Taking the Stand

Scene from my play Invisible Boy, a drama about surviving childhood sex abuse. Photo by Callen Harty.

The Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse trial is triggering me in ways that I never expected.  Each time I hear or read the words of the abused boys–now young men–I get choked up and tears form at the corners of my eyes.  Yet I find myself pulled by it, like a witness of a horrible car accident unable to look but unable to turn away, drawn by a terrible human curiosity even though the witnessing is deeply disturbing.

The accused man was involved in athletics.  He donated money to good causes.  He seemed to be the model citizen.  This is the paradox of this kind of crime.  Jerry Sandusky does not have the face of a monster.  The horrifying reality is that the face of a monster is a kindly-looking white-haired old man.  It is a seemingly innocent boy-next-door or the family member no one would suspect of living a secret life.  It is the apparently holy and spirit-filled priest or minister who has earned the faith and trust of his congregation, or the troop leader entrusted with the care of children.  It is the person let in the front door of the house, and only rarely the stranger passing by on the street.  It is ugly or beautiful on the outside, old or young, fat or fit, and somewhere in the attic of the monster’s mind there hangs a decaying portrait that reflects the true nature of the flawed soul inside.

I am drawn to this trial because in the world of monsters the capture of one ogre is as good as capturing another.  In the end there is one less monster to potentially harm others.  I am drawn to it also because I know the pain and uncertainty in the testimony.  I know the fear of telling, the fear of not being believed, the fear of retribution.  I know the manipulation of the perpetrator.

I know the guilt, the belief that somehow it was caused, not done.

I know each of the victims.  I am each of these boys, a member of an unwilling fraternity who understands the horrors of membership.  Justice for the Penn State victims is justice for all who have suffered a similar fate.  My fear is that justice will not be served.  Too often these crimes go on for years because no one hears the plaintive cries for help or no one believes the child trying to talk to someone they trust.  Juries are made up of the kind of people who didn’t notice or believe in the first place.  Why should we expect them to believe now?

Already the defense attorney has started to attempt to sow doubt in the minds of the jury about the nature of the young witnesses.  They’ve hired civil attorneys, he has told the jury.  Without saying it outright he has implied that they are lying to make money off of a civil case down the road.  Soon I expect what virtually every woman who has accused a man of rape has heard–that whatever may have happened they somehow brought it on themselves, that they wanted the attention and the gifts, and that whatever happened was because they invited it.  Is it any wonder so few victims of sexual violence are willing to come forward?  Not only do they have to relive the horror of it through their testimony they are then subjected to doubt and ridicule.  They are manipulated all over again and emotionally raped by the experience.

The young men who have agreed to testify in the Penn State trial are incredibly brave to face their past experiences, their perpetrator, and a justice system that is designed to doubt the veracity of their claims.  The likelihood of any of them coming through the trial unscathed is minimal.  Yet they are taking the stand and they are making a stand for themselves and for others who have not had the same courage.  It is inspiring and through their bravery they very well may inspire others to come forward with their own stories.  Through their willingness to bare their souls they may bring healing to those who have suffered alone in silence.  Through it all they may themselves grow emotionally from shining light on their own dark secrets and on the dark secrets of our collective souls.  Perhaps, as a nation, we too will grow and we will remove the blinders from our eyes around this issue.

I hope that the jury reaches the correct verdict in this case, but I hope even more fervently that our society will look at itself and realize that it is time to start real conversations about the secrets that haunt us.  I hope even more that the lives of those young men will flourish with the unburdening of their hearts and that this horrible ordeal may show the way to peace for all of us.

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Both are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he has been an actor, writer, and director since 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events.
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3 Responses to Taking the Stand

  1. Sara Vela says:

    do you help children? My five year old son has told me that his father is peeing in his mouth and some other disturbing things. I took him to cps the same day. The cps officer said that all visits to his father will stop till further investigation. CPS called the police. Now my sons father is related to the law here in this small town. They went and got a lawyer to get full custody of my son. I do not make enough money and there is nothing I can do to come up with a lawyer before the 20th of July. They never wanted full custody of my son until we went to cps with what my son as said. I feel that I will loose him on the 20th to a very dysfunctional and unloving family. Please tell me if you can help my son. How can I turn him over to a monster?I would of been better off not reporting it and he would have been abused only every other weekend now he will be in their house every day if I cannot come up with a lawyer. Thank you I live in Hondo Texas

    • Callen Harty says:

      Sara,

      I am very sorry, but I am not an expert in the law or child custody cases. There are many organizations out there devoted to helping abused children. I created a page on Facebook if you are on it called Solidarity Child Abuse Victims/Survivors. If you go to that page there are links to some very good organizations which may be able to help you or direct you to the right place. And please make sure to ask about resources for some counseling for your son. Good luck, and peace.

    • Callen Harty says:

      Sara,

      I have been thinking about you and your son. I have to tell you as a survivor that you absolutely did the right thing as a mother by going to the authorities with what your son told you. He has to know that he is believed. Further, if you knew of something like that and didn’t report it you could be held responsbile down the road. So you did the right thing. We can hope that those you reported it to and who are now in a position to do something about it will follow through on what they should do.

      Child Protective Services will likely do whatever they can to help you and your son. Whatever legal representation you ahve should be able to point out that the father didn’t apply for custody until after this was reported–there is a timeline for it.

      I sincerely hope it all works out. Please know that you absolutely did the right thing. In the meantime I also do encourage you to keep researching other resources that may be able to help you. It’s possible that a state agency would be able to do something that a county agency could get stalled on because of the father’s relationship with those in the local legal community. I encourage you not to give up and to do everything you can to fight for custody of your son and to protect him from this abusive and reprehensible behavior. Again, I wish you peace.

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