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Penn State case spurs adult victims of childhood sex abuse to come forward

Posted February 29, 2012

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— Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky's arraignment last year on 52 charges in the alleged molestation of 10 boys over a 15-year period brought back haunting memories for victims of child sex abuse who have kept silent for decades. 

"When Sandusky was on the news all the time, it was very difficult to not think about," said Paul, a pseudonym for a 45-year-old victim of childhood sex abuse who wants to remain anonymous. "There are certain things that bring it back really forcefully, and this is one of those things that did it for me."

Paul recently reported to Raleigh police the abuse that, he says, he suffered for five years, beginning at age 12, in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The man he says abused him was a local swim team coach who was also a family friend. He also believes there are more victims.

He initially reported it to police in 1994 when he was 28, but because there wasn't enough evidence, the district attorney's office chose not to prosecute it.

"It was very disappointing," Paul said. "It was almost devastating, because I felt like I had a really good case."

After Sandusky’s story grabbed national headlines in November, he asked police to reopen the case.

"When there's a human face on someone that this has happened to, people are roused to action," he said.

 Penn State case spurs adult victims of childhood sex abuse to come forward

When Randy Rayburn heard about the Sandusky case, he was also jarred into action – action, he says, he was too frightened to take as a child.

He kept silent for more than 20 years.

"He's a cop, and I'm just a 12-year-old kid," Rayburn said. "I don't think (police) would have believed me anyway."

Rayburn, who now lives in Tennessee, says he was molested as an adolescent by a North Carolina State University police officer – a man who befriended his family after his parents divorced.

"I think that it was that mom was fairly comfortable having a cop at the house when she was at work," Rayburn said.

On the heels of the Sandusky case, investigators and prosecutors in Wake County say they have also seen an increase in the number of people reporting older cases to them.

Psychologist Dr. Michael Teague, who has counseled many victims of child sex abuse, says it's not unusual for high-profile cases, like Sandusky's, to give other victims courage.

"When you see an adult survivor out there that realizes someone else is speaking out, then it gives them more credence and more confidence to deal with this," he said. "They finally see a hero, in their eyes, coming forth and naming somebody. It really gives them a lot of courage and support."

The statistics are staggering. National studies show that one in four girls and one in six boys are molested as children. Only a fraction of those cases, however, is ever reported.

"I think that the first act that the molester does is they molest the mind and the spirit of the victim," Teague said. "For all the ones who come forward after years, there are probably hundreds who will never come forward."

Although there is no statute of limitations for felony sex crimes in North Carolina, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby says that, as more time that passes, old sex abuse cases become harder to investigate.

"We try to look at it and evaluate and determine whether or not a full-blown criminal investigation might produce evidence of a prosecutable case," Willoughby said. "The challenges of old cases, in general, are the lack of physical evidence that can't be gathered 20 or 30 or 40 years after the crime, the absence of witnesses, the frailty of witnesses’ memories."

But, Willoughby said, the crimes should still be reported.

"Sometimes, it gives folks the courage to make the initial report. Sometimes, it helps us discover other victims in a case. I think that good does come out of it," he said.

That was the case for Rayburn.

Contacting Raleigh police was somewhat symbolic for him. Shortly after he was abused, he says, the man who molested him killed himself.

"The truth is the truth," Rayburn said. "It turned out to be a big problem for me, and it took me many years to even say anything about it."

6 Comments

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  • sunneyone2 Mar 1, 2012

    "It's the word of one person versus another, so there's nothing that can be done."
    So? It's that kind of attitude that keeps victims quiet. There are signs and patterns that ARE proof.

  • Tcheuchter Mar 1, 2012

    "It's the word of one person versus another, so there's nothing that can be done. "

    True, to a point, but after one person comes forward then others may too and then you have a case.

  • NMBound Mar 1, 2012

    It takes one person with the courage to speak up and admit that they have been sexually assaulted or molested. Sometimes that is all it takes for another person to get the courage to admit the same thing happened to them. I am a survivor of both and for many years I felt like it was all my fault and that I was the only one, until one day I found out that this invidual had done the same thing to other children. I decided it was time to speak up & it was one the hardest things I have ever had to do. It is even harder as a man to speak up, so kudos to the survivors! As a rape survivor & going to the police with the information & being told there is not enough evidence because I waited too long is very difficult to deal with, which is why so many victims of sexual assault stay quiet.

  • love2dostuff Mar 1, 2012

    "additional victims" always come out of the woodwork when someone with any notoriety has been charged with a crime like this. If he's guilty then he should go to jail. The problem is that if it's a charge that has "children" or "sex" in the heading, the person is charged and thrown in jail before any evidence is obtained to present to a grand jury. It truly is guilty until proven innocent with this type of charge.

  • Lightfoot3 Mar 1, 2012

    "He initially reported it to police in 1994 when he was 28, but because there wasn't enough evidence, the district attorney's office chose not to prosecute it." - article


    It's the word of one person versus another, so there's nothing that can be done.


    "This is a story that needs to be told again, and again, and again." - survivorgirl007


    If true, I agree. But how do you know when it's true or not? It worries me because people's lives have been ruined by false allegations (particularly in divorce cases, with child custody issues). Cases like this are very hard to prove. It's often just one person's word against another.

  • survivorgirl007 Feb 29, 2012

    This is a story that needs to be told again, and again, and again. As was stated, the more survivors talk about their experiences of abuse, the more likely others are to talk. This kind of abuse thrives in secrecy, so bringing it out of the shadows and into the light is the ONLY way it will ever have a prayer of being thwarted and eradicated. The survivors who spoke on tonight's broadcast are the epitome of courage, and I salute them.

    Amanda Lamb, great job on a very important subject. Might I suggest you begin investigating clergy sexual abuse, as well? We have all heard the sad stories of priests and pastors who abuse children, but there are actually many more stories of adult women who are abused by their priests and pastors. The statistics are staggering. Take a look at this Baylor University study done by Diana Garland, Dean of the School of Social Work:http://www.baylor.edu/clergysexualmisconduct/