Survivors of Assault and Penn State Abuse Scandal

The recent allegations of child sexual abuse and cover up at Penn State University have been upsetting to a large cross section of the America public. Deeply effected are the residents of State College, PA, students, faculty, staff and alumni of Penn State, the alleged victims and their families as well as school age children, adolescents and adult survivors of sexual assault. The alleged rapist, former assistant Penn State football coach, Jerry Sandusky, 68, is awaiting trial in Pennsylvania.

I have collected some suggestions for survivors who may be reeling form the constant exposure to this issue in the last few months.

As the public is learning, there is enormous shame and self-blame that has been internalized by victims of sexual abuse. It is understandably rare for anyone to come forward in the absence of unusual circumstances. If the statistical estimates are to be believed, one in six males and one in four females have been subjected to some kind of abuse or assault by age 18.

This means that millions of Americans are living with the reality of some kind of sex abuse in their past, and may or may not be ready, willing or interested in remembering or thinking about, much less disclosing the abuse. What then must it be like for these victims to be, in a sense, repeatedly assaulted by the current media blitz?

Emotional trauma “lives” in the right brain, and frequently the memories are buried, unavailable, until or unless something triggers them, a sight, sound, a smell or touch. When flashbacks occur, the experience can be extremely intense, as it can seem as though the abuse is occurring in the present.  For those who have access to these memories, many choose, understandably, to repress or stifle these painful experiences.

In the corner of Pennsylvania that I live in and work in, the media saturation and presence of this topic in everyday discussions is constant and intense. Given the overshadowing presence of Penn Sate in the region this is understandable.

The same may be true for those living in and around Syracuse New York as allegations surface of another coach’s predatory actions with young boys.

What are the options for survivors who find themselves at risk for emotional overload, flashbacks, memories flooding back, unbidden?

I think it is important for this survivors to know that it is reasonable and sensible, in my opinion, to take charge of the extent to which they are subjected to and expected to participate in these conversations and stories/commentary on the media.

For example, without making a big deal of the reason, it is possible to excuse oneself from any or all television and radio coverage as well as conversations around the water cooler in in private. All one has to do is say, I’ve had enough of this lately, no reason is required. Or not say anything at all.

Another option is to consider finding support and or counseling. There are some excellent on line resources, such as

* The Sidron Foundation

* The National Center for PTSD

There are also numerous books and articles that can be very helpful. Two that I have have found to be very effective are I Can’t Get Over it by Aphrodite Matsakis, and Heartwounds by Tian Dayton.

One of the most healing but difficult acts that a survivor can take is to confide in a trusted friend, spouse or professional-family physician, nurse practitioner, or spiritual adviser. With any luck that person can at least support and comfort the survivor and assist in the decision about whether or not to seek professional counseling.

If none of these seem to be an option, the survivor can consider prayer, journaling and or mediation as alternatives to self-medication with drugs or alcohol or other potentially self destructive behaviors as he or she attempts to cope with the pain.

For anyone reading this who has survived sexual assault of any kind, please know that you are not necessarily alone, that there are many people out there who can help you, who care about you, and that you do not have to walk alone down this path.

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