Monday, July 30, 2012

Sandusky scandal is not an anomaly

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In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, many people are scratching their heads and asking, “How could this have happened?” “How could so many people – adults – have covered up Sandusky’s heinous crimes?” I am not one of those people. I understand how so many people could have covered up the crimes and protected Jerry Sandusky.
How can I understand it? Because I was a victim of a sexual predator and a cover-up of the heinous acts that protected the deviant until his death in the mid-‘80s. I can understand it because I watched my family whisper about what my grandfather was doing to my female cousins and me while they tried to figure out what to do to prevent him from getting caught.
I was three years old when he molested me. We were at my grandparents’ house and a few other family members were visiting as well. I remember walking over to my grandfather and him picking me up and setting me on his lap. He was sitting close enough to the table that his legs and the majority of my body were concealed under the table. This gave my grandfather the perfect opportunity to slip his hand under my dress and into my panties and fondle me. He did this while at the same time engaging in conversation with other family members at the table!
My mother must have noticed or must have felt something wasn’t right because she called me to come to her. I did not know what had just happened but I did know that something did not feel right.
As I got older, my mother told me to stay away from my grandfather. That was it. “Stay away from him.” I did not understand why but I felt like I was being punished. My brother didn’t have to stay away from him. My cousins didn’t have to stay away from him. My aunts and uncles didn’t stay away from him. Of course, it was difficult to stay away from him. There were family gatherings. There was the time we had to live with them because my father was out of work and could not support us.
And then there was the time my grandparents took my brother and me to Louisiana to visit my aunt and uncle and cousins. I think I was maybe 9 or 10 years old. My aunt and uncle had a split-level home with the dining room just above and to the side of the living room. The eight of us were having dinner one evening and, after finishing my meal, I asked if I could be excused to watch TV in the living room.
As I sat in the chair watching television, I noticed out of the corner of my eye my grandfather leave the dining table and make his way to the living room to sit in the recliner about five feet away from me. I remember feeling very nervous as I pretended not to notice he was sitting there. A few minutes later, he began fidgeting with his hands. From my peripheral vision, I saw that he was motioning with his hands the act of intercourse by repeatedly sticking his right index finger in and out of the hole he made with his left hand.
I was paralyzed. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to scream for help. I wanted to yell at him to stop. The torture of sitting there knowing what he was doing while everyone else sat  in the dining room, apparently oblivious to what he was doing, frightens me to this day.
It was a few years later, after my grandfather died, that I began speaking with some of my female cousins about what my grandfather had done to me. One of my cousins told me that there was an altercation involving my grandfather and her father – my grandfather’s son – one night when she and her family were visiting my grandparents.
My cousin said that she was sleeping in the bedroom on the other side of my grandparent’s mobile home and at the opposite end from their bedroom. She was awoken during the night by the sound of my grandfather urinating in the bathroom located in the room where my cousin was sleeping. She said the door was open and she could see what he was doing. My cousin’s father confronted my grandfather and, yet, the police were not called and no formal charges were brought against my grandfather.
I remember being 18 or 19 years old and, for the first time, had the guts to speak out about what had happened to me. I asked my mother why none of the adults in the family did anything about the abuse my grandfather inflicted on my cousins and me. My mother said she honestly did not know. She said they just tried to keep the girls away from him. As if the girls were the problem? Why would they protect him, an obvious pedophile, and not the children?
I remember my brother not believing me. He loved my grandfather. He did not believe that my grandfather committed any horrible act against me or our female cousins.
I remember my father getting so angry with me for confronting him about what my grandfather had done to me. According to my father, I was so young when it happened that how could I possibly have any memory of it? Furthermore, said my father, my grandfather had an illness and he couldn’t help himself.
Really? Yes, he certainly had an illness. I don’t know too many mentally healthy people who go around molesting children. That, however, did not excuse or explain why my father failed to protect his only daughter.
Many failed relationships and three marriages later, I continue to explore what happened to my childhood. And I am not alone. Several of my female cousins – at least the ones I know who were subjected to similar abuses at the hands of my grandfather – have had their share of dysfunctional relationships and marriages.
The people who were involved in covering up Jerry Sandusky’s atrocities are a lot like the people in my family who covered up and protected my grandfather. How could they possibly not have known the detrimental effects the children would suffer for years after being molested? More than that, how could they have justified their actions in overlooking the physical and emotional abuse suffered by the victims of those monsters? Perhaps they thought they were doing the right thing. Perhaps they thought they were protecting the children. Whatever their reasons and justifications, they were wrong.
My father died earlier this year. He and I had many unsettled matters. The abuse I suffered at the hands of his father – and his unapologetic defense of his father’s crimes - remained a huge wedge between us until the day he died.  
I was not surprised to learn that so many people covered up Jerry Sandusky’s crimes. I am a bit baffled, though, as to what compels an adult to fail to protect a child. As a civilized society, adults have a responsibility to protect the innocent and defenseless. The Penn State family, like my family, instead chose to protect the one committing the crimes against the children.

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