We have all felt a deep sense of revulsion over the allegations of sex abuse at Penn State. It is impossible to read the 23-page Grand Jury report and not fill up with anger over the descriptions of children being abused and then ignored. But for victims of childhood sexual abuse, the Penn State story and the continuous coverage is tearing off the scabs of painful memories and making them fresh and raw again.
For the first time, many are being forced to deal with the past they have hidden. There is no escaping the Penn State story, and so, for a victim, there is no escaping a past that was once comfortably hidden away in an attic corner of the subconscious.
I have written and delivered a half dozen television commentaries on the Penn State scandal that have aired across the country, and every time one has aired I get emails and messages from dozens of people who were the victims of sexual abuse as children. They express feelings of pain, shame, anger, resentment and deep sadness that have risen to the surface these past two weeks.
“My God this hurts,” is the way one man from Grand Rapids, Michigan started his email to me. “I knew I was sexually abused as a kid and thought I dealt with it, but now I know I did not. There are memories coming back now that I guess I forced myself to forget.”
My new friend from Michigan is not alone. The statistics are staggering.
• It is estimated that as many as 40 million Americans, one in six people, experienced sexual victimization as children.
• One in four girls and one in seven boys will be sexually victimized before age 18.
• The most common ages of children when sexual abuse occurs are between eight and 12.
• Child sexual abuse is seldom a one-time occurrence, and lasts an average of one to four years.
• 75 percent to 80 percent of all children assaulted or abused were victimized by someone they knew.
• One of five rape victims is under age 12; 10 percent are under age 5.
• More than 80 percent of offenders first offended by the age of 30.
At Penn State, investigators believe that as many as 14 people knew about the alleged sexual abuse of children by Jerry Sandusky and did little or nothing about it. The statistics should force us all to realize that it’s not just Penn State. There is a much greater cover-up going on right now across the country.
Many of the people who wrote to me were not just angry at the man who abused them, but at the family members who knew about it and did nothing. One victim from Bryn Mawr posted this on my Facebook page:
It makes me sick. My mother knew I was physically abused by her husband and molested for years by another man when she closed the door on us one night after witnessing what was going on. Days later she said to me, you know what you did. The woman to this day can’t acknowledge the truth and in good ole Irish Catholic guilt, claims that I owe her an apology.
I have a petition online that would make it a felony if you witness child abuse and do not report it to police. I started the petition in August after the murder of Christian Choate, a 13-year-old boy from Gary, Indiana who was forced to spend most of the last year of his life in a dog cage. As many as 13 people knew about the abuse, including his pediatrician, and not one of them called police. Since the Penn State scandal, several governors, including Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, have proposed the law.
But the most powerful weapon in stopping child abuse is the child. We need to empower our children to come forward. Children need to know that when they speak up they are saving themselves and other children, too. The scandal at Penn State was exposed because an 11-year-old boy found the courage that adults could not. That little boy may have saved countless other children.
If you are a child who is suffering from abuse, or an adult who was abused and need help, please call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (800-422-4453). You do not have to give your name. Chances are the person on the other end of the line is a victim of child abuse and will know what you are going through.If you know about child abuse or have witnessed it, call police.
We all have to be more vigilant. There is a much greater cover-up going on than the one at Penn State, and we all have to stop looking the other way.