The torturous, winding path of Sandusky's 'Victim 1'

5:51 AM, Jul 18, 2012   |    comments
Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky's booking photo. He was convicted of sexually assaulting 10 boys over 15 years.
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LOCK HAVEN, PA - He never knew his father

And he couldn't begin to describe to his mother why he no longer wanted anything more to do with Jerry Sandusky, who had eagerly sought to become a part of the child's life, disguised as a generous father figure.

The teenager's horrific account of Sandusky's abuse, which spanned nearly four years, could have easily been buried here for good.

After all, the former Penn State University assistant football coach was regarded in this gritty, central Pennsylvania town - as he was across the state - as a savior for a legion of troubled, fatherless kids. Even if he could overcome the shame of acknowledging that he was regularly forced to submit to a middle-age man's sexual advances or shed the fear of naming someone as prominent as Sandusky, who would believe him?

And who would save him from the predator, who the victim was convinced would kill him if he dared take his story to police?

Improbably, the shaggy-haired local teenager would overcome it all: the shame, the humiliation and the fear. Designated by the Pennsylvania grand jury as "Victim 1," he has long been credited with launching the successful prosecution of Sandusky, leading to last week's devastating internal review of the university. It found that Penn State's top leaders did nothing to stop the former coach's abuse.

What has not been discussed in detail before now is the victim's painful journey - from accuser to crucial prosecution witness - in one of the most damaging sports scandals in U.S. history. This account was provided to USA TODAY in interviews with the victim's psychologist, Michael Gillum, who in addition to counseling the victim, sat in on key police interviews and accompanied the victim to secret state grand jury sessions. He described his client's decision to step forward, an exhaustive schedule of police interviews and three anxious appearances before the grand jury. All of it a prelude to taking the witness stand in a packed courtroom just yards from the man who abused him.

Gillum's account is not disputed by Pennsylvania authorities and is supported by courtroom testimony, which outline similarly wrenching decisions by the other seven known victims to tell their stories in an open courtroom. It is USA TODAY's policy not to name the victims of sexual abuse. An attorney representing the victim declined to allow him to be interviewed. Gillum, who spoke with his client's knowledge, said that he hoped that by relating his experience other victims of abuse would be encouraged to report it, regardless of the consequences.

"From the first time we met," Gillum said, "he was fearful that he would be killed. He believed that Jerry Sandusky could have him killed."

There is no evidence that Sandusky made such a threat, but Gillum said the boy's extreme fear, along with anonymous threats delivered by telephone and letter after his name was linked to the investigation, set in motion elaborate plans by Clinton County, Pa., youth authorities to relocate the victim and his mother if their safety was put at risk.

"This was Jerry Sandusky we're talking about here," Gillum said of the former coach who was described by an official at the victim's school as possessing a "heart of gold," and who once patrolled the sidelines of the nearby football cathedral that is Penn State's Beaver Stadium.

Yet against all odds, unlikely Lock Haven is where the case against Sandusky began, leading to his ultimate conviction last month on 45 counts of child sexual abuse. The 68-year-old is in a central Pennsylvania jail awaiting sentencing later this summer.

A collective silence

From the time the teen found the courage to speak in 2008 until the day he took the witness stand last month, his experience underscores a complex reality that defies the megawatt attention that child sex abuse cases often draw once they become public, victims' advocates said.

To a person, each of the coach's eight known victims described in court how they attempted to block the horrific memories of abuse from their consciousness.

Some initially refused to cooperate with the criminal investigation when police approached them. One of them, now 28, told jurors in the Sandusky trial that he had wanted to "bury forever" the memories of an estimated 50 sexual encounters with Sandusky, only to come forward after police investigators "hunted me down."

High-profile child sex abuse scandals at Penn State, the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America represent evidence of the pervasive nature of abuse, and the victims' accounts reveal that public attention to such cases - no matter how intense - often is not enough to overcome the paralyzing fear and humiliation that, for many, result in their collective silence.

On the same day that the Sandusky verdict was delivered, June 22, Philadelphia Monsignor William Lynn was convicted of child endangerment, the first Catholic Church official found guilty of covering up past abuses by priests under his direction.

Earlier last month, the Oregon Supreme Court approved the release of thousands of pages in files compiled by the Boy Scouts related to suspected child abusers in its ranks. The files came to light as part of a 2010 lawsuit in which a jury found that the group failed to protect children from an abusive assistant scoutmaster, Timur Dykes, dating to the 1980s.

"There is shame, fear, even guilt that they (the victims) may have allowed something like this to happen," said Curtis St. John, a spokesman for MaleSurvivor, a national advocacy group for sex abuse victims.

Himself a victim, St. John, 44, said he kept the secret of his abuse by a middle school teacher for 22 years.

"Even when sexual abuse as a child could be the root cause of all their current problems, victims always are reluctant to talk about it."

An estimated one in four women and one in six men are sexually abused before age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jolie Logan, president of Darkness to Light, another victims' advocacy group, said the reluctance to report such cases suggests the numbers of victims could be much higher.

She said cases involving assailants such as priests or prominent figures like Sandusky are particularly insidious. Typically, she said, the contact begins - as eight Sandusky victims testified - with gifts, trips and other benefits "that serve to break down victims' defenses and instincts" before the conduct veers into the physical and sexual realm.

"Because these victims are young and in the midst of physical development, this escalating behavior adds to confusion," Logan said. "They are often put in a position to think, this is what men do."

'He was shaking'

Gillum doesn't have to consult a file to recall the day when a shaken 14-year-old boy and his angry mother arrived at his nondescript Main Street office.

It was Nov. 20, 2008, and his two visitors had come straight from a disturbing meeting at a local high school where the boy told a counselor that Sandusky, then a volunteer football coach at the school, had engaged in unspecific inappropriate conduct with him.

The boy's mother had arranged the meeting with the counselor, she told the jury at Sandusky's trial, after her son began asking questions about how to access information about sexual abuse online.

Angered that school officials cautioned her against going immediately to authorities with information about such a prominent figure, the mother testified that she went directly to the Clinton County Children and Youth Social Services office.

Jennifer Sobjak, the office's assistant director, said the boy and his mother showed up with no advance notice. An initial interview with a female staffer proved uncomfortable and halting, Sobjak said, before the boy was referred to Gillum's second-floor office, partially decorated in Crayon images created by his daughter and some young clients.

"He was so anxious, he was shaking," Gillum now recalls.

In the two hours that followed, the psychologist said, the boy provided enough information - incidents of fondling, kissing and other inappropriate contact - that "indicated Jerry Sandusky as a child sex abuser."

The conclusion triggered a series of notifications and telephone calls to the Pennsylvania State Police, to Sandusky's charity for troubled children, known as The Second Mile, and to the boy's high school, where officials were notified of the claims against Sandusky.

The county report resulted in Sandusky's required separation from the school pending the resolution of the allegations.

The public backlash, Gillum said, was almost immediate and jarring. Within weeks, the boy's mother reported to state investigators that she was confronted in a Lock Haven business by an unhappy local resident who had learned that her son had been linked to the allegations triggering Sandusky's removal as a volunteer.

The child's identity spread rapidly through the community, the psychologist said, making him and his mother the target of harassment - and ultimately threats of harm - by locals upset that Sandusky had been dismissed from the school.

School officials did not respond to requests for comment.

From his initial meetings with the boy, Gillum said, it became clear, based on the victim's fear and the community's anger, that extraordinary steps were needed to protect him and his mother.

"We started putting a (witness) relocation plan together almost from the first week," Gillum said, adding that an undisclosed sum of county money was dedicated to the effort. "There was huge fear."

The search for other victims

Despite his mounting personal anxiety, the victim's role in the case quickly expanded, as monthly meetings with state police investigators were added to a weekly meeting with the psychologist.

Anthony Sassano, the attorney general's chief investigator, testified at Sandusky's trial that the teenager's account launched a wide-ranging inquiry against the former coach. He described a "daunting" effort in which fellow agents tracked leads provided by the victim to find other key witnesses.

A search of Sandusky's home, Sassano said, later turned up a trove of photographs, including several photos of the teen and other fellow victims.

Still, Gillum said, it took about three months before the victim began to speak about the most disturbing aspects of his contact with Sandusky: explicit encounters involving oral sex during extended stays at Sandusky's home in State College.

"He was very reluctant to talk about what happened to him," Gillum said. "He would say, 'I just hate talking about it; I can't stand talking about it.' "

During his first appearance before a state grand jury in the summer of 2009, Gillum said his anxious client was often "overcome by emotion," resulting in frequent breaks to help steady him.

With the approval of the supervising judge, the psychologist was allowed to accompany his client inside each of the three secret grand jury sessions in Harrisburg, which extended into 2010.

Yet the task of relating years of abuse by Sandusky never got easier, despite relaxation and visualization exercises Gillum used to help the victim cope with the unfamiliar trappings of the criminal justice system.

"There were times," Gillum said, "when he couldn't talk about what happened to him at all."

A new wave of anxiety crashed the teenager's world last November when the charges against Sandusky were made public. The announcement set off an intense national media pursuit of the victim and seven others.

(Two other victims have not been found by authorities.)

Anticipating the media onslaught, the county activated one of its three relocation plans, financing the move of mother and victim to a rental home in a local neighborhood. Gillum said the victim's mother added two "large" guard dogs to patrol the fenced-in yard, and a state police detail was placed on call in the event of trouble.

"The state police were very helpful," he said.

School, however, was a different story.

Tense encounters with fellow students after the release of the graphic grand jury report led to the victim's transfer midway through the school year.

Gillum said the move became necessary after some students, angered that the allegations would taint Penn State and the reign of legendary coach Joe Paterno, began making physical threats against his young client.

The timing of the move meant he would be preparing to graduate from a new high school and testify against the former Penn State icon at the same time.

'I'm here to tell the truth'

Days after his graduation, the victim finally appeared in a packed Bellefonte, Pa., courtroom.

His face baring the strain of an emotional legal and personal journey of nearly four years, the victim began recounting some of the worst abuse Sandusky was later convicted of inflicting. His halting testimony, often through tears, appeared to provoke an equally wrenching response from the jury of seven women and five men seated just to his right.

When lead prosecutor Joseph McGettigan finished guiding him through a catalog of horrors, the victim was forced to face Sandusky at the defense table where attorney Joe Amendola questioned whether financial motives were behind his accusations. No, he said.

"All I know is, I'm here to tell the truth about what happened to me, just like everybody else," the victim said, before stepping down and mercifully out of the spotlight.

Ten days later, while on his way to a new security job and perhaps the next chapter in a young life, the 18-year-old's cellphone rang.

The jury, his mother told him, had reached a verdict.

Gillum said the victim pulled his car to the side of the road, where, alone in the car on a late Friday night, he took in the news: guilty on 45 counts, including all charges related to Sandusky's abuse of him.

"I think he was just relieved that it was over," the psychologist said.

By Kevin Johnson

USA Today

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