Local News

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

Posted February 29, 2012 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated February 29, 2012 7:55 p.m. EST

— 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.

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."