The first time he touched me “down there,” I was 5 years old. I cannot remember the exact words he used, but the message was clear: This was our secret, one I couldn’t share with anyone, not even my mother. I carried the secret locked away inside, where no one could find it, but the secret grew with me over the years, eventually becoming too big to contain.
Throughout the Jerry Sandusky, Penn State, Joe Paterno scandal there’s been little talk of the victims. When I finally found the courage to tell my mother, the words were too sharp and painful to speak, so I wrote these words in the smallest letters possible, “I’ve been sexually abused.” I slid the note under my mother’s door, my shaking legs unable to carry me to her. Once the paper disappeared, the fear of my secret being out sent me running down the hall to the safety of my room.
There aren’t words strong enough to explain what it’s like to live with a painful secret for years and the fear you feel when you finally share it. My mother said all the right things, but her words were no match for the shame and pain created by years of abuse. A child never fully recovers from abuse, never forgets. Adults are entrusted with the care of minors those that abuse or misuse that trust will never understand the damage they have done.
A court of law will determine the guilt or innocence of Jerry Sandusky and others involved in the Penn State case. Unfortunately, longtime Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno passed away shortly after the university fired him. The damage to the reputation of Paterno and Penn State is immeasurable; the damage to a victim of child abuse is greater.
No one knew of my abuse, so I wasn’t betrayed by inaction. Had my mother or another adult in my life known about my abuse, it would have stopped instead of continuing for years. As the Jerry Sandusky case continues, let’s not forget the young men brave enough to tell their story and face their alleged abuser.
This story isn’t about Penn State University, that’s merely the location where the story took place; this is about adults who simply didn’t do enough. If a larger than life figure like Joe Paterno wouldn’t protect the alleged young victims, then who would?
It’s understandable for children to fear speaking up against their abuser, there is no excuse for adults. Authorities at Penn State put the well-being of their school before that of children whose care they were entrusted with, and that is inexcusable.