NEW YORK — While many Americans are riveted by the Penn State sex abuse trial, it has been particularly wrenching — and sometimes heartening — for those who were themselves victims of abuse in their youth.
Unlike the witnesses testifying against Jerry Sandusky, most of them never got the chance to confront their abusers in court, so the trial has been cathartic as well as troubling.
“It’s vicarious justice — the closest many survivors will ever get to a courtroom where the perpetrator is held accountable,” said Claudia Vercellotti of Toledo, Ohio, who says she was molested for years in her adolescence by a Roman Catholic youth minister.
Vercellotti, a 42-year-old hospital employee, has immersed herself in news reports of the trial, mesmerized by the past week’s often-graphic testimony from eight young men who said Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, had abused them.
“It takes raw courage to get up there and face their abuser,” she said. “They are liberating other victims of sex crimes who have not been able to speak up.”
Vercellotti and others who were interviewed clearly believe Sandusky is guilty. But to them, the testimony in a Bellefonte, Pa., courtroom is not just about allegations that one man assaulted boys over a 15-year span; it also shines a spotlight on all abuse, including their own. And painful as it is, some say this can only be a good thing.
“Once you accept the notion that child sex abuse is stunningly widespread, then every instance in which it emerges into the public consciousness is essentially good — painful but good,” said David Clohessy, the St. Louis-based executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Kids are safer, and victims move further toward recovery.”