Surviving Child Sexual Abuse in the Wake of the Penn State Tragedy

By Nina Hoffmann
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 12 | Posted Nov. 16, 2011

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Now that we’ve learned more about Joe Paterno, Penn State football and its “legacy” than we ever needed to, it’s time to talk about the real issue: allegations that at least eight boys were sexually abused by former football coach Jerry Sandusky. To date, the grand jury report remains one of the few accounts that documents what exactly these boys (now men in their 20s) had to endure. This is because, since Day 1, this story has never been about sexual abuse.

And as the spouse of a sexual-abuse survivor, I’m heartbroken. My husband was abused by his stepfather when he was 6, and for a period of time no one believed him except for his dad, who reported the abuse to the authorities. It was only after we got married last year that my husband, now 29, really started displaying signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. All of a sudden, he could not function. Everyday acts, things we all take for granted with our spouses, like hugging or laughing, became huge undertakings for him. Our first year of marriage was marked by shame, resentment, pain, anger and guilt. The sexual abuse had stolen my husband.

But he is slowly returning. Thanks to therapy, our love for and commitment to one another, my husband is reclaiming his life. He gets the credit for our progress because he had the strength to say, ‘I want to stop hurting.’ He spoke up once again—and this time, thankfully, I listened.

This is why I’m so embarrassed by what’s happening in the national conversation right now. I seethed when I saw a headline about how the coach of the Indianapolis Colts “feels” about the tragedy. Why is this man being given an outlet to voice his empty opinion? I’m also disturbed by a Facebook conversation I had the other day. I commented on the Penn State riots, noting how ashamed I was that thousands of people were acting out in favor of someone who did not do more to stop these horrible alleged crimes. A PSU alum later commented that she was offended by my remarks, even though she wasn’t there and had nothing to do with what happened on campus. These actions are pathetic, and so is the fact that people with ties to PSU—people who weren’t there and played no role—are taking the backlash personally. If this is not a testament to how stigmatized—how utterly silenced—sexual abuse has become in our society, I don’t know what is. Which is why we all need to start talking about it immediately.

The survivors’ loved ones play a big role in that. Another recent headline I saw focused on a woman whose son is an alleged victim of Sandusky. Naturally, she wants justice. She wants the perpetrator “to be put away for a long time.” I hope that she and all of the survivors’ partners, parents and friends do more than call for justice. I hope that they do their homework on the effects of sexual abuse and do their damndest to understand the triggers, the defense mechanisms and the pain associated with being molested. The real healing will be ongoing. It takes years. Survivors cannot do it alone and they have to know that their loved ones aren’t ashamed to help them deal with it. And to the survivors I want to say: I hope this media circus has not caused you any more pain. Though when I see how affected my husband has been over the last week, sadly, I know that it has. To see a school so obsessed with its own reputation must make you feel guilty for speaking out or in some way complicit in what happened to you. I hope that you find the strength and the courage to heal. My husband is living proof that it’s possible.

Just a little over a week since this case has unfolded, I’m now reading that PSU’s Board of Trustees is allegedly ordering people to stop talking about the case. Now is the worst possible time to be silent. Now is the time to talk about sexual abuse in a way that helps people understand the gravity of it. Let’s use this tragedy as an opportunity to address all of the terrible consequences and symptoms of being sexually abused. A good place to start would be to stop referring to this case as a sex scandal. When you call it that, you’re comparing child rape to what people like John Edwards (who cheated on his wife with a staffer, had a baby and lied about it) and Eliot Spitzer (who cheated on his wife with a hooker and lied about it) did. Yes, semantics matter.

It has taken my husband his entire life to come to grips with the fact that he was sexually, physically and emotionally abused. It has taken all the strength that we have, and then some, to keep our marriage together in spite of all the darkness.

Sexual abuse can happen anywhere, to anyone. One in four girls and one in six boys are molested before the age of 18. But the more we talk about it, maybe, just maybe, we can save a child from enduring what my husband and these survivors did. We can help eliminate the stigma. So next time this conversation comes up in your circle of friends, family and colleagues, don’t make it about football, legacy or Joe Paterno. Make it about sexual abuse. That’s the real story.

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Comments 1 - 12 of 12
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1. Waheedah said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 09:00AM

“I couldn't have said it any better. The real victims here are the children(now young men), they are the people who have suffered most. If PSU's Board of Trustees don't want to talk about it then they are doing nothing more than covering for all those who knew what was going on for a very long time! What kind of ethics are being taught here? Do any of these people have a conscious? I wonder how they would feel had it been their sons or grandchildren would it have made a difference!”

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2. one time said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 10:04AM

“of course the trustees are going to circle wagons now. The school has been lynched by anyone with a computer. It isn't about the kids who were hurt. It's all about football and taking down a football icon. Somewhere in there, the real story exists, but now, the abused children are so far down the list of media priorities. I can't blame Paterno for that, that is on the media's head.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 10:17AM

“Thank you. Thank you for speaking out about the survivors of this story and thanks for sharing your husband's story. I realized, in hearing about this for the last week, it triggered a lot of things in me as a survivor of sexual abuse and I've sought out counselling. Years don't heal the pain. I thought they did, that I would forget, but I haven't.”

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4. geoff smith said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 10:58AM

“This is a story that no one wants to talk about,take away State Penn,and this would be not worth reporting.You see,no one really cares,people only get uptight when its their own child being abused.Any one else's,we are not interested.Time after time this subject keeps coming to light,but nothing is done
State Penn,have so much in common with the catholic church,that is, Management from the top down,put their reputations first,obviously,because we are talking of multi million dollar business,s.The victims are in this evil crime,are scared,voiceless,this crime makes them like that.I know this for a fact as I am a former victim,of a priest,who last year ,got 21 years in prison.Go to
It is very sad,that most people would scream and shout all day about cruelty to cats,but share no compassion for raped children,who grow up,and look just the same as you and me.And when you look at these grown up abused people,you cannot imagine the hurt and pain,suffered for decades.”

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5. geoff smith said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 11:06AM

“Im sorry,one last thing,all my thoughts are with the victims of this crime,bless you all.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 03:11PM

“"“This is a story that no one wants to talk about,take away State Penn,and this would be not worth reporting.You see,no one really cares,people only get uptight when its their own child being abused.Any one else's,we are not interested."

My mother didn't even bother when I told her I was abused. She didn't confront the abuser, didn't go to the police, didn't tell my dad.”

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7. Dad said... on Nov 18, 2011 at 09:42PM

“Well written article, Nina. Good job!

How sad that the reputation of a football program and its coach are more important than the mental health and lives of dozens of abused children (now men). We need to examine our priorities as a people, a nation, a society.”

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8. ns said... on Nov 19, 2011 at 07:55AM

“Your article is one of hope and inspiration to all married couples who have endured being victims of sexual abuse. I, as well as the others, am sickened by the PSU supporters for the abusers.”

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9. Dad #2 said... on Nov 21, 2011 at 11:16AM

“Great article Nina. Well said - thank you for the support that you bring to my Son. He has fought hard and been through a lot of therapy to get to this point. Let the healing begin!!!! I have to say "I hope D.E. rots in friggin hell for the pain he caused to my Son and those who love him. Every time that i see him it's obvious that his guilt is overbearing. Without God in my life, he wouldn't have one anymore!!!!!!

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10. RICHARD MILLS said... on Nov 21, 2011 at 05:56PM



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11. Lancaster Merrin said... on Nov 22, 2011 at 10:40AM

“Coach to his confessor: Bless me father, for I have sinned. I knew that one of my associates was having his way with little boys but I didn't do anything substantial to stop it. I only told the Athletic Director. Is that a sin of omission?

Confessor : Well it's not necessarily a sin, really. Look, you're being a little harsh on yourself. Say two Hail Marys and whip the tar out of Ohio State on Sunday.

Coach : Phew...yes. In the name of the father and of the...............”

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12. Suzanna Bowen said... on Aug 22, 2012 at 08:17PM

“I want to write my story in the hope to be published by someone. Can you help me? My brother and his best friend abused me for 2 maybe 3yrs from when I was 9 or 10. The best friend was found guilty 37yrs later and my brother, the absolute worse perpetrator of the two got off. I told my father when I was 11 and he belt me with a horse twitch and then did nothing. Too scared to say anything ever again, the abuse continued until I was strong enough to stop him myself. My brother was 6yrs older and would threaten to kill my animals (pets) if I told. Those pets kept me alive as I surely would have killed myself. The thing that stopped me was that no-one could look after them as well as I did.”


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