An Open Letter to Sandusky’s Victims

I heard today’s news that Mr. Sandusky waived his right to the hearing. I know that those of you who were prepared to testify today had no doubt steeled yourself for the event. I suspect that when you heard of Sandusky’s decision, you were both relieved and upset.

But from what I understand of the law and of criminal proceedings, it may be best that you only have to testify once.

You know as well as I that you are speaking for untold numbers of boys who can’t come forward. The fact that you are willing to testify tells me that you are capable of heroic deeds. You may not feel like a hero, but others will give you this name. I do. I’m proud of you. I support you all the way.

What you’re doing is heroic because you’re saving the mental and spiritual lives of other, innocent boys. You’re doing it because child molesters NEVER stop on their own. Someone has to confront them. It’s a shame that no adults had the guts to do it. Yes, some may have told their peers and superiors. But is that what a witness does when he sees a man raping a little girl? No. That witness calls the police. And the police (if they aren’t intimidated by the offender and his crowd) will do something about it.

I also want you to know, from my experience and after talking with many others in the field, that you may not feel satisfied after confronting your abuser. I hope you will. But if you don’t, it merely underscores what we already know about child molesters: they are incapable of understanding what they have done to their victims. They lack empathy, which is exactly what a sociopath lacks.

And worse, a part of you may feel afraid, or guilty, for telling the truth. This is the burden a hero must bear.

You now have another burden, of remaining silent until the trial. This may be easy, or tough. But it is something you have to do in order to win this battle.

One reason for remaining silent is that the defense will pick up any inconsistencies from your testimony and use this against you. Inconsistencies mean nothing. I’ll give you an example: after I had finished writing my memoir, after the first editors had made their corrections and suggestions, the copy editor called me and asked “why did you tell the story in chapter three twice?” I said “I didn’t.” She said “yes, you did. Look at chapter 9. You told the same story again.”

I looked, and sure enough, I’d told the story twice, but in different ways. I had obviously forgotten the first telling. But both chapters were true. It would be as if you have two witnesses to a crime. Each witness will recount it differently. This is natural. It is how humans have always communicated.

There is another kind of silence surrounding this case. It is quite sad because this particular silence is the kind for which there is no painless way to break. I must first digress however, to tell you about my boyhood summers at the beach. I had a small boat, as did many of my friends up and down the beach. We’d go out in them, hunting stingrays. (This was in the days when killing snakes and other scary animals was seen as a man’s duty).

Stingrays have a long, scary barb. I’ve attached a picture of one. You can see that if this barb A Stingray Barb (after bleaching)penetrates the skin, it’s nearly impossible to pull out. You can imagine the pain. Then imagine that the barb is coated with an extremely painful toxin. Pulling it out would be unbearable.

So I like to say that breaking this particular kind of silence is like pulling out a stingray barb. The problem is, that the barb is not embedded in just one person. It’s embedded in the family. They are the flesh which will be torn apart in removing the barb.

It is difficult for me to believe that the coach’s family was spared from his actions. If no one comes forward, its because it may feel better to leave the barb alone, than to tear up the family removing it.

I have a final thought and some words of encouragement for those of you who are testifying. Some of you may experience feelings that you can’t put into words. Those feelings may be a kind of fear, or anxiety, or deeper inside, in the gut. There’s a chance that these feelings have to do with the way your memories of the abuse were recorded in your mind.

When you were a child, I imagine you felt like you’d get into trouble if you told the truth about what happened. You didn’t know that what happened is called “abuse” or “rape” or “lascivious and lewd conduct against a child.” That fear of getting into trouble occurred in the past, but sometimes emotions are so tied to memories that they “wake up” and live alongside your everyday thoughts. This is a natural (but obviously unpleasant) aspect of the trauma.

You were wounded, but the past is now gone. You were a victim, but now you are being a hero. The journey from one to the other doesn’t take place in an instant. You may go back and forth. But eventually, you will make it out alive and well. I know you will. Be strong, be steadfast. I’m with you.