My Stories: Stacy M.

 

It seems that I can’t turn on a news program lately without hearing discussions about the Penn State University child sexual abuse scandal. Nor does it seem that I can browse the pages of this newspaper without finding several stories weekly about child pornography and pedophiles. It feels very much like we have reached a turning point as a society where we are beginning to become educated and speak openly about childhood sexual abuse, the perpetrators and victims and the psychology and complexity behind all of it. Sadly, the sexual abuse of children is far more common than most of us ever thought (I’ve read that one in four girls and one in five boys will be a victim of sexual assault by the time they are 18 years old) and by the time a child molester is caught, he has already victimized an average of 117 children. The good news is that these crimes are coming out of the shadows and hopefully as a society we will become less tolerant and more aware of how this happens and how to recognize and prevent it.

The Jerry Sandusky sex abuse accusations coincidentally have taken over the airwaves as I await the trial or sentencing of my daughter’s molester and the spotlight that has been put on these crimes has shown so many similarities between these two perpetrators, as well as others in the news. My daughter’s molester was her step-father for a little over a decade and if you would have asked me as recently as two years ago if he were capable of sexually abusing a child, I would have said absolutely not. He was educated, had helped in the raising of some of his younger siblings and his three biological children whose mother is a seemingly smart, professional woman, a doting and protective mother and certainly wouldn’t have knowingly raised children with a pedophile – nor would I. But we did. One of the detectives working on this case that specializes in helping child sex abuse victims worked with an officer for about eight years and was shocked when it was revealed that he was in possession of child pornography. Another detective specializing in internet child porn cases once had to arrest his next-door neighbor for these crimes – a person who had sat at his own dinner table and shared a meal with his family. That’s one of the scariest things about these predators – they are master manipulators and usually have everyone in their lives fooled. They are puppet masters, creating scenarios to get close to their prey and keeping others from unveiling their dark secrets. Jerry Sandusky started a charity for underage boys from dysfunctional families who were very easy prey for him. A recent local molestation story involved a man who ran a day care – a situation where parents literally handed his victims over to him. There was also a Pattee Canyon campground host who molested at least four little girls. Camping is a situation where kids run with a bit more freedom than usual and the opportunities were likely abundant for that predator. I remember my daughter’s molester telling me on more than one occasion that before being with me, he would often see young mothers and their children in grocery stores and always felt like that’s what he wanted for himself – a young woman with little kids. I had no idea that it was likely the children that appealed to him, not their mothers.

Watching an interview with the mother of one of Sandusky’s victims and hearing her talk about how her son told her that Jerry was a “weirdo” but she was unable to mentally make the leap and recognize that he was a molester was eerily similar to my situation. My daughter, at age seven or eight, told me one day that she didn’t want her step-father to give her a massage anymore. I asked her when he had given her a massage and if it hurt her or was uncomfortable. She said it was uncomfortable and, hearing our discussion, the step-father jumped in and said, “What? What is she saying to you?” I told him what she had said and my little girl looked at him and said, “I don’t want you to do that anymore”. He chuckled and said, “Ok. I’ve never been very good at giving massages.” That was it – a very defining moment because my little girl thought that she had communicated that something wasn’t right, I failed to make the mental leap that a bad massage meant that this man that I knew and trusted was a pedophile, and he took control. He had been starting the grooming process with her by increasingly expanding where and how he touched her, beginning with simply massaging her back but reaching just a bit further each time. I’ve recently learned that the next time he did that to her back then, he told her (in true pedophile fashion), “Don’t tell anyone, you almost got me in trouble last time.” For the next several years (until she was 14), my daughter lived in a cycle of bribery, confusion and blurry memories of waking up to this man fondling her. There’s no way of knowing what she, or other potential victims of his slept through or were too young to remember.

There were lots of arguments between him and me over the years because he favored my daughter over my son, giving her gifts and lots of extra attention. He claimed that it was because he had grown up with only brothers and always said, “Little girls are special – I always made sure my own daughter had nice things.” I struggled to figure out why my daughter had such a hard time concentrating in school and received average grades despite her obvious intelligence. He often blamed it on the absence of her biological father, though I’ve since learned that inability to focus in school is very common among sexual abuse victims. Over the years, I suffered from anxiety and a constant nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right, but allowed my spouse to convince me that those feelings were my fault and that I was insecure and paranoid.

This man, like Jerry Sandusky, had good long-time friends, worked full time and was loved by his own children. There were many good times over the years – camping trips with all of our kids, birthdays, graduations and lots of sporting events. Never in a million years would I have guessed that things would end the way they did. It was as if the man I trusted and loved had two identities living in one body. That seems to be the realization with which people who know a pedophile must come to terms – these people can compartmentalize their two halves in a way that seems impossible. This man was a co-worker to many, an employee to some, a good friend and confidant to others. He was a father, a son, a brother and the majority of people who knew him would have described him as a good guy. We all hate pedophiles and child molesters in theory, but it’s a difficult journey to wrap your mind around the fact that you already know and maybe even love one. I’ve learned from several experts that pedophiles develop their attraction to small children (some prefer boys, others prefer girls) in their teen years and a huge majority of them were sexually abused themselves.

The road to getting caught for most of these molesters is long and rocky, as they will do anything to protect their secret. I spent the final year and a half with my daughter’s molester getting into arguments and defending myself against his delusions. Reintroducing alcohol into his life after many years of sobriety made it very difficult for him to maintain his two separate identities and his façade crumbled. Fearing his secret coming out and knowing that I wanted out of the relationship due to his drinking, he went on the offensive attempting to preemptively discredit me in the event that I learned the truth. He accused me of cheating on him with one man, then four or five, then dozens. Ugly fights occurred in front of my children and when I left him, he spread his delusions and lies among his family members portraying himself as a victim who had been cheated on then abandoned. That’s when it began to click. I remembered how he had told me similar things about another woman long ago – tales of infidelity and abuse, painting a picture of himself as a victim. I remembered him ranting many years prior about the fact that he felt that he hadn’t had any privacy and always felt under suspicion – essentially laying the groundwork for me to give him space and not question his behavior. These were the same things he was saying about me now, that I cheated, was abusive to him and snooped into his private business.

On Thanksgiving 2010, he sent my daughter a text attacking my character and that was the final straw for her. She told me that night that she remembered several times waking up to him touching her over the years. She said that the last time he did it, she was 14 years old. I confronted him about it and he claimed that one time, in his sleep, something may have accidentally happened. My daughter insisted that it wasn’t one time and it wasn’t an accident – she remembered him molesting her on several occasions over many years. I discussed the situation with my therapist and, following his guidance, we discussed these things with child protective services and then the police. This is one of the things about childhood sexual abuse that many people don’t understand. Why didn’t she say something sooner? Why are so many of Jerry Sandusky’s victims coming forward now, many years after the crimes occurred and after others were victimized? That’s all a part of the complex psychology of this kind of crime. When kids are very little and they are being abused in this way, they often don’t know that it’s wrong. It doesn’t hurt and sometimes even feels good. By the time they understand how wrong the behavior is, they feel as if they have been a participant in something bad because they didn’t speak up sooner. Some fear the repercussions such as not being believed, anger from those who care about the pedophile and potential revenge from the abuser or his supporters. Most suffer guilt because they often have an otherwise close relationship with their abuser despite the pain and dysfunction he has caused. In Sandusky’s case, he spent many hours, days and even years mentoring his victims. Many of Sandusky’s victims are now speaking up because they know that they are not alone. My daughter finally felt safe speaking up after she was sure that I was not going back to her former step-father.

After my daughter came forward, her abuser’s home was raided and a huge amount of child pornography was found – videos and images of little girls from toddlers to teens being raped and sexually assaulted. Police told me that some of the girls could be heard crying in the videos while being raped. He had saved much of it to CDs and much more was found to have been downloaded on his computer. This all hit me like a ton of bricks and has taken many months to process. How could I not have known? I thought back to all of the times that I watched the Dateline “To Catch a Predator” shows on TV and my daughter’s molester acted appropriately disgusted by the adult men preying on underage girls. He even once told me that those guys should be shot. I remembered a time when I told him about a man who tried to sexually assault me when I was very young and he said that he wished he knew who that was because he’d kill him.  He seemed very protective of his own children and step-children. Many times, I told them that they were lucky to have such a good father figure in their lives. None of it fit or made sense but it was all true – the evidence was clear and abundant and was followed by his confession.

There are several people in this man’s life who are still struggling with pain and confusion, looking for someone else to blame (many of them choosing me or my daughter), and who have a long road of grieving and breaking through denial ahead of them. The initial reaction by some of his supporters was similar to the crowds of Penn State students who rioted, turned over a news van and loudly protested Paterno’s firing. We received an onslaught of text messages and emails, some calling my daughter a liar, one telling me I belong in prison with him, and several disowning both of us. I was accused of “thriving” on the terrible circumstances and of allowing the abuse to take place because the perpetrator helped pay my bills. In reality, I paid a large portion of our household expenses and a significant amount of his earnings, I now know, was spent on child pornography and a gambling addiction he was hiding. And, any mother who has been in my situation can attest to the fact that they would NEVER knowingly allow someone to molest their child. Whether such an accusation is made out of ignorance, denial or cruelty, the additional pain caused to a pedophile’s victims is the same. People that my daughter loved have been cut off from her life and people who she thought would love and protect her have failed to show concern about her recovery or to reach out to her in any way, instead, they are more concerned about the fate of her molester and spreading rumors that the molestation charges have been dropped (essentially still suggesting that the crimes never happened).

Again, the similarities have come to light with the Sandusky accusations. Once the veil had been lifted and the truth revealed, Jerry Sandusky minimized his behavior, claiming to have “horsed around in the shower” with young boys. The local day care provider recently convicted of molestation claimed that the little girl he sexually assaulted was “four going on forty” and very provocative. The Pattee Canyon campground host who has molested at least four young girls said that when he has one drink too many, his hands “start to wander”. During his confession to police, my daughter’s molester said in regard to her, that he had “crossed the line a few times,” as if all adults are somehow teetering on the edge, resisting the urge to molest children. Regarding all of the child pornography, police asked if he had any pictures or videos of my daughter and he replied that the stuff he had was just “generic kids”.  I suppose the perpetrators of these crimes have to minimize their actions in their own minds in order to live with themselves and maintain their false image on a daily basis.

As disturbing and frightening as it is that these crimes are so common and the perpetrators are so difficult to identify, I am pleased to see that we, as a society, are beginning to become educated about this subject. I am thankful that my daughter was brave enough to speak the truth, strong enough to deal with the re-victimization she has endured and has a great therapist and many supportive people who love her and will help her recover. I am proud to say that she is now on the high honor roll in school and on track to graduate a year early. If more people feel safe to speak up and more people understand how to properly respond, the cycle of sexual abuse can began to be broken. Victims will have a greater chance of recovering and perhaps pedophiles will find the courage to admit what they are, deal with what happened to them and seek the help they need rather than continuing to harm our children and their own families.

- Stacy M.

Thankful for Survivors’ Stories that Shatter the Silence of Sexual Violence

Thanksgiving is this week and I wanted to take a moment to thank survivors of sexual or dating violence who have shared their stories shattering the silence of their suffering and encouraging others to do the same. PAVE introduced “My Stories” to motivate us to share our stories of how we have been affected by sexual and dating violence. “Survivor Stories,” by photographer Teresa Prince, is another project that focuses on the importance of survivors sharing their stories.

“What I really want to do is get their words out there so that victims who are still suffering can read this and realize they are not alone,” said Prince.

Prince’s “Survivor Stories” project is not her first project about sexual assault awareness. Her first project, “Speaking Through Silence: Survivor Stories” shined light on the issue and was a part of her healing as a survivor. With her current project Prince wants to focus on how others made this transition from victim to survivor and to bring hope to other victims still suffering in silence.

Prince’s project combines photography and story collecting to share more than just the words of survivors. Prince explained she wants to give a voice and a face to their experience because that makes the stories real, and these men and women deserve to be heard.

“If we never get a face or a name then this kind of becomes a victimless, faceless crime unless we get the real stories out there,” said Prince, “We cannot ignore it.”

I whole heartedly agree with Prince in the importance of sharing the reality of the many men and women who have been a victim of sexual and dating violence. I am so thankful for the work she is doing and I want to encourage others to share their stories.

We all have a voice and we all deserve to be heard because the world deserves to hear our story.

-Sarah

 

University Action Taken in Penn State Sexual Assault Scandal, But is it Enough?

Many of you may have received the PAVE Action Alert about the Penn State sexual assault scandal involving a former coach. Many more of you may have heard about the story recently in the news, but how many of us have responded with action to prevent and stop this violence from taking place and going unreported?

Jerry Sandusky, the former football defensive coordinator at Penn State, was charged with several counts of various offenses including sexual assault all involving young men. The Associated Press article, ‘Penn State Ex-Coach Charged in Sexual Abuse Case,’ reported the following:

Sandusky, who worked with at-risk children through his Second Mile organization, was charged with seven counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse; eight counts of corruption of minors, eight counts of endangering the welfare of a child, seven counts of indecent assault and other offenses. A preliminary hearing for Sandusky is scheduled for Wednesday.

This article also reported that Tim Curley, the athletic director at Penn State , had lied in his testimony to knowing of Sandusky’s actions according to the grand jury report. Despite these allegations Curley is not being held liable along with other football officials accused of knowing about Sandusky’s assaults by the university. It seemed the university was continuing its Division I football as if nothing unsettling had happened. However, the growing criticism from this scandal did result in the firing of Joe Paterno, the head football coach at Penn State, and Penn State president Graham Spanier. Other than this though, the university has not any other taken action involving other football officials.

A troubling follow up story from the Associated Press reported that John Matko, an alumni of Penn State, received a negative reaction from his protest at the Penn State football game last Saturday. Another article did report that attendees of the football game ‘showed their symbolic support for victims of child abuse’ by buying shirts and donating money to child abuse prevention organizations.

I feel like the university took the least amount of action necessary to avoid an uproar from its students, employees, alumni, and the general public. If this is where the action stops in response to this violence then it is simply not enough. This is something we need to be talking about. Incidents such as these cannot be covered for their shock value and then forgotten when the media moves on to another story. We have to look at what was going on that would allow something like this to take place.

I want university officials along with the media to take responsibility to explore and talk about the issue of sexual violence; especially in that men and women, and boys and girls are at risk.

How can we move forward and turn this into an opportunity to raise awareness, promote bystander efforts, and talk about why there should be zero tolerance for perpetrators of sexual violence?

-Sarah

 

Edgy Website has Great Message But Owes Viewers More Content

The website israpefunny.com provides various responses to simply and directly send the same message: Rape is NOT funny.

As far as shock value goes, this website offers that, which at least captures the viewer’s attention for a moment. This however presents the opportunity to offer educational material, which is a vital component to prevention of sexual violence. The website tell us that sexual violence is absolutely not a humorous topic, but it does it in such a blunt way that I worry it may actually turn people away from further thinking about or discussing the topic. It has to invite us to further explore the reasons why sexual violence is not funny and why it is important that we take action of some kind.

The website does include ‘Resources list TBA,’ so hopefully those resources will be helpful and soon added. I would like to see a discussion forum offered here to at least create an environment for people to share their reactions to the website. What would you like to see added this website? Do you think it is appropriate in efforts to stop sexual violence?

 

-Sarah

Importance of Bystander Intervention for Those at Risk of committing Sexual Violence Themselves

‘Sexual violence victimization of Women: Prevalence, Characteristics, and the Role of Public Health and Prevention’ is another great article in the September/October 2011 issue of American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. As a follow up to my most recent post, a response to ‘Violence and Men’s Health: Understanding the Etiological Underpinnings of Men’s Experiences With Interpersonal Violence,’ this article made me think about how critical it is for perpetrators (or those showing signs of becoming perpetrators of sexual or interpersonal violence) to change on the individual level. Again, approaching this issue like a disease with a cure I want to highlight a suggested course of action that I think could make even more of a difference than the article suggests.

The ‘Sexual Violence Victimization of Women’ article discusses bystander prevention programs for males with symptoms of becoming perpetrators. Kathleen C. Basile and Sharon G. Smith suggest that these programs will raise awareness among males of peers that may be at risk of committing sexual violence. I completely agree with their thinking that this will make a difference because of the power of influence our peer groups have on our ideologies and decisions. I see such bystander prevention programs as also positively affecting at risk males as a bystander. Those at risk as bystanders are then also aware of themselves. One of the greatest effects a bystander can initiate is to make a perpetrator reflect on their words or actions. Programs that support and teach at risk males the importance of intervention seems like it would indefinitely heightened self-awareness of they themselves committing this same violence.

Such bystander prevention programs are recommended in association with working with adolescent males. When the root of this problem are ideas that make sexual violence or any violent victimization okay then that is exactly what we have to address directly. I do want to point out that parents as bystanders, who are aware of their influence and active in making the making a positive impact on their child understand their crucial role as well. ‘Violence and males’ tells us that parental supervision is higher with girls’ activities versus boys’ activities, and this is linked to the differences in physical aggression. I feel that this is something that individuals in parenting positions should consider, if for no other reason than to be aware of it. No more ‘boys will be boys’ kind of ideas. How can we put this into action? Is this something to consider as teachers or babysitters or older siblings as well?

-Sarah