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PCAR responds to key statements made during the Sandusky trial

Mon 11 Jun 2012
Posted by akulikowski in 

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center are on-site in Bellefonte for the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse trial. PCAR will provide insight and expertise throughout the trial in response to key statements made during courtroom proceedings.  

Day 4

Defense attorney Joe Amendola: Sandusky's defense attorney quizzed Victims 6 about securing a private lawyer. He has repeatedly claimed that Sandusky's accusers are conspiring in hopes of cashing in by suing Sandusky and others for damages from their alleged ordeals.


PCAR: The purpose of the criminal justice system is to protect society and ensure justice is achieved. The court system often places a heavy emphasis on protecting defendants from wrongful conviction, which leads to a greater emphasis on defendant rights than victim rights.

Victims of all types of crimes often have privacy needs and legal needs that prosecutors are not able to meet. Prosecutors represent the Commonwealth in a case in which a crime was committed against a victim. They do what they can to protect victims in the criminal justice system, but prosecutors cannot directly represent victims as their attorneys.

Victims in high profile cases often need help navigating the complex myriad of news media inquiries and protecting themselves and their families from unwarranted intrusions into their and their families' privacy. The desire to have an attorney who is singularly focused on protecting the victim in many different arenas is completely understandable and expected in a case such as this and does not bear negatively on the witness's credibility in any way.

Victim 6: Asked if he (Victim 6) was looking for financial benefit from coming forward, the young man replied, "Zero."

The notion that people may make false allegations about sexual assault to tarnish a reputation, get revenge for perceived wrongs and to be able to cash in via lawsuits is a common hypothesis posed by people who doubt that "good" people or famous people commit sexual assault.

However a trial is not brought about simply by making an allegation. Authorities investigate. Evidence is collected. A determination is made by experienced practitioners of the law regarding whether the victim statements and evidence collected is adequate to file charges and pursue prosecution.

Additionally, sexual assault survivors often must reveal to the court how their lives have been impacted by the assault. Grade may have dropped. The person may have been living with depression, anxiety or may have contemplated or attempted suicide. They may have drug or alcohol problems that developed since the sexual abuse. They may disclose sleeping disorders, regressive behavior such as bed wetting or thumb sucking during ages when these behaviors are developmentally abnormal. Numerous others in their lives have witnessed these changes and can attest to their disruptive and sometimes devastating impact.

When considering whether a person is making a false allegation, we must keep the full picture in context. It seems unthinkable that a person would hatch such a plot during their pre-teen years and concurrently display such devastating behaviors and difficulties for years on end, only to make an attempt at a civil suit as an adult.

Victim 6: The young man acknowledged staying in contact with Sandusky for years. He sent him a Happy Father's Day text, borrowed his car last year and asked him to donate to a mission he attended in Mexico.

Victim 3: Alleged Victim 3 said he "loved" Sandusky despite assaults. "He made me feel part of something like a family... didn't want to give it up."

PCAR: Offenders often build a connection or a bond that isn't broken as a result of sexual abuse. The abuse is one element of the relationship. Like in a schedule of activities, it is just one event in a full day. The child victim often does not know what to think while the abuse is ongoing. Offenders may use fun or care taking activities to push the boundaries of a child and create a bond. Grooming a child could include teaching innocent hygiene and introducing games.

A victim's view of the offender's actions change over time.

An adult understands and view sexuality very differently than a child. The knowledge we gain with experience and time can give us the tools to better understand an event that happened when he or she was younger. Victim 6 experienced this.

"As I started to go over it in my mind I quickly realized, my perception changed thinking about it as an adult as opposed to an 11-year-old, Victim 6 told the court. "That was inappropriate, what happened to me."

Day 3

Victim 7: "It's like putting stuff in the attic and closing the door."

PCAR: After trauma a person may push conscious memories to the back of their minds. At the same time, the body and brain store memories of scents, sounds and feelings. This is often a protective measure to cope with the traumatic experience. Survivors often use phrases such as "pushing the memories down" or locking the memories away" to describe it. The memories are stored, but out of view from day to day functioning. This allows the person to keep living life without being flooded with overwhelming or painful emotions that accompany memories of abuse.

It is normal for survivors of sexual assault to remember more details when they are cued or "triggered" by sensory information that is similar to what they stored during the traumatic experience. These details may come back to the surface with time, healing, a physical cue or being asked about abuse for the first time.

For instance, a particular smell, sight, sound (such as a song), or something someone says in conversation may suddenly make the brain recognize the similar information, and the survivor may find themselves suddenly remembering parts of their sexually abusive experience that they had not remembered previously.

Additionally, survivors who have supportive people around them such as family, clergy, friends, counselors or therapists who give them the opportunity to talk about their abusive experiences have the benefit of exploring their memories more fully. Having resources and support available can create an environment where it is safe to remember and process difficult details of sexual abuse. 

For more information on trauma and memory, go to NSVRC's online course, The Brain, Body and Trauma http://www.nsvrc.org/elearning

 

Day 2

Central Mountain High School guidance counselor, according to Victim 1: Sandusky "had a heart of gold and wouldn't do something like that (in reference to allegations made by Victim 1)."
 
PCAR: People who commit sexual offenses are often nice, responsible, upstanding, loving and law abiding members of their communities and even families... except for when they are committing the abuse. The words often used to describe people who commit sexual offenses ("monster," "predator" or "animal") obscure this reality, and can make it difficult for people to see the incredible harm they are causing.

 

Sex offenders use their good reputations to gain the trust of potential victims and others around them, and gain access to them. No one would agree to leave their child in the care of a "monster" but most people are comfortable leaving their child in the care of a family friend or a mentor who is widely trusted in the community. 

 

When a child insinuates, hints or discloses that they are being abused, the adult they are telling should remain calm and believe them in that moment. The adult should seek assistance from professionals who are trained to investigate suspicions of abuse and not make a determination based on personal beliefs or experiences with the offender.

 

Adults should not attempt to 'investigate' or get more information on their own. Doing so may jeopardize the integrity of a bona fide investigation and ultimately leave a child at risk.

Victim 1: "I spaced. I didn’t know what to do. I just blacked out. I didn’t want it to happen. I froze… I froze like every other time. My mind was telling me to move. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t move."

 

PCAR: It is normal for victims of sexual assault to “dissociate” during the abuse being done to them. Dissociation is a mental process which causes a lack of connection in a person's thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or sense of identity.

 

Many survivors explain it by saying they disconnect their mind from their body. They may describe “floating up out of their body” or “looking over their own shoulder” during the abuse. An event or memory can bring up emotions which trigger dissociation. When a person is dissociating, certain sensory information is not associated with other information as it normally would be.

 

For instance, a person may recall a smell, sound, sight, taste or feeling, but not be able to place it in context or be able to associate words to tell the story of the experience. Dissociation can be a survival strategy used to help a person tolerate what might otherwise be too difficult to bear.

 

In situations of sexual violence, dissociation may be a means of detaching from the memory of the place, feelings or other circumstances about the assault. Dissociation allows the victim to mentally escape from feelings of fear and pain. It is normal for people who dissociate to have difficulty remembering the details of the assault or keeping the details in an organized, linear time line.

 

Victim 1: “I acted out—wetting the bed. I got into fights with people. Stuff I wouldn’t normally ever do.”
Victim 1:  “I started avoiding him. I would hide at his house under the pool table or in a closet.”

 

PCAR:  Parents, teachers, coaches and counselors wonder how they can know if a child is being sexually abused.  Unfortunately, there is not always a clear signal that indicates a child is being sexual abused.

 

 There are, however, signs that indicate a child might be experiencing some kind of abuse. Any one sign does not mean a child is being abused, but if you notice a child is experiencing several of the symptoms you should be asking questions. Visit www.heroproject.orghttp://www.heroproject.orgwww.nsvrc.orghttp://www.nsvrc.org or 

 

www.stopitnow.org for resources on indicators of possible sexual abuse.

 

Some signs or symptoms are physical, such as pain, itching, bruising or bleeding of the genital area. Other symptoms are behavioral, such as an unexplained or sudden fear, dislike or avoidance of certain people, regression to infantile behaviors such as bed-wetting or thumb-sucking, nightmares and sleep disturbances, developing discipline or school problems, and engaging in self-injury such as burning or cutting,

 

Victim 1: “I might have white-lied to cover embarrassment. But I’m here telling the full truth.”

 

PCAR: Sexual abuse can cause intense feelings of shame, embarrassment, fear and humiliation. Victims often feel trapped between wanting the abuse to stop and being terrified of other people learning what has been done to them. That fear can keep victims silent while the abuse is going on and for years after it has stopped.

 

Many victims try to hide what is happening to them by hiding it, by outright denying it when others ask (including classmates who may make jokes, tease or bully them based on the irregular relationship they see or sense), and by making statements with false bravado.

 

Sometimes victims fear getting in trouble for their own "bad" or illegal behavior (underage drinking, using drugs, lying to parents about where they are or who they are with) and will make false statements to friends, family and even investigators about those acts.

 

These false statements do not mean that the entire account of abuse is false. In fact, offenders may intentionally encourage victims to engage in bad or illegal behavior knowing it is one more layer of protection for themselves should the victim report their sexual assaults.

Day 1

Prosecutor Joseph McGettigan: "Young men will be pressed for details on their victimization. They have tried to bury these details. Recognitions may not be perfect. It shows the painfulness of what happened.”

 

 PCAR: A large body of research on traumatic memory shows that the brain processes sensory information very differently during a traumatic event than during normal, non-threatening events. It is normal for victims of sexual assault, veterans of war, police who have been in the line of fire, and victims of car accidents and other who have experienced traumatic events to:

 

                not be able to recall details in a linear time line

 

                recall certain sensory information (smells, sounds, sights, etc.) but without context

 

                have visual memories of parts of the event but not have words to communicate them (This is because the Broca's area of the brain does not attach words to sensory info during trauma.)

 

 It is also normal for survivors of these experiences to feel intense floods of emotions when recalling these memories; similar to how they felt at the time they occurred. They can be so over whelming that a survivor may temporarily find himself or herself "right back there" and be re-experiencing it as if it were firsthand.  It is normal to want to avoid these very terrifying and horrible feelings and memories.

 

 McGettigan: "Each victim met him through Second Mile. It is the perfect environment for a predatory pedophile."

 

 PCAR:  People who commit sexual offenses do so for a wide range of reasons and use a wide range of tactics to gain access to victims and to trick many others into trusting them.

 

Offenders of both children and adults exploit existing vulnerabilities, and having a past that may make people question your credibility is a common vulnerability they exploit.  

 

A social service program designed to assist "at-risk youth"–a euphemism for children who already have behavioral or other problems–is an environment full of children who may already be labeled as "troublemakers" or "liars" or "attention seekers" (usually meant as a negative trait instead of recognizing the normal need behind the label).

 

A person who sexually abuses children would have access to many potential victims in an agency like the Second Mile, which is full of children with these pre-existing issues.  

 

Offenders know this and hope that if their criminal behavior is reported, adults will question the victim who exposes them instead of taking it seriously and questioning the behavior of the adult who's behavior has been called into question.

 

McGettigan: Humiliation, shame and fear equal silence. These emotions cause that response.

 

Survivors have been telling us this for decades. They are terrified that they will not be believed, scared to reveal that such humiliating things were done to them, and ashamed that they don't know how to stop the abuse or get help.

Offenders reinforce these feelings by the things they say and do to victims. They use the shame and fear to bind the victim to them and isolate them from others who might help them. The victim is left feeling alone, isolated and very different from everyone around them.

 

Victims describe this as a surreal feeling –to see other kids leading normal lives all around them, but feel so different and separate from them due to the abuse they have endured.  This shame and silence can last for decades.

 

Many survivors wait until well into their adult hood to share their secret. For many male victims, the shame and secrecy is compounded by the fear that their own sexuality may have something to do with it, or at least that others will think so. We must look at the stories of children with the eyes of children and recognize that a 10-year-old or 14-year-old boy has little language or understanding of human sexuality, and may have a very difficult time understanding that manipulation, abuse, exploitation and violence are not related to their own sexuality.

 

Defense attorney Joe Amendola:  “It’s routine for people to get showers together (in Jerry’s generation). When you work out together, you shower. It’s not a crime.”

 

PCAR: It is not a crime to shower together with one's own peer group. However, Mr. Sandusky is not accused of washing himself at one end of a room of showers while another person of the same age did so at another shower.  He is accused of being in a deserted building late at night with—and showering with children and inflicting sexual activity on those children in the shower.

 

A very distraught custodian told co-workers he saw Sandusky with his mouth on a child's genitals in the shower. Mike McQueary saw a naked Sandusky behind a child with his arms around the child's midsection while the child braced his hands on the wall.  

 

Mr. Amendola has made much of the fact that Mr. McQueary says he cannot confirm whether he "saw penetration." We think this is a distraction. If Sandusky was in the position described above, his adult body obscuring the location of his genitals, we argue a sex crime is still being committed. Penetration is NOT the only sexual offense possible -- rubbing your genitals on a boy is still a felony.

Amendola:  “We don’t think Mike McQueary lied. We think he saw something and made assumptions. He didn’t see penetration. He assumed it.”

 

PCAR: See above.

 

Amendola: “It is unusual for an alleged victim to have an attorney—one had a lawyer before he talked to the Attorney General.”

 

PCAR: We do not believe this is unusual given the circumstances of this case. The victims in this case are familiar firsthand with the universal support of the Penn State football program –it's allure and having access to it was a key component of the way Sandusky lured the victims into a trusting relationship.

 

These victims knew that reaching out for help or justice would pit them against Penn State, the Second Mile, and the Penn State football nation.

 

It is very reasonable that a family would secure legal representation to counsel them through the process of telling their stories and protect themselves from the scrutiny bound to accompany such horrifying allegations against a man with the prominent local and national reputation as Jerry Sandusky.

 

Amendola: “Victim four brought his girlfriend and baby over to meet the Sanduskys—like he was bringing his family over to meet his Dad.”

PCAR: Common victim behaviors are often incomprehensible to the public. It is common for survivors of sexual abuse to continue relationships with their abusers after the abuse has stopped.  Individuals react to trauma in different ways. For example, it is common for victims to maintain contact with their abusers because they may still feel affection for them even though they hate the abuse. It is also common for some victims to maintain contact in an attempt to regain control over their assault.  Others may maintain contact in an attempt to regain a feeling of normalcy. 

 

Amendola: “Accusers were questioned multiple times because the government wanted a different answer. Initially they said nothing happened. The government harassed these victims.”

 

PCAR: It is not uncommon for victims to delay reporting sexual abuse or to deny that they were abused when they are initially questioned. Some reasons for this are: fear of stigma, embarrassment, and retaliation. There is no evidence that the victims were coerced into reporting or that they are testifying for the prosecution under duress. 

 

Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape * 125 N. Enola Dr. * Enola, PA 17025 * (717) 728-9740 * (800) 692-7445 * TTY (877) 585-1091

24-hour Information and Referral: 1-888-772-PCAR

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