How Love Can Overturn Hate, Following Pittsburgh Anti-Semitism Murders

#LoveThyNeighbor

I am not Jewish. Either by birth or religion.

Still, I felt compelled to attend last night’s public memorial for eleven people who were murdered in a Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA. The service was held at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, where thousands packed the hall and thousands more stood in the chilly rain outside. Once I managed to squeeze inside, I thought how fitting that Abraham Lincoln’s words from his Nov. 19, 1863, Gettysburg Address are inscribed on its walls.

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…”


I live ninety minutes south of Pittsburgh. I still remember family trips we took there, beginning in the early 1970s. But more recently, one of my daughters reintroduced me to the melting pot that is Steel City, a place built and inhabited by immigrants from all walks of life. Thanks to her, I probably spent more time there during the last six years than all the other years combined.

So I felt the city’s loss keenly.

At first, I tried not to think about it. Then I learned that four police officers who tried to stop the gunman were shot in the line of duty. My entire adult life has been spent with and around law enforcement, so I felt a sense of camaraderie, for them and their families.

Finally, I heard that the victims’ names had been released—and I thought about all the people I had met during recent visits to Pittsburgh. Wonderful people, many of whom are Jewish. I recalled the warm and cozy times my daughter and I dined at Dobra Tea, one of her favorite Squirrel Hill haunts.

Given that, there was no way I could not go. Paying my respects was the least I could do.

I don’t hate anyone. However, I do hate the actions that some people take, like happened Saturday afternoon when Robert Bowers, 46, opened fire and killed eleven people at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

Why did this happen? Because Bowers looked at those parishioners and saw only a label: Jewish.

It also happened because there really is evil among us. I know a little about evil, having covered a local murder here a few years ago. Evil is the only explanation for how two bright, talented and pretty teenage girls could murder a third teen who had once been a close friend.

Hate is evil.

Following the 2016 presidential election, my blog was one of the first about hate speech, a particular flavor of evil. I tweeted and blogged about two gay men who were the target of a hateful, homophobic act. (Ironically, I, too, received a few hate-filled tweets after I reported this news.)

Since then, hatred for people who are different than us has only increased. Especially is this true for those of the Jewish faith.

“Us,” as I use it, is anyone who aligns himself or identifies with, a specific group that spews hate speech toward people who are different, or with whose views they disagree. Not everyone who identifies with a particular label (think alt-right or even Democrat or Republican) feels or acts on hatred—but many of them do.

I know about hatred inspired by labels, because I grew up in a religious home. And while wearing that label as a child of eight, a woman chased a friend of mine who was thirteen and me from her porch—with a broom. About ten years ago, I was with a developmentally disabled youth, knocking on the door of another home, in a different community. In return, the man let his vicious dogs loose to chase us away.

In both cases, we didn’t speak badly, or retaliate, against either homeowner. We acknowledged that, while morally wrong, their actions arose from ignorance. Because, after all, we came in peace, offering a message of love. Had they stopped to listen, or think, they would have realized this. And perhaps our compassion would have won them over. I like to think so.

Hate only incites more hate. A person filled with hate for his fellow man will only spew more hatred, if that’s all he surrounds himself with. But compassion can change people. Even a hate mongering, conspiracy theorist like Bowers. So far we know he spewed hate for Jews and immigrants (whom he and some others have taken to labeling “invaders”). He did this online, at a social media site called “Gab.”

Given that none of Bowers’ neighbors really knew him and people who attended high school with him recalled him as a loner—if they remembered him at all—is proof that a little compassion could have gone a long way. For instance, mental health experts know that isolation is dangerous. Whether self-imposed or not, people cut off from family and friends tend to become unstable.

How could they not? Humans are tribal people. We came from family units, and were designed to be part of a society. That’s why people like Bowers are called anti-social. Another label, one that need not exist—if only people would stop and pay more attention to the outcasts and loners among us.

I am reminded that when the Jews and others were loaded into cattle cars and placed into concentration camps during World War II, they were known not by their names—but by numbers, and labels sewn onto their prison garb. A yellow triangle for Jews, a purple one for Jehovah’s Witnesses, the letter “P” for Polish prisoners.

Labels allow us to dehumanize our fellow man: white, black, Jewish, Catholic, straight, gay, handicapped, decrepit, rich, poor, or immigrant. What if we stop using labels altogether, and simply view each other as we are: human beings? That is to say, people from the same species, who are just like you and me.

We are all just human beings in need of kindness, especially now.

What if, every time we’re in the company of someone who appears different from us—whether we’re merely passing each other in a crowded crosswalk or sitting down in a classroom, sports stadium or movie theatre—we instead think: this person is my brother? My sister?

Or, what if we go a step further and speak to those strangers? Invite them for coffee or a meal? Offer them a shoulder to cry on?

Ah, but that’s when the power for change really happens. R&B musician Daryl Davis knows this. “Establish dialogue. When two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting,” he told the Daily Mail in 2013.

I heard Davis speak a few months ago, while listening to an episode of Snap Judgment. I was fascinated as I heard the blues musician tell how he became friends with a high-ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan. That man later resigned his post. Why? Because through his friendship with Davis, a black man, that previously racist white man came to know a basic human truth: no matter our race, religion, gender, or ethnic background, we are more alike than we are different.

Knowing this truth, and then acting on it, is how love can overturn hate.

* * *

Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Weekend Rapes Raise Concerns About Female Safety in Morgantown

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — I was alone for three minutes and thirty-six seconds today before someone else came along. That, ladies, is more than long enough to be raped.

I was walking beneath South High Street, making my way along the rail-trail toward the Pleasant Street bridge, where one of two women were sexually assaulted early Friday morning. According to Saturday’s issue of the Dominion Post, the first rape occurred there about 4 a.m. Since no time is given for the rape itself, this is my best guess, based on the fact that police responded to Ruby Memorial Hospital at 4:21 a.m. (NOTE: If you don’t have a paid subscription to the DP online, this is their free version—but it doesn’t offer all the details the paid newspaper does.)

Police said the first woman was raped here, on a section of the rail-trail beneath the Pleasant Street bridge. To the left is a popular dog park many people frequent.

When I began walking I was in an open area, but I stopped after realizing how deserted it was, and how much vegetation could hide someone—including a woman being sexually assaulted. I’m sure I noticed this, like I always do, because having been raped, I’m both more aware of my surroundings than some people might be and, at the same time, determined not to let that past fear rule my life now.

I turned around and waited to see how long it took for another trail user to appear. A young couple with a puppy soon showed up. They were en route to the dog park—which is below the Pleasant Street bridge, too.

That trail section is fairly well traveled, but there are other sections where I’ve walked and seen no one for fifteen minutes. How many people and how frequently we pass each other often depends on the time of day.

When I first learned of the two rapes, I told my daughter, who, like many women, myself included, often walks alone. And I was reminded of my friend Tori, who told me two years ago that she had once been accosted on the trail by a mentally unstable man. “I reported it to the police, but I still see him around the trail,” she had said when warning us to be careful.

After reading the lead story in yesterday’s paper, I realized the rapist had probably been lurking on the trail, where he then preyed on his two very unsuspecting victims. Who could have been my daughter. Or me. (Except we never walk that early in the morning.)

The second rape apparently occurred at 8:38 a.m., about four hours after the first woman’s rape was reported. According to the newspaper, the assault happened on the trail between Wall and Walnut streets. The female runner was attacked just out of sight of the Hazel Ruby McQuain Ampitheatre, and about a block from the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department. That’s along the portion of the trail that runs behind the Shell gas station located at 1345 University Avenue.

The second woman was raped somewhere near here; my GPS indicated I was almost directly between Wall and Walnut streets when I took this picture.

As my daughter and I discussed the article, I said the areas were isolated. She disagreed, saying all kinds of people loiter near the waterfront. Then she said something that surprised me: “That’s dangerous. If it’s after dark, the buses won’t even let you off at the bus depot.”

She knows this because she regularly uses public transportation, and on several occasions she has asked to be dropped off there—but all the drivers refuse, citing the dangers.

I haven’t taken public transportation around town in quite a while. It’s probably been years, really. However, since I do use the trail a good bit myself, especially enjoying the scenic beauty along the river, I have frequently passed the bus depot. Once a few months ago I saw an ambulance, back doors wide open, as the attendants tried to wake up a man who was leaning up against a wall. He looked like he had overdosed. He is one of many people who are either addicts or unsavory in other ways, who hang out in that area at all hours.

If you want to get a good pulse on who lives in your community, walking around town can help you do that. But you might just want to hop on a bus now and then, too, because if you keep your eyes and ears open, you can learn a lot about what’s happening around town. Much of which isn’t reported on by the media.

For instance, did you know that there’s a gang of drug dealers here from Detroit? Probably not, but if you talk to the right people, you’ll learn all about how they’ve moved into Morgantown, which has become a hub for their assorted types of illegal activities. I learned this two years ago because I talk to a lot of people. And I listen, and ask questions.

In a perfect world, all women would be able to walk alone, day or night. We don’t live in a perfect world, though—and it’s growing worse all the time. So women who choose to walk or run alone must be cautious, alert and savvy.

The second rape happened along this section of the rail-trail that runs behind the Shell station on University Avenue, near Mountain People’s Market

Beyond that, we know we take risks, every time we get into a car, or cross the street, or even take medicine. And depending on the time of day, the levels of distraction, and other factors (such as whether your doctor prescribed the correct dosage), those risks increase. What I want to say is this: if you’re a woman, don’t take any unnecessary risks.

Today, after finding that most local women online didn’t know about Friday’s two rapes, I conducted my own informal poll in real time. I asked ten people I met downtown, mostly women, if they knew about the crimes. Only two people did: both were men. They read about it in the newspaper. That’s one way to be savvy, ladies; keep up with the news. One woman told me today she doesn’t do this because “it’s depressing; it’s always bad news.” Sadly, she’s right—but ignoring all bad, sad news means we miss news stories like this one, that do a valuable good by alerting us to neighborhood crime, which can help keep us safe.

One of the women I asked was waitressing on High Street at the time; I really believed there was no way she couldn’t know. Right? Wrong! She then said she was glad I told her, because she normally uses the trail to walk to work, saving herself parking fees.

After posting this news on my Facebook page this morning, some women balked when I said not to walk or run alone, or to use the buddy system. I get that. And trust me, I’m no different than you: I refuse to let fear keep me from going places alone, even on the trail. But because of my background, I’m more attuned to my surroundings. And I am very cautious. So if you want to walk or run alone, too, then be extra observant when you wear earbuds, buy and carry mace, don’t forget your cell phone (which should, like mine, have 911 on speed dial), and know exactly what to do if you’re faced with an attacker.

Oh, and let’s all hope that the man police arrested, Jordan Lamont Bennett, 22, is the real rapist. I say that because Bennett is black and lately I’ve been reading a lot about race and the police, and thinking back to something that happened to me when I was reporting on the Fraternal Order of Police activities here in West Virginia.

More recently, when the MacArthur Fellows were announced, I learned about Jennifer Eberhardt, a social psychologist at Stanford University who won because of her fascinating work on societal biases, which include this one: “police officers are more likely to mistakenly identify African American faces as criminal than white faces.”

That, though, is a topic for another time. Perhaps next week’s blog.

* * *

I have four books. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about overcoming depression from domestic violence; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella BooksNellie Bly BooksAmazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

 

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and Sister of Silence placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Sandusky: The Verdict that Rang Out Around the World

At least eight young men and children everywhere slept easier last night, knowing that a clarion call has gone out following the verdict in the historic sex abuse trial of Jerry Sandusky.

Found guilty of 45 out of 48 counts of the criminal carges Judge John Cleland told the jury they could consider during deliberations, Sandusky was led away in handcuffs last night as an unprecedented number of families stood cheering on the Centre County Courthouse lawn.

I spoke with one father there, who came out with his wife and sons. Unfortunately, I can’t use his name, because he works with Juror No. 4, who was also the jury foreman. But this father of three, whose sons are six, 11 and 14, said the foreman is a computer engineer whose first name is Mark. “He’s a good guy, very intelligent and deeply thoughtful,” this dad said.

Because of that, he said he knew the jury would deliberate in a systematic fashion, sifting carefully through all of the evidence.

Which they did, for more than 20 hours. This father said “justice was served, probably a little late.” He then summed up why Sandusky was able to molest so many children for so long. “When someone is put on a pedestal just for having a skill, this is what happens,” he said.

It’s one thing to attend a trial as a member of the media. It’s another matter to attend as a survivor of just such a predator. Justice for Victims 1-10 means justice for me and many, many other survivors of sex abuse whose abuser will never see the inside of a courtroom or face 442 years in a prison cell.

So yes, I was ecstatic at last night’s verdict, and happy that for the first time since this story broke, the smile was wiped from Sandusky’s face. (I was so happy I didn’t even take time to turn around and congratulate the only victim—that I know of) who was in the courtroom to hear the verdict.

But I watched him from where I sat, as the foreman read it. Because I couldn’t see his face, I had to ask one of the many trial sketch artists there, who did see, what his facial features revealed. She said he was sobbing.

What I saw was the arm of the woman who sat beside him, and how she touched him as Sandusky was declared guilty. It was as if she was saying, “Look what you accomplished! You brought this horrible man down. You stopped him.”

By the time media began filing back into the courtroom earlier that evening, around 8:30 p.m., a nervous energy was palpable, as rumblings that something was underway were barely beginning. But aisles in the middle of the courtroom had been cleared and the buzz continued to grow, so that by the time Dottie Sandusky walked into the courtroom at 9:45 p.m., that buzz was a dull roar.

It had been present since the beginning, no doubt. I wouldn’t know, since I only arrived Wednesday. (I covered the early days of this case, and knew I had to drive to Bellefonte to see and hear the trial’s outcome for myself. As if foreshadowing the jury’s verdict, as I headed for the courthouse Wednesday morning, I passed the Rockview State Correctional Institution. I had to stop and take a photo, and ponder Sandusky’s possible future there.)

I entered the courtroom for the first time Thursday, for closing arguments, and that’s when I heard it: the sound of keyboards clattering all around the room. Every time something of any import happened, journalists put their fingers to keyboards and began typing.

By last night, the clicking sounds had grown to a dull roar, and every keystroke seemed to signal impending action.

9:45 p.m.—Dottie Sandusky, flanked by family members, enters the courtroom from a door behind the judge’s bench.

9:50 p.m.—The defendant, wearing a rust-colored corduroy blazer, enters with his counsel from a different door behind the bench.

9:52 p.m.—A voice announces, “All rise, court is in session.”

9:53 p.m.—Judge Cleland speaks: “Good evening. Be seated.”

10:09 p.m.—Sandusky, confirmed sex offender, is led away, and leaves the courtroom through the door his wife entered just minutes earlier.

My notes have gaps and so don’t reflect the time the seven female and five male jurors began filing in, or when the grey-haired foreman, dressed in a blue checkered button-down shirt, stood to read the verdict. It was after Judge Cleland gave the media very clear instructions about what not to do in his courtroom—or risk facing the consequences for breaking his rules.

I was more interested in seeing if any of the jurors looked in Sandusky’s direction, which one can guess might reveal the verdict. Two jurors did: one was a tall and clean-shaven young man, probably the youngest juror and the same age as some of Sandusky’s victims. The other was a woman with black hair who could have been the mother of one of the victims.

As I struggled to jot down the verdict for each of the 48 counts, I also tried to watch the sole victim in front of me, as well as Sandusky and his wife. As the foreman read the last count and delivered a guilty verdict, the young man bowed his head very briefly, as if in prayer, and took a deep breath. Exhaling, his shoulders dropped. It was as if in that single exhalation, all the tension in the courtroom evaporated. For him, though, I’m sure it was more about the relief he was feeling, at knowing his abuser was going to be spending the rest of his life behind bars.

Responses from people who heard the jury’s verdict varied, but I think it’s accurate to say they were just as relieved. As I filed out of the courtroom and down the stairs, I found myself behind the white courthouse pillars, in the glare of the spotlight and directly behind Lisa “Pinky” Shirk. She’s a local woman who’s urged ongoing support for the victims ever since the story broke. Her overwhelming fear throughout had been that Sandusky would get off.

As we reached the last step and she realized I was behind her, she turned around, hugged me, and then, overcome with emotion, she broke into tears. Clinging to me, she sobbed and sobbed, as long months of fear and frustration, and anger and despair for what the victims have gone through, flowed freely.

Shirk was one of many, many people on the courthouse lawn who couldn’t hide their emotions. Who had turned out in hopes of hearing just such a verdict. One such young woman was Rebecca Berry (curious coincidence, but no relation that I know of), who drove from Farmington, Conn., twice, to attend the proceedings.

That’s because Berry forgot her identification when she arrived at the trial two weeks ago. Without it, she couldn’t gain entry. Berry had to drive her “beat-up Crown Victoria” seven hours back home, go to the Department of Motor Vehicles so she could replace her lost license, and then drive back to Bellefonte. The two trips were more than 2,100 miles.

Berry, also a survivor of sexual abuse, couldn’t keep her emotion under control as each count was being read. So from the still courtroom, save for the foreman’s voice, many of us sitting there heard the sound of a choked sob. That was Berry.

“I started crying right there. It was when I heard the verdict for Victim No. 9 . . . he was such a baby and it was so brutal, what happened to him,” Berry said. “The Penn State case was very triggering to me as a survivor. I avoid these cases usually and I’m able to because I don’t really watch shows like Nancy Grace, but I couldn’t get away from Penn State. It was everywhere. It was hard to see the coverage. When I read about the victim who was bullied out of school, it upset me to the point I threw my laptop across the room. And broke it. It was infuriating to me,” Berry added.

Berry said she felt personally vindicated at the trial’s outcome.

After the verdict was announced and things had calmed down somewhat, authorities held a press conference. Attorney General Linda Kelly said the trial’s outcome shows that in Pennsylvania, “we believe the children.”

Kelly said she hopes the verdict will “help the voices of victims be heard and we can try to drive away the demons and the darkness and lift the veil of secrecy that allows predators to hide and operate in our midst.”

The AG then spoke specifically about society’s moral obligation to help prevent child sex abuse.

“This is a law enforcement issue and every police department and investigating agency across the country should take note of this case and ensure that every claim of child sexual abuse is addressed promptly and investigated thoroughly, with the understanding that where there’s one victim, there very likely are more,” Kelly said.

“This crime is unacceptable, as well as unconscionable and should not and cannot be tolerated,” she added.

“This is also a family issue, and hopefully parents across the country will learn from this case how important it is to be vigilant about your child’s personal interactions with others and o make sure your child is conscious of their own safety and they must report these types of incidents.

Children “really are, truly, our most valuable natural resource. And they should always be our priority. Every one of us has the responsibility to be aware of the possibility of this type of crime and to speak out if you know something troubling,” Kelly said.

* * * *

Daleen can be reached at daleen.berry@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: Daleen Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. She has expertise in overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment, and wrote about Wanda Toppins’ murder in her book, after reporting on the case in 1991 when she worked for The Preston County Journal. Wanda was another Preston County woman who died needlessly, and who Berry wrote about in Sister of Silence.

To read the Sister of Silence e-book (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

Berry’s an award-winning author, editor and journalist who speaks at conferences around the country. Berry was one of two keynote speakers addressing a national audience at “The Many Faces of Domestic Violence,” the 18th Annual Conference of the Association of Batterers’ Intervention Programs on March 1, 2012, in Anaheim, Calif. She recently spoke to social workers from all over the country at the “Hope for the Future: Ending Domestic Violence in Families” conference at the University of California, Berkeley.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

If you want to read dozens of other five-star reviews, check out this title on Amazon. To view the Sister of Silence book trailer, go to her VintageBerryWine Youtube channel. For a mock up of the SOS t-shirt readers are demanding, check out Berry’s Facebook page.

He probably won’t take it, but this is why Sandusky will receive a plea offer

When Jerry Sandusky waived his right to a preliminary hearing last Tuesday, I could only think of one good reason: plea deal. Which is one of the worst things that can happen to a case like this.

It’s also one of the best. Before I tell you what that is, let’s go back to Tuesday for a minute.

There are a few reasons to waive a prelim, but having more evidence released to the public is one of the biggest ones defendants take this step. Some people have speculated that was indeed the reason Sandusky waived his rights. Within seconds after that major announcement, came whispers of a plea deal. I’ve read so much about this case that I can’t remember where I read it, but I did see something about that myself.

It’s quite common for prosecutors to spare victims of sex crimes by offering up the defendant a plea bargain on a platter, since it saves victims from reliving their abuse all over again. But what follows is my take on why a plea deal might be struck in this particular case.

For the last six weeks, as the world has weighed in on the biggest U.S. sporting scandal ever—one that was about anything but sports—I’ve had a nagging thought in the back of my mind as I’ve listened and read about the Penn State sex abuse tragedy: What are people going to do when they learn the victims willingly took part in their own abuse?

That’s because I did the same thing, when I was their age. I was no different than the youngsters targeted by The Second Mile, who was started to help children who “need additional support and who would benefit from positive human contact.” Being reared in a single-parent, low-income household automatically qualifies one as “vulnerable,” or “disadvantaged”—the two other adjectives used to describe the alleged victims of Penn State coach and Second Mile founder Jerry Sandusky.

News of the scandal broke when the public learned of the former defensive coordinator’s arrest and molestation charges in early November. About the same time, the school’s vice president and its athletic director were charged with failing to report the suspected abuse, and for lying to the grand jury. The biggest news to come from this scandal, though, is the firing of Penn State’s legendary head coach Joe Paterno. In fact, other than details revealed in the grand jury transcript, news about the eight (and now nine) alleged victims has been predictably scant.

Paterno has captured the headlines more than anyone, save perhaps Mike McQueary, who told the grand jury he walked into a locker room and saw Sandusky raping a boy of 10. McQueary, now an assistant Penn State coach—but then a 28-year-old grad assistant—has since been placed on administrative leave and is believed to be in protective custody.

When it comes to disadvantaged homes, society probably understands that coming from one means the financial or familial perspective: resources are stretched thin, leaving the children on their own, or money isn’t plentiful, meaning basics like new tennis shoes are out of the question.

But I doubt it understands what being one of these youth means from an emotional aspect: having one parent in the home—as is true in 34-percent of households in this country—means the children don’t get as much attention, affection and love from that parent.

A man who knows more about this topic than most law enforcement officers put together is Ken Lanning. He wrote the foreword for my first book, Sister of Silence. Those seven pages are the analytical equivalent of my story, and provide an equally alarming eye-opener for parents who want to know how child molesters think, speak and act. They also provide insight into the mind of a child, explaining why children will return to their molester again and again, essentially becoming a willing participant in their own abuse.

This type of “acquaintance molestation” is what Lanning calls “the often forgotten piece in the puzzle of the sexual victimization of children.” He says it’s hard “for society and even professionals to face,” because people want to believe child molesters are ugly, evil strangers. They would rather believe that than the truth: It can be anyone “who has access to children.”

Lanning knows the biggest problem people have is believing the child’s role in all of this. “The idea that child victims could simply behave like human beings and respond to the attention and affection of offenders, by voluntarily and repeatedly returning to an offender, is a troubling one,” he said in the foreword.

Because this type of molester can spend a long time seducing first, the potential victim’s parents or caretakers, to gain their trust and confidence, and then, the intended victim, there’s no need for any force. That’s why Lanning says “an acquaintance molester who seduces his victims without violence can sometimes go unreported for thirty years or more.”

This is exactly what happened to Sandusky’s alleged victims, as shown in the grand jury testimony, and how my seduction occurred, as well. And when someone—a nice neighbor, a family friend, or a football coach—comes along and shows an interest in you, you immediately “get a life.” At 13, I was escorted to the Dairy Queen and the movies in a nice, shiny new vehicle; by the time I turned 16, he was buying me clothing and making my decisions for me.

And I loved it—every second of it. Well, except for the times when he convinced me that my repayment for his kindness should come in some form of sex. But those coerced occasions were quickly forgotten with a gift, a trip to the DQ or yet another truckload of wood he brought to help heat our home. He also knew he shouldn’t touch me, and kept promising me again and again, that he wouldn’t do it again. So I kept returning. To him, to what he could give me or do for me, and to the sex—which my body responded to and enjoyed—but which I could not get my mind to wrap around, try as I might.

Just as the targeted child or adolescent life in some ways changes for the better, so does the parent’s life: they finally have someone showing an interest in their offspring, and helping with the parenting workload. At least, that’s how it seems on the surface. I wrote about this in Lethal Silence, a book that looks at four families whose children died or were at risk of death, due to being victims of violence. (Due to be published as an e-book later this month.)

“When (Eddie) began helping our family, my mother was struggling with a shortage of several resources: time to properly instruct or even interact with her children, money for auto and home repairs, as well as a mate to help carry the load.

While Dad was overseas he sent little money home, forcing Mom to struggle just to get by. If she wasn’t trying to provide for her children on an almost nonexistent income, all while living in a dilapidated house that required constant work to ensure it was safe and warm, she was filling out paperwork so we could receive food stamps or heating oil. At first a single parent working two part-time jobs, after Dad returned home for a short visit a few times, Mom later became an overwhelmed pregnant mother who simply couldn’t be both parents to her growing family. She was a perfect mark for a twenty-year-old man who found girls of thirteen more sexually stimulating than young women his own age. It must have seemed like a blessing when the man who would eventually rape me offered to perform house repairs or provide free fuel and transportation.”

Lanning, who spent 30 years with the FBI and who has trained thousands of law enforcement officers and criminal justice professionals about child sexual abuse, said my story is both like all the others he’s investigated and yet equally unique. He also said it feels like he’s got a crystal ball, because he’s investigated so many of these cases that he already knows much of their outcome.

For example, one of the alleged victims has testified he voluntarily went to Sandusky’s home and had dinner after the abuse took place. Lanning said people automatically think, “if you were really victimized, you wouldn’t do it.” They also ask, “Why do these kids keep going back?” Lanning said.

This “absolutely happens all the time in these cases. Is it something that people understand? No, hardly anybody understands it,” Lanning said. That even includes the investigators charged with trying to bring such crimes to trial, he added.

These cases become even murkier when “the bad guys don’t cooperate and they don’t stay inside the lines” and do what society thinks he should, Lanning said. As an example, child molesters are usually divided into three groups: stranger, family member or acquaintance. Within those divisions, come others: age or gender, for instance. Mine liked girls of 13, while Sandusky allegedly favored boys of the same age, or slightly younger.

Now, though, comes the troubling news of allegations of abuse from one of Sandusky’s own grandsons: this boy is only five. “This case involves an acquaintance molester who befriends kids, grooms them and seduces them, showers them with attention and affection, gives status, privileges . . . and the primary reason to do that is to get children to cooperate in this activity so you don’t have to use knives, guns, weapons and threats,” Lanning said.

This leads to what’s called “compliant child victims,” like me, or like the Second Mile victims who are slowly coming forward in State College. But instead of asking why kids like us would become complicit in our own crimes, let’s instead start educating ourselves about child sexual abuse. That involves not passing on the same fairytales about what molesters, or victims, look like.

It also means realizing that stereotypes don’t fit when it comes to this type of crime: just as each and every fingerprint is different—so is each and every case of child sexual abuse.

 

Editor’s note: Berry is the executive director of Samantha’s Sanctuary, Inc., a new 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to helping empower abused women and their children. Berry’s TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013 at Connecticut College, is now live.

Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read an excerpt, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Helping Ourselves, Helping Others: Why It’s Crucial For Victims to Come Forward

Regardless of the gender used, this applies to both sexes

If you’ve had an alcoholic parent, or if you’ve been sexually victimized, you are more vulnerable to feelings of shame and self-doubt, along with the belief that all problems are your fault. These factors can also create a drive to be perfect and a deep-seated fear that no one will like you if they learn your darkest secret.

Actress Teri Hatcher understands this. A survivor of sexual abuse, Hatcher said she wants to “help stop the pattern in women to take less than what they deserve, and to help stop the burnt-toast syndrome for their girls . . . I don’t think you have to be molested to be in pain as a woman, to feel like you don’t deserve good things . . . we are all women who don’t treat ourselves well enough. Women walk around feeling like everything is their fault, and if they could only be better they could get something good” (Vanity Fair, 2006).

Before we can begin to help (victims) thrive, we must first help them survive various types of abuse and their own negative feelings. So the silence and secrecy must be shattered. That means anyone who plays a role must be willing to talk about it, instead of helping to hide it by pretending we have no such thing as sexual abuse or domestic violence. It begins with parents who aren’t afraid to ask hard questions, when a child is acting out for no apparent reason. If your child’s been victimized, then you’re only allowing the damage go deeper, by refusing to see it or by failing to obtain the necessary medical care and therapy your child needs.

* * *

When it comes to standing up and helping (victims) who can’t help themselves, a good example comes from my time spent as a police reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. A couple was driving by when they saw a man choking a woman on a city street, so the couple stopped their car and went to help. The injured woman had no pulse and wasn’t breathing, so Rhonda Kennell, a registered nurse, performed CPR. Police said the consequences could have been tragic, if not for Kennell’s help.

“I just feel that’s the right thing to do,” Kennell told me when I interviewed her for a news article. City Police Officer Lt. Brian Lepley said Kennell’s help was “deeply appreciated by city police and . . . just shows that people still care” (Cumberland Times-News, Dec. 16, 2007).

* * *

Jerry Toppins Jr. acted out during his teens, due to family violence. In 1990, Jerry’s dad gunned down his stepmother, Wanda, in Arthurdale, W.Va., in front of Jerry’s brother David, who was then three-years-old. That was years after Jerry’s first stepmother, Cindy, died under suspicious circumstances—and long after Jerry’s own mother, Peggy, barely escaped with her life. When she did, she took Jerry and his sister, Gujuan, with her.

Jerry’s life taught him to advocate for these victims, who are often unable to do so on their own. Abuse victims should “never hide it . . . tell everyone about every detail . . . Don’t die easy, go out kicking screaming and struggling.” For everyone else, who can do something about it, he has another message. “Fight it wherever you see it. Stand up for those you see in need” (Personal correspondence, Sept. 22, 2008).

* * *

So whether it’s domestic violence, child abuse or depression, do it anyway—because you have no idea how you would feel if you do nothing.

Editor’s note: This condensed information is taken from chapter one of the forthcoming Lethal Silence by Daleen Berry. This book is an academic text that looks at several case studies involving families whose lives were shattered by a lethal silence that left children dead, and the role such stressors as child sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, depression and domestic violence played. (Copyright 2011)
If you are a parent and want to better protect your children, or if you’re a victim who has survived child sexual abuse, please go to Amazon and read the foreword of Sister of Silence. Written by renowned (and now retired) FBI special agent Kenneth V. Lanning, it’s well worth your time.

“It Took Your Book for Me to Find Me”

If nothing else, I’m thrilled that the Penn State scandal has allowed other victims of child sexual abuse to break their silence. According to NPR, attorneys around the country are fielding phone calls from victims eager to report their abuse.

It’s about time.

Because breaking their own silence is the first step to healing from the horrible abuse they never should have suffered. I know this firsthand, because I’ve been speaking up about my experience with child sexual abuse and rape since 2003. I’ve encouraged other victims to speak up, and told audiences that it’s been a cathartic process for me to do so.

I’m sad it took something of this magnitude to wake up people, but I’m happy they’re now wide awake. I’m also furious that for many people, this story is only about Joe Paterno, a sports icon, or football, the country’s national pastime. For them, it’s not about the victims at all. But for me, the victims are the one and only thing this story is about.

Whenever I blog about child sexual abuse or post pertinent comments on social networking sites, I’m equally saddened when I come across yet another victim, who says their abuse has left them suspended in time. For you see, still trapped by the secret crimes from their past, they remain unable to move forward toward their future. Nor do they seem to know how to escape the deadly silence.

What’s clear to me is that part of their problem can be traced directly to the public’s response upon learning that Penn State, a public institution, kept allegations of child sexual abuse secret. When powerful men like Paterno and games like the one Penn State played last Saturday against Nebraska hog the headlines, why would a victim feel compelled to speak out?

Although the victims who remain suspended somewhere between their past and their present, and I experienced similar types of abuse, our healing progress is clearly not the same. And how could it be, when they lack the much-needed support to help them heal?

And yet, with enough help from the people around them, they can begin that incredible journey to a place of peace. They can close the pages to their past, experience their present, and begin making plans for their future. I know this because, surrounded by supportive people who loved me, that’s exactly what I did.

The first time someone told me I healed myself was at a 2005 child abuse conference I attended. That observation came from a psychologist who specialized in cognitive behavior. His words summarized his belief about what I had accomplished, based on what he knew about my (then unpublished) memoir, Sister of Silence.

I heard this again recently, when I met with the Bay Area therapist who is using my book with her own patients. I had to know why, of all the mental health literature out there, she chose my book to use in her work. “It provides a step-by-step guide to healing,” Dr. Jean Shimozaki said. “It shows your own path, how you healed yourself.”

Until 2005, I never thought about it like that. I’m still loath to, for I had many good people around, helping me to work on the issues of abuse I needed to overcome. Here’s the thing, though: I was deeply motivated to heal, for the sake of my children, and for the future of our family. I did not want the abuse I experienced to continue in each successive generation, as I know so often happens. So I worked very hard to look within, to see what changes I needed to make to become healthy, and to then do the work necessary to reach that goal.

Since then, I’ve come to realize it’s possible that those two mental health professionals were correct, for I had written in great detail about many of the abusive acts I experienced. I recorded the events themselves, from my perspective; I wrote about my abuser’s words and actions; and I painfully recounted those of my own. I wrote candidly about the part I had played—or thought I had played—in my own abuse. I wrote from the heart about how it felt at the time to be a victim.

As a result, those journals became valuable tools in my healing. First and foremost, they provided clarity, for I could compare what my abuser told me, with what I knew to be truth—and that helped me to stay grounded.

Second, as I tried to make sense of my life, I would search through the pages for accounts I thought I remembered—only to find that they had been recorded much differently than I recalled. If I even could recall them. In some cases, entire events had disappeared from my mind, only to come flooding back upon reading what I had written in those spiral notebooks.

Finally, over the years, I started to write Sister of Silence—as a way to help others not just understand—but to act differently. As I consulted those journals for research purposes, I began to process what had happened, and this helped with my personal healing.

I first spoke out in public about my abuse in 1999, to a small group of strangers in California. But I began speaking out publicly in earnest, in West Virginia in 2003. That was eight years ago. In the interim, I’ve freed myself from almost every painful memory I remember. It’s as if, by speaking out, I gave myself permission to let go of the burdens I’d carried around. They literally fell from my shoulders, disappearing into my past as easily as yesterday’s rainstorm disappears into the ground.

Apparently, that’s what also happening for many Sister of Silence readers. There is rarely a week that goes by, in which I don’t receive an email from someone who tells me they read my book—and see themselves in my story. Sometimes, I’m privileged to experience it in person—as happened at a recent book signing and, earlier, at the conference where I spoke in September. Social workers from all over the country were there, and they lined up to buy my book after I told them about my experience with abuse and survival.

Some of these professionals were older than I am, but they had never told anyone about their abuse—until that day, when they told me. Some of them had tears in their eyes. All of them were grateful that someone was willing to speak out, showing them the way to escape their own silence.

Most recently, I received an email from “Lana,” someone I haven’t seen since high school. I had no idea what her life was really life, all those years ago, any more than she had about mine. And yet, Lana’s email said she wished we had talked more, and opened up to each other back then. “It took your book for me to find me,” Lana said.

What that means to me personally is that I gave Lana permission to speak out. And perhaps to understand herself better. To forgive herself. To love herself. By writing about my own life, and my own story, she now realizes it’s safe to speak out about what happened to her. Because, you see, there really is safety in numbers. Especially when someone else feels free enough to do it in such a public fashion.

For today’s victims of child sexual abuse—be they Penn State victims or victims from anywhere around the country—to do the same, all they need is our collective permission to speak out. I invite Paterno to join me in giving them that permission. For Paterno, as Jeffrey W. Pollard, director of George Mason University counseling and psychological services suggested, could take the lead in granting that permission.

As Pollard says, Paterno can encourage the country to support “those who have been harmed, (which) often involves more courage than standing up to a blitzing all-American linebacker.” Since so many of us—especially Paterno—have done little else for these victims, surely he can do this.

And if Paterno does, I believe he will joined by a groundswell of people who feel free to show their support, too. This can only lead to the profound effect of freeing even more victims from the shadows of silence, so they too can have a chance to fully heal from what must no longer be permitted to continue unabated against children as a secret crime.

Editor’s note: If you are a parent and want to protect your children, or if you’re a victim who has survived child sexual abuse, please go to Amazon and read the foreword of my book. The foreword alone is well worth your time. If, after reading that, you want to purchase SOS, you have several options: paperback or e-book, direct from Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or even in many bookstores and libraries around the country. (That number is growing by the day. If you can’t find it in a bookstore or library near you, just ask them to order it. Libraries, especially, are finding they have a long waiting list for the book, if they only have one copy in distribution.)