When the Jerry Sandusky story broke in November, I was driving into work and the radio station I typically listen to (fun, entertaining, raunchy kind of schtick) was discussing Penn State. And I remember one of the disk jockeys making a statement that this "sickens him" and he "just wanted to be done with it."
When I got to my office, I shot off the following email to the whole morning team:
Subject: I know you're uncomfortable and want to stop talking about it - RE: Penn StateImmediately thereafter, I opened up a word document and typed in "I am the face of child sexual abuse."
But those feelings of uneasiness and wanting to “make it go away” are the very reasons children continue to be sexually abused.
“Not in my family” “There’s no way he/she would do that” “I can’t imagine him/her ever hurting a child” The uneasiness, sickening feeling you’re experiencing in the pit of your stomach, engages the self-preservation mode of “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” People begin questioning themselves “did I really see that?” or “am I imagining things” and because it puts them in this awful space of unease, they want to ignore it and make it go away. This the very reason child sexual abuse continues to occur. Every day. Because people don’t want to deal with it.
My abuser was an authority figure (grandfather) who sexually assaulted me beginning at age 5 and continued until age 13. And the only reason he was able to continue his abuse was because people (grandmother, mother, father, brother) were too uncomfortable to speak up. I was a child. In my world, the world that I knew, this was “normal” - I didn’t know anything else. How could I? If one person would have spoken up…said this isn’t right…they could have saved the other little girls who came after me…my sister, my cousin and who knows how many others.
And while many in your audience want this to simply go away - for the victims, for me, it never goes away. I’m 43 now – 30 years past the last time he raped me. But it still can bring me to my knees and cripple me if I let it. My heart breaks for these young boys. Because I know their suffering. If one person had spoken up, their lives would have been infinitely different. If one person had said “what are you doing?” they could have saved that child’s life, or the next child from ever being touched. The little girl I was died. He killed who I was supposed to be. And while today I am successful, married, have two children, a B.A. Literature/B.S. Business, working on my MBA, I still live with self-doubt, trust-issues, sex issues, betrayal, fear, feelings of disgust about myself, blame…it doesn’t just go away like this news story eventually will.
So when you said today you wanted to be done with this – so do I. But I don’t get that luxury. And neither do those little boys – they will live with what THEY (Sandusky, McQuery, Paterno, Schultz, Spanier, anyone and everyone who saw something odd and didn’t say anything) these boys will live with what all of these people did to them for the rest of their lives. It changed who they were meant to be. Forever.
Thanks for reading –
What poured out was my response to the alleged pedophilia and suspected cover-up at Penn State that too closely mirrored my own childhood. When I was finished, I sent it to a few friends, one of which worked for a local news agency, asking them how to go about getting it published. I had never written anything before and had no idea.
It was the first time I had spoken of my childhood abuse publicly.
Within the hour I was contacted by a local news station to share my story on air and a producer for Anderson Cooper's daytime talk show emailed and asked me to fly to NY to be on his show Monday.
As I was driving home, considering my options, I was listening to the Dr. Laura show on Sirius Stars. While my article was entitled "I am the face of child sexual abuse" I didn't necessarily want to be "the face" - wasn't sure if I wanted to go that public. So I dialed her number to ask her simply if I was to go on - how do you go on TV to talk about something so personal and so troubling without completely losing it. I figured she was a professional and could give me some tips.
She asked if I had the article with me - I said yes and the rest, as they say is history - I read my article, she taped it, invited me back the next day 11/11/11...
A Link to the Interview I did on Dr. Laurais here and a transcript of my article follows the jump:
I am the face of child sexual abuse
And this is the face of my abuser.
He was my grandfather. “Paw-Paw” sexually abused me from age 5 to 13. And people knew.
The events unfolding at Penn State involving the sexual abuse of children and subsequent cover-up has awoken that little 5-year-old girl who deserved to be protected, who deserved a childhood, who deserved to live, who deserved for someone to say something to make it stop – as did all of the victims of this sexual deviant at Penn State.
The sexual abuse of a child not only takes away their innocence, it takes away their life, because who that child was supposed to be is forever changed. And while we don’t carry scars that you can see, they are there. Internal, emotional scars, filled with trust and betrayal issues, fear and anger, loss; sometimes we are unable to find value in ourselves as human beings because we were once just objects used to satisfy someone’s abnormal sexual desires. Once we are old enough to realize that what our abusers did to us isn’t right, we begin to think that maybe we had no worth, because no one protected us, no one stood up for us, no one cared.
Used and discarded, we are left to seek out “love” and “value” in the only way we know how, through sexual behaviors that aren’t rooted in real relationships. We don’t know how to have relationships because we can never trust anyone fully. The relationships we counted on as children failed us. No one stood up for us. No one protected us. No one spoke up.
Because child sexual abuse is taboo, it makes people feel uncomfortable. And it is this uncomfortable feeling that leaves the door open for the abuse to continue. The incredulous thoughts of “not in my family, not him, not her, no way he or she could do that” make people question what they actually saw, or makes them doubt what they know is true. Because it is such a gut-wrenching notion to imagine a child being raped by an adult, people would rather rationalize it than deal with it. They would rather it just go away than have to face it. Our mental self-preservation mode kicks in and we try not to think about such awful, monstrous acts on a child.
Already, just a few days into this news story, there are articles, reporters and radio hosts saying they just want to be done with it. It makes them so uncomfortable that they just want it to go away. But for us, for the little kids who suffered the heinous acts of child sexual abuse, this never goes away. In a way, we welcome this conversation and want it to continue. It is the only way that some will listen. That little 5-year old girl is screaming at the top of her lungs for you to help her – if it doesn’t look right, if it doesn’t feel right – go with your gut – say something, do something, anything. Don’t just walk away because it makes you uncomfortable. Don’t sweep it under the rug because you don’t want to embarrass the family or the team or the university.
Children cannot protect themselves. It is our duty to keep them safe. Speak up. I would rather say something and be uncomfortable, than say nothing and risk losing another child. No matter what, always protect the child. If any of those involved had said something, they would be hailed a hero. Instead, they turned a blind eye. In my opinion, they are no better than the perpetrator himself.