BELLEFONTE - With the Jerry Sandusky trial entering its final stages, local and national advocates for victims of sexual abuse say they hope the publicity given the trial will help bring the issue out of the shadows and ultimately help prevent it from happening again.
Matt Bodenschatz, a Penn State student who created Voices for Victims after he came out publicly about his sexual abuse as a child in a letter to a local newspaper last fall in the days following Sandusky's arrest, has attended the trial every day.
It gave the 38-year-old the opportunity to listen to the six young men who testified that Sandusky sexually molested them as well as connect with others who have shared similar experiences.
"Regardless of the outcome, whether guilty or innocent, it doesn't all diminish the importance for them and themselves what facing your accuser with solidness, with courage, with confidence can do," Bodenschatz, who never got to confront his abuser who has since passed away, said. "That, no matter what, can't be taken away from them."
The trial has helped bring the issue to the forefront the issue of childhood sexual abuse, particularly of boys.
It's a subject victims aren't eager to discuss, especially as children, he said. Even now, as young adults, the victims who took the stand were reticent, some shaking and crying as they told the jury their stories, Bodenschatz pointed out.
"They were not chomping at the bit, seeking out 'who's in charge here, I have information,'" he said. "They had to be made gradually comfortable enough to do the huge thing that they did. That doesn't match the dynamic of somebody who's, you know, I can't wait to line my (pockets.)"
Bodenschatz called it "ludicrous but predictable" that Sandusky's defense tried to portray the alleged victims as fable creators seeking financial gain.
"I think it's laughable as a motivation to make you go through what they've gone through," Bodenschatz said.
Two of the eight alleged victims who testified, Bodenschatz added, don't have attorneys, and he said he didn't think less of them than the ones who did.
"What's their motivation except the truth?" he said of the two victims who at this time do not have legal representation. "That's not a profit motive."
Of the six who do have attorneys, Bodenschatz said he doesn't begrudge them, should they seek civil suits, and it doesn't diminish what they've been put through.
"They were violated," Bodenschatz said. "The way that we speak as a society, and it's an unfortunate fact, is in terms of dollars and cents. If the re-compense that's potentially offered to them is also in dollars and cents, it is their right to decide whether or not to pursue that."
Chris Anderson, Executive Director of MaleSurvivor, a group dedicated to helping male survivors of child abuse, said the trial has provided a unique opportunity to focus attention of the prevalence of sexual abuse in our society, something he said was a "shockingly common epidemic."
Anderson claims 20 to 25 percent of children are sexually abused and said it's crucial people speak out when abuse is suspected.
"If you see something, say something," Anderson said. "Abuse thrives when silence is golden. It is important that we encourage our children and all victims to feel empowered to speak to adults, parents and caregivers when they are harmed."
The trial, he said, highlights what happens when adults "turn their backs" on children who are abused.
"Children will not disclose immediately if they have been abused," Anderson said. "They need to be encouraged and supported and listened to."
In institutions across this country, safeguards to help children and encourage people to speak out about abuse are lacking, Anderson said.
"We know at Penn State there were files kept on Sandusky and the leadership decided that it was more humane to protect their employee than to protect the children who were making allegations that there was improper behavior occurring," Anderson said.
Since January, he said, child abuse allegations have surfaced at The Citadel military college in South Carolina, Syracuse University and the Horace Mann School as well as the Delbarton School, a New Jersey prep school.
"(Abuse happens in) schools in every state across this country, not to mention the Boy Scouts, the Catholic church, the Mormon church," Anderson said. "This happens everywhere."
Silence about the issue within families about the issue of child sex abuse, especially in households without fathers, is still all to common, Janet Rosenzweig, interim executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania, said.
"We have to stop treating sex abuse like it's a secret that can't be spoken about," Rosenzweig said. "Offenders, pedophiles - they count on that shame. They traffic in the kid's shame about talking about what happened to him or her sexually."
Betsy VanNoy, prevention and training coordinator with the Centre County Women's Resource Center, which provides resources for victims of sexual assault, said the group is expanding its educational efforts about child sex abuse beyond just telling kids to tell an adult if something inappropriate happens.
"We've got to do more in the community to make sure this doesn't happen again," VanNoy said, adding the resource center is participating in the Child Safety and Protection Collaboration, chaired by Centre County Judge Brad Lunsford, to address the issue.
The collaboration has allowed the center to create partnerships with the the local YMCA and the Youth Service Bureau and also create Stewards of Children, a broad-based education program for Centre County residents on the subject, she said.
Prevention of child abuse has frequently focused on the children, but adults carry a responsibility to learn about the subject and know what they can do.
"It's the responsibility of adults to pay attention to the children in their environment, to ask questions and to know the signs of child abuse, child sexual abuse and to know the steps to take," VanNoy said.
When the community is educated, it sends a powerful message to those who commit these crimes, she said.