Sex in the news hits close to home
Fans of Penn State are feeling a little shattered as news of a sex scandal breaks and more details ooze out of the slime.
Coach Joe Paterno had every reason to know children were being molessted by his friend Jerry Sandusky, who ran a program for vulnerable children. Instead everyone involved just pretended nothing was happening. Even when victims came forward, nothing was done to stop Sandusky’s access to children. A district attorney declined to prosecute even though there was plenty of evidence. I will say, however, that after several incidents, including a rape that was witnessed by another person, Sandusky was told he couldn’t bring children into the football building.
In other words, he was free to continue his reign of terror outside the football building.
Let me tell you what happens to the victims of child sex abuse. I know the story well because I am a survivor, and I feel the effects to this day.
My molester was someone my family knew and trusted. He started the abuse when I was 3 and it continued until I was 11, mainly because no one talked about it in the 1950s, and no one would have believed me. My attacker was a pillar of the community. He was beloved because he was so good with children.
I can still see my chubby fingers closing around the quarter that was my hush money.
As I got older and finally gathered the courage to tell him no, I knew I was giving up being his “favorite.” But I also knew I was a dirty little girl. No one had to tell me that; I felt it with every fiber of my being. I never dared to tell anyone, and I still don’t talk in public about who my abuser was.
But when I was in my early 30s, my sister confronted me, admitting that she knew what was going on. I had never even told my husband, who was pretty shocked by the revelation.
Children who are molested almost universally have low self-esteem. Molesters tend to “groom” them carefully by allowing them to do or have something they’re not allowed to have or do — having beer or other alcohol or drugs, watching a forbidden movie, taking money. They’re told to keep it a secret. Gradually, the secrets get bigger and bigger until the abuser has power over the child — or at least the child believes he (or she) does. Often, the abuser is someone who others in the community adore — like the coach who runs a program for disadvantaged kids. That, too, is a form of power. Who will believe the accusations of a troubled child over the word of a trusted community member?
Children who have been molested tend to become depressed adults, and they are plagued by low self-esteem. They often marry abusive partners because they feel they don’t deserve to be loved and treated well. They are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, to have unprotected sex, even to be promiscuous because in their experience, sex gets you love.
Without help, their rates of suicide are much higher. Even with help, what was taken from us will never be returned, and we will never again be who we were.
At worst, the abuse will define a person; at best, we will intergrate it into who we are. In any case, it is there always, ready to be brought to the surface when we hear about it happening to someone else.
I still have to look myself in the mirror every now and then and tell myself I was the victim of a crime.
This is what these children face. They will never get over the fact that Sandusky was allowed to abuse them at will and nobody would do anything to stop it.
So, do I feel sorry for Joe Paterno because his legendary reign at Penn State will be tainted?
No. Not one bit.
And now to Herman Cain
In another case of “trust me, I didn’t do anything inappropriate,” Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain wants us to believe all five of the women who have accused him of inappropriate sexual conduct are lying, even though two of them received settlements from the National Restaurant Association.
Sorry, Herman, I’m going with what the women are saying. Too many powerful men (and once in awhile, women) abuse that power by demanding sexual favors. “You do want a job, don’t you?”
I think most women have encountered something of this behavior, especially older women. We Baby Boomers ventured into a hostile workplace in many cases.
I once left a job because a colleague kept pressing me to have sex with him (I was much younger and cuter then). I couldn’t get him to stop. I complained to the boss, who laughed and said, “That’s our Bob.” I started a search for a new job and was ready to quit in a couple of weeks. My letter of resignation detailed the inappropriate behavior, although I’m sure the boss threw it out.
I didn’t leave quietly, though. First I called Bob’s wife and told her the story. Apparently I wasn’t the first. I don’t know what happened after that, and I don’t really care. I only hope Bob got what was coming to him.
When a woman comes forward to say a man has behaved inappropriately with her, I tend to believe it, especially when there are five of them. Most women won’t do it because they get dragged through the mud (remember Anita Hill?). They just want to get on with their lives and put the harassment behind them.
So, Herman, I with all due respect, I believe you’re a lying sack of crap.Leslie Boyd, a former newspaper reporter, is president of the health care advocacy nonprofit, WNC Health Advocates, founded in memory of her son, who died in 2008 because he couldn't access health care. E-mail her at leslie at lettersfromtheleft dot com or follow her on Twitter @leftyletters1, visit Letters from the Left on Facebook. For more information about WNC Health Advocates or to read Boyd's health care blog, visit wncha.org.