In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, allegations of child-sex-abuse by a former Syracuse basketball assistant coach, and allegations that an Austin State Hospital psychiatrist sexually abused eight victims since 2001, it’s time for our culture to consider why it took over a decade for these accusations to surface. In that period of time, how many other innocent children did these monsters abuse?
The first step in changing a culture of silence is to recognize the heroics of the children who report the abuse. Anderson Cooper has led the way in calling one of Sandusky’s outspoken victims a “hero,” and the media should take a cue from Cooper’s progressive approach.
When a child victim speaks out, it’s completely inappropriate to begin cross-examining the victim about why he or she didn’t report the abuse sooner. I recall Matt Lauer’s irresponsible interview of the daughter of an Aransas County judge after she released a video of her father’s physically abusive tirade seven years after the incident. Lauer questioned her like he was a defense attorney attacking a testifying victim. Instead of praising her for her courage, Lauer wanted to know why it took so long for her to release the footage. Lauer continually implied that she must have some improper motive.
That’s not the proper way to treat courageous people who report abuse, and Lauer’s irresponsible journalism could discourage other victims from coming forward for fear of being further victimized by a bully interviewer. In the context of sexual abuse, a child victim must feel overwhelming emotions of humiliation and fear. To overcome those emotions and identify the perpetrator is such a brave feat that it should be praised rather than immediately questioned. Bob Costas’ interview with Sandusky revealed that this creepy monster is trying to weasel out of the charges. To prevent him from walking free, we need more of the victims to publicly stand up and confront their perpetrator. That’s true bravery that must be celebrated if our culture’s going to wage a winning war against sexual predators. Let the defense attorneys question the veracity of the victims’ accounts in the courtroom – trust me, these defense attorneys don’t need any free help from the media in disparaging the victims’ accounts.
Although I was never the victim of sexual abuse as a child, there was one incident from my childhood that helps me empathize with the humiliating feelings of such victims. I attended St. Mark’s, a private, all-boys school in Dallas, and when I was in the 8th grade, my cruel classmates decided to gang up on me one day by starting a rumor that I’d been “raped by construction workers.” I tried to ignore their taunts at first, but eventually it escalated to everyone asking me if I’d really been raped. When one of my friends started asking me about it before the start of math class, I snapped. I bull-rushed him, knocking open a door as I carried the fight outside. I swung wildly, backing him up into a pole, upon which he hit his head quite hard. My classmate started crying and became very angry with me, giving me the silent treatment. I remember school administrators becoming involved, and I don’t think I was on speaking terms with my friend for a week.
The reason I tell that story is that even when rumors about sexual abuse are false, they’re very upsetting to a child, who doesn’t want to be ostracized from his friends. Now, consider a boy who really has been sexually abused by an adult man. The humiliation of being raped combines with the fear of being teased for being homosexual within a homophobic and cruel teenaged world. For example, one of Sandusky’s victims was ridiculed by his peers for playing a role in legendary coach Joe Paterno’s firing. The bullying became so hurtful that the boy left school in the middle of his senior year.
I can’t fathom the level of courage that such a child would need to muster in order to publicly expose his abuser. If the child chooses to speak out, then the last thing he needs is for people to question the truth of his story. Above all, that child needs the support of his community.
As a society, by praising the victims who speak out, we can make a significant stride towards ferreting out sex offenders before they have a chance to abuse yet another child. Let’s follow Anderson Cooper’s lead and refer to the brave, outspoken victims by one word: hero. After all, that’s what they are.