The trial of Jerry Sandusky is over and he's been found guilty of atrocities that I don't have the stomach to list. All reasonable people are shocked and disgusted by his actions and saddened for his victims. While he will likely spend the rest of his life in prison, that is only a small drop of justice in a flood of evil. His name sparks a lot of emotions in our country these days. I know it does for me. I am also a survivor of sexual abuse.
I honestly can't remember if I've talked about it on this blog before, but I'm going to talk about it now. I know that this isn't a topic that makes people comfortable. Or a topic that people expect to find on an infertility/parenting blog. But this space is for me and about me, and right now, it's what's on my mind.
The man who abused me was my grandmother's third husband. He and my grandmother married when I was 3 months old, so he was the only grandfather I ever knew. His name was CH (That is his real name.) but I always called him grandpa.
I don't know when it started. Before my memory, that is all I can tell you. I can remember being somewhere around 3 or 4 and learning in church that those kind of touches were only for married people and telling him he had to stop because it was a sin. He told me God was okay with it because we loved each other. I would later learn that he was an Atheist.
When I was about 8 or 9, I was playing, hiding behind a built in laundry hamper at their house when I found some papers. Of course, I read them. They were court transcripts. My grandma and CH had foster children for a while. He had molested two of the girls they had. They reported it. And here were the transcripts of most of the interviews. He denied it, of course. They had been removed from their home because their dad was molesting them. He told the interviewer that they must have been having flashbacks.
My grandma swore it wasn't possible. They'd never been alone, whatever.
I asked him about it one day and he told me "they wanted [him] to." I asked him what he would do if I ever told. He said "I would deal with it because I love you that much." I took that to mean that nothing would change. There was no point in telling.
As I got older, things escalated. I would stay with them in the summers sometimes, or long weekends. If I wanted money to go to the pool or something, I had to perform for it. Every moment alone, I tried to cover my developing body because it attracted too much attention. But I went along with it, too. I pleased him because that's the way it had always been. In the same way that a child does the dishes or mows the lawn to please her parents, I performed sexual acts.
For a few years we lived several states away and I was safe. It was a relief, but at the same time, I missed them. Despite the abuse, he was my grandpa and I loved him. (Gosh, those words hurt me more to type than all the rest of it.) When I was 14, my dad decided to go back to college, so we moved back to Illinois and in with them. The abuse started up again immediately.
One day, a friend at school told me that she had been abused and been to counseling. I told her that I was being touched, too. She told her mom, who called the school, who called the state, who called my dad. That friend probably saved my life.
The telling was hell. The school counselor called me in and asked me if it was true. I told her that it was, but tried to lessen it by saying it had only happened twice. In my mind, I didn't want to say I had been lying to my friend, and I knew that it only happening once wasn't believable, but somehow I thought it happening twice was. (Magical thinking of a child, here.) As there is (was?) no statue of limitations on sexual abuse in my state, it still had to be reported, despite my pleas not to tell my dad.
She said she would talk to the state and see what had to happen.
When I showed up for the meeting with the state interviewer, my dad was in the room already. No one had told me he would be there. I had a whole letter written explaining why they shouldn't tell him. I burned it later. When I saw him sitting in the small office, I turned to run away.
I don't know where I was going, I just needed to go away. The school counselor grabbed me and physically pushed me back into the office. My dad stood and just hugged me for a long time. I just sobbed.
Then the interview started. I couldn't look anyone in the eye. I was 14 years old. I couldn't even say the word "tampon" in front of my dad yet and the counselor wanted me to now answer if CH inserted his fingers or penis into my vagina. I couldn't answer through the sobs. My school counselor had been warned not to speak during the interview, but she broke decorum to ask if perhaps this would be easier if my dad wasn't there. I just nodded. My dad immediately stood and left.
After the interview was over, I had to go back to class. As it happened, it was lunch time. I walked in and the school bully started making rude comments to me (as usual) and before I could decide what else to do, I dumped my carton of chocolate milk over his head, getting me sent to the Principal's office where I had to apologize. The best part of that whole day was my principal telling me I ought not to do that because by the end of the day, the bully was going to smell bad. I hope he did.
That night, my dad picked me up from school and asked me if I wanted to prosecute. I did, but instead of saying so, I asked him what he thought. He said he thought that CH was a sick man and that a trial wouldn't do anyone any good. I just wanted my life to go back to normal, so I said I agreed. I have regretted that moment for the last 21 years.
The next day, the state called and said that they didn't have enough evidence to prosecute on their own, but that the accusations were founded. If we didn't immediately move out of my grandparents' house, the state would remove me from my father's care and put me into the foster system.
My dad came to me and told me that he was going to have to tell my grandma. Did I want to be there when he told her? No. I didn't. He went to the basement where she was watching TV. I went to my room and closed the door. CH was at work. I don't even think I cried while I listened to my grandmother wail. Even then, I knew she should have protected me.
The next day we moved into a motel. We ran out of money a week later. We lived another week or so in a homeless shelter. That was where I lived during Thanksgiving 1990. My dad applied for state aid and we found a crappy apartment to live in while my dad finished college and worked as much as he could. We still ate dinner with my grandparents every night. In convincing everyone that it really had happened only twice, my dad thought I was safe now.
A few times after that, CH tried to touch me again. I told him I would scream. Finally I had a voice.
My grandmother occasionally asked me to detail what had happened. I guess she also wanted to know if he had inserted his fingers or penis into my vagina. I refused to discuss it. She assured me that I had certainly misconstrued a pat on the butt. I assured her that I hadn't.
When I was 17 or so, she again begged me to tell her what happened. Pleaded, "WHY won't you tell me?" So I did. In excruciating detail, I told her every single thing. She sobbed and I seethed. Why did either of us need to think about it? Why couldn't she just believe me? They still stayed married.
When I was 19, she decided she would move back to her hometown of Indianapolis. She told CH that he could move with her, or they could get divorced. He didn't want to move, so they got divorced. I was relieved.
And then Thanksgiving came, and she invited him to have dinner with us again. My dad broke it to me gently and asked if I'd rather not go. We had dinner at a local restaurant that year. It was weird. I decided then that I would go to family dinners as usual. I didn't want him to keep me out of my traditions. So for a few more years, I continued to have holiday meals with him.
Somewhere along the way, I told my dad the truth about how long it had really gone on. That didn't go so well either. He didn't want to think about it. Kept asking me why I was telling him. I guess he felt about that the way I felt about my grandmother's questions. At the time I told him I just wanted him to know the truth. Now I realize that I wanted him to hate CH as much as I did. It hurt me that he didn't.
I got counseling for a little while. Not long, but enough to do me some good.
CH died last year. He left me a small amount of money. My dad asked if I wanted it, thinking maybe I didn't. I told him that no amount of money could undo what was done, but the money would be put to good use. I guess it was a small amount of justice in a pool of evil.
Most of the time, I'm okay. I have my moments. The right sound can set me off. For a long time, the smell of Head and Shoulders shampoo would make me gag. I started using it on purpose to disassociate the scent from CH.
Mostly, it's made me sensitive to the fragility of children. Everyone thought CH was "just the greatest guy." Everyone just loved him. Those are the guys you have to look out for. The ones who can charm the kids. When I met David, I was relieved that he was so uncomfortable around children. He would stare blankly at a child who talked to him. That's not a guy who is talking a kid into doing things she didn't want to.
When stories like the Sandusky story come up, I have trouble, though. I know the pain of those boys. I read about the boys still going to the football camps even though they knew what else came with it. I think about asking for money for ice cream even though I knew what it would cost me. The guilt and shame come back with a vengeance. Intellectually I know that he was the adult with power, but I can't help but think "if only..." sometimes.
I look at Dottie Sandusky and see my grandmother. Willful ignorance, to be sure. It must be nice to have the luxury not to think about things one doesn't want to see. Jerry's victims, CH's victims, all the victims of predators out there, we don't have a choice.
I share this story because it's truth. Because Jerry Sandusky is not the only one. Because this blog is about parenting and about hope. I hope that children are safer now because Jerry Sandusky is in jail. CH is dead. Maybe Jerry will join him in hell soon.
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