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.