Known for months only as "Victim 1," the 18-year-old stepped into the light in the aftermath of Jerry Sandusky's conviction and imprisonment of 30 to 60 years, speaking with news media and releasing a book, Silent No More, last week. He has a name: Aaron Fisher. And he has a story.
Years of sexual priming, then abuse by the former Penn State coach. Suicidal thoughts. Summoning courage to finally tell his story, only to be dismissed by school authorities. When his mom, Dawn Daniels, accompanied him to that emotional meeting at school, the school official's response was to say that Jerry had a heart of gold and wouldn't do the things Fisher alleged happened to him in Sandusky's basement from age 12 to 15.
As a sexual abuse victim myself, I understand how Fisher must have felt in that moment in the principal's office. It takes everything within a child or a teen to finally open up the can of dark shame and shed light on the humiliation—only to have a trusted adult undermine, belittle, or not believe. Essentially, Fisher was dismissed, again victimized. Not being believed must've further crushed him.
Attitudes like this give birth to a secondary rage that I still battle today. When I was 5 years old, neighborhood teens picked me up from the babysitter's house every day after school. They took me to ravines, under the canopy of evergreens, just out of earshot, and stole every part of me. They invited friends to steal some more. They took me to their home and raped me in their bunk-bedded bedroom while their mother made cookies in the kitchen. They threatened they would kill my parents if I told.
After months of this, I finally couldn't deal with it any more, so I told my babysitter, Eva, what had happened. Her response, "I'll tell your mom."
And the boys kept coming.
I believed my babysitter, that she had told my mother. Why wouldn't I believe her? She was a grownup. So for years, I lived under the assumption that not a soul cared for me. I eventually escaped the neighborhood rapists by pretending to sleep for hours on end. And, blessedly, we moved at the end of my kindergarten year—far away from those boys.
Later when I got up the gumption to tell a family member years after the abuse, I wasn't initially believed. I had to share the story over and over again to prove that it happened. And in that space of not being believed, I grieved some more. And I got angry.
What is hard for victims are the pokier questions. Questions like, Why didn't someone realize I was going through this? Why didn't they see the signs? Why did no one rescue me? Why wasn't I believed? These secondary infractions grow larger in the victim's mind. It's almost easier to place the perpetrator in an evil category. That's what perpetrators do. When it's the "innocent" people who don't take action, it muddies the grief.
So there are two bouts of healing for the sexual abuse victim. There's the need for deep healing for the sexual abuse itself—that act of co-mission. Besides counseling, lots of prayer, and many talks with mentors, I found The Wounded Heart by Dan Allender (and the accompanying workbook) to be particularly helpful.
After that, the victim has to face the secondary rage toward the people who didn't take action on their behalf—the act of omission. That's not been as simple for me. The babysitter is most likely dead.
How I've come to terms with it has been this: to take a look at myself and how I listen to others who go through trauma. Am I really listening? Am I validating their claim? Do I take allegations of abuse with seriousness?
I ask myself, How can I be the hero I needed as a child? Turning it around to proaction helps me shift my anger from people who "failed" me and makes me want to become one who helps others navigate their pain with authenticity and grace.
I hope that for Aaron Fisher. That as he heals from the atrocities and deals with his probable anger toward those who didn't help, that he would become a shining advocate for children being victimized. May all victims be strong enough to stand up and say, "Enough!" May we create a culture of people who listen, then act, when confronted by sexual abuse, or abuse in any form. May it be that we are more concerned for the weaker victims than we are for the reputations of victimizers.
Aaron Fisher needed a hero. I needed a hero. And maybe we all are the heroes.
Mary DeMuth (MaryDemuth.com) is a speaker and author of many books, most recently of Everything: What You Give and What You Gain to Become Like Jesus (Thomas Nelson).
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