Jerry Sandusky on Trial

12.01.11

My Letter to Jerry Sandusky, Coward

In a note to the disgraced Penn State coach, Gretl Claggett, who was molested by a family friend as a girl, tells Sandusky: man up. It’s not too late to do the right thing.

Jerry:

I’m not a football fan. Until a few weeks ago, I had no idea who you were. But after watching your interview with Bob Costas and reading the grand- jury presentment, I’m certain I know you.

Your denial of any real wrongdoing on national TV has spurred other alleged victims to step forward. Attorneys say that it “re-traumatized” these young men. I’ve no doubt this is true, because it dredged up feelings about my perpetrator—a man who, when my mother confronted him, said, “I can explain. She wanted it.”

He was a lot like you.

I last saw him nearly three decades ago. Around my hometown in rural Missouri, he was known as “Big John.” Like you, he stood more than 6 feet tall and weighed 200-plus pounds. He was also a jokester, a bit of an overgrown kid. I grew up calling him “Uncle.”

John and “Aunt” Hazel, his wife, were among my parents’ best friends, even though they could have been my grandparents. Like you and your wife, they hadn’t been able to conceive children. Their two-story brick home resembled yours: tucked away on a quiet street in one of our community’s nicer neighborhoods. They helped my parents—who worked in the medical profession but struggled to make ends meet—by loaning them money to buy a house, and volunteering to babysit me. Uncle John would pick me up after school and take me for drives down deserted back roads. If I was a “good girl” and submitted to him, he’d slip me a silver dollar before returning me home. We dined at Hazel and John’s frequently, and spent many holidays there, too, along with a group of friends. After the meal, as people visited over drinks, he’d lead me upstairs and molest me in his bedroom. Once, a man walked in on us, searching for a bathroom. The lights were off. Uncle John bolted up and stuttered that he was “tucking me in for a nap.” Through the years there were several other incidents like that, but no one said a word to my parents.

Why didn’t I tell? He groomed me well—just as your accusers from the Second Mile say you groomed them—by giving me presents my parents refused, or couldn’t afford, to buy: Barbies with fancy outfits, an antique dollhouse, and lots of clothes and jewelry. As I grew older, I tried to avoid him, began fighting back. By age 16, I was desperate to escape and told my parents that he’d “raped me once.” They cut ties with him and his wife. When my mother asked if I wanted to press charges, I begged her not to, brainwashed into thinking it was all my fault. Shame silenced me for years. But in my early 20s—the current age of most of your alleged victims—I found the courage to tell my parents the whole truth: Uncle John had sexually abused me from before I could speak until I was 16. Shortly thereafter, he died—as did the possibility of my confronting or prosecuting him.

Here’s why I’m writing you, Jerry: I moved thousands of miles from the scene of the crime and started therapy, sure that—with Uncle John buried—I’d quickly be rid of him. But no matter what I tried or where I went, he followed, as did my belief that I was broken, damaged, beyond repair. He was in the face of a few guys who date-raped me; appeared as a mentor offering help in exchange for sex; turned up as a slew of men who professed devotion, then assaulted me with words that made me think Uncle John had been right. “Men only want one thing,” he used to say. “They’ll tell you what you wanna hear, but once they get it, they’ll leave.” He even crawled into bed with boyfriends I loved, yet pushed away—boyfriends who cried, “I wish he was still alive, so I could kill him!”

He infiltrated my career, too, insidiously becoming bosses who were bullies, backstabbing co-workers and overly demanding clients—at least that’s how I perceived them. After years of weekly therapy sessions, when I understood how my past had wreaked havoc on me personally, recognizing the myriad ways it also disrupted my professional life was much tougher. So he kept showing up, until I acknowledged that he wasn’t in these various guises I struggled with on the outside. He was, and always would be, inside me.

It wasn’t easy, but by accepting this, I took my power back, began to forgive the past and transform my life—something I pray that “Victims 1 through 8,” plus any others still to be counted, can do by testifying and speaking their truth. Even with support and therapy, though, the recovery process is complex; it takes time. And what you’re accused of doing will affect not only these young men, but also each and every person who comes into contact with them.

I don’t believe you’re a monster, Jerry. But I do believe a part of you really wanted to make a difference in these boys’ lives. You still can: tell the truth.

Many are calling you a monster, because it’s tough to grapple with the fact that an “upstanding citizen” could betray trust and commit such atrocities. They’re equally shocked by the apparent complicity of your colleagues. But the tens of millions of us who’ve survived sexual abuse aren’t surprised in the least. We know it happens all the time.

There are positives emerging from the scandal—more people are now talking about this epidemic in new ways, focusing on prevention.

I don’t believe you’re a monster, Jerry. Nor was Uncle John. But I do believe a part of you really wanted to make a difference in these boys’ lives. You still can: man up. Tell the truth.

HOW TO HELP OR GET HELP:

If you’re a survivor and need support or want to speak out, contact the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network through their hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673), or online. Please note: the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline is accessible through RAINN's website; it provides crisis help via an instant-messaging style interface by trained RAINN staff.

To learn about preventing child sexual abuse, visit Stop It Now! and Darkness to Light.