Tracee Hamilton
Tracee Hamilton
Columnist

Jerry Sandusky scandal brings pain of childhood abuse to the surface

After I wrote several columns about the burgeoning Penn State sex abuse scandal last month, I heard from a lot of readers. Many were themselves victims of abuse. Some had never told anyone what had happened to them and were dealing with the fallout of that silence. Some had managed to tell what was happening to them as children. Some waited years before dealing with the damage done.

These people were of both genders, of widely varying ages, and at different stages in their recoveries. But there were similarities. They all gave their names and addresses in their e-mails. They all said that stories such as the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal and the ongoing investigation into Jerry Sandusky’s alleged predatory behavior bring all the pain of what happened to them to the surface. One such former victim is 68 years old; his e-mail began, “I’m am writing to you with tears running down my face . . .

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Ex-Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested and arraigned Wednesday on new sex abuse charges brought by two new accusers, the state attorney general's office said.

Ex-Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested and arraigned Wednesday on new sex abuse charges brought by two new accusers, the state attorney general's office said.

This is the common thread for victims of sexual abuse. This is the reason for the outrage among so many people at the delayed reaction on the part of Penn State to put aside its collective sympathies for the alleged perpetrator and his pals and to apply it where it belonged: to the victims. Because here are five words to remember as victims continue to come forward and this case continues its inexorable crawl toward the courtroom:

You never get over it.

This is what the victims say, even the ones who’ve had therapy and dealt with it and done all the right things. I believe them. Anyone who has gone through a trauma in childhood knows that those events have incredible staying power.

I always tell people I had a wonderful childhood, and that is largely true. I grew up in a small town, loved and protected and happy. Except one day my dad went to work and didn’t come home. He was killed in an accident at work. I was not quite 4.

Two years later, my mother remarried, and I got a second dad. I never say stepfather because he’s not that. He’s my dad. He adopted me, helped me with my homework, spanked me when I needed it and helped put me through college. He’s my dad. I was incredibly lucky.

So why, 47 years after my dad’s death, does it feel like it happened yesterday? I’m not angry anymore, but I am sad — sad for his parents, who got four sons safely home from World War II, yet buried two sons in their 30s. Sad for my mom, and my sister, and my dad’s siblings. Sad I don’t remember him better. Sad he doesn’t know that his grandson looks just like him. Sad that I never got to say goodbye. Sad that after all these years, I’m sitting in my office crying as I write this.

You never get over it.

My small, protective home town was wonderful, and included three sets of grandparents, so I was quite spoiled, but there wasn’t a psychiatrist or psychologist to be had. There weren’t grief counselors or any of the services you see now in the schools. I remember vividly the year my sister’s class trip was a visit to the quarry where my dad was killed. No one at the school thought that perhaps she might not enjoy the outing. They ended up going without her.

This is how I know how important it is for these victims to come forward, the ones who already have and the ones who haven’t yet. Believe me, there are more, whether or not we ever hear their stories. And they are carrying a lot of pain.

What happened to me, as hard as it was (and is) to deal with, wasn’t done to me. It was not done deliberately to anyone, although “accidental” may be a stretch. One of the people involved was drunk, you see. The friend who had to pick up what was left of my dad, put him in a truck and drive him to the doctor happened to be our next-door neighbor for years. I never knew what he had done till it was too late. He hanged himself in the back yard.

You never get over it.

If these grand jury reports are true, what was done to these children was done with great deliberation. The victims were carefully targeted and the approach meticulously planned. The abuse was carried out with cold-blooded precision and single-mindedness. And it was done under the guise of charitable work. Who would believe these kids?

How frustrating that must be. What a burden that must be to carry with you, every day, the horror of what happened to you, the fear that no one will believe you, or worse still, that you’ll be shunned and punished for saying such things about a man respected in the community for his charitable work, for his status at the university that can do no wrong?

I’ve not been able to stop thinking about these victims since this story first came to light. I’ve not been able to stop thinking about the victims who e-mailed me, as well as all the thousands of other victims out there that we don’t know about. I hope that they can find the strength to tell, and that someone will listen to them, and believe them. Because I know this much is true:

You never get over it.

 
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