In 1980 Ann Pride hired me fresh out of graduate school to start the incest program for Pittsburgh Action Against Rape. I remember thinking “…but I don’t know anything about incest.” There were only 2 significant books written at the time & I read them both. I only remember the title of one Conspiracy of Silence. After all these years it is staggering that title still holds true.
I read the transcript of some of what was said in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and was immediately struck by the authenticity. Particularly striking was one victim’s admission that he believed he was loved & was hurt when Sandusky stopped making contact. That was a very difficult truth to tell.
I learned a lot from the victims I worked with for over 2 years. One of the things I taught other therapists across the country, who wanted to learn more, was that the experience for the victim is a complicated one. If you rush into the work only assuming it was terrible you can increase their shame.
Complicated means there are a mixture of feelings, each person’s experience is unique. For many victims to admit there were loving feelings can be crucial for healing to occur. This was often a secret shame for them. In getting better, shame can be the biggest obstacle to overcome. It can be lethal to add to any victim’s shame.
The courage it took for Victim #1 to step forward is very admirable.
Another point I want to make to those who are wondering how Sandusky’s wife could still believe her husband after all the court testimony; Denial is the most powerful force in the universe. I learned this back in the early 80’s, denial is stronger than either love or hate and everyone struggles with it in some way.
Our delusions are very important to us.
Sandusky manipulated the boys and his colleagues & the friends who testified as to his sterling character. Of course, she was willing to be manipulated into the story of what a great guy he was……then her life won’t fall apart. It’s worth repeating, Denial is the most powerful force in the universe.
I see this weekly in my women who date and forgive too easily, buying the easy lies. “My friend found his name on the sexual predator list but he explained…” & I interrupt with “She was 16 but looked 18 & how was I to Know?” and they look at me astonished that I could guess what was said.
For Joe Paterno to have placed the football winning culture above the truth was shameful in this day & age. The punishment doled out by the NCAA is clearly a giant dose of reality for Penn State. The harsh reality was clearly written on the students faces, that showed up in the pictures on the front pages of the newspapers.
I will take the long view that the blow that was dealt to Penn State is a blow for truth & courage.
I also recognize the complicatedness of how the consequences fall on the heads of the young men who had no part in what happened. The spillover for them is painful. My advice is to prioritize the victim’s pain, that has been endured in secret for far too long. Shoulder the spillover of these new consequences with half of the valor of the victims who stepped forward.
Then you will learn something important about what real courage is. In facing the harshness of this new reality, it could be a life long lesson that has the ability to positively shape your life. Like the bombed out remains left standing at Hiroshima’s Park, that now stands as a center of protest against nuclear bombs.