Sexual abuse activist replaces Sandusky in downtown mural

Local artist Michael Pilato, center, explains the meaning behind the Heister Street mural to a small crowd as fellow artist Yuriy Karabash makes an addition to the mural. Penn State alumna and sexual abuse activist Dora McQuaid's portrait took the place of the blue ribbon that had replaced Jerry Sandusky back in November 2011.


At 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, artist Michael Pilato started drawing a new addition to his mural “Inspiration: State College,” filling the chair where a blue ribbon representing child abuse once laid.

By 8:30 a.m., Pilato and his colleague Yuriy Karabash had started painting Dora McQuaid in place of the ribbon, where former football coach Jerry Sandusky once sat. Sandusky was found guilty on 45 counts of sexual abuse.

McQuaid, a Penn State graduate and former professor, is an activist and poet who raises awareness against domestic and sexual violence.

Pilato, a State College native, said that McQuaid is a survivor of sexual abuse and her poetry is about working through the pain and healing process.

“Saying Jerry destroyed kids lives forever is not the truth,” Pilato said. “The biggest thing is that these young men are heroes, and they are not victims, they are survivors now.”

Two handprints have also been added to the mural, located across from The Deli, 113 Heister St. The handprints, which are to the left of McQuaid, belong to Skye Pilato, a sexual abuse survivor, and Ann Van Kuren, juror 11 in the Sandusky trial.

Skye is a senior in the Delta Program through State College High School and is also Pilato’s daughter.

Skye said she thinks McQuaid’s addition to the mural is a good way to show people who have been sexually abused that they can move forward.

“People think everyone is coming out because of the Sandusky trial, but I came out because I felt that I needed to,” Skye said. “When people are sexually abused, it takes time to come out.”

Van Kuren said she thinks putting McQuaid in place of Sandusky shows a huge amount of support for survivors and can help them move beyond what has happened into a “new place of peace.”

Van Kuren said she feels honored to have been part of the jury and she believes that together they created a respectful and diligent deliberation process.

“We all agreed on it, so I felt it was the right verdict,” Kuren said.

Michael Pilato said that McQuaid will be traveling to State College to work on a collaborative poem with nine other survivors of sexual abuse that will take about a month to complete. When the poem is finished, McQuaid and the group who helped her write the poem will read it in front of the mural.

Pilato said as they read the poem, it will be recorded and used in an application that Penn State Information Technology Services has been helping him create. Using GPS, Michael said the application will be able to link the users’ location with the mural and they will be able to listen to the poem being read through a cell phone or iPad. Eventually, the application will allow users to hear the story of every person on the mural through the application.

Pilato said that he will be adding a blue ribbon to McQuaid’s hair, and that once the poem is complete he will write it on the ribbon.

Pilato said that in the mural, he will also add a blue ribbon around the Nittany Lion’s neck.

“The lion represents courage, strength and dignity,” Pilato said. “The blue ribbon around its neck is representing the young men [who are survivors of the Sandusky sexual abuse case].”

Elaine Mercer, a Belleville resident, said she thinks McQuaid is an “affirmative, contrasting person,” and her addition to the mural is “a stroke of brilliance.”

Mercer said child sexual abuse is far from rare, and that she believes shining a bright light on the issue is a commendable act.