Matt Sandusky is very thankful to the young men who testified at his adoptive father’s 2012 trial. Without their courage, Matt Sandusky said, he would not have had the strength to go to prosecutors and disclose for the first time that his adoptive father abused him.
More than a year later, Matt Sandusky has taken another step forward.
In his first public comments, Matt Sandusky shared his story in “Happy Valley,” a 100-minute-long film premiering Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. He said his participation in the film was the first step for him to come out of the shadow of the scandal and advocate for survivors — including himself.
“My role in the film was to share the perspective of a survivor, to give survivors a voice,” Sandusky said in an exclusive interview with the Centre Daily Times.
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“There were many victims in this case who came forward for the trial — I have immense respect for their strength — and because of those guys, I had the courage to come forward to the authorities to tell what I had to tell — the truth.”
Matt Sandusky declined to talk to the CDT in detail about what he said to filmmakers, though he did say the topics he discussed included his childhood, his relationship with his adoptive father and the Sandusky family and the abuse by Jerry Sandusky.
"I hope that people will begin to understand what I have gone through," he said.
“Happy Valley” is directed by Amir Bar-Lev and poses questions such as whether Jerry Sandusky’s abuse of young boys was an “open secret” in State College. In a short preview of the film on the Sundance website, filmmakers said it explores the identity crisis that ensued here and goes on to uncover a “much more complicated and tragic tale.”
“We spent two years in Happy Valley trying to get that story right, and I’m looking forward to starting a new conversation about what I think is a pretty interesting story,” Bar-Lev told The Salt Lake Tribune in a story published in advance of the premiere.
The film’s producer, Ken Dornstein, said in a Los Angeles Times review published Friday that Matt Sandusky was the last person interviewed for the documentary.
“We knew his story could stand in for a lot of the victims’ stories, and we waited for Matt,” the producer said. “We held the film for him.”
The Times’ film critic called the film “thorough” and “thoughtful.”
Because of the emotional subject, the filmmakers made special arrangements so Matt Sandusky could have a private screening of the film a few days ago.
“I feel that the parts of my story in the film, the things I shared and the points I have to make come across,” he said. “All of it is very hard, obviously.”
It was not yet known if or when the film will be available in State College. A message sent to a spokesman for the filmmakers was not returned.
Matt Sandusky’s journey in disclosing what happened to him started in June 2012, at the trial of his adoptive father. It brought back painful memories, and he felt compelled to reveal to prosecutors that he had been abused by the man who adopted him.
“I chose to come forward publicly in this documentary because I felt strong enough to do so and because I want to speak out to help other survivors,” he said. “For me and all survivors it is important to have control over the timing and setting of disclosure.
“I didn’t have that choice until now.”
Matt Sandusky’s interview with authorities became national news after the trial, as an audio recording was leaked to NBC.
As it turned out, Matt Sandusky never told his story at the trial.
He was, at first, a witness for Jerry Sandusky’s defense, but his disclosure changed that. State prosecutors then had him ready as a rebuttal witness if the elder Sandusky took the stand.
Jerry Sandusky never did.
Events such as those put him and his family on an emotional roller coaster, and Matt Sandusky said the film gave him the chance to explain what it was like for his family to go through it all.
In addition, he hopes that his courage inspires abuse survivors across the country. He said the prominence of Sundance and the director gave him confidence his story could reach that far.
As Matt Sandusky moves to put the dark history behind him, he is looking to carve out a new niche as an advocate. He said he will start a nonprofit organization, based in State College, that will focus on educating and advocacy for abuse survivors. It will have a national reach, too.
He said he plans to write and do speaking engagements, as well.
“It is a passion now,” he said of being an advocate. “It is something I am determined to do.
“My ultimate hope is to empower other survivors.”