Curtis St. John, a survivor of sexual abuse, said he relates to the young men who testified against Jerry Sandusky in court.
“It is scary in there,” St. John, MaleSurvivor communications director, said. “You’re pouring your heart out and a room full of reporters and witnesses are watching.”
St. John, who said he was sexually abused when he was 10, decided to testify against his perpetrator more than 20 years later.
“It was very surreal, but in the end it became a very empowering experience,” he said.
St. John said that the young men who testified against the former Penn State assistant football coach will experience a lot of pain, yet the trial will be a “launch board for recovery.”
Despite the pain Sandusky’s trial will cause the eight men testifying, St. John said there is a silver lining.
In this particular case, so many men are coming together and they’re telling their story, which will help others who have been sexually abused feel more comfortable talking and seeking help, St. John said.
“These men are going to encourage other men to come forward and let them become the men they were meant to be,” St. John said.
MaleSurvivor Executive Director Chris Anderson wrote in an email that at least one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 16.
This trial is helping individuals understand that sexual abuse is a “silent epidemic” that affects many people around the world, Anderson wrote.
“It's no longer assumed that this is something done by a handful of pedophile priests or creepy playground strangers,” Anderson wrote. “We know that the face of the abuser is far more familiar than many had imagined.”
The trial has already helped raise awareness, St. John said. After charges against Sandusky were filed, MaleSurvivor.org, a website designed to help boys seek recovery from sexual abuse, saw an increase in traffic by 66 percent, he said.
Other anti-sexual abuse organizations, like Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, saw a dramatic increase in awareness as well, RAINN Spokeswoman Katherine Hull said.
In the days and weeks after news of charges against Sandusky broke, Hull said the demand for RAINN’s online hotline saw a 54 percent increase from sexual abuse survivors.
“We heard from survivors nationwide, men and women, and girls and boys, who were very encouraged by the outpouring of support for the alleged survivors,” Hull said.
Hull said those who experience sexual abuse often feel alone, but when there is a high-profile case like Sandusky’s, they realize that there is help available.
“It’s very important that people are now finding out about this,” St. John said. “People all over the world are getting help.”
Unfortunately, this is not always the case for those who have been sexually abused, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape Vice President of Communications and Development Kristen Houser said.
Houser said the 24-hour news sources can be an upsetting reminder for some individuals who have been sexually abused.
“Whenever there is a high-profile case like this some [individuals who have been sexually abused] are inspired to come forward seeking help,” Houser said. “Other people end up in a real crisis because they can’t get away from the stories of sexual abuse.”
Houser said the important thing to take away from the trial is that everyone needs to learn how to recognize the signs of sexual abuse and understand what to do if they suspect a child is being abused.
Fifty four percent of sexual assaults and rape cases are not reported to the police, based on a five year study found on RAINN’s website.
“[RAINN] helps survivors every day. You can get help even if it’s decades later,” Hull said. “It’s never too late to get help.”