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The verdict in the molestation trial of Jerry Sandusky is in: Guilty.
I read Yahoo Sports writer Dan Wetzel’s article just after breakfast. His previous articles about the case have been fair and shown no bias, which in itself marks him as an excellent journalist, particularly in the sports universe, which often rushed to the defense of its heroes and legends when their worthiness is challenged. With this article, it was as if Mr. Wetzel had let a dam burst. There is no mistaking his personal feelings about this case. And I admire him for expressing them.
I am glad that Sandusky’s victims have found some justice. What happened to them can never be undone, and has left permanent scars but perhaps this gives them an opportunity to live somewhat more peacefully with those scars, knowing their stories have been told, and believed. They have been vindicated.
My own reaction to this verdict has fascinated me. This man is guilty. And yet, somehow, when I read the verdict, I felt a strum of guilt, sorrow, and doubt in myself. Like my childhood self remembering how I must have been mistaken about what was happening, how I should respect and pity my abuser, how it was me that was crazy, not him – not an old grandfatherly figure. Shit.
This has stirred up a lot of stuff for me. How we protect our abusers by our silence, and how we are mentally manipulated by them so that the concept of right and wrong is twisted into something like a cheap candelabra pulled from the ruins of an incredibly hot fire.
I am not one to revel in the misfortunes of others, even when they brought those misfortunes – and this guilty verdict – upon themselves. Perhaps I should find more peace in justice. Perhaps part of my own issue is that my abuser died before I (or anyone else) could confront him. And his sins died with him, except in the minds and souls of those others (and I’m sure there were other, not just me) that he abused. There was no justice there.
I guess I will have to think on this some more.
I originally wrote the post below about Dottie Sandusky on November 10, 2011, and it stirred up a small hornet’s nest of controversy – people saying that I was defending Dottie Sandusky, that I was being unfair to the victims, that I was a narrow-minded ass and an idiot. Well, as I maintained during those debates, we are all entitled to our opinion, and I stand by that belief.
As the Jerry Sandusky trial is wrapping up, and Dottie Sandusky has testified in defense of her husband, the feelings I had when I originally wrote this post have risen to the surface of my consciousness again. On a rational and clinical level, I understand the titanic depths of denial thought patterns in a situation like this. However, having followed the testimony of the victims, I have a somewhat increased sense of disappointment, outrage, and childlike bewilderment about this kind of denial. Not only does it minimize the victims’ experiences, it feels like a desperate act of self-preservation on the part of a woman who sees her world crumbling and will do anything to try to save it, regardless of the cost. Wouldn’t we all? I don’t know. It depends on our individual strength of character and moral courage.
As a childhood victim of a molester, I saw the denial that my parents experienced. Were they culpable? My child’s mind thought so – because I expressed in every way I could that I did not want to be around my molester – every way except telling them what was going on. I was too embarrassed, too ashamed, and too confused. Which sounds a lot like what Sandusky’s victims said about themselves and which is now enabling a clever defense attorney to call their testimony into question, in a large part because those feelings made them hold back the truth for so long.
I know what I think is right in this case, and perhaps it is colored by my own experience. But so be it. It takes true courage to admit to being a victim and not spend your life living as one.
November 10, 2011: Thinking of Dottie Sandusky
I don’t follow sports. I don’t have any connections at Penn State. I don’t even know how I became aware in the last several days of the atrocious acts that former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky committed on who knows how many young boys over the past 20 years. My heart aches for the victims. I know a little about how they feel. I remember being a victim myself.
But in all this publicity, the perpetrator hasn’t spoken. He’s free on a reasonable amount of bail. What’s he doing? Spending a lot of time with lawyers, obviously, and supporters, certainly. Note that I did not make the totally inappropriate remark about athletic supporters – oh wait, I just did. He can’t be strolling around Happy Valley with his head held high. Can he? Or can he truly be secluding himself in his home, with his wife of heaven knows how many years? Can he really? Which brings us to the point of my post.
As my heart aches for Sandusky’s young victims, it aches for his wife. What must this woman be feeling? Shame, anger, disbelief, rage, humiliation, shock, nausea, betrayal, bewilderment, devastation are just a few of the emotions that come to mind. What do you do when suddenly you discover that the man you married and loved and helped all these years is a person you don’t even know? And someone you would consider a monster if you did not know them?
It must be impossible for her to believe it, despite the evidence. And I know that, at this point, she is looking at every moment of their life together and wondering. Did she really know and just turn a blind eye? Did she miss all the signs? Does this fact make x,y, and z make sense now? How could she have been so gullible? Such a fool?
These are the things she is thinking privately. She may not voice these kinds of thoughts to anyone. And barely even to herself. To friends and family, I imagine she is still displaying the stong, supportive wife-face she has worn for years. The face that says, “I don’t believe a word of this, and I am standing by my man.” She has perhaps raged at her husband – or perhaps not. She’s not of an era when women did that, for any cause.
People have asked, “How could she have not known? It had to have been obvious, or at least suspicious.” But no, it is entirely possible that she did not know, did not see, did not believe. Sociopaths – which is what child molesters are – are extremely charming and excellent at the art of deception. And when you love someone and have built your life around them, you are predisposed to believe what they tell you. When you know someone as a man who has looked after kids in various capacities for years – and raised the ones you adopted together – then the trips, the phone calls, the bedtime companionship in the basement room, seem like pure fatherly activities. And pedophiles can – and do – raise families without victimizing their own children – sometimes.
The one thing I know is that this woman is a victim in a whole different way. And for that, my heart goes out to her.