This following is an excerpt from the new book “Undaunted: Breaking My Silence to Overcome the Trauma of Child Sexual Abuse” by Matt Sandusky. In the passage and accompanying video, Matt talks about the grooming process he experienced and how we can protect children from grooming behaviors. To purchase the book, visit www.amazon.com.
Grooming reminds me of the story about the frog in hot water. If you put a frog in boiling hot water to stew him, he’ll do everything he can to get out. Yet if you put a frog in cool water and just raise the temperature a little bit at a time, by the time the water is boiling, the frog will be trapped and unable to jump out. The frog didn’t notice the gradual heating up of the water until it was too late.
Grooming a victim for child sexual victimization is like gradually heating the water the frog is in. The temperature is being turned up just a little at a time. The unsuspecting child may sense something is a little bit off, but the water is not hot enough to cause enough alarm to jump or run away. Young children are innocent of sexuality, anyway. Often they are not sure what the offender is doing and why he is doing it. Their sense of it being wrong or weird may grow stronger, but they still can’t quite sort out why. Meanwhile, the water gets hotter and hotter, and by the time children realize that they have been sexually victimized, they feel shame and embarrassment that they let it get this far. Most often, they then choose to remain silent as a way of protecting themselves from the ramifications of public disclosure of that shameful activity.
Jerry [Sandusky] groomed children in a textbook way. He grew close to them, gaining their trust and even gaining their parents’ trust, by being nice, helpful, and giving. The touching started in seemingly innocent ways: a little horsing around (as Jerry was to call it), a little wrestling, an arm slung over the shoulders, hugs, a hair wash or soap fight in the showers, swatting the rear end, giving the stomach raspberries that make children laugh so hard, and tickling (Jerry always claimed he was The Tickle Monster). At first it would be a hand on the knee while seated next to him in the car, and then it would be a hand on the thigh…. Child sex offenders are masters at grooming children for sexual purposes, leading them like the Pied Piper down the slippery slope that starts out with seemingly normal human affection and nurturing.
By the end of the week-long camp during my second summer at The Second Mile*, Jerry was taking me upstairs to his office in the building, away from all the other campers and counselors. This made me feel very special – to be singled out for this kind of personal attention from the man in charge was overwhelming. In most camps nowadays, that alone would be considered suspicious behavior, and there should be rules preventing adults from taking a child away from the others and isolating him or her in a deserted part of a building. At least I would hope so. But even if there were such rules at The Second Mile it wouldn’t have mattered. Jerry was king there. He made his own rules.
During those conversations he would talk to me about my home life. He would ask how school was going and also things about the camp. He would show great personal interest in me, and it was flattering. I hadn’t received much adult attention that was that positive. I was not used to someone so powerful and wealthy being interested in me as an individual.
I also started seeing Jerry around the dorms in the evenings when we were getting ready for lights out. He would come by and say goodnight to the campers.
At one point Jerry asked me if I might be interested in attending a Penn State football game in the fall. What would any male child of that age say? Of course, I said yes. I couldn’t believe my luck! I remember being totally excited to tell my friends and family that I would be getting to go to a real college football game. That simple opportunity was something beyond my wildest dreams.
I was feeling so special because of Jerry’s attentions. I thought maybe my luck in life was changing. He seemed like the greatest thing that had ever happened to me….
*The Second Mile was a nonprofit organization for underprivileged youth, providing help for at-risk children and support for their parents in Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1977 by Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant college football coach. The charity said its youth programs serve as many as 100,000 children annually. The organization has since ceased operations after Sandusky was charged and found guilty of child sex abuse.
Matt Sandusky is a child sexual abuse survivor, author, and is the founder of Peaceful Hearts Foundation. Peaceful Hearts strives to create an environment where every child and survivor of childhood sexual abuse can feel safe, supported, and empowered to thrive. Matt tours the nation speaking to groups about his personal experiences with child sexual victimization and the importance of education and breaking the silence that allows abuse to thrive. His new book “Undaunted: Breaking My Silence to Overcome the Trauma of Child Sexual Abuse” is available on www.amazon.com.
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