Jerry Sandusky can no longer sexually abuse children, and the courageous adult survivors who spoke the harrowing truth in court about his sexual criminal acts against them when they were children, have found justice–at least in the criminal system. Like most adult survivors, only the arduous task ahead of healing, will truly set them free to reclaim their lives from the battle they have been fighting all their lives. And it can be done, but that work can never be underestimated.
However, let us not get too far ahead. Let’s give them the acknowledegement that’s due for their extraordinary courage and the arduous efforts they gave during their time in court process. It could never have been easy for them. Dredging up the painful, disgusting memories of Sandusky raping, molesting, manipulating, and terrorizing them, and bringing these memories and realities public while facing such defense strategies that tried to make them into liars, is the work of warriors in battle against not only the defense, but a society that still questions, Are they making this up? Or ‘Just get over it, it happened so long ago‘. Many families still won’t believe the adult survivor when 10, 20, 30 years later they finally are able to reveal the abuse they had been so traumatized to admit. Oh, your memories must be confused. Oh, it’s that False Memory Syndrome, have you heard about it? Oh honey, He would never do that. He’s such an upstanding man in our community. Moreover, denial of those who don’t believe them is one of the biggest enemies for adult survivors of child sexual abuse to face–millions of Dotty Sanduskys out there — spouses, partners, parents, brothers, sisters and friends, some who are jury members, judges, police officers, politicians– in utter denial. And in the justice process, let’s not forget the heavy burden of truth survivors must face in the criminal justice system.
All these issues all play out in court, and often, even when their cases are successful, the survivor is victimized again. Is the jury member one of those who just couldn’t believe this could have happened by an upstanding man in the community? How will they handle the darts and knives of the defense blaming them, making them into liars, assassinating their character– when the little traumatized child that still lives in their memories and bodies is quivering in a corner like they did after they were raped. What about those survivors having to see their abuser in court, some for the first time since they were children. Or having to face the unsupportive family or community members — the grandparents, aunts, and uncles, partners and friends of the perpetrator — who are all gathered on his side of the court room.
The justice system is often not a safe place for adult survivors of child sexual abuse. Many survivors seeking justice also first report to police departments and lawyers not trained to understand or investigate cases that happened so many years ago, or who don’t understand the nature of trauma, and how to support the emotional and psychological needs of survivors who are treading on minefields of horrific memories, having to relive the sensations and recollections of their small bodies being ripped open and violated–while still dealing with the daily pain of their broken lives and souls. Some can never seek justice because of Statue of Limitations, and live with the fact that their abusers are still out there in our communities raping and molesting other children.
Is this justice?
As a community it is our responsibility to not let the clang of the jail cell closing on Sandusky be the end of supporting adult survivors of child sexual abuse seeking justice–and we hope many more will be coming forward. Documentary film has become a powerful advocacy tool to continue raising awareness on important social issues, and the pursuit of truth for survivors in the justice system is one of the most important issues facing us today. Vertigo Charitable Foundation is producing a new documentary and advocacy film “Pursuit of Truth: Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Seeking Justice” to help survivors navigate the complexities of the court system and process, while guiding professionals in the field to consider needed reform, best practices, and ways we can better support adult survivors courageously pursuing the challenging task of seeking justice. Through outreach and education, Pursuit of Truth will be an key tool for raising awareness and transforming the justice system one case – one precious individual – at a time. Vertigo hired Kathy Barbini of Big Voice Pictures, producer of Boys and Men Healing and The Healing Years, to produce the film due to her exemplary films and outreach and advocacy work related to the issue of child sexual abuse.
The overall mission of the Vertigo Charitable Foundation is to work to reform from the bottom up the justice system’s response to adult survivors of child sexual abuse who seek legal redress against their abusers. The Foundation will develop strategies to directly impact the legal system, including establishing a pool of qualified attorneys, therapists, and other experts willing to assist survivors on a pro bono or reduced fee basis; lobbying legislatures to change antiquated and unfair laws; training law enforcement personnel, judges, and lawyers; and filing amicus (“friend of the court”) briefs in cases addressing relevant legal issues.
Adult retrospective studies indicate there are currently more than 42 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S. While statistics vary widely because the crime is grossly underreported, it is estimated that there could be anywhere from 260,000-650,000 new CSA cases in this country annually.
Each of us has a role and a responsibility to reverse these shameful statistics for the protection of our children and the moral integrity of our society. We can be – we must be – the solution.
To learn more about Pursuit of Truth: Adult Survivors Seeking Justice and the work of The Vertigo Charitable Foundation visit www.pursuitoftruthfilm.com