Living here in central Pennsylvania, I have been witness (of a very limited degree) of the damage that has been wrought by former football coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky has been accused of 40 counts of child abuse of young boys. The Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier, Penn State president of 16 years, have been fired. Many others, including the children themselves, are involved.
I have read countless articles, letters, editorials and blog rants for the last two weeks. I’m sure there is more to come. Far more. Most people here feel anger. Anger toward Sandusky. Anger toward Paterno and Spanier. Anger at the entire school. And, no doubt, among all of these people, at least one person is angry at the victims. Perhaps more. If they hadn’t come forward, then the Penn State game plan would have remained the same.
I most definitely am not advocating for the silence of the victims. What they are doing – the ones that are coming forward – is extremely difficult. They are not coming forward to enjoy their moment in the sun of toppling beloved heroes. They are coming forward to put an alleged rapist behind bars, and to make sure this does not happen to other children. There will be no fun in this for them. No glory. No matter what the result of this awful situation, these children will always be resented by some for coming forward in the first place.
I am unable to put myself into the shoes of these victims. I have not been raped or molested by an adult as a child. But these last two weeks have brought up memories of my younger years that at least give me a glimpse into their fear and pain.
This past year, two “beloved” men from my hometown passed away. The local papers carried stories about what these men had done for their communities. How they would dedicate their lives to friends and family. Links and letters flooded my Facebook page. Memorials. Dedications. Testimonials. I had nothing to offer. Why would I speak out negatively about these men? Wouldn’t make me the most popular visitor in my hometown this Thanksgiving would it?
The most recent death was of a man who was a friend back in high school. Big guy. Former football player. Loved the ladies. Perhaps most of the ladies loved him back. I had no problem with him back in school. After I went off to college and came home during summer breaks, the phone calls began. Perhaps he thought he was being sexy. Perhaps he thought I liked the attention. I let him know that the calls were not sexy and I did not like that kind of attention. I can’t remember the conversations word for word. But if I had saved all of the notes, I could have. I began writing down every word he spoke, just in case I needed this information for the police. Would he bother to come to my house and do the very things he spoke of doing? He didn’t. But at the time I had no idea if he would “drop by” or not. The calls dropped off somewhat when I went back to college, but the following summer they picked up again. I did mention telling my parents and calling the police. He gruffly advised me not to. I wondered if I had enough information to warrant a call to the police. Finally, I convinced him that I was married to a very jealous man (which I wasn’t). After a few more phone calls (from him to me, of course), I managed to stop the calls. The worry, however, was still there.
Earlier this year, a coach from my junior high school died of cancer. Newspaper stories told of how he would help children. If there were a girl from a broken family who needed help, his family would take her in. The papers had a never-ending supply of stories of his charitable actions. Facebook revealed a river of adulation flowing toward this man. I’m not doubting that he wasn’t loved. I wouldn’t say that that all of his actions were done with an undertone of sexual harassment. I would say that how he treated me, back in middle school, would be labeled sexual harassment. Toward a 13-year-old. Not good.
He would comment on my body, when nobody else could hear, of course. Parts of me were disgusted. But parts of me, those parts of an insecure 13-year-old that need attention, were flattered. No thoughts went through my head about reporting this to the principal. I’m not even sure I thought of going to the principal that day he lured me into the equipment closet, turned off the light, and “offered” to touch those parts of me that had developed way too soon. He was close, but I do not think he actually touched me. I mustered up all of my courage and told him if he did touch me, I would scream and the entire gymnasium would hear me. He believed me. The lights came on and he opened the door. From then on, he acted as if we had a good little private joke going on and weren’t we having just a bit of naughty fun keeping a secret together. These last two weeks, I’ve wondered if he kept other naughty little secrets with other young girls.
What would have happened if I had spoken up? Would anyone have believed me over our beloved, jovial coach? Did he go to his grave with a smile on his face about the things he said or did to young girls?
If I had mentioned this to anyone during my life, and they had been determined to defend the coach, could they have managed to convince me that I may have misinterpreted his words and actions? Could they have caused me to doubt myself? Maybe. Maybe not. But I’m willing to believe that I could have been convinced to keep quiet about it. I could have been convinced that no one would believe me or that if I told I would become an outcast.
The young boys, now grown men, that were abused by Jerry Sandusky have been victims for 10 to 20 years. Even if all involved with their abuse are convicted or punished, they will still be victims. At the selfish touch of one sick man, these boys have become victims forever.
While something astonishingly awful has happened here at Penn State, we must remember this type of crime did not originate here. It is not the only place in the world where this has occurred or is occurring right now. If a child shamefully whispers about inappropriate behavior from an adult, we need to listen. We also need to remember that a child might be too embarrassed to tell. Let’s let our children know what behavior is inappropriate, and if they feel something is not right among the adults (or other children) in their world that they can speak up.
It is way too easy and way to hard to be a victim.