Sandusky: I Had The Opposite Story

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Sandusky: I Had The Opposite Story

I have been reading, in the light of Louis Freeh’s report about the coverup of the Jerry Sandusky child rapes at Penn State, about the horrible lifelong effects of sexual abuse.  I can only breathe a sigh of gratitude for a family that kept it from happening to me.  Because it could have happened if they hadn’t responded so correctly.  I had nearly forgotten about this, but the Sandusky tale brought it back.

My maternal grandmother’s hospitality to family members was legendary.  In the Depression, more than one of them had come to her house to die.  By the 1950s, almost all of her generation were gone, but she still had an alcoholic brother, Uncle Tom, about whom the story was that he had not been right since he’d been kicked in the head by a horse as a child.  Whatever the truth of that story, he was certainly peculiar, but always welcome at holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This particular year (probably 1956 or 1957), I was in the parlor of my grandparents’ Boston home.  Most of the grownups were in the kitchen.  Tom was sitting in an armchair in the parlor, and I was playing.  Tom started talking to me, got me sitting on his lap.  Grownups often had me on their laps, and I didn’t think anything of it.  But then he was touching me strangely, and the questions started, very insistent ones, about whether I liked to play with myself, a phrase whose meaning I did not even understand at the time.  Tom seemed disappointed that I did not follow what he was asking.  Somehow I extricated myself, and, thoroughly weirded out, wandered into the kitchen.  I don’t remember what I said or to whom I said it, but I told someone what Tom was asking me.

The consequences were immediate.  My grandmother marched into the parlor and started yelling at Tom, and the next thing I knew, he was no longer a Thanksgiving guest.  No one explained to me what it was all about, but I understood that it had something to do with the questions Tom had been asking me.  Instead of circling the adult wagons around Tom or minimizing his behavior, the entire family circle instantly believed me when I told the story, and took immediate, decisive action.  Tom did turn up at later family gatherings, but never came near me again.  Probably he’d been warned not even to think of it.

My family was not perfect in every way (no one’s is), but if they had done nothing else right, they acquitted themselves with great honor that day.  If the powers that be at Penn State had half the sense of right and wrong, half the integrity that my family had shown forty years earlier, there would be several, maybe dozens, of young men today who would not now be struggling with demons whose acquaintance I fortunately never made.

To be fair, Uncle Tom was a known drunk, and had other known mental health issues, while Sandusky was prestigious and well-connected amongst Happy Valley’s powerful.  But then again, so far as I know, my relatives never heard any eyewitness accounts of Tom raping anyone.  So it kind of evens out.

It was not merely that Tom’s sexual designs on me were foiled, let me add, but that the adults around me had proven themselves reliable.  You could share icky information with them and they wouldn’t come down on you.  Instead, they would process it as adults, and do the primary job of adults around children, protecting them.  They came through for me when I needed it in ways I literally couldn’t even imagine.  Just as bad experiences do, good ones reverberate through life.  And this one has stayed with me, become part of me.  I could be a more trusting person because I had encountered trustworthiness.

I am grateful for this, even as I empathize with the youngsters in Happy Valley who were not as lucky.

Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn

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One Comment

  1. Stu McGee says:

    Thanks Jack

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