It was a warm August weekend when my phone rang. There are moments in your life that change things forever; that you will never forget, and this was one of those moments. I immediately jumped in my car, asked for landmarks and searched desperately for her.
I’ve thought back to those moments, to that day, a lot since the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky story first broke. What kind of reaction is reasonable when you suspect, when you hear of, or when you witness a child sexually abused? For me, it was simple. Find the kid; take them to safety.
And so we sat in my apartment that night. Safe. Scared. Confused. I didn’t know what I was doing or what would come next. But for the moment we were safe.
With yesterday’s release of the Freeh Report, it seems apparent to anyone with a clue, that there was a systematic cover up and disregard for children’s welfare by Penn State University. It wasn’t just Joe Paterno; it wasn’t just one person. Blame lies with the janitors who failed to come forward, the man who had previously worked for PSU who decided that the 1998 case wasn’t sexual abuse, the Board of Trustees who never questioned why their employees were testifying before a grand jury or why a low ranking academic individual was given keys to the kingdom, blame lies with everyone.
Before the report, and sadly after, there are apologists for Penn State and the people involved. Sandusky is the monster, but don’t punish those who harbored him, who enabled him, who showed blatant disregard for children’s safety. Apologists say there is no way others knew of the abuse; they talk about how hard it is to accept that someone you have loved, considered a friend, trusted, could do something so heinous.
I have seen this first hand. From my own gut reaction to race across town to having to be held back from causing physical harm to talking with police to late night counseling sessions. I didn’t care about the people I thought I knew. I now hated them; a deep, dark emotion has filled me since.
I have also seen someone else that I loved and trusted unable to accept what took me mere seconds to grasp. They saw a different story; they believed a different truth. I saw how their refusal to accept the truth hurt the victim. I saw it divide people at times and in ways that people should not be divided. Coming forward affected many lives. Some people were concerned with the child’s; some people were concerned with their own.
To this day, seven years later, we stand on different sides of the fence. And it breaks my heart. I can’t even imagine how that betrayal has hurt the victim. Getting over the abuse is a daily task, accepting the betrayal of someone who should believe them is just as hard.
I struggle with the discord these different truths have created in my life. I love her and give her my full support. And in doing so it means not supporting the people - no matter who they are - who don’t believe her, who have stood in the truth’s way. It is not always easy. And I’d be lying if I’d say I was perfect at it.
So I realize that the people who continue to believe the Freeh report to be “just opinion” or believe that there is something acceptable in not being able to admit to yourself that your friend is a monster, are probably never going to stop lying to themselves and I realize how incredibly difficult it is. But I hope and pray that someday they do. Because you can’t undo the abuse, you can’t undo the past, but you can admit you were wrong. And the power that gives a victim is incredible.
Later this summer a middle aged man will leave a jail in Wisconsin a free man. It is a day she has circled on her calendar. It is a day that I wish for her, I could prevent from happening forever. But I can’t stop this day. But I can still curse his name. And I can still honor her.
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