Matt Sandusky was supposed to testify on Jerry Sandusky’s behalf during the latter’s trial. Jerry faced over four dozen charges of sexual violence against ten different boys. Matt’s testimony was meant to demonstrate Jerry’s good character. Instead, Matt decided against testifying. At the time it was somewhat surprising to see the immediate shift as he was scheduled to testify the day he changed his mind. It soon became apparent, however, why he decided against it.
Matt accused Jerry of grooming and abusing him the same way Jerry had groomed and abused other boys. Matt recently spoke about what happened, specifically what led him to Jerry Sandusky’s home. The Sanduskys adopted Matt when he was 18-years-old, however, the grooming process began long before that.
Matt faced abuse at the hands of his biological father and grandfather. His grandfather would beat then six-year-old Matt with a broom handle and tell him to “own it” and not cry. According to Matt, this taught him to “keep my mouth shut”. That lesson would be something he would remember when Jerry Sandusky began abusing him:
In school, a guidance counselor recommended he attend the Second Mile, Jerry Sandusky’s children’s charitable organization. He went to Second Mile’s camp. The children slept in the Penn State dorms at University Park; they ate good food, played in the pool and attended nightly meetings.
“It was a great program. I helped me a lot,” Matt Sandusky said. “It was also the place where I met the man who would sexually abuse me.”
Jerry Sandusky singled out the shy little boy, asking him about his family, playing with him in the pool, bringing him up to the front of the room during meetings to share jokes. Then the coach asked the boy if he wanted to go to a Penn State football game in the fall.
It was heady stuff for a poor child from Central Pennsylvania.
Jerry Sandusky was grooming him for what would come later, Matt Sandusky said.
Matt Sandusky, a child from a dysfunctional family where he was not hugged or kissed, didn’t know how to react when Jerry Sandusky took him for car rides and put his hand on his knee leaving it there. It felt wrong, but maybe this was what normal was, the child thought.
Jerry Sandusky gave him Penn State gear, took him to football games. They worked out in the gym, which lead to the man and boy wrestling around on the floor. There were showers, with Jerry Sandusky soaping up the boy, rubbing up against him and becoming sexually aroused. Eventually there was sex.
As he had learned earlier, Matt Sandusky said he kept his mouth shut and told no one what was going on.
Matt eventually turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the abuse. He also described burning himself with a metal object for an emotional release. His behavior became erratic as the abuse continued. According to Matt, his guidance counselor inadvertently facilitated the abuse by pulling the now teenage Matt out of class whenever Jerry wanted him.
Eventually Matt and his cousin would set fire to a truck’s glove box. This grew into a large fire that burned the truck and a barn. Matt faced charges for arson. Jerry Sandusky stepped in and spoke with a judge. He offered Matt two options: go to juvenile prison or live with the Sanduskys.
Matt chose the latter:
Living with the Sandusky family offered him the opportunity of a better life, but the sex abuse continued, he said.
At 17 years old, Matt Sandusky said he had a relationship with a girl also living with the family. They decided to commit suicide, first taking pills. When that didn’t work, they decided to die in a car by carbon monoxide poisoning.
When the girl became sick, Matt Sandusky said he drove them both to the hospital. He woke up in a hospital bed to find Jerry Sandusky there.
“You couldn’t even kill yourself right,” Matt Sandusky remembers his abuser saying.
Normally I do not highlight people’s stories like this, however, I think it is important for people to see what this looks like, particularly when the victim is an older teenage boy. As a society we assume that teen boys are basically men and therefore capable of protecting themselves. We forget that all their strength means nothing if they are taught, like Matt was, to shut up and take it. Those lessons do not disappear when one grows older. The same fear and submissiveness remain even if the boy becomes larger and stronger than his abuser.
It also does not factor in the bonds that victims often have with their abusers. Jerry Sandusky is likely one of the first people to ever be outright kind to Matt. This is true of many abusers. In many instances outside of the sexual abuse, they are very kind and caring towards their victims. In cases where the victim grew up with the abuser, this person is family. It is not easy to turn on one’s family. It is even harder if this is the only life the victim knows. For them the abuse is normal and not necessarily even abuse.
We must remember these things when we judge boys for not coming forward. They are not always in a position to be able to tell, let alone can they assume that if they tell they will be believed. The latter is something we still deal with as people find it hard to accept that boys can be victims.
Matt mentioned to the crowd that he does not like talking about his experiences in front of strangers. I completely understand that on a practical and personal level. I do not enjoy it either. However, when I do speak about my experiences, I do it for the same reasons Matt does:
“I do this to be a voice, to speak for those who can’t speak,” Matt Sandusky said.
That is the purpose of this blog, and it is the reason why I will occasionally speak about what I went through. At any given point, at least one of the men or boys in the same room with you is victim of abuse. Letting them know that they are not the only one and that it is safe to talk about it if they want to is one of the best things anyone can do to help victims of abuse.