The conspiracy of silence

**TRIGGER WARNING for sexual assault and sexual abuse survivors**

Sometimes you don’t get any warning about bad news. When I turned on my TV this morning it was already tuned to ESPN and the story in progress was that of former Penn State Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky. In case you missed it, Sandusky, who is a celebrated football coach, is facing a 40-count indictment of inappropriate and criminal sexual contact (reportedly ranging from touching to rape) with eight boys over a period of 15 years before and after he retired from Penn State in 1999. It seems that the abuse incidents may have been during Sandusky’s overnight children’s camp, which was allowed to operate on different college campuses, including Penn State.

My stomach is turning.

As if that is not chilling enough, the story gets worse: It appears that at least some members of top Penn State administrative staff knew about Sandusky’s pattern of abuse and did nothing to stop it. In fact, they may have helped cover it up. In the report on Sports Center, investigators were quoted saying that on at least two occasions, janitorial staff witnessed sexual acts by Sandusky with one of the boys in the locker room showers. After one of those incidents, janitors did not report it for fear of losing their jobs. But in a second incident, they did report it and nothing happened. (Two Penn State have resigned and face perjury charges for lying to the grand jury.)

When I talk about the fear that survivors have about coming forward and telling their stories, this is exactly what I’m talking about. Not only is it a huge act of courage to overcome your shame and speak the truth, but on top of that you have to worry that you will not be believed. Or worse, that the truth will be swept under the rug and you may even face retribution from your abuser.

And here we have an even more egregious scenario: Someone tried to help at least one or more of those boys and NOBODY did anything to intervene.

If you sense that I am angry at this news, you are damn right I’m angry! As a survivor of sexual abuse, I take this very personally. But maybe even more so in this case because I, too, experienced a conspiracy of lies and cover-ups. People tried to help me and others moved to block that help. In my situation, my abuser was a well-known member of the community. Powerful people in the community liked him. So I get the fear of speaking out. And I’ve experienced first-hand what it’s like when people act to protect an abuser — rather than the abused. So, yeah, this news really pisses me off. I feel a kinship with those boys. I understand the helpless feeling that even if you were to reach out and cry for help, nobody would come.

That kind of silence can crush the spirit right out of your body.

And that is a fucking crime. It’s a crime against those boys. It’s a crime when it happens to any survivor. And it’s an indictment on a society that has the kind of fucked up “priorities” that put winning football games and making money (because winning college franchises make a boat-load of money for those schools and those college conferences) above the health and safety of people.

Look, I like football. In fact, I am a huge college football fan. So for me, this is not about vilifying football or sports. But we do have to ask the critical questions. We have to hold people accountable, even if it means facing things we don’t like to talk about or think about. Is being bowl game eligible really a justification for looking the other way on a pattern of years of abuse?

When do we say that enough’s enough? When is the price of silence too high?


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