Last night, Matt Sandusky sat down with Oprah Winfrey for an emotional, eye-opening interview detailing his abuse at the hands of Jerry Sandusky.
Oprah promoted the interview as a “must watch” for parents. In addition to parents, everyone in a position or organization that serves youth needs to understand these important messages provided by Matthew’s first-hand account of child sexual abuse:
1. Grooming is a gradual process.
“It started from the first moment he met me…when he picked me up for the football game for the first time, he would just reach over and his hand would be on your knee, you know…”
“As the grooming process goes, he would move further up my leg with his hand each time, different times, until…”
“It started with wrestling, like wrestling was something he liked to do…he ended up just laying on you. He would just lay on you and he would be aroused…”
2. Child sexual abusers take advantage of isolated, one-on-one situations.
“The manipulation, the control – the hand on the leg anytime I was in the car, him pulling me off to a room any time I was at the house. He would always pull me into a separate room to speak alone. Those were the times he’s reinforcing, checking in with me to make sure I’m not speaking, that I’m not having thoughts about telling.”
3. The consequences of child sexual abuse begin immediately, and without intervention can become long-term.
“I’m telling people the best way that I know how to tell people. I’m acting out, I’m becoming aggressive, I’m skipping school. I’m trying to commit suicide. I’m trying to end my life because everything around me has – there is no other option at that point in time.”
“I’m not saying the suicide attempt in itself was based on the sexual abuse, but I am saying that the sexual abuse was a major contributor to me trying to take my own life.”
4. The most important thing you can tell a child or adult who discloses is, “I believe you.”
“For me to come here, speak with you, speak on national television as I said before, knowing that I’m going to be attacked, knowing that my wife and my children will have to pay for that…there is no reason for me to lie. I’m coming forward to help.”
5. Child sexual abuse can be prevented, it can be stopped, and it can be overcome, but first we must ACT.
“There were people that knew, that thought, who have made statements to other people. People thought things were happening to me, they thought they walked in on things, but they weren’t sure.”
A Brave Truth
We applaud Matt for his courage. Because of the shame, fear, and secrecy surrounding child sexual abuse, many victims never break their silence. By sharing his story on national television, he gave viewers valuable knowledge to help them protect the children in their lives.
During the interview, Oprah asked Matt, “how do we know that what you’re saying here today is really your truth and did really happen to you…?”
Oprah herself does believe Matt’s story, and she supports his message of prevention. The unfortunate truth of child sexual abuse is that many times the message is so horrible, we don’t want to hear it. We turn away from it, and in doing so, we turn away from the child. For some, denial is so strong that despite clear evidence and even conviction of the offender, they seek to discredit victims altogether rather than believe someone they love and/or respect could be guilty of violating a child.
Unfortunately, the immediate consequences of child sexual abuse, from criminal behavior, to promiscuity, to physical and emotional issues, can reinforce the “blame the victim” mentality. Matt himself said that with all the troubles he’d been in, he felt like the Sanduskys were the only ones who still supported him and stood with him. All of this contributes to the shame, blame, and secrecy associated with child sexual abuse.
This is why it is so, so important to provide encouragement to survivors who have made the brave choice to disclose, often at great personal risk. We must tell them, “I believe you. I support you. I am here for you.”
We thank Oprah for providing Matt with the platform to share his story. Now the question remains, what are you going to do about it?
You cannot wait for others to protect kids. You cannot wait for organizations to protect kids. You cannot wait for legislators to protect kids. You – each of you – must make the choice to protect the children in your lives and organizations. How?
The most important message from Matt’s interview with Oprah – the one he hopes everyone will remember – is that prevention must be a priority. Only then can we change our culture and create safer societies for our kids to grow up free of the trauma of child sexual abuse.