Monday, June 25, 2012


Jerry Sandusky.
The trial is over and he's been found guilty of atrocities that I don't have the stomach to list. All reasonable people are shocked and disgusted by his actions and saddened for his victims. While he will likely spend the rest of his life in prison, that is only a small drop of justice in a flood of evil. The sparks a lot of emotions in our country these days. I know it does for me. I am also a survivor of sexual abuse.

I honestly can't remember if I've talked about it on this blog before, but I'm going to talk about it now. I know that this isn't a topic that makes people comfortable. Or a topic that people expect to find on an infertility/parenting blog. But this space is for me and about me, and right now, it's what's on my mind.

The man who abused me was my grandmother's third husband. He and my grandmother married when I was 3 months old, so he was the only grandfather I ever knew. His name was CH (That is his real name.) but I always called him grandpa.

I don't know when it started. Before my memory, that is all I can tell you. I can remember being somewhere around 3 or 4 and learning in church that those kind of touches were only for married people and telling him he had to stop because it was a sin. He told me God was okay with it because we loved each other. I would later learn that he was an Atheist.

When I was about 8 or 9, I was playing, hiding behind a built in laundry hamper at their house when I found some papers. Of course, I read them. They were court transcripts. My grandma and CH had foster children for a while. He had molested two of the girls they had. They reported it. And here were the transcripts of most of the interviews. He denied it, of course. They had been removed from their home because their dad was molesting them. He told the interviewer that they must have been having flashbacks.

My grandma swore it wasn't possible. They'd never been alone, whatever.

I asked him about it one day and he told me "they wanted [him] to." I asked him what he would do if I ever told. He said "I would deal with it because I love you that much." I took that to mean that nothing would change. There was no point in telling.

As I got older, things escalated. I would stay with them in the summers sometimes, or long weekends. If I wanted money to go to the pool or something, I had to perform for it. Every moment alone, I tried to cover my developing body because it attracted too much attention. But I went along with it, too. I pleased him because that's the way it had always been. In the same way that a child does the dishes or mows the lawn to please her parents, I performed sexual acts.

For a few years we lived several states away and I was safe. It was a relief, but at the same time, I missed them. Despite the abuse, he was my grandpa and I loved him. (Gosh, those words hurt me more to type than all the rest of it.) When I was 14, my dad decided to go back to college, so we moved back to Illinois and in with them. The abuse started up again immediately.

One day, a friend at school told me that she had been abused and been to counseling. I told her that I was being touched, too. She told her mom, who called the school, who called the state, who called my dad. That friend probably saved my life.

The telling was hell. The school counselor called me in and asked me if it was true. I told her that it was, but tried to lessen it by saying it had only happened twice. In my mind, I didn't want to say I had been lying to my friend, and I knew that it only happening once wasn't believable, but somehow I thought it happening twice was. (Magical thinking of a child, here.) As there is (was?) no statue of limitations on sexual abuse in my state, it still had to be reported, despite my pleas not to tell my dad.
She said she would talk to the state and see what had to happen.

When I showed up for the meeting with the state interviewer, my dad was in the room already. No one had told me he would be there. I had a whole letter written explaining why they shouldn't tell him. I burned it later. When I saw him sitting in the small office, I turned to run away.

I don't know where I was going, I just needed to go away. The school counselor grabbed me and physically pushed me back into the office. My dad stood and just hugged me for a long time. I just sobbed.

Then the interview started. I couldn't look anyone in the eye. I was 14 years old. I couldn't even say the word "tampon" in front of my dad yet and the counselor wanted me to now answer if CH inserted his fingers or penis into my vagina. I couldn't answer through the sobs. My school counselor had been warned not to speak during the interview, but she broke decorum to ask if perhaps this would be easier if my dad wasn't there. I just nodded.  My dad immediately stood and left.

After the interview was over, I had to go back to class. As it happened, it was lunch time. I walked in and the school bully started making rude comments to me (as usual) and before I could decide what else to do, I dumped my carton of chocolate milk over his head, getting me sent to the Principal's office where I had to apologize. The best part of that whole day was my principal telling me I ought not to do that because by the end of the day, the bully was going to smell bad. I hope he did.

That night, my dad picked me up from school and asked me if I wanted to prosecute. I did, but instead of saying so, I asked him what he thought. He said he thought that CH was a sick man and that a trial wouldn't do anyone any good. I just wanted my life to go back to normal, so I said I agreed. I have regretted that moment for the last 21 years.

The next day, the state called and said that they didn't have enough evidence to prosecute on their own, but that the accusations were founded. If we didn't immediately move out of my grandparents' house, the state would remove me from my father's care and put me into the foster system.

My dad came to me and told me that he was going to have to tell my grandma. Did I want to be there when he told her? No. I didn't. He went to the basement where she was watching TV. I went to my room and closed the door. CH was at work. I don't even think I cried while I listened to my grandmother wail. Even then, I knew she should have protected me.

The next day we moved into a motel. We ran out of money a week later. We lived another week or so in a homeless shelter. That was where I lived during Thanksgiving 1990. My dad applied for state aid and we found a crappy apartment to live in while my dad finished college and worked as much as he could. We still ate dinner with my grandparents every night. In convincing everyone that it really had happened only twice, my dad thought I was safe now.

A few times after that, CH tried to touch me again. I told him I would scream. Finally I had a voice.

My grandmother occasionally asked me to detail what had happened. I guess she also wanted to know if he had inserted his fingers or penis into my vagina. I refused to discuss it. She assured me that I had certainly misconstrued a pat on the butt. I assured her that I hadn't.

When I was 17 or so, she again begged me to tell her what happened. Pleaded, "WHY won't you tell me?" So I did. In excruciating detail, I told her every single thing. She sobbed and I seethed. Why did either of us need to think about it? Why couldn't she just believe me? They still stayed married.

When I was 19, she decided she would move back to her hometown of Indianapolis. She told CH that he could move with her, or they could get divorced. He didn't want to move, so they got divorced. I was relieved.

And then Thanksgiving came, and she invited him to have dinner with us again. My dad broke it to me gently and asked if I'd rather not go. We had dinner at a local restaurant that year. It was weird. I decided then that I would go to family dinners as usual. I didn't want him to keep me out of my traditions. So for a few more years, I continued to have holiday meals with him.

Somewhere along the way, I told my dad the truth about how long it had really gone on. That didn't go so well either. He didn't want to think about it. Kept asking me why I was telling him. I guess he felt about that the way I felt about my grandmother's questions. At the time I told him I just wanted him to know the truth. Now I realize that I wanted him to hate CH as much as I did. It hurt me that he didn't.

I got counseling for a little while. Not long, but enough to do me some good.

CH died last year. He left me a small amount of money. My dad asked if I wanted it, thinking maybe I didn't. I told him that no amount of money could undo what was done, but the money would be put to good use. I guess it was a small amount of justice in a pool of evil.

Most of the time, I'm okay. I have my moments. The right sound can set me off. For a long time, the smell of Head and Shoulders shampoo would make me gag. I started using it on purpose to disassociate the scent from CH.

Mostly, it's made me sensitive to the fragility of children. Everyone thought CH was "just the greatest guy." Everyone just loved him. Those are the guys you have to look out for. The ones who can charm the kids. When I met David, I was relieved that he was so uncomfortable around children. He would stare blankly at a child who talked to him. That's not a guy who is talking a kid into doing things she didn't want to.

When stories like the Sandusky story come up, I have trouble, though. I know the pain of those boys. I read about the boys still going to the football camps even though they knew what else came with it. I think about asking for money for ice cream even though I knew what it would cost me. The guilt and shame come back with a vengeance. Intellectually I know that he was the adult with power, but I can't help but think "if only..." sometimes.

I look at Dottie Sandusky and see my grandmother. Willful ignorance, to be sure. It must be nice to have the luxury not to think about things one doesn't want to see. Jerry's victims, CH's victims, all the victims of predators out there, we don't have a choice.

I share this story because it's truth. Because Jerry Sandusky is not the only one. Because this blog is about parenting and about hope. I hope that children are safer now because Jerry Sandusky is in jail. CH is dead. Maybe Jerry will join him in hell soon.



molly said...

Trish, I'm so sorry for what you went through. I don't even have near the right words to tell you how horrified I am at your prolonged suffering, your family's lack of response, and the memories you must live with. No child should have to live through that and no adult should have those memories. I do want to point out that CH's being an Athiest probably had nothing to do with his abuse. As a nonbeliever myself in a very conservative state, I have to fight the stereotype that nonbelievers are somehow less moral, good people. I suspect that there as many believing abusers as there are nonbelievers. Look at the Catholic church (and I have a Catholic background!). Again, though, I'm sorry for your suffering and for his evil behavior.

Bridie Sellers said...

Trish, I know saying I'm sorry for what you went through doesn't seem to even remotely express how I feel reading this. The Sandusky case was so awful to me on so many levels - his pure evil, all the people that had the opportunity and responsibility to speak up and protect these kids and didn't when they had the chance....I just know how I feel, not having experienced any type of abuse. Thanks for sharing your story. It will reach someone, somewhere, that will make the choice to do the right thing, or empower a victim to speak out.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry for the hell you went through. I wish I had had the strength and courage to tell someone when it was happening to me.

And I definitely understand the sensitivity to the fragility of children. I cried tears of relief when I found out we were having a boy because I knew it would be really hard for me to trust anyone with my little girl. It doesn't make him completely safe of course, but the statistics are at least on his side this way.

I'm an atheist, but sometimes I hope there really is a hell just so scumbags like these abusers can experience it.

Trish said...

Thanks for your kind thoughts.
I didn't mean to imply that he was an evil bastard because he was an Atheist. Simply pointing out what a lying bastard he was to use God's name to say what he was doing was okay when he didn't even believe in him.

I have many Atheist friends I love with all my heart, whom are amazingly kind people. While I certainly do wish that everyone knew God the way I do, I do not for a minute believe that not knowing him makes you a bad person, or even that knowing him makes you a good one.

SupersammyG said...

Thanks for sharing. I hate that you had to go through all that. I am sorry the adults in your life didn't protect you. Hugs.

jpavia410 said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us. I am so sorry that you went through what you did for so long. I think as parents we can't be careful enough with our children. A child's life and innocence are too fragile. You are so strong for going through you all you have and still becoming the amazing adult that you are. Robbie and Charlotte are amazingly blessed to have you as their mother.
with Love, Julia

jpavia410 said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us. I am so sorry that you went through what you did for so long. I think as parents we can't be careful enough with our children. A child's life and innocence are too fragile. You are so strong for going through you all you have and still becoming the amazing adult that you are. Robbie and Charlotte are amazingly blessed to have you as their mother.
with Love, Julia

Linoleum said...

The fact that anyone would ever do that to a child makes me want to vomit. I hope hell has a special place for people like that but I hate that you had to experience it on this earth. You can be proud that you have come through to the other side so strong and brave enough to post this.

Heather said...

I'm so sorry you went through this and that the adults in your life did not protect you more. I also get disgusted with the people that protect them and insist that it couldn't happen, because they want to stay blind to the truth. Why would a child want to lie about something like that? It wouldn't happen, so they need to open up their eyes and listen.

Adriane said...

Trish - I am so unbelievably sorry that you had to go through all that. As I read your words, I found myself being so angry on your behalf. The fact that he was around for years afterward had to be such a smack in the face.

My girls are almost 4 and I've already talked to them about inappropriate touching / behavior and telling the truth. I know this sounds nuts, but when they make up crazy stories I don't outwardly doubt them. I let them know frequently that they can tell me ANYTHING. Even if it's bad or is hard to tell. It doesn't mean they're bad. I don't know why I'm so fearful, but I am. The Sandusky trial really made me think about how many people failed those boys.

Sending hugs to you. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

Sherry said...

You are so brave to share. Love you so much!

Amanda said...

I think it took a lot of courage to write this. And maybe, just maybe, by writing, you're helping someone else gather the courage to speak up.

B's Mom said...

This was a very honest post. These are the things people don't talk about, but need to.

All About Amelia said...

You are so amazing and one of the strongest people I know. I am so sorry for your pain and what you endured. I am glad you shared such a private matter- As a reminder to always be alert and to protect our babies! Love you girle!!

Slytherpuff said...

You are an amazingly strong woman, Trish. Thank you for sharing your story with the world. It is only by knowing how such actions happen that we can prevent them from happening in the future.

A and W mom said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Though I've heard bits and pieces before, never the whole thing in order. I can't imagine how hard so many parts of that story were for you to go through ... and wonder what went through your dad's mind when he first found out. I can't imagine.
I love you.

Ruby said...

I'm so sorry. Thank you for sharing. You are (and were) incredibly strong. I wish you did not have to be.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. I'm still unable to. and I understand how sensative you are to how adults look at children. I my life everyone is under suspision.

Elizabeth said...

I'm late to comment but I wanted to say - I understand where you've been... it's almost worse when it's family, definitely worse when you find the courage to tell someone and they don't believe, don't accept or don't behave as if you need or needed any protection.

33 years later - I remember...

And I'm sorry like everyone else that you went through it, and proud of you for sharing your story.

Hugs & Prayers

Angelica said...

While I hadn't read this post sooner, I am still very, very, very sorry that you had to go through this. You are a beautiful inspiration that you withstood something so awful and turned into something very beautiful.

When I was 13 my half brother sexually assaulted me. When I was 14-21 my stepbrother harassed me and (I would say) virtually raped me online. When I was 22, he actually raped me in person twice. I was so angry about everything and confused. He had groomed me to think that I was special, too. He knew my entire sexual history. It's sickening. He was 21 when he started harassing me at 14. He should've known better. You know?

Whenever I tell a friend about it, they say, "how did you turn out so normal?" For the life of me, I have no idea. I went to counseling too, I talked to police officers and I told my parents. Everyone wants to know details but don't understand how hard it is to rehash everything.

For about two years after being raped, I couldn't even get my car fixed. My stepbrother was a mechanic. He was fixing my car that weekend. I would have panic attacks thinking about getting my car fixed. If I drove and my seat belt locked, I would be set off in a crying fit. I was scared of my car.

For some reason though, God made us resilient. He made us strong. When I would cry to my half brother (we have long-since resolved issues) about everything he told me something so profound. "God gives you tough times not because He wants to make you stronger, but because He wants YOU to see how strong you really are."

Every day is a step toward recovery and I can only imagine that when it's 20 years down the road for me, I will still feel that wound.

Thank you for sharing your story. People, especially women and children, need to be more open/honest with these situations. It really CAN happen to anyone.

kcoleman said...

Thanks for sharing your story. You are an amazing woman with an amazing amount of strength.
This was such a private post, but it's one that needs to be shared and awareness needs to be made.
You are so strong.