Jerry Sandusky Scandal

For Jerry Sandusky's victims, sharing trauma starts healing process

Jerry Sandusky leaves the Centre County Courthouse Friday, June 22, 2012, after being found guilty in his sexual abuse trial, at the Centre County Courthouse, in Bellefonte, Pa.  Centre Daily Times/Nabil K. Mark
Jerry Sandusky leaves the Centre County Courthouse Friday, June 22, 2012, after being found guilty in his sexual abuse trial, at the Centre County Courthouse, in Bellefonte, Pa. Centre Daily Times/Nabil K. Mark

The young men who were abused by Jerry Sandusky were clear on the stand that it took time to open up to police investigating the former coach of sexually abusing young boys.

“I was basically real hesitant — didn’t tell them much of anything,” the 28-year-old known as victim 4 told the jury about the first time police came to his door.

“I don’t even want to be involved now to be honest.”

In the end, though, the jury found Sandusky guilty of all the counts related to victim 4. And after the 45th and final “guilty” was read off, the jury had sent a strong signal.

By convicting Sandusky of almost all of the most serious charges and all 10 counts each of corruption of minors, child endangerment, and unlawful contact with minors, the jury composed of 12 county residents showed it believed each account of the young men who testified.

And that, advocates say, is an important part — albeit one of many — that goes into survivors’ healing.

“They are going to try to resume their lives,” said Justine Andronici, an attorney who represented two of the young men and who also works as a victim advocate for the Centre County Women’s Resource Center. “And they are going to move forward having the knowledge that they had the strength to speak up — speak up for themselves and speak up for other victims.”

For some, they’d been scared to come forward, or humiliated. Others were rebuffed by kids their age.

Victim 4 testified he thought he was cool because he got to hang out with Penn State football players and go to football games. But his classmates took notice of

his close relationship with Sandusky and teased him. Victim 1, an 18-year-old in Clinton County, said he was bullied in school after the charges became public along with his identity in his community, and he withdrew from his school.

“Survivors spend most of their lives convinced that they can’t come forward and won’t be believed if they do,” said Chris Anderson, the executive director of MaleSurvivor, an advocacy organization for abuse victims. “The jury’s decision, given such a short time after closing arguments, sent a powerful statement to the victims that they were heard and believed.”

Their testimony was graphic. The prosecution bookended its case with two powerful witnesses. First was victim 4, who testified that Sandusky subjected him to years of abuse but also gifts that made him not want to give up the good things Sandusky did for him.

The last victim to testify was victim 9, an 18-year-old from Mifflin County who told of being sodomized by Sandusky. His mom testified she couldn’t bear to find out what Sandusky did to her son, but she kind of hinted at her suspicions, saying she wondered why her son’s underwear was not in the laundry.

“I hope they feel a sense of collective hugging, a collective comfort of that belief that we have,” said Andrea Boyles, the CEO of the Centre County Youth Service Bureau. “I hope they feel that and know that, and can kind of have some respite in that and get started in their own journey.”

Debra Kittle Greenleaf, the assistant executive director of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, said the guilty verdict sends a message to those victims who have never been able to disclose their abuse.

“I think that, a lot of times, people feel they’re so alone,” Kettle Greenleaf said. “They haven’t told anybody, and feel that people wouldn’t understand or that people wouldn’t believe you. So it feels like a really big risk.”

One man, Travis Weaver, did a TV interview during the trial in which he told of being abused by Sandusky. Prior to that, he had filed a civil suit in Philadelphia under the name John Doe.

Sandusky’s youngest adopted son also came forward during the trial, announcing through his attorneys that he had been abused by Jerry Sandusky.

Anderson, of MaleSurvivor, said it’s easy to understate the importance of the jury’s believing the Sandusky victims. He said it signals a turning point in current culture, given how the case generated so much publicity and had national news media parked outside the courthouse for two weeks while the trial went on.

“Survivors all over the country will feel more empowered to come forward. Prosecutors will be more willing to bring abuse cases that they might have shied away from in the past,” Anderson said. “And people in general will be far more willing to confront the ugly truth that abuse is far more widespread than we had wished to believe because we now know that it is possible to do something about it.”

In the local community, the support efforts include an initiative started by Penn State students for a class project. They encouraged people to show their support to the victims by writing letters the group would pass on to the young men’s attorneys. The student behind it, Matt Bodenschatz, is a survivor of abuse, but he never was able to confront the abuser in court.

“Those young men are the heroes here,” said Bodenschatz, who attended the trial. “This was about eight remarkable men taking the stand against a sick, obvious serial abuser.”

Kristen Houser, a vice president and spokeswoman with the advocacy group Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, said a key to healing is the support of friends and family.

“People need folks around them who are safe to talk to, people they can confide in,” Houser said.

It’s not always easy, though, as survivors break off relationships with people who don’t offer them support.

Along the way, though, survivors are able to see it as something that doesn’t define them.

“People come to a place where managing the abuse is no longer the focal point — it’s just part of the life story,” Houser said. That’s where Paul Treml, 54, is.

Treml was abused as a teenager in suburban Philadelphia by a local recreation and park director who also coached him in youth basketball. The abuser, well known in the community, started with horsing around and progressed to more full-on sexual assault.

It took a heart-to-heart with his wife 21 years later about the future of their relationship when she asked him if he had been abused.

He said yes, and then went to the township where he grew up to report the abuse.

That’s when he started to heal. A few years ago, Treml found out the township was going to dedicate a park in the abuser’s name, and that’s when he really spoke out, attending a township meeting. The township launched an evaluation.

“It gets you to a better place where you can become a healthier individual,” said Treml, of Murrysville, Westmoreland County.

As Treml and his wife sat watching the Sandusky verdict reaction on TV Friday night, he told her, “I feel like my abuser just got convicted.”

While the hundreds of people who gathered on the lawn of the Centre County Courthouse late Friday night cheered after hearing the verdict, a more somber scene played out inside the courtroom.

Arms around each other, their heads down, a mother and her two adult daughters consoled their loved one, the 25-year-old man known as victim 6. In 1998, as an 11-year-old, he went with Sandusky for a workout but ended up in a shower with the man.

At the time, the boy was irked enough that he told his mom if she wondered why his hair was wet, it was because Sandusky showered with him. Alarmed, the mother called police, who set up a sting and got Sandusky on tape saying he wished he were dead after being confronted. But the case was never prosecuted.

On Friday, his mother’s words only hinted at her emotion:

“Nobody wins. We’ve all lost,” she said.

She turned back to her son, for another embrace as though he were still 11.

“I cannot imagine what (the verdict) meant in terms of finally getting support, validation, and protection from your community,” said Houser, of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. “That is 14 years overdue.”

Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT

CDT reporter Jessica VanderKolk contributed to this report.