Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Thinking About the Jerry Sandusky Trial

Photo: theblogismine.com/Marsmet551/Flickr
Guilty on 45 of 48 counts -- I thought I would feel elation when the jury's verdict in the Jerry Sandusky trial was announced but I didn't.  I felt only sorrow.  There are no winners with this outcome.

Sandusky's victims may feel vindicated and validated, perhaps also a sense of justice and closure.  No trial, no jury, no guilty verdict and no amount of time in prison for Sandusky will ever eradicate what he did to his victims.  This needs to be understood: sexual abuse causes psychological trauma and emotional damage for which there is no cure.  When an adult forces a child to participate in sexual activity with him/her, it's not about the adult loving the child and expressing that love but about the adult having power and control over the child. 

If we are the sum of our life's experiences at any given time, then every experience becomes a part of us.  It is not for a person to figure out a way to excise the experience or its aftereffects but to figure out how to accept the experience, make peace with it, and either simply move on, or find a way to turn it into a positive and move on.  This is what Sandusky's victims face or have faced.   What is crucial for the victims is for them to process the experience, face the trauma, deal with it and do it with the help of a counselor or therapist who's had experience working with survivors of psychological trauma.  If they don't, that experience will fester inside them, become like a cancer that affects every aspect of their lives.  Or they might become abusers of children themselves, acting out what was done to them.

The acceptance that sexual abuse occurs more often than previously believed by society is a development of the last 30 years.  Before that, because of its horrific nature, it was considered to happen only rarely and never between biological relatives.  Ha, ha.  The dirty little truth is that it's been happening for hundreds of years if not thousands.  It's not a new behavior.  The Greek playwright Sophocles wrote about it in his The Oedipus Cycle of plays. 

There is a reason that incest/sexual abuse is taboo and it has nothing to do with damaging the family gene pool.  First, sexual abuse causes psychological trauma that, if not acknowledged, processed and healed at the time, will remain like the chickenpox virus lies in wait to erupt again in middle to old age as shingles.  Second, sexual abuse is generational, i.e. it is passed down from generation to generation.  A father sexually abuses his son, and the son grows up thinking that that is how a father treats his children.  He will abuse his children.  They will grow up thinking the same as their father and abuse their children, and so on, and so on. 

What if Jerry Sandusky was sexually abused as a child?  If he never received the help he would have needed to heal from it, he would grow up to become an abuser himself.  An abuser who thinks it's perfectly OK to sexually abuse children.  What really struck me about Sandusky was his denial that he'd done anything wrong.  He told Bob Costas in that now infamous interview that he enjoyed young people in a tone of voice that sounded very much like bewilderment.  I'm not defending or excusing him.  But I am trying to understand how he could not see how wrong he was, even after he was caught and arrested.  Denial is a powerful psychological weapon.  It protects the individual from information or situations that might damage the ego or sense of self, the "I."

Does Jerry Sandusky deserve prison?  Absolutely.  Would he accept working with a therapist?  I don't know.  If he's in a mode of thinking that he's the victim and the world's against him, he may not be open to therapy.  But I think it would be the best thing for him.  He may never receive the forgiveness of the men he abused as children -- they are not required to forgive him, especially if he fails to admit his crime and ask for forgiveness.  However, in order to understand what he did and why, to understand his own thinking, therapy could provide valuable insights if he's willing to do the work.  And it's hard work.  Then maybe he might understand and be able to forgive himself for hurting children so grievously.

I believe that we need to advocate for the children -- not only their protection, but also for their healthy socialization and upbringing so that we can stop the cycle of abuse.  We need good parenting classes that also address sexual abuse and not only what to do if you suspect your child has been or how to educate your child.  Parents need to be educated in order to stop the cycle.....

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