You no doubt been following developments recently regarding Penn State and Jerry Sandusky, the college football team’s former defensive coordinator, who was convicted of multiple counts of child sex abuse. It’s a story that captured the attention of the country and us here at GEM, too. One of the pieces I wrote about was at what sort of punishment the school and officials should face for their role in the scandal.
When I put this up on my Facebook page, the reaction from some was stunning, to put it mildly. Some people thought tearing down long time head coach Joe Paterno’s statue or having the NCAA give the school the death penalty would do the trick. There were some who said, enough already; it’s time to move on, which was frankly, the statement that stunned me the most.
Why? Because all those boys who were victims of one man and a host of others who apparently looked the other way, won’t just “move on” ; they are saddled with, what could be a lifetime of guilt and shame. Their mothers, the very ones who pushed them toward Sandusky and his charity, may carry some of that burden, wondering why they didn’t see more, do more.
Recently, someone reached out to me here and asked if she could tell her story. It was something I jumped at because there are lessons in it for us as parents. So what follows is the first of three posts. The author has requested we conceal her identity to protect her parents. Here now, is Samantha’s story.
I am eight-years-old. My family is preparing to move. My mother asked me to take the key of our current home to our neighbor so she can give it to the realtor. The weather: spring time, a sign of new things to come. I skipped over to my neighbors and knocked on the door. The voice inside was not my sweet female neighbor. I recognized the voice. The voice belonged to her teenage nephew. Instantly, I felt uncomfortable. A sinking feeling hit the pit of my stomach, I felt like I needed to turn around and leave.
He told me to come downstairs to the basement. I went hesitantly. As I reached the platform, this 17 or maybe 18- year-old teen stood before me, naked. I was utterly embarrassed. I knew, even at eight, what he wanted. I tried to back up and run up the stairs. He was stronger, grabbing me and pulling me over to an old ratted coach in the middle of the floor. I repeatedly said, No! I wrestled with this teenage boy, nearly a man to keep my pants on. He was on top of me, pressing his body against mine. He was heavy. Somehow, I had enough courage to fight back. I kicked him in the groin. He collapsed to the floor and I ran upstairs. Once at the door I gained my composure, wiping the tears, walking out the door and never looking back. I never told my parents about that day. That was 27 years ago. I remember it vividly because I felt strength that day; it was the first time I fought back against my accuser. Unfortunately, it was not be the first time I was violated; sadly, sexual abuse was a large part of my childhood. My earliest memory is at 5 or 6 when my cousin molested me. I told no one. It continued for a while, even with his brother joining in. I felt used in the worse way.
In middle school, the abuse was phone sex. A family friend would call, obviously drunk sometimes not, and begin to describe what he was doing to himself on the other side of the phone. My grades started to drop which prompted me to “speak out.” Finally, but my relief quickly turned to shame. At my father’s office party the “offender” was there, smiling at me like he “won.” I felt like a fool. At this point, I believed it was my “lot” in life to be “used” by men. I was 12-years-old, very depressed, angry and my self-esteem was in the gutter, though very few people could see it.
My parents never knew the extent of my abuse. During the 80’s and 90’s, it seemed like those things weren’t talked about in the African-American community. The thought was you deal with it and that is what I did; I dealt with it the best I knew how. Early on I began to engage in risky, damaging behavior, both to myself and others. All hurting people know how to do is hurt others.
In high school, I met a boy at a school football game. My “safe radar” went off when I first met him but at that point I was so broken inside. I craved attention even at the expense of my own dignity. We dated for a while, if you want to call it that. One day he called and asked me out on a “friendly” date and that’s when he raped me. I was 16. I never told anyone until I was in college. I never pressed charges. I was afraid my “risky” behavior would be put in the spotlight and not my assault.
I left my town and entered into college. However, the pain of my abuse, depression, and unforgiveness followed me. Although, I was studying to earn my degree, I solely believed the lie that I was only good at one thing: pleasing a man. Even while pursuing a regular “profession”, I contemplating joining the adult film industry.
I had to deal with the harsh truth: I could no longer hold those who offended me in bondage and expect to walk free myself. This by far was the hardest. I had to speak the unspeakable and I had to release the people who hurt me. I heard a preacher say once, unforgiveness is like me taking poison but expecting the other person to die. My unforgiveness was a cruel and unusual punishment to myself. I became suspicious of people, feared rejection and did not want to have children because I thought I might abuse them. My abuse consumed my mind and I lived in torment. I was the walking dead. I was mad at those men and even the woman who abused me and I was mad at God. How could He allow this to happen to me?
During this time, I befriended a young lady during my years at college who shared with me a simple truth that transformed my life. This is it: Jesus Christ loves me unconditionally. I knew my parents loved me but it was another to know someone loved me while I was a complete mess. One night as I lamented about my “dysfunctional” life my friend challenged me to pray a simple prayer, one that softened a very hard heart. That night I asked Christ to come into my life. In my dorm room I told the Lord rather plainly, “You have one year to change me, if not I will either go back to my gutter or kill myself.” For the next few months I went through a series of emotional and mental healing which I will speak of later.
Victims of abuse are good (at least they think) at pretending, pushing things in the back of their mind. The recent events at Penn State have me once again thinking about my own abuse but in different terms, more about how we as a community can heal those victimized and those who are the accused. Remember, all hurting people can do is hurt others. In part two of my story I will share with you my journey of forgiveness. If you are a victim of abuse, you no longer have to live in a dark place; you can live a life of freedom. I am proof of it!
Tomorrow: The Role Forgiveness Played in Samantha’s Healing
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