Alleged victims show true courage
Two days of testimony in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual molestation trial have showcased tears, grotesque accusations, rigorous cross-examinations, a star witness’ damning testimony and a renewed sense of horror for a town that has known it unceasingly since the former Penn State defensive coordinator became a national pariah in November.
But most of all, there has been courage.
So far, two alleged victims have taken the stand, sat before the man they say sexually assaulted them as boys and faced a courthouse full of strangers as they recounted claims about the most personal and humiliating of crimes.
That is courage of the kind that matters. And not, if Sandusky is indeed guilty and is convicted, the kind of courage limited to just putting a scary man behind bars.
These are alleged victims — now ages 18 and 28 — who have chosen to face their darkest demons in the daylight while the world watches. That alone could inspire victims across the country to do the same, could tell some scared child somewhere that he or she is not alone, could show what stepping forward and breaking free can look like.
“I spent so many years burying this in the back of my head,” the 28-year-old said Monday. “I feel responsible for what happened to the other victims.”
He’s not, of course. But the courage and fortitude it takes to talk of such things so publicly could be responsible for helping other sex-crime victims step forward in the same way. These have been emotional moments rather than the clinical testimony that can define many court cases, and in each painful and awful story there are examples that surely will be followed somewhere.
For the 28-year-old, known as Victim No. 4, his Monday testimony was confident and to the point. When Sandusky’s attorney said Sandusky had treated him like a son, the witness stood firm.
“He treated me like a son in front of other people,” he said. “Aside from that, he treated me like his girlfriend.”
He went on, describing what he said was life as a 13-year-old with Sandusky: Gifts and attention and the lie this was friendship, repeated inappropriate sexual contact, touching his genitals, attempts at anal and oral sex.
“Combination of the oral sex or just groping me,” he said. “Sometimes there would be no oral sex that would happen, but he’d be between my thighs kissing them like I was a girl.”
This is horrible, horrible stuff, and it continued right into Tuesday’s testimony. But it’s also brave. That continued as well.
Victim No. 1, who was 11 and 12 when he says the accusations took place, is 18 now and did not have the confident air of Victim No. 4. He gasped often, he sobbed. He was what you might picture a scared and damaged kid to look like in the face of such scrutiny.
Why wouldn’t he be? He says he was a boy when he told a school guidance counselor that Sandusky had sexually abused him.
The guidance counselor’s response?
“ ‘He has a heart of gold, and he wouldn’t do something like that,’ ” Victim No. 1 said he was told. “So they didn't believe me.”
The 18-year-old laid out a tale so dark and emotional it was shocking even by the standards of the allegations against Sandusky.
“He would kiss me on the forehead at night, then kiss me on the cheek, then he’d be rubbing my back, cracking my back,” he said while he looked down at his folded hands. He gulped and went on. “He didn’t really say much. . . . He’d roll over on top of me, then roll me over on top of him.”
“Did he do anything else?” prosecutor Joseph McGettigan asked.
“He kissed my lips . . . rubbed underneath my shorts . . . then he blew on my stomach. I didn’t know what to think.”
“Did he touch your butt?” McGettigan asked.
“Yes.” He stopped, couldn’t go on.
“What else did he do?”
“He . . . he . . . he put his mouth on my privates. I spaced. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t say anything. I froze.”
Several months later, he testified, the abuse escalated. “He made me . . .” He paused and cried and put his hands to his face. “He made me put my mouth on his privates.”
Former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary, the prosecution’s star witness, also testified, including about what he says he saw in a shower late one night.
“Jerry Sandusky was up against the back of the boy. . . . His arms were wrapped around the boy’s midsection. . . . They were as close as you could get,” he said. “I was looking directly at them, and they were looking at me. I saw their bodies. I was 5 feet away. There was no doubt what I saw.”
When the defense attorney tried to get McQueary to admit he hadn’t seen an actual sex act, the witness bristled.
“I did not see a penis in a rectum,” he said. “But the lights were on. . . . I saw them naked. . . . His chest was pressed against the back of the boy. Absent seeing a penis in a rectum, I think they were having sex.”
This was the trial. Talk of anal sex with children, of penis seen or not seen, of a young boy suddenly being forced into oral sex.
It was awful. It sounded damning. It was emotional. And, especially for the two alleged victims, sitting down and saying it in a courtroom was the bravest thing we’ve seen since the allegations first came out in November.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.