Thursday afternoon was a terribly troubling day for many reasons. We learned that it wasn’t just boys that Sandusky happened to run into that were the victims of his crimes, but his own family members as well. The end of the Sandusky hearing put the faith of ten boys in the hands of twelve people, but it wasn’t just those who had been abused by this terrible monster that were having their faith tested, it was an entire generation of forgotten children. No one seems to understand that there are no winners or losers in this situation, just losers because we can’t deliver true justice to Sandusky for ruining the lives of so many, we can only punish him and hope that the balance of justice will even itself out. Hope is there for the innocent, hope is there for the wicked, but hope should not just be fulfilled for those who survive the wicked but all those who have been exposed to it as well.
When I was in seventh grade the leader of my youth group at the church I attended barricaded himself inside a West Allis hotel room and blew his brains out with a shotgun. He had molested three boys, that we knew about and that’s the saddest part right there at the end, the part where I have to say: “that we knew about.” The incredible tragedy of these cases is that there are so many victims who are afraid to come out and tell their story. They’re afraid because they know they’ll be bullied, they’re afraid because they know that the person who perpetrated these heinous crimes against them may seek retribution, and they’re afraid because they know that many people simply won’t believe them. The truth is that we like to believe that the people we put in positions of trust are trustworthy despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. We like to believe that pastors don’t molest kids, but we know that not only do they perpetrate terrible crimes against children, but it is often those around them that do something just as heinous: they cover it up.
My freshman year of high school was spent at a Catholic school. It seemed different than any other school I had attended and it was in many respects. Later in life when I watched victims of sexual abuse at my school come forward I never even wondered about my classmates at the public high school where I spent the remaining three years of my high school education, I only worried about those who had been with me at the Catholic school where I spent one out of four years. I hadn’t actually seen anything happen there, thank God for that, but we all heard stories. There was a revolving door of Priests who came and left our school at alarming intervals and we were never told why. We had new teachers every semester and we were never even given a hint as to why someone might only spend a couple of semesters at our school and then leave abruptly in the middle of a semester. By the end of the school year this kind of behavior among faculty became the norm and none of us were all that surprised by it, but years later after I graduated it dawned on me that this wasn’t normal behavior at all. The truth is that, as a teacher, you don’t leave a school that provides a great environment, has great faculty, and facilitates learning. You leave an institution like that because something is terribly, terribly wrong and it wasn’t until years later that I found out why so many left.
I wasn’t all that surprised when I watched my former homeroom teacher exit his home in handcuffs, escorted by the local sheriff’s office and members of the FBI. He was always traveling around “spreading the word of the Lord” as he used to call it and I was to later learn, he was adding to his list of victims of sexual abuse at the same time. We’ll never know how many kids fell victim to this man, but I’ll always remember that it could have been me among them. If I had stayed after class or if I had spent any time around the locker rooms after school I could have been just another victim. The real tragedy of this story lies in the final words of that last sentence: “just another victim” because that’s how they’re treated in our society and among the staff and faculty of the school. They’ll never be looked at as anything other than that person who did in that faculty member that the school really liked and even in the most sympathetic of venues they’ll be viewed as a person whom we should pity, an example of what not to do if one finds themself in that situation. That is the greatest tragedy of all, not that they’re victims, but that they’ll never be given a chance to even attempt to overcome the victimhood and the stigma of “homewrecker” that society places at their feet.
This entire story has been about me. It has been about how I’ve witnessed and grown up around kids that will never be the same because of what happened to them when they were too young and too innocent to do anything to avoid these predators. The tragic thing is that they’re not kids anymore, they’re adults and who they are as people has been so greatly affected by what happened to them as children that it is unlikely that they will ever be able to overcome the horrific events and horrible people that perpetrated these acts upon them. Getting sexually abused isn’t something that can be overcome like a cough or a fever, it’s not something that can be put behind you like a shoplifting charge you got when you were just sixteen or something. Sexual abuse is permanent and it affects you for the rest of your life.
The people who did these things will never understand the damage that they’ve caused, but the people whom they perpetrated it upon will have to live with it and it will dictate much of how they live their lives as they try to go through life as something other than tainted goods. That is exactly how many victims look at themselves however, they view themselves as tainted goods, things that cannot be loved as other people can be loved and how do we, as a society look upon those who cannot love themselves? We view them as outcasts, as people who can’t get it together, and as people who aren’t entirely deserving of the same things that we take for granted every day and it’s that shame, those bitter attitudes that lead to the shattered dreams of so many members of my generation that it makes me wonder if any of us will be able to realize the dreams that we had as children, before the predators struck.