Of all the revelations Matthew Sandusky offered in his interview with Oprah Winfrey, the most startling may have been how the actions of his adoptive father radiated through his personal life, creating an atomic wave of destruction enveloping those never even subjected to the childhood sexual abuse Matthew suffered.
Matthew is the adopted son of former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted in 2012 of 45 charges of child sex abuse and sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.
In an interview aired Thursday night on “Oprah Prime” on Winfrey’s OWN network, Matthew told Winfrey he felt it would have been better for his children and wife if he’d kept everything to himself instead of coming forward. Matthew initially offered grand jury testimony that Sandusky was not a child molester, but recanted during trial. After he told police he had also been abused, Matthew said his family, not just him, became the target of vicious character attacks.
“I can handle it,” Matthew said, even though the abuse drove him to attempt suicide shortly after he moved in with the Sanduskys when he was 16. “I can handle people attacking me. I handled the abuse. I can take it. My wife is an innocent. My children — they’re innocent. For people to attack them — yes, absolutely, the simpler answer would have been for me to keep it, to deal with it on my own.”
Matthew said he came forward about the abuse because he didn’t want to be a “coward.” When he heard the testimony of victim No. 4 during Sandusky’s criminal trial, Matthew said he was astonished at how similar the details were.
“He’s telling his story, but his story isn’t his story,” Matthew said. “It’s my story. That’s when the door really opened up and it kind of just hit me.” More than 30 boys eventually came forward to say Sandusky molested them. To avoid further litigation, Penn State agreed to a $60 million settlement with 26 victims, including Matthew, and the university disbursed payments of varying sizes. Matthew said he had no knowledge of the settlement when he came forward.
Matthew met Jerry and his wife, Dottie Sandusky, when he was seven years old through Sandusky’s Second Mile charity camp. According to The Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach:
Prosecutors say that the Second Mile became a tool for harvesting children for abuse. Sandusky, they said, was a classic predatory pedophile, a man who befriended the most vulnerable boys, the ones needing a father figure, who became appreciative that someone would bring them to football games and make them feel special.
Matthew told Winfrey how he resigned himself to being molested almost as a tradeoff for being around an otherwise stable and loving family. He came from a broken home, he said, where there was physical abuse and even running water wasn’t something that could be taken for granted. He often lived with his grandparents.
“Ninety percent of the time with Jerry Sandusky was everything that a child would want,” Matthew said. “He gave you things. You had fun. You went places that you would never go without him. But the 10 percent of the time where he was doing these things?”
Matthew shook his head.
“It can’t even compare,” he said. “That 90 percent — it gets obliterated by the damage that is done to you, that you are willing to accept in that moment. You have his time. Let him do what he’s going to do. It’s not worth me causing an issue. It’s not worth me upsetting him.”
As a child, Matthew said he didn’t have words to describe what was happening; he told Winfrey he felt “awkward.” He said the bedtime abuse ritual would begin with Sandusky blowing raspberries on his stomach and chest, then escalating the physical contact to wrestling, then eventually oral sex.
When the abuse first began, Sandusky would lay on him, aroused, Matthew said. Matthew said he was only allowed to sleep in his underwear or Penn State mesh shorts because Sandusky told Matthew he would sweat in his sleep.
Matthew told Winfrey, who is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, how confused and ashamed he felt because, “I don’t want to say that it’s pleasurable, but it’s not the most painful thing, I guess.” He struggled to find words to convey the contradictory feelings he experienced.
“Your body betrays you,” Winfrey said, explaining that abusers use the twisted, perverse feeling of pleasure as a tool of manipulation and control.
“The only thing I could tell myself was that he was gay,” Matthew said. “And I wanted him off me. That’s the only thing I could tell myself. I didn’t know what to call it. i just knew it wasn’t right and I didn’t want it. There wasn’t anything I could do. I had to take it.”
Matthew began to act out when he was a young teenager. He tried to cut Sandusky out of his life altogether, but Matthew told Winfrey the coach would come to his biological mother’s home unannounced. He would pull Matthew out of school. There was no escaping him, and Matthew became a truant. He started doing drugs and stealing, and was eventually arrested.
Matthew had a choice: Move in with the Sanduskys, or go to juvenile detention.
The Sanduskys moved him into their home with five other children, all adopted. Matthew so dreaded Sandusky’s nighttime visits he tried to kill himself. He said after that, the sexual abuse largely stopped. The family legally adopted him when he was 18 and pressured him to take the family name so he would be privy to a tuition break thanks to Sandusky’s employment at Penn State.
“I owe them everything,” Matthew said.
Even after her husband’s conviction, Dottie Sandusky has maintained her husband is innocent.
In an interview with Matt Lauer, she attempted to discredit Matthew. She accused him of stealing from the family, which he denies. She also claimed Matthew suffered from bipolar disorder.
“I’m not bipolar,” Matthew told Oprah. “I’m dealing with psychological issues from the abuse.”
Matthew also said there were others who could corroborate his accounts before Sandusky’s trial — who suspected Sandusky had been molesting his adoptive son, but never had concrete proof.
“You’d look at that family and you’d say, ‘Wow. I wish that I had brothers and sisters who cared about me. I wish that I had a mother who cooked dinner for the whole family every night. I wish that I had all of these things,’” Matthew said. “But then, at bedtime, his ritual began. That’s when he came into the room to say goodnight.”