Jerry Sandusky, Miss America and Good Old-Fashioned Denial

For the most part, I write my blog because I simply love to write.

I love to string together words in a way no one else ever has. I love to put forth ideas in creative ways that make people think.  And I love to feel that maybe, just maybe, what I write makes a difference in the life of someone else.

Today, I’m not feeling that love at all.

In fact, I hate the topic about which I’m writing.

But events over the last few weeks have left me no option.

Friday, after a 20 hour deliberation, a jury found former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky guilty of 45 out of 48 counts of child molestation.

I know people cheered.  I know people declared justice. I know people expressed relief that Sandusky is going to be locked in jail for the rest of his life.

Personally, I’m not feeling much elation.

Don’t get me wrong.  If Sandusky had been acquitted, I would have been livid. What bothers me is how easily his crimes were swept under the rug for years, even though so many people must have sensed something just wasn’t right.

What bothers me is how easily people were silenced by the job Sandusky held, and how he literally bought more silence by feeding into the growing materialist nature of our society.

What bothers me is that victims didn’t have the knowledge, self-esteem or support to ensure Sandusky was behind bars years ago.

What bothers me most is I’m not at all surprised.

This isn’t an isolated case. Child sexual abuse has been occurring for years, and, for the most part, society has chosen to turn the other way.

I recently read the book Miss America by Day by Marilyn Van Derbur.  It’s not a book I would have normally even glanced at, much the less picked up from a shelf.  But I’d attended a workshop about how anyone can help prevent child abuse, and Ms. Van Derbur, along with other abuse survivors , was in the training video.

Something about her passion spoke to me, and she’s still speaking to me.

Ms. Van Derbur was Miss America 1958. She was also molested from the age of 5 through age 18 by her father, a wealthy and well-respected member of the Denver community.  To the outside world, her family was perfect.  To perpetuate this perception, Marilyn’s  mother looked the other way. And, for years, Marilyn even repressed the abuse.

But now, she’s an advocate whose message is simple: preventing child sexual abuse isn’t primarily the  responsibility of social services agencies, law enforcement or the courts. It’s the responsibility of all of us.

We need to eliminate our preconceived notions that child abusers are easy to identify.

We need to recognize that community leaders, religious leaders and sports leaders are just as likely to be predators as anyone else.

We can’t allow children to be alone with an adult just because that person is trusted by others.

We need to listen to our children and not dismiss their fears, concerns and even silences.

We  have to be willing to talk about sensitive issues, such as sex and abuse, so the children feel comfortable talking to us.

We need to look beyond appearances and examine behavior.

Most of all, our outrage needs to be expressed long before an individual has molested multiple children and is on trial.

Our outrage should begin the moment a child communicates they are they least bit uncomfortable with another adult. Period.

Until then, when we see or hear about a conviction, we can cheer and proclaim justice all we want. But if we look away when we think the alleged perpetrator is too well-connected or that no one we know would purposely hurt a child, then all we are really celebrating is good old-fashioned denial.

About Trina Bartlett

I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, with one dog, two cats, a theater kid in high school, a band kid at West Virginia University and a husband who works strange hours. When I'm not working as a director at a nonprofit social service organization or being a mom, I can generally be found riding my bike, walking my dog and stirring things up.

Posted on June 24, 2012, in News, perspective, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Tommy Dingess

    I agree Trina (surprise). I am not shocked or even taken aback by his actions but, mad as hell that his celebrity and his money led people to turn a blind eye!!!! I am happy that the trial did not last for months and that the jury was not fooled. I also think that JS thought that his charity with the Second Mile, gave him the right and justified his actions (in his mind) to abuse some of these children!

  2. Thank you for expressing this so clearly and so powerfully! I agree totally; we are all at fault when a child (or many children!!!) are hurt so cruelly by someone who society holds on a pedestal for some reason. We have, as a country, always made heroes of athletes and those who coach them. Many, many people looked the other way for many years. Its no surprising, but it is so disappointing that we keep allowing this to happen to helpless children.

  3. After listening to today’s news and the folks throwing stones at Dottie Sandusky: I can tell you from experience that my Mother never knew that our stepfater had sexually abused our baby sister…not until that baby turned 19. Even then Mother was shocked into disbelief, until my sister and I related things that Bill had tried.
    She may truly not have known or she may be guilty of turning the other way. Something we may never know.

    • Melanie,

      I am sure there are many mothers and other family members that are completely shocked…but I also think there are a lot of people and family members (no necessarily your mother) who find it easier to ignore the signs rather than face the truth.

    • If Dottie Sandusky knew nothing, never suspected anything, never saw a clue, never had an instinct to check the basement, and never had any idea in her mind that her husband’s sexual appetite was not solely directed towards adult women, then she would be the exception not the norm.

      If child sexual abuse is happening for years, there are clues and signs. Most women ignore those signs, and their instincts, for their own self-preservation.

  4. Marilyn Van Derbur did not just “deny” the incest, she completely repressed it. She experienced what is called “dissociative amnesia” for what happened to her. This is quite different from “denial.”

  5. Thank you. It’s important to me because the same thing happened to me, and so many people disbelieve those of us who repressed incest. Marilyn is a well-known person and her sister corroborated her memories. People like me, who are no one in particular, sometimes have a hard time being believed and Marilyn’s story helps us. Thank you.

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