I should know, as it's a path I'm currently traveling.
Like the young men who bravely took the stand in the Sandusky trial, I was molested as a child. That's still not easy for me to say, let alone write and share publicly, but if we've learned anything from the Sandusky scandal it's that the time for silence is over. As I heard one Sandusky victim put it, it's time to "find my voice."
It was something I couldn't do when I was molested. I didn't speak out, no matter how many chances I may have had. I just couldn't. Travis Weaver, one of the young men who testified in front of the grand jury in the Sandusky case but not at trial did an interview which aired on Rock Center last week. He said he was scared to say anything because he thought no one would believe him. I know that feeling.
That's what these monsters count on, our silence. They have the power and they know it.
In my case, my monster was a babysitter, a neighborhood teen that my parents and others trusted. I had been told to obey him, like any other babysitter or authority figure. Forget the shame, fear, and overwhelming confusion that went along with the sexual abuse, we both knew that he was the one in charge. Is it any wonder my silence came so easily?
Strangers are supposed to be the ones we fear, not people we know. How many times have you heard the phrase "stranger danger?" Yet in many cases of child molestation if only the opposite were true. One expert I heard Friday night on MSNBC said that about 90% of the cases of child sexual abuse involve someone known to the victim. That held true for me and for the victims of Jerry Sandusky.
Like some of those young men, I was in my early 20s when I first acknowledged that I had been molested. The abuse happened twice. It was inappropriate touching, fondling of genitalia. It may not have been as frequent or severe as what I read about in the case of Sandusky's victims but that doesn't make the abuse I suffered any less real or the shame I felt any less overwhelming.
As I tried to come to terms with the abuse through therapy, I eventually had to tell my parents and my brother what had happened. It wasn't just to take the shame or embarrassment away, there was more to it.
You see the kid in me, the kid that was abused, had expected them to protect me and they didn't. That sounds crazy seeing as they didn't know what was going on and surely would have stopped the abuse if they had. The thing is as children we expect people like our parents or older siblings to protect us no matter what. We can't rationalize between when they realistically can or can't.
My feelings surrounding the abuse were those of the child that was molested not the adult trying to overcome it.
When I did tell my parents and my brother, I remember the reaction as if it were yesterday. All of them told me how sorry they were that they didn't see any signs, that they didn't stop the abuse, that they weren't there for me. Just knowing they wanted to protect me, as I had expected them to do, helped ease the pain I was still feeling from childhood. I only wish I could ease the feeling of guilt I fear they will always have.
The truth is, no one suspected the abuse in my case.
I remember faking a stomach ache to try to keep my parents from going out when I knew my abuser was coming to babysit, but my silent cry was also the same tactic I used when another sitter was scheduled and I just wanted my parents to stay. How would they know the difference? I truly believe no one could have stopped the abuse unless I had told someone.
Maybe that's why I'm so sickened and angry by what unfolded in the Sandusky case. People knew. One mother spoke out. Mike McQueary was an eye witness. At the very least, we know alleged abuse was reported within the Penn State football administration and Athletic Department. Still it continued.
I understand being scared of a program. I understand being beyond uncomfortable talking about child molestation. I don't understand so many people putting their fear and discomfort ahead of the safety and innocence of children.
I can't even imagine the anger that's added for Sandusky's victims.
I've heard people talk about those boys being "at risk kids", lacking the support system to help protect them. I had an incredible support system and it still happened to me.
There's no discrimination when it comes to child sexual abuse. It isn't a socioeconomic issue, a racial issue, or even one of gender.
Think about it. Travis Weaver, who I mentioned earlier, was a young boy from a broken home, growing up without a lot of means. I was a young girl from a supportive and loving family growing up in an upper middle class neighborhood. We couldn't be more different and yet we both suffered, in silence.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General talked about people like Sandusky lurking in dark corners. I couldn't disagree more. Sandusky was out there for all to see, so was my babysitter. Sadly, so are many others. If they were in dark corners it might be easier to spot them. In the open, it's any one's guess.
While we may not want to see abuse like this, it is time to open our eyes. Just like it is time to find our voices.
Until now I hadn't shared my story publicly.
After telling my parents and brother years ago, I went on to share it with people I trusted or I thought needed to know: a few serious boyfriends and some of the people I consider lifelong friends. When news of the Sandusky scandal first broke, I told a few colleagues about the abuse.
I soon realized the good that could come out of such an awful thing.
You see a couple of the people I shared my story with were also victims and went on to share their stories for the first time. My courage helped them find theirs. I can't begin to tell you what that means to me.
Beyond that, I've learned that each time I tell my story, I let go of some of the shame and guilt I've carried with me for years. Those feelings so deeply buried at times they seem never ending. So truth be told, my sharing right now is really just a part of that long road to recovery I mentioned earlier, the one Jerry Sandusky's victims are just beginning.
I'd like to thank them for helping me take this latest step, finding my voice. I hope by doing so, I can help others find theirs.