The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions, sitting in court watching as each brave victim of Jerry Sandusky came forward and told their truth. They were each so honest, so raw and so real and indeed in the end it was their words that the jury held in the highest regard when considering the charges against Jerry Sandusky–it was their truth that lead to 45 guilty verdicts! As I watched I couldn’t help but reflect on my own victimization and the testimony I gave over 25 years ago in my own child rape case. So many people do not truly understand what it is like to stand up and go through a process like this, it is why Pennsylvania thankfully just became the final state in the nation to allow for expert witness testimony to explain the emotional, physical and psychological aspects victims experience during the abuse and after. I wrote about my odd experience when I had to testify in my book Blackout Girl: Growing Up and Drying Out in America. Here is an excerpt of from Chapter Two of my book. I was twelve years old.
Lee had been charged with several counts, including rape, statutory rape, deviant sexual intercourse, indecent assault, indecent exposure, and corruption of a minor. The deviant sexual intercourse was dropped right away because he had not attempted to orally or anally penetrate me. A preliminary hearing date was set, and I was prepared by the district attorney’s office to testify. I didn’t have a victim advocate with me that day that I recall. Weeks later, I was sitting on the witness stand, shaking and giddy, unable to control anything around me; my emotions were swinging from absolute fear to uncontrollable laughter. This was no laughing matter, but I felt like I was about to lose it, sitting in this wooden box with a judge on my right and the man who inserted himself into my life across from me looking so smug in his old, worn-out, red hooded sweatshirt and jeans that he wore for this judgement day–no coat, no collard shirt, no tie for his day in court.
I had to relive that strange night that only came to me in bits and pieces and that I really didn’t ever want to recall, as my lawyer gently tried to pull details from my absent mind. I wasn’t really there. I heard noises all around me: the quiet consultation of this man and his lawyer and the questions my lawyer asked. I sensed my parent’s dull silence, but I was above it all as though floating in a protective bubble. Above the pain, above the noise, above the man who in a few short hours took my innocence, my parent’s little girl
Maybe if I stayed up here long enough, I thought,it would all pass by like storm clouds on a hot, humid summer day just before the rain stops and the rainbow peeks out. I could find a clearing and swim safely in a beautiful blue abyss. But I quickly snapped back to reality by the judge, who asked me if I found this process amusing, and I didn’t know how to respond because I wasn’t aware I was laughing.
I stared blankly from him past the man in the red hooded sweatshirt to the pained, horrified looks on my parents’ faces until I heard my lawyer apologizing and reassuring the judge that it’s normal for someone my age to get giddy in stressful situations. I think that was where I learned to use humor as a defense; it’s so much easier to laugh instead of screaming or crying, easier to laugh at yourself before someone laughs at you.
I don’t remember leaving the courtroom, just that it was over, and a couple of months later I overheard my parents saying that he was sentenced to two years in jail. I was angry at them for not telling me when the sentencing was so I could go and maybe, just maybe, find some closure for myself. They apologized; they said they wanted to protect me and didn’t really think I needed to go. That was them, though, always thinking for me but never telling me about any of it and panicking if I actually discovered it.
Every victim experiences things differently, there is no right way to behave, no right demeanor or response to being victimized. Some cry as we saw with one victim in this case, others stand firm with anger boiling right under the surface, others are detached and vacant, others are too afraid to ever come forward and speak. As we saw with Matt Sandusky, some take a long time to eventually come forward even after denials and support of their offender. I hope this case sheds much needed understanding and light onto the epidemic of child sexual assault.
The conclusion of this case is just a stepping stone on a very long path for these victims one that I hope will lead towards healing and eventual peace. No one ever gets over being raped, we learn to live within our new normal, its stays with us forever. There is hope and strength in numbers and the more people who come forward and break their silence the better chance there is to put an end to this violence in our community.