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Sandusky case triggers pain well beyond campus…

November 16, 2011 1 comment

As adults, victims suffer nightmares, anger, anxiety from childhood abuse.

By Kari Huus, Reporter msnbc.com

As the Penn State sex abuse scandal unfolds — ghastly detail by detail — on front pages, the airwaves and Twitter accounts, the news can be especially devastating for one group in particular: former victims of sexual abuse.

“Another night of triggers and flashbacks,” writes a forum member on MaleSurvivor.org, a website devoted to healing male victims of sexual abuse. “… I felt him all over me and my arms are scratched as I try to get the feeling of his hands off me. … I think all the (Penn State) news set the triggers off, and now I am like a zombie, trying to recover and move forward today.”

“I never met Jerry Sandusky, but feel I know him all too well,” writes another member of the forum, referring to the university’s former defensive coordinator who stands accused of sexually molesting at least eight young boys. “I dealt with my own ‘Jerry’ when I was 12 or 13. … Now that he is sated and I am long forgotten, I’m still picking up the pieces.”

“This whole thing is devastating me. These boys are lost in the details … just as most of us here were,” the member added.

Psychologists say that any sex abuse victim — man or woman — may find that news of the Penn State case sparks painful memories. But the way this case is unfolding strikes an especially deep chord with men.

“It can be very triggering of either their own memories — they may get flashbacks — or they may get angry again,” said Richard Gartner, a psychologist and psychoanalyst in New York, and spokesman for Malesurvivor.org. Some men may have to limit their news consumption, and maybe avoid watching football to avoid a panic attack or bout of depression, he said.

“It is re-traumatizing for them — more so to the extent that they believe that this is being handled wrong … and ignoring the needs of the victims.”

Different experience for boys
Sexual abuse has a different impact on boys than on girls, and they deal with it differently because of socialization, experts say.

“Men aren’t supposed to be victims. Men are supposed to be strong,” said Jim Hopper, clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. “A man says I’m not a real man, because I let someone do this to me. I should have been tougher. Even after years of therapy they say this.”

Girls who are abused by men are psychologically damaged, to be sure, experts say, but boys abused by men often come to question their sexual identity and orientation.

“If they were sexually abused by a man, there’s this whole stigma — does that mean I’m gay, or did he do it to me because I look gay?” says Hopper.

Another difference: Boys who forced into sexual acts may have an erection — a physiological response which makes them all the more confused and ashamed of the encounter, Gartner says.

The women’s movement helped bring sexual assault of females into the public eye — and led to tougher penalties against attackers, more policy aimed at prevention and better access to care for victims. The focus on sexual abuse of boys came nearly 20 years later, when hundreds of childhood victims went public with stories of abuse by Catholic priests, according to Gartner.

Shame, silence, secrecy
Still, the shame and stigma makes it less common for boys to report abuse and seek help than girls, studies show.

“Men tend to come into treatment much later in life,” said Gartner. “Usually they are in their 30s, 40s or 50s — occasionally in their 70s — never having spoken about this.”

Their reluctance to talk about abuse is partly to blame for the perception that sexual abuse of boys is rare, Gartner said.

Research shows that about one in six boys are sexually abused before they are 16 years old, according to Hopper, a founding board member of the nonprofit organization OneInSix, which aims to help men deal with abuse they experienced as children.

The number for girls is one in four. The statistics do not include verbal harassment or other forms of non-physical sexual abuse, such as forcing a child to watch a sexual act.

Reports of sexual abuse by boys are still more likely to be dismissed, researchers say, which can intensify the victim’s pain and difficulty later in life.

“Boys who are sexually abused are mostly disbelieved, or it is minimized,” said Gartner. “They’re told, ‘just get over it’.”

“They learn that nobody’s safe,” said Hopper. “That’s really devastating. … that people who were supposed to protect me are not going to help me, they are blaming me!”

That perception by a child can lead to a wide array of problems as they grow older, including depression, anxiety, emotional numbing, substance abuse, and difficulty forming healthy relationships.

PTSD in high gear
Robert Brown, 51, who is now open about his story, was repeatedly sexually assaulted over the course of seven years when he was a child. He says the perpetrators were older boys who were favored because they were top athletes in his small New Hampshire town, while his plight was ignored by adults.

Brown did not acknowledge the problem to anyone until four years ago, when he was blindsided by a severe bout of post-traumatic stress.

Now he is a child protection activist, and shares his story on the MaleSurvivor.org forum, many of whom keep their abuse secret.

“In my lifetime and in my time with all other survivors that I know, the Penn State case is the most earth-shattering one for us to face,” Brown said in an interview.

“Probably because of the authority abused and the trust abused by the sports program and by Jerry Sandusky. It gets worse when we see that it’s underprivileged kids being so badly abused as if they are throwaway people,” he added.

“We identify very, very strongly with these boys. And we identify with the poor handling of this. To think there are 15-year-old cases that have never been dealt with,” Brown said. “It kicks off the (post-traumatic stress) into high gear — nightmares, flashbacks, extreme depression. It’s been some of the worst few days of my life emotionally.”

Gartner said that while the Penn State case has clearly caused pain and anguish for men struggling with the aftermath of abuse, it does demonstrate that perceptions have changed since the 1980s, when he started treating sexually abused men.

“Before the (Catholic) church scandal, even in professional meetings, people rolled their eyes, feeling that (sexual abuse of boys) happened rarely,” said Gartner. “Now, nobody seems to be saying it doesn’t happen. It does give people courage to come forward and disclose and get help, and that’s positive.”

Take care and STAY SAFE!

 

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Penn State Tradegy by Erin Merryn

November 14, 2011 2 comments

By now we all have heard about Penn State. All you need to do is turn on the television and whether you are watching the news or sports they are talking about it.

Jerry Sandusky doesn’t have many free days left before he is locked away for the rest of his life. He is a perfect example of why we need Erin’s Law in every state. Adults in charge witnessed children being molested by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and while they reported it they did not take it to the police which they should have reported immediately when they saw it happen. No ifs, ands, buts, about it. They witnessed a horrific act take place or were told about these horrific acts being done to children and they turned a blind eye.

The Board of Trustees did exactly what needed to be done and that was firing the President of the University and head coach Joe Paterno. Joe started off doing the right thing by taking it to the President but when the President did not go to police with the matter this is when it was Joe Paterno’s moral duty to report it to police. Instead more children’s innocence would be stolen all in the sake of protecting the Universities reputation. A school’s image is more important in the mind of a University President then innocent children who fell into the hands of a very dangerous sick individual who used his authority to groom and rape children. Reports have said Sandusky gave the children he abused many gifts. Often sexual predators use gifts as a way to silence children on top of threats. Several adults over a fifteen year time period were aware of Jerry Sandusky’s actions yet Jerry continued to be around children and abusing several more.

If these children had learned in school the same way they are educated on tornado drills, bus drills, fire drills, DARE, Stranger Danger, Internet Safety, Bully Intervention, etc. on safe touch, unsafe touch, safe secrets, unsafe secrets, how to get away and tell today then these children would have had the courage to speak up and keep telling an adult until someone put an end to their horror. Instead they were never educated because we fail to educate kids on sexual abuse which is why I went after Erin’s law. The law that would have empowered these children with the power to use their voice and tell someone. So many more children could have been saved from the hands of Jerry Sandusky had they been educated. Parents would have been educated through Erin’s law on what to talk about with their kids and the warning signs to look for in a child that has been abused. One parent whose child was abused spoke openly without her identity being revealed and she shared how her son’s behavior changed, he began acting out, showed lots of anger, and did not want to be around Sandusky. She went to the school guidance counselor about it and the guidance counselor brushed it off saying it is a phase he is going through. Had this mother been educated on the biggest silent epidemic in this world, that being sexual abuse of children, then she would have known to talk to her son and her son would have known to talk and not keep these secrets.

I would advise any parent never to let your kids stay the night with their coach. Invites to overnights by a coach, youth group leader, etc. is a red flag right there. That should be a strict boundary in every household. I don’t care how well you think you know the person. Is the risk really worth it knowing your child could fall hands to a predator you never imagined would do such a thing. It is time for the world to take off their blinders and wake up. What has happened at Penn State as I have been saying for years is happening in our own backyards. Just take a look in your own community. These sex offenders  live in your communities and you don’t even know it because many have not been caught. Not until we educate children through Erin’s Law in schools will more children break their silence. My law will prevent what happened at Penn State from ever happening again because children won’t spend years in silence because they will be educated to know this is wrong and not to keep it a secret. Children will be turning these sexual predators in the first time it happens because they will be getting the other end of the message. The first message is to stay silent, this is our secret, don’t tell anyone, I will hurt you, your family, no one will believe you, etc. The message that is missing throughout society is the educational piece. Don’t keep this a secret, tell someone, we will believe you, keep telling until someone takes action, who are safe people in your life you can tell if this happened to you, etc.” Sexual predators don’t just take children’s innocence they take their voice when they are being abused. We have to empower children to use their voice and not fall into the trap of silence.

Penn State needs to use what happened in their community and take action against this silent epidemic. They now have the reputation that won’t be going away. This scandal will be one talked about decades from now so they now have the power to make change happen in society. Addressing the silence around sexual abuse and demanding change. Being a voice for the 39 million survivors that exist in America alone. Urging their lawmakers and Governor to pass Erin’s Law in their state.

I turned the painful events of sexual abuse and rape in my childhood into putting a face and voice on this silent epidemic in my two books Stolen Innocence and Living For Today, passing Erin’s Law in Illinois and Missouri and eventually will get it passed in all 50 states, and flying the country speaking before thousands of people the past 7 1/2 years to shatter the silence, stigma, and shame around sexual abuse. The same way I turned the tragic events in my life into triumph the same is possible for the reputation of Penn State. They can do something positive about this unlike the riots that broke out this week. They can raise awareness and become a campus that is a face and voice on child sexual abuse for educational institutes around this country and world.

With an estimated 39 million survivors of sexual abuse in America 3 million of those are children right now living in our country. That 3 million could fill 46 national football stadiums. Imagine that for a moment 46 national football stadiums of children that have been sexually abused. Joe Paterno was Penn State head football coach for 46 years.  For every year he was head coach the entire football stadium could be the 3 million children in America who were sexually abused. These children are real and the life long challenges they face because of sexual abuse can be life altering. Shame and pain that you could never imagine if you have never been abused. These children often grow up to be adults many carrying their silence into adulthood because the shame is too great. Because of the silence around sexual abuse they often feel so alone in this world. Alone in a world where a past comes back to haunt them in nightmares and flashbacks. Pulling them right back into reliving the trauma they suffered. Many survivors of sexual abuse as children will spend years in therapy trying to come to terms with what happened and learn how to go on living a life and not be defined by this.

I was interviewed by a Penn State writer for the college paper today for a story that will run in the next day or two. As I tried to explain to her that I wanted her to get across to her study body is the fact that this isn’t about college football. We are talking about innocent children who were raped at the hands of a very sick individual who preyed on them while they were doing something they loved, playing football. I would not be surprised if several of these children turned away from ever playing football again after what happened because of the painful reminder it brings back. I spoke back in April at a child abuse conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania not very far at all from Penn State. I had just come from speaking the day before at a New Jersey child abuse conference and drove two hours into Pennsylvania in my rental car. I was driving into a town that was known for being chocolate capital of the country. The light posts in the downtown were Hershey kisses, they have chocolate businesses every where and the biggest attraction is chocolate world where children go for school field trips and parents take kids. If you like chocolate you were in the right town and you would think it would be hard to pass through this town without stopping for chocolate. Well as I explained in my speech I don’t eat chocolate. I actually hate it. I won’t eat chocolate cake, brownies, frosting, ice cream, etc. How is it possible to hate chocolate? Well if you have read my books I explain clearly in them why I don’t eat chocolate you see I use to love chocolate as a kid. It took one night celebrating my grandfather’s birthday with all my other relatives in 1998 for me to find myself locked in a dark bedroom with a cousin on top of me, molesting me, begging him to let me go, hearing the sounds of happy birthday being sung downstairs to my grandfather, and eventually being told by my cousin to go get cake with him. I sat at a table in the kitchen in silence with a chocolate piece on cake and my cousin taking a seat right across from me with his piece of cake and just smiling at me with that grin I will never be able to erase from my mind. I felt my stomach turn and with the rich taste of chocolate in my mouth  and I just wanted to throw up. He often gave me something called a Star Crunch after abusing me at his house. Star Crunch was chocolate coated with caramel and rice crispy. Anytime I put any form of chocolate in my mouth it became triggering and the rich taste of it would immediately bring me back to memories of abuse. I have tested myself and have learned the only way chocolate doesn’t do that to me is chocolate with peanut butter in it. Here is one example how someone even like myself that is so outspoken on sexual abuse can also continue to be affected by actions of someone who abused me.

Penn State is a national tragedy and many lives have been hurt. It is time to raise up and tackle this issue that needs to be addressed in every state, educated in every school, every home, and survivors need to know they have nothing to be ashamed of. I have no doubt that more boys will come forward and that number of 8 will get higher. If you know someone or are someone that has been abused and never told anyone or did tell someone and nothing was done then tell someone today. You have nothing to be ashamed of and you could be helping others come forward and find their voice. You find a new sense of peace finding your voice.

God Bless the survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of Jerry Sandusky. Justice will come I promise!

PENN STATE be an example for others, start to educate, raise awareness, go after Erin’s Law. The country is watching. Make us proud.

About Erin Merryn

Erin Merryn is the author of Stolen Innocence and Living for Today,  memoirs about incest and rape.  She graduated in May 2009 with a Master’s degree in Social Work from Aurora University. A leading participant in Take Back the Night, her goal is to raise awareness of abuse in order to end the stigma and silence. Since 2004 she has been traveling across America giving inspirational and motivational speeches at national conferences, community events, Children’s Advocacy Centers, colleges, and high schools. She has appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America and Montel Williams.  Her writings have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, Daily Herald, and Teen Voices, among others. Erin spends her time between the suburbs of Chicago and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Visit Erin at www.erinmerryn.net.

Take care and STAY SAFE!