The Jerry Sandusky Case and Abuse By Priests Mirror Incidents of Sexual Abuse Within Families

“Judith Barr is a Connecticut psychotherapist and author of the book, “Power Abused, Power Healed.” She spoke to the Trib about the continuing fallout from the Penn State child molestation scandal and its broader societal implications.

Q: From a psychotherapist’s perspective, what lessons can be learned from the events that occurred at Penn State?

A: I think it’s really important to pay attention to the fact that the institutional incidents of sexual abuse that we’ve seen — the (Jerry) Sandusky incident, the private school in New York called Horace Mann, the incidents in the Catholic church — mirror incidents of sexual abuse at the familial level. And (that) abuse can’t be changed by laws; it has to be changed by healing.

I disagree. I believe that laws with the penalty of prison for those who know about child sexual abuse and do nothing to stop it, would put a dent in the prevalence, frequency, and severity of child sexual abuse cases.

How many children would be saved if the janitor who found Sandusky raping a child, or Mike McQueary, or the Penn State senior staff members, or the bishops in the Catholic Church, and people like my mother knew their failure to report sex crimes against a child would land them in prison for a few years?

Q: And how is that healing accomplished? Intensive therapy sessions?

A: In my experience with people who have been sexually abused, (I’ve found) people have to build their capacity to go back into it and through the pain of it so they are not having it inside them, haunting them, causing them to be terrified and freezing them from living full lives, from taking actions they need to protect themselves and fulfill the gifts that they have.

Q: In that regard, do you consider the witnesses in the Sandusky case particularly heroic because they had to publicly confront the circumstances of their molestations?

A: I think it was very courageous, especially since they didn’t know how they were going to be responded to. One of the things with sexual abuse is that you don’t know if the people who find out about it afterward are going to respond in loving ways, or in hardhearted ways, or in cool ways. So, yes, I think they were very courageous and I hope that for each of them, (testifying) did turn out to be part of their healing.

Q: Does justice equate with healing in these situations?

A: Justice could be one element of the process. But there are many people who heal without having the opportunity to have justice. So if somebody gets stuck looking for justice in a situation where there is not going to be any, they’ve blocked their own healing and undermined themselves.

Q: How significant do you consider the overall impact of child sexual abuse to be?

A: I think the degree of sexual abuse that occurs in this country, in our world, is mind-blowing and heartbreaking. I think it has just fed (many of) the things we are struggling with in our society: pornography, sexual harassment, sexual addiction, prostitution, rape, sex slavery. I think that deep down, we have to ask ourselves how many of the victims of those things were sexually abused as children? How many of the perpetrators were sexually abused as children? How many of the providers of these things were sexually abused as children? How many of the consumers were sexually abused as children?

Q: Could some good ultimately emerge from the Penn State situation in that it shined a much-needed spotlight on this issue?

A: I think every time issues about childhood sexual abuse come out into the open, come out into people’s consciousness, it helps. But I think (it also helps) if we point out that childhood sexual abuse ends up feeding the other things I just named.”


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15 Responses to The Jerry Sandusky Case and Abuse By Priests Mirror Incidents of Sexual Abuse Within Families

  1. shanakd9 says:

    I mean I hope that woman that molested you is rotting in hell. I do believe like Alethea said that those who do nothing should be held accountable for doing nothing.

  2. shanakd9 says:

    I am sorry little Nel for all that you endured. You are a very strong woman. I believe you are the one that was abused in a county home. I am so very very sorry for what you went through. What an awful lonely empty feeling that must have been and must still be.

    • little nel says:

      Hi Shanakd9,

      Thank you for your kindness and compassion.
      Yes, the lonely empty feeling and brokenness followed me where ever I went like a black cloud until I found hope and recovery.

      I had endured severe emotional and mental damage to my little feminine soul that stripped me of my identity and made me feel ashamed of myself and my family.

      • shanakd9 says:

        I am just Shana, well actually not just Shana, just not Shanakd9. ha, I am also many others, Beanie and Shana are the main ones. I can’t imagine being in a county home, that is awful, but then so is being abused in our homes of origin, which I know that you were abused there too. I am glad that you too are recovering. Although when things get hard like they are now, it is hard to remember that I am recovering. Back to one day at a time.

        • little nel says:

          Some times things got so scary for me that I had to take my life one minute at a time.

          • shanakd9 says:

            I am so glad that you survived. I can’t imagine the horror of being in a place, that was not home, even though home was not safe, at least it was the devil that you knew. I how that woman that molested you is rotting in hell.

  3. little nel says:

    I can state that from experience that the sexual abuse in the family was different than the sexual abuse I experienced in the county home.

    I was up against the Los Angeles County Probation Dept. for my accusations of sexual abuse at the hands of the night matron while “in custody” at Julia Laythrope Hall at age 9.

    Nobody cared about me, the victim. All they cared about were rules and regulations and protecting “the department” from liability.

    I would like to ask Judith Barr about the children, like me, who were abused in “county homes” that were located inside prison facilities surrounded by barbed wire, like criminals, “Where is the research about children like us?”

    Why don’t people like Judith Barr care about victims like us? Is it because they can’t make any money from books about children who were sexually abused in “county homes” or is it because they face government censorship?

    What is so taboo about innocent children who were abused in Los Angeles county facilities?

    I will tell you. I was white girl and my abuser was a black woman.

  4. Beverley says:

    I really like how you speak out. After reading the above, I wrote down, “Protecting reputation of the group rather than the individual.”
    I was sexually abused within my family of origin. I was disfellowshipped from a religion.
    Even in 12 step groups, I have found people want to protect the reputation of the 12 step group as a whole rather than the individual.
    Under the guise of needing the group to still be available to the person who is still suffering.
    It has been my experience that the group or family is more important than the individual. If my mother would be threatened with going to prison, she might have wanted to protect me from her husband, her step father and her brother in law. Good on you for speaking the truth. The enabler goes free, no consequences. Bev.

    • little nel says:

      “Even in 12 step groups, I have found people want to protect he reputation of the 12 step group rather than the individual”

      There is no reason to protect the individual’s reputation in a 12 step group. It is up to the individual to take responsibility for their own reputation. It is called personal responsibility.

      We know that group therapy is the best therapy for personal growth and accountability.

      Groups and families are different in that you have no choice who you were born to, where you have a choice as to which group you join.

      Many victims gravitate to familiar things, so it is not unusual for a victim to find and feel comfortable with other victims and abusers.

      The enabler is usually identified along with the perp when the victim talks about the abuse.

      If you have ever been in a 12 step program you would know this. The focus is usually about how angry the victim is towards the enabler for not protecting them from the perp.

      • little nel says:

        I would like to clarify that in 12 step groups that attendance is kept confidential so in that manner there is protection for individuals who want to find solutions for there problems.

    • little nel says:

      “If my mother would be threatened with going to prison, she might have wanted to protect me from her husband, her step father and her brother in law.”

      Wow! What a vile list of men. I am so sorry that these men abused you like they did and your mother did nothing to protect you.

      Three grown men and a woman versus a child. You were outnumbered and defenseless.

      It sounds like the threat of prison did not stop those men. Why were they so confident that they could abuse you sexually and not suffer any consequences?

      Is it because they knew that your mother was a spineless mealy-mouthed coward who had a lot to loose by exposing them? or she was a victim also who feared “punishment” if she protected you?

      “The enabler goes free, no consequences.”

      Don’t be fooled there are always consequences whether we witness it or not.

      Your mother chose her “family secrets” over your well being, so that left her at the mercy of those abusive men. She lives in fear of loosing her husband and being alone if the secret is exposed.

      You have no respect for her and she has no respect for herself. She is a dummy in your eyes and she is a dummy in the eyes of her husband. Those men may placate her in an effort to continue to use her but they have real contempt for her. When there is no respect, love flies out the window, so they are left with “relationship issues” and it compounds over the years.

      You have a chance to find recovery and she is without hope in a coffin of guilt and fear.

    • Alethea says:

      Thanks for commenting Beverley. I am so sorry for all of your pain.

  5. shanakd9 says:

    Would that exposure and justice for the victim be all that it takes to heal. I believe that it is helpful in the healing process. Many of us never got any justice or validation, just more abuse, called crazy and liars, and evil. But thank God that there was a little justice in that Sandusky got life and exposure. The son of a bitchin monster! Now I also believe that those who did nothing should get time too, his wife, for example, then maybe those who do nothing would stop and think before they keep their f* mouths shut.

    • little nel says:

      “Many of us never got any justice or validation, just more abuse, called crazy and liars, and evil.” Amen to that!

      The good news is that we get talk about it and expose the evil for what it is. We don’t have to hide and keep silent anymore. We can point fingers at the guilty and we have an advocate here on this website who knows what we are feeling and thinking about our unjust treatment and the cruel cover up.

      We are not crazy liars. We are just wounded and feel alone.
      Many times I felt unloved, unwanted, and alone in my family of origin for telling the truth about the abuse. I refused to stay silent. The benefits were life giving in comparison to the “death sentence” that silence bestowed on me.

    • Alethea says:

      Shana, you are so right. Those men and Sandusky’s wife (if she knew) are responsible for giving Jerry Sandusky a green light to rape countless little boys for many years.

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