Penn State, The Peaceful Hearts Foundation and the importance of community.
I’m always inspired when I see a man whose process of healing has enabled him to use the lessons learned from traumatic childhood sexual experiences to create something that lifts up others.
So I was particularly pleased when I traveled to State College, Pennsylvania to mingle with local supporters of the recently formed Peaceful Hearts Foundation, an organization founded by Matthew and Kim Sandusky to support those who experienced childhood sexual abuse.
As explained on the Peaceful Hearts website, “Matt and Kim were engaged to be married when–in November of 2011–Matt’s adoptive father, Jerry Sandusky, was arrested for sexually assaulting at least ten young boys. Many months and incredible amounts of soul searching, strength and courage led Matt to contact authorities about the abuse that he had suffered at the hands of his adopted father. The storm that followed would be one that Matt and his family could never have imagined or prepared for.”
In his welcoming comments to a gathering of neighbors, friends, local business people and civic leaders, Sandusky emphasized the importance of community in supporting those healing from childhood sexual abuse, including himself. The Peaceful Hearts Foundation proposes fostering “an environment where survivors and loved ones can come together to share their experiences and receive compassion, help and support, unconditionally.”
“Safety is what community promises, and as the residents of State College know so well, safety is key to healing.”
Each time I visit State College, I’m struck by the remarkable resilience shown by its residents and by their eagerness to heal from the tragedy that affected them all in some way. Nearly everyone I met–from the customer service rep at the rental car counter, to the shuttle driver, to a local entrepreneur–spoke openly about the challenges they’ve faced and the desire to support one another’s recovery. Safety is what community promises, and as the residents of State College know so well, safety is key to healing.
Peaceful Heart’s goal seems to be to gradually expand that commitment to creating a healing environment well beyond the borders of their borough to incorporate a much wider community in the effort to establish safety. Unfortunately, it appears that that’s still a tall order.
One resident I spoke with recounted an astonishing display of insensitivity from that “wider community” the previous weekend. Some Rutgers University fans, who’d come to State College for a football game, used the experience of the child victims of Jerry Sandusky to mock the Penn State team.
“That ‘us’ and ‘them’ thinking is the exact opposite of community.”
Sadly, in nearly three decades working to better understand the dynamics of child sexual abuse and healing, I’ve seen numerous examples of similar thoughtlessness. Often, individuals are so desperate to convince themselves that they and theirs are invulnerable to such tragedy, they turn on the very people who most need their support in an effort to establish distance. In my time as a child-protective social worker, I repeatedly saw non-offending family members vilified by their neighbors, simply for their association with an abusive relative. That “us” and “them” thinking is the exact opposite of community.
And so I was heartened by the determination of Matt and Kim and the many supporters of Peaceful Hearts who I met at the gathering to counter that kind of destructive impulse with a belief that “every child and survivor of childhood sexual abuse should feel safe, supported, and empowered to thrive.”By Peter Pollard
Peter Pollard is the Professional Relations & Communications Director for 1in6, Inc. Peter previously worked for 15 years as a state, child-protection social worker and was the Public Education director at Stop It Now! Since 2003, he has served as the Western Massachusetts coordinator for SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) and also does work for a Certified Batterers Intervention Program. See Peter’s portrait in The Bristlecone Project exhibit.