Some thoughts about the incredible young men who survived everything and finally stopped Jerry Sandusky.

Thor’s battle against the Jotnar

It seems like most of the headlines I’ve seen on Google’s news feed over the last…well, almost a year now…about the sexual predation Sandusky pursued at his college and charity broke down into three basic subjects:

1) Jerry Sandusky

2) Penn State/college football

3) Joe Paterno

So very few have been about child sexual abuse and its survivors in general, or the young men who, in this case specifically, survived and finally struck back.  I feel the vacuum keenly.

Granted, there was a flurry of headlines about the young men involved when a brave handful took the stand to publicly testify about what they’d endured, but even those were disheartening.  Their tone often struck me as patronizing or downright sordid like Witness Weeps As He Testifies To Abuse or, far worse, Accuser testifies that other than abuse, times with ex-coach were ‘nice’.


It seemed like the writers wanted to evoke pity or outrage or even contempt, rather than kindle our respect for the profound resolve and commitment to truth displayed by each and every one of the witnesses.

For those who don’t understand yet, the level of courage it took for those young men to take the stand in open court was equivalent to the kind practiced by heroes in war zones.  The only way to stop Sandusky was for them to expose themselves.  It was like standing up to draw fire in order to reveal the location of the enemy.  The risks were immeasurable.  These guys deserve medals.

I understand that there wasn’t a lot anybody could or should write about them personally because their privacy and identities had to be protected.  But still, there was so much else that could have been said about their strength, cunning, and stamina, about the unbelievably complex set of skills they had to develop in order to navigate, survive, and eventually expose that degree of secret, targeted harm and cover-up.

These young men were amazing.  What they’ve accomplished is staggering.  Both the ones who came forward and told somebody about it, and the ones who couldn’t but still managed to survive and eventually get away anyway.  I’m so glad and grateful that now none of them will have to live for the rest of their lives being afraid that if they tell someone, they won’t be believed.   Because as bad as the horror of the abuse itself was, living with the secrecy, denial, disbelief, or outright shaming that can go on after the fact is even worse.

I just really, really needed to say this to them:

Thank you, gentlemen, for everything you’ve done.  Thank you for enduring and surviving in the first place.  Thank you for finally getting away from him when you could.  And, if you did, thank you for telling someone what was going on.  These things ALL, cumulatively, contributed to eventual justice.  

 And for those of you who risked everything and actually took the stand to testify, thank you for doing what some of the most powerful, privileged, and influential men in the educational world…what one of the most powerful athletic institutions in the nation as well as the vast cultural and financial empire that supported it…were too little to do.

You stopped Jerry Sandusky from ever hurting another child.  You struck the righteous, thunderbolt blow.  Kudos, gentlemen.  With all my heart I wish you the healing, dignity, and wholeness in your lives that you so richly, richly deserve.

Dia Osborn

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

CSA’s and Thoughts About How Hard It Is To Address Childhood Sexual Abuse

I have to start writing faster.  I’m too anal and obsessive, to the point where I spend three hours on a sentence that I should just delete.  Then I do.

(I’m now fighting off the compulsion to go back and extensively rewrite the previous three sentences before I can move on.  Sigh.)

So, since I’m up against my deadline today, and since I’ve wasted the entire week on writing and re-writing a few paragraphs of a post that I’ve now decided not to use, and since I now have nothing to show for all the hours I worked, today I’m going to just write something and then throw it up in the air to see if it flies.  Here goes.

First, CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture.)  We joined a CSA hosted by a local farm this year and it’s been a terrific experience.  Our membership included a set poundage of locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables each week in addition to which we splurged for a free-range chicken or a dozen eggs on alternate weeks.  It’s a whole different way to eat, let me tell you.

We met a number of new vegetables we don’t normally consume (lemon cucumbers and purple potatoes…yum!!, beets…no.  An unfortunate childhood brush with forced feeding seems to have ruined me forever for beets…) and menu planning was an exercise in surrender and total flexibility.  I had no idea what I’d find in the bag from week to week so Tuesday nights involved a steep learning curve and creative (if not always edible) menu planning.  I was feeling increasingly overwhelmed by it all until the lucky discovery that I could throw everything I didn’t know what else to do with into a roasting pan, coat it with olive oil, and then grill it for half an hour.  No waste, little effort, and surprisingly tasty results.

Here’s a pre-roasting photo of some beautiful, colorful mixed vegetables we got from the farm:

It was like eating a trip to Mardi Gras.  What a pleasure.  We’ll definitely be signing on as CSA members again next year.

And now, the difficult part of this post.  The avalanche of shocking revelations this week of child sexual abuse in the showers at Penn State stirred up a lot for me again and…I’m sure…many others who live with that particular legacy.  It also, unfortunately, stirs up a lot for those who love us.  The coverage was so extensive it proved impossible to escape and of course it dredged up old ghosts.  I grew increasingly agitated as the week progressed which inevitably led to the hubster and I having an emotionally loaded discussion about it all which was painful and distressing.  My tail was lashing and claws were out, and he was doing his level best to listen without actually emerging from the behind the door where he might become a possible target himself.

But somehow, in spite of the dangers, we stuck with the discussion, refusing to collapse back into the standard, polite silence that Big Lie insists is more civilized but is really just poisonous and creepy and awful.  The hubster stayed near-but-not-too-close until my wild anger finally broke and the rain of tears began, at which point he knew from experience it was safe to come out and help me wrestle the remaining storm of emotions back to the mat.

We had a really great talk after that and wound up finding a lot of hope and anchors to tie into, and by the time we were through we both felt a lot more positive, strong, and courageous looking forward than we had beforehand.  Here are a couple of the insights we came too:

First, Silence is the biggest enemy we have, bigger even than the predators and the crimes themselves.  Without our longstanding cultural willingness to look the other way, predators would have a far more difficult time finding the hiding and secrecy they need. They exploit and thrive on our instinctive tendency to avert our eyes.  It’s also been well-established that having to keep the secret of abuse afterwards does more lasting damage to a victim than the original abuse itself.  So silence really is the worst thing…but it’s also the one thing that all of us can address, no matter where we are.

Second, stepping up to the plate and reporting this kind of abuse is one of the riskiest, most frightening, and potentially devastating things that a person can do.  Ask any victim.  And it’s not much different for their advocates.  A revelation of this nature has the annihilating power of a nuclear bomb, and to unleash that devastation on a person, or a family, or a community, or an institution that one either still deeply cares about and/or is afraid of, requires a level of courage far beyond what most of us have ever had to muster.  And when it reaches a powerful institutional level as it did with the Catholic church and Penn State, the inevitable costs involved in speaking out can grow so daunting it paralyzes.  I’m not surprised that the men who knew about Sandusky’s predation failed to speak up.  Frankly, I would have been more surprised if they had.  Protecting the status quo has been stand-by operating procedure for centuries, if not longer.  We shouldn’t underestimate just how revolutionary the current movement to expose and address childhood sexual abuse really is.  We’re breaking some serious new trail here so everyone should expect a lot of turbulence during the transition.

In a sense, reporting child sexual abuse is a lot like throwing yourself in front of the gun.  You never know whether someone will decide to shoot you or the predator.  I remember when Mackenzie Phillips released her book with the bombshell that she’d had an incestual relationship with her father that lasted into adulthood.  In spite of all the other unconscionable things her father had done to her that no one argued with, and in spite of the fact that Ms. Phillips was a catalog of symptoms that correlate to childhood sexual abuse, the majority of media coverage still had a bias toward protecting her father and doubting her.  Very few public voices at the time seemed inclined to believe her and the spiraling frenzy of blowback was frightening.

(That was another tough week for those of us with childhood sexual abuse in our past.  As one blogger so succinctly put it at the time, “Evidently, the only thing more taboo than committing incest is a victim trying to talk about it afterwards.”)

One thing that the hubster and I came to in our discussion was the realization that there were times when we, too, had failed to speak up in situations that called for it.  They hadn’t involved anything nearly as extreme as witnessing a child being raped in a university shower, but then most of the time these kinds of things don’t.  On the contrary, they’re usually small enough that we can tell ourselves they’re innocuous and really not worth making a stir over.  Yet it’s on the smaller things where it’s easiest to begin to develop a voice.  When we hear someone at the next table trashing someone we care about, or when our friends are hassling someone unfashionable, or when our coworkers are stealing office supplies, or when someone tells us an offensive joke.  These are the times we can practice saying Y’know, that’s not right.  Please stop.  I believe we’re better than that.  

The hubster said he uses the shame from the memory of his past failure as a motivation to do it differently next time.  Because in that way, he actually harnesses past harm as an energy for future good.  I loved that, because it means that past mistakes are never written in stone.  We can’t go back and change them but they don’t have to define us.  We can define ourselves instead by what we do about them going forward.

And…shoot.  It still took me seven hours to write this frigging post.  The whole spontaneous thing is definitely gonna require practice.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011