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Why adults don't stop child sex abuseJune 17, 2012 @ 6:09 pm (Updated: 9:43 am - 6/18/12 )
Jerry Sandusky's trial enters its fifth day Monday. Sandusky denies all the sexual abuse charges against him, saying that while he showered with boys, he never touched them sexually.
Sandusky's defense attorneys will raise doubts - why didn't the boys who claim they were sexually abused say anything until now? They contend the "accusers" are twisting the truth because they intend to sue. Why didn't people close to Sandusky stop him if they thought children were being molested?
So far eight young men described how the former Penn State assistant coach molested them in campus showers, hotel bathrooms, a basement bedroom, and a sauna used by the football team. There were several people who could have said something to stop the alleged sexual abuse:
A janitor failed to tell authorities he allegedly caught Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy in a campus shower a dozen years ago.
A district attorney, with a reputation for prosecuting cases involving children and sexual abuse victims, declined to charge Sandusky over a 1998 molestation allegation even though the detective who investigated thought it was a solid case. The DA, Ray Gricar, disappeared in 2005 and was declared legally dead last year.
One accuser testified he screamed out for help at least once when Sandusky's wife, Dottie, was in the house. He doesn't know whether she heard his cries.
Coaching assistant Mike McQueary saw Sandusky having what he believed to be anal sex with a young boy in 2001. But his report to Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz went nowhere.
School officials were skeptical of abuse claims brought by the young man known in court papers as Victim 1 because Sandusky was considered to have a "heart of gold." Victim 1's allegations eventually triggered the state investigation that produced charges.
It's easy to listen to evidence in the case and think people who knew something, or suspected something, should have done more to stop it.
But experts who counsel abuse victims say it is common for adults to ignore signs of sexual abuse.
"There isn't a picture that any of us can come up with around a child being sexually abused that is anything we want to look at. We don't want to think about it, we don't want to know that it happens," says Janice Palm, executive director of Shepherd's Counseling Services.
"The statistics are very consistent. One in four girls, one in six boys are sexually abused before they're 18. That means 20 percent of the population."
Shepherd's, in Seattle, is one of the few centers in the U.S. that specializes in treating adults who were sexually abused as children.
Another question that has been raised in the Sandusky trial by defense attorneys is, why didn't the alleged victims say something to another adult about the abuse? Palm says it is ridiculous for adults to assume a child would speak up.
"Children don't speak up because they don't have power and they're also traumatized and we know what happens to human brains in trauma. They shut down," she says. "If you're a child and something really, really confusing that feels really bad and shameful, you don't have words to talk about it. You don't have a process to talk about it."
Young victims also believe they are to blame for the sexual abuse.
"Children are ego-centric, so in child logic if something bad happens to me and I feel bad, that means I am bad and it also means it's my fault. I did something to make that happen. Children are not going to talk about that," says Palm.
When a child is sexually abused by an adult, two types of trust are "shattered," she says. The children grow up unable to trust adults, and sadly they are unable to trust themselves. They tend to be very unsure of themselves as adults.
"If you grow up in a safe enough environment, you take a lot for granted about how we interact with the world. There is no 'normal environment' when a child is sexually abused," Palm says. "They're on their own. They have to figure out how to cope."
Palm says adults who were abused as children often don't seek counseling until they've struggled with relationships that don't work. They find themselves in a pattern of failed relationships with partners who "can't deal with this anymore."
She says some of her oldest clients waited until they were in their 70s to seek help. One thing abuse victims have in common, regardless of their age, is suppressed anger.
"Human beings are supposed to be angry when they're violated. That's a protective instinct. That doesn't happen when children are sexually abused. They're scared, they're traumatized and they're also in this web of manipulation that is very, very, very confusing," Palm says. "Their immediate instinct is not to be angry at the time, but the anger doesn't go away. It comes out in inappropriate ways."
Part two of this series continues Tuesday. Two adults will share their painful stories of sexual abuse, with the hope that it will help others who were abused as children.
By LINDA THOMAS
AP contributed to this report, AP photo by Nabil K. Mark
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