This week, ABC News Philadelphia shared the first public interview with “Victim 10” from the Sandusky trial, who settled his case against Penn State on Tuesday.
The interview reveals an all too familiar pattern.
Our Stewards of Children® child sexual abuse prevention training addresses issues such as grooming, one-on-one situations, secrets, and long-term effects. The importance of these topics is emphasized by Victim 10’s story, which unfortunately provides a textbook example of child sexual abuse.
“Jerry Sandusky took an instant liking to me,” he said. “He took me to my first football game. I got to meet a lot of the players at the time. I felt like I had another family that cared for me….He was very careful with what he did. He plotted it out.”
Many times, sexual abuse doesn’t just “happen;” it’s a carefully crafted, strategic process. Abusers fulfill roles that make them valued by children and parents, even promoted to the level of family member. They may provide special attention, outings, and gifts, gradually blurring boundaries as they progress toward a increasingly sexual relationship with their child victims.
“[The abuse] occurred several places,” he said. “It occurred on the Penn State campus, it occurred in Jerry’s home, in public – anywhere that he felt he was safe to do that was where he took advantage of me.”
Abusers seek out ways to separate children from others, and these isolated, one-on-one situations provide them with the ideal environment for grooming, boundary violations, and ultimately, sexual abuse. More than 80% of child sexual abuse incidents happen when children are alone with their abusers, away from their families, friends, and others who would protect them.
“He wanted me to perform sexual acts on him, and I refused to do it,” said the victim. “And he turned into a totally different person. He got very angry. That’s when he threatened me. And then he turned around like nothing ever happened and said, ‘I’m sorry I said that. I love you.'”
Abusers often alternate between praise and punishment, using secrecy, blame, and threats to maintain control. They may shift blame for the sexual abuse to their victims, and tell them they will be taken from their families or that their families will be angry at (or won’t believe) them. By this time, the victims’ boundaries and sense of reality are so blurred that they often believe the abusers.
“I was afraid, terrified,” he said. “How could you stand up to somebody that was supposed to be an icon in the community, especially when you are a child?”
This is a prime reason that child sexual abuse is an adult problem. From an early age, children should be taught an age-appropriate understanding of concepts such as private parts, boundaries, and secrets. But it is unrealistic to expect children to fend off the advances of a more powerful adult or youth.
We can’t expect children to shoulder the burden of reporting and stopping the abuse themselves. Following the grooming and control process, they may be physically and emotionally incapable. Less than 30% of children tell anyone about sexual abuse within the first year: many never tell.
In the years following the abuse, Victim 10 says he turned away from his family and turned to drugs.
Fifty percent of sexually abused children suffer long-term trauma that follows them into adulthood. Without proper intervention and aftercare, children are more likely to experience a variety of physical and emotional issues. Sexually abused children are three times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol into and throughout their adult years.
It is imperative for communities to learn how to prevent child sexual abuse, to understand the signs of abuse, and to stop abuse if it occurs. Had the community been aware and educated, and had the proper guidelines been in place, Victim 10 may not have needed to tell his story – he may not have had a story to tell. Child sexual abuse can be prevented; it can be stopped, and it can be overcome.
Visit www.D2L.org/Stewards to learn how you or your youth-serving organization can make your community a safer place for children.