Jerry Sandusky case: What about the victims?

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When I look at the pictures of Jerry Sandusky, when I read about the boys he assaulted – including his own adoptive son – I see Sandusky’s sense of entitlement, his need for power and control, his lack of empathy, and specially his refusal to take responsibility for his actions. Not surprising. These are exactly the characteristics of a sexual crook.

And, frankly, when I find no sign of remorse or even a little shame in his facial expression, the mother in me can’t help but loathe him. Thankfully, he was found guilty and will pay in jail for his dreadful crimes.

Hopefully, this case will teach some lessons to all of us.

Still, there is a part of me that feels an ounce of pity for Sandusky. Even though the news does not report on it, I make out that Sandusky’s deviant sexual behavior, which he tried to minimize, is probably the product of a troubled childhood.

  • Sexual offenders are not born perverts

Dr. William C. Holmes of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that when boys who suffered sexual abuse are not treated, they are 40 percent more likely to become abusers as adults.

Is sexual abuse in this country sporadic? Unfortunately, no. And the consequences for the individual, the family and the society at large are worrisome.

According to JAMA reports, a national survey of men aged 18 and older found that 16 percent had a history of sexual abuse.

Victim of sexual abuse

When boys who suffered sexual abuse are not treated, they are 40 percent more likely to become abusers as adults.

A National Institute of Justice study also found that being a victim of abuse increased the odds of future delinquency and adult criminality overall by 40 percent.

At least a fifth of all children who were sexually abused develop serious long-term emotional and mental disturbances, according to the American Medical Association.
A devastating experience for children.

I commend the victims who came forth and denounced this monster. I read some of their heart-wrenching accounts and can feel their pain for keeping such terrible secret. I can relate to all of their confusion, shame and guilt.

Sexual abuse is such a devastating experience that it can tear the individual’s personality into pieces. Adult survivors of sexual abuse may suffer from a dissociative identity disorder, in which two or more separate and distinct personalities control the individual’s behavior.

If the mind – as a defense – can’t remember the abuse, the body will still carry the memories, which may be elicited by touch, exposure of the body during medical exams or experiencing situations resembling the original trauma.

Conditions linked to sexual abuse range from low self-esteem, to sexual dysfunction and include eating disorders, chronic depression or borderline personality disorder. Stockholm syndrome, where the victim bonds with their abuser is not uncommon.

  • Parents of victimized children: Rage, shame, guilt, denial

At the same time that Sandusky was in trial, a 23 year-old father in Texas was being judged for killing Jesus Mora Flores after he caught him molesting his four-year-old daughter. The jury chose not to indict him, finding that he had the right to stop a sexual assault. He could stop the abuser and express his rage. Deplorably, it cost a life. However, most parents can’t protect their child.

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Children usually don’t have the ability to freely express their feelings after experiencing victimization, but their parents also often lack the ability to recognize the signs of what is happening.

For children who come forth and tell what happened, it could be twice as devastating to find that their parents won’t believe them.

Parents have trouble accepting that something terrible has happened because they feel they were supposed to protect them and prevent them from harm.

But also, in an adult-oriented society, authority figures tend to side with other authority figures. Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno and the university authorities, to which he reported, washed their hands 10 years ago when an assistant coach reported Sandusky’s inappropriate behavior in the showers.

Knowing that our child was a victim of sexual abuse is painful to accept. We go into denial and then rage as normal defense mechanisms preventing our mind from going nuts.

But also because we often tend to see children as unreliable, or imaginative, it’s not unlikely that the first reaction from a parent listening to an abuse story will be disbelief. It could not have happened to our child, or the way the child told, they might be exaggerating, it’s impossible…

  • Sandusky assaulted the whole nation

Jerry Sandusky trial

When I find no sign of remorse or even a little shame in Jerry Sandusky’s facial expressions, the mother in me can’t help but loathe him. (Centre Daily Times, Nabil K. Mark/AP Photo)

How to support parents and children who had faith in their “hero?” They saw Sandusky as a respectable coach; parents thought they could entrust their children to his care.

Jerry Sandusky defrauded the children, the parents and the whole nation. Worse. The authorities that knew about this could have prevented Sandusky from committing further crimes.

How can Sandusky’s victims trust again?

Victimized children already have enough trouble trying to understand why their parents didn’t see it coming, or couldn’t sense something terrible had happened to them. Children want their parents to know without having to tell.

  • Early signs

Maybe this terrible episode will raise awareness among coaches, teachers, parents and health care professionals helping them recognize the early symptoms of abuse so that children could be assisted.

Many children victims of sexual abuse display symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They experience chronic states of arousal, can’t sleep well; they may also experience nightmares and flashbacks and can become withdrawn and passive.

We all need to be on the alert if we see children under our care suddenly changing their behavior or school performance, or if we see them having trouble concentrating or startling easily, always thinking that something bad is about to happen.

The Rape, Abuse and Incest Network (RAINN) stated after Sandusky’s verdict,  “This verdict shows the country that when allegations of such abuse are brought to light, they will be taken seriously and that a just outcome is possible.”

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