Why Don’t Sexual Assault Victims Speak Out? I Was Molested Three Times—Here’s Why I Never Told My Family or the Police.
It could have been much worse. None of the three people who molested me when I was young was a predatory pedophile like Jerry Sandusky. What I went through was brief and sadly common. It’s estimated, though no one knows the actual numbers, that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before they reach 18. What happened shook me up at the time, but my experiences weren’t shattering. I didn’t repress the memories—I’ve just never given them much thought. But the trial of Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach, has made me think more deeply about what was done to me and what I did in response.
As Dear Prudence, I always urge people to report any sexual abuse. Removing the secrecy takes the shame from the victim and puts the blame on the perpetrator. Exposure is the way to stop repeat offenders. But I never told anyone back then. Even with the benefit of hindsight, considering the world in which these events took place—from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s—and the family in which I lived, I still understand my choice.
The first incident was when I was about 9 years old and I was sleeping over at my cousins’ house. I was particularly close to one cousin, a girl my age. She had a brother who was about 14. Somehow he and I ended up lying on the floor alone together, watching TV. He started gently tickling my feet. “Doesn’t that feel good?” he asked. It did. He slowly moved his fingers up my legs, and when he got past my knees I started to become uneasy and told him to stop. He said the “tickling game” felt much better the higher up it went. (I note that Victim 6 in the Sandusky trial testified that the coach’s first approach was to call himself “the tickle monster.”) I tried to take my cousin’s hand off me, but he kept creeping upward, telling me how good it would feel if he went all the way between my legs.