speak out like myself. Most are cannot.  

A lot we just don't know

There are a lot of good questions about sexual violence that do not have answers. Or have partial answers (limited, or conflicting evidence). We weaken our progress stopping sexual violence when we create certainty where it’s doesn't exist.

Myths

Abuse doesn’t happen to men and boys (much).

This is controversial and provocative, but I believe it quite possible than about as many men are raped in the US as women. Perhaps some time I will attempt to make that case, but honestly, it's quite unknown. It's very difficult to know in part because it is so shameful to men (they won't disclose), so unwelcome an admission, so lacking in research. Statistics are not complete. The FBI is only now including penetration of males in the definition of rape, etc. Prison rape is rarely considered but the justice department studies show About 80,000 men per year in US prisons and jails. Plus juvenile detentions. Plus the "free population". Plus military assaults. Newsweek reported that Last year nearly 50,000 male veterans screened positive for “military sexual trauma” at the Department of Veterans Affairs Those numbers add up to a large fraction of estimates of female victims of rape. Still, we are not trying to ration sympathy or decide who merits our concern. Again, certainty is lacking except to say this is a scourge on humanity we must confront and eliminate. We all suffer directly and indirectly.

Ok, so it happens, but it doesn’t hurt men like it hurts women. Men and boys always want and like sex.

Wrong. Men and boys may say that in compliance to their gender role, but it doesn't play out. I believe the harm is best thought of as equivalent though not exactly the same. Here's more.

Abused boys grow up to be molesters.

Also known as "The vampire theory". This is extremely stigmatizing and silencing to male victims. It's horrifying to be seen as a perpetrator and this belief, or suspicion is pretty common. There is no evidence that this is true generally. Honestly, there is conflicting research in this question. Here's a longer answer


Or become gay. Or it happens because they really are gay.

Again, this is violence not consensual sex. I hate homophobia in the context of a man trying to figure out what his abusive past means because it just makes it so much more difficult. People are gay because they choose that identity based on their own free understanding of themselves. No one "makes you gay". Especially not by force.

Women don’t abuse children sexually.

Various studiesand clinicians report about 20% to 40% of abused men report female perpetrators: aunts, babysitters, mothers, girlfriends of brothers, etc. Lack of awareness of this reinforces how hard it is for men to be believed, taken seriously and helped when the perpetrator is female.

Women can’t assault or rape adult men.

While uncommon, this certainly happens. While men are generally stronger, they also freeze in fear just as women do. Fighting back isn't what matters for anyone. It's about consenting: knowing what you want, communication and agreement. There was the brave diary at DK a while back of an adult male assaulted by a female titledI was raped But it Doesn't matter.  I have heard other stories like this where men froze in fear and were assaulted by women. Often I suspect prior experience in childhood leads to a freeze response to sexual aggression. Men often have to counter the expectation that they should have fought off their attacker if they didn't actually want it.

Complications of sexual violence for males

Various issues show up to complicate the situation for male victims:

Much less likely to be believed, taken seriously or helped. Lack of resources. Discomfort with men as a victim or “weak”.

Generally, men face an uphill battle being believed. Frequently I hear them talk about having once disclosed to someone, either as a child or adult, and not being believed or taken seriously. They then go silent for sometimes many, many years before talking again. Experienced therapists and support groups are harder to find as well.

Male sexual response during abuse is very confusing to boys

Boys experience erection and ejaculation as a physiologic response, even in frightening or painful situations. It's not voluntary. Rapists, abusers of children or the victim himself will often see it as proof "he wanted it", or "enjoyed it". Many boys feel intense confusion, shame and guilt because they experienced arousal or pleasure while being abused.

When the abuser is same sex, it creates fears of being suspected of being gay. When the abuser is opposite sex, it creates great confusion that something harmful even happened.

Again, seeing this as sex confuses the issue. The issue is violence and force.

A testimonial

I was interviewed by media to provide a victim's perspective on some reporting on this story. I was molested by older men twice in childhood and had other experiences of sexual violence that have had big impacts on my life. I speak out now and advocate for male victims leading a support group and raising awareness.

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