Jerry Sandusky's Alleged Victims Tell of Shame, Fear, Love

Sexually abused children may be physically, emotionally vulnerable, experts say.

ByABC News
June 14, 2012, 3:34 PM

June 15, 2012— -- The eight men who were allegedly sexually assaulted by former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky safe guarded their secrets for years, some even as investigators were trying to pry information from them to prosecute the man they claim preyed on them.

Their kept the stories from their friends, wives and mothers, they testified.

"How are you supposed to tell your mom something like that?" asked Victim 9 when pressed by Sandusky's lawyer on why he hadn't previously mentioned the tales he told the court of being raped by Sandusky.

Perhaps the most heart rending example of how difficult it was for these men to speak publicly about what they claim had happened to them came when a man identified as Victim 1 was on the stand. After admitting through tears that he initially denied the attacks to police and how difficult it was for him to speak about them, he was pressed under cross examination by Sandusky's lawyers.

At one point, Victim 1 got so agitated with the persistent and skeptical questions that he threw his hands to his face, let out a cry, looked at the prosecutor and pleaded, "Make them stop."

These men were tormented by conflicting feelings of being treated special and being loved as well as shame and fear, experts tell

Sandusky, 68, is charged with sexually assaulting 10 boys over a 15 year period. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial will resume on Monday. If convicted of the charges, he could face life in prison.

Sandusky's defense team claims the years of silence is an indication that Sandusky is innocent and the men accusing him now are not telling the truth.

The alleged victims' emotionally wrought testimony has made the jury and court observers cry, and their claims highlight the subtle psychological warfare sexual abusers wage on their victims to keep them from speaking out, psychological experts said.

"He made me feel like I was a part of a family," said a man identified as Victim 3 who testified Thursday. "He gave me things that I had never had before."

The eight victims who have told the court Sandusky showered them with gifts such as golf clubs, watches and chances to attend Penn State football games and meet players. Several have testified that they liked Sandusky and didn't want the activities and attention to stop. One even said he loved Sandusky.

"I didn't want my parents to keep me from going to the games. It felt like something they would get mad about," testified a man identified as Victim 7. "I tried to focus on the positives."

Feelings of shame and fear haunted the victims for years after the abuse ended. But only one man said Sandusky threatened him not to reveal the abuse. Others kept their secrets willingly, and many had to be coaxed by police to tell their stories when the scandal erupted in 2011.

"I was scared. I didn't want to tell anyone regardless," said one man as he broke down on the witness stand. "I didn't want to, I didn't know what to do."

Child psychologists said predators are experts at manipulating children with these tactics, often targeting feelings or characteristics that make children and adolescents especially vulnerable to abuse.

Dr. Judith Cohen, medical director of the Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, said children who feel physically or emotionally vulnerable often crave the attention a predator gives them and want to hang on to it, even after bad things start to happen.

"When a perpetrator gives them that attention, that feeling that they are special, the child often will do what it takes to get that," Cohen said.

All of the alleged victims met Sandusky through The Second Mile, the charity he founded in 1977 for underprivileged boys. The grand jury indictment claimed that Sandusky selected his alleged victims and began grooming them for sexual abuse through the Second Mile, often targeting those who were from unstable homes or without fathers in their lives.

"Obviously some of those kids may have wanted a father figure," said Nadine Kaslow, professor and chief psychologist at the Emory University School of Medicine. "For them, getting some attention from an adult may be better than getting no attention."

Statistically, molesters are usually men who a child knows and trusts. Girls are more likely to be sexually abused than boys. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to one in six boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before age 18, compared with one in four girls. Though victims of both genders face a certain amount of social stigma, social expectations may impact abused boys in a unique way.

"In our society, it's much more acceptable for girls to be victims than boys," Cohen said. "That brings up a whole other level of questioning and uncertainty for them."

Sandusky's alleged victims have reported feeling ashamed and scared to reveal their abuse, but also confused when Sandusky withdrew from their lives. Victim 7 said he was sad when Sandusky stopped calling him and offering to take him to football games.

"I thought I had did something wrong," the man said. "I was very, very upset by it."