Penn State case brings new victims forward

Sexual abuse hotlines and advocacy organizations nationwide are seeing a flood of new victims come forward following the Penn State molestation scandal.

Experts say that the national media coverage is providing the encouragement for victims to come forward with information that they may have been keeping secret for years.

"One caller told me 'Penn State is teaching me that I need to speak up,'" said Jenny Coleman, help services director for Stop It Now, a child sex abuse prevention organization. The organization has experienced a 130 percent increase in emails and phone calls to their help services department so far this month.

Complete coverage: Penn State scandal

Former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was charged on November 5th with 40 counts of child sexual abuse over a 15 year period. The report to the grand jury detailed 8 victims, but lawyers and sources close to the investigation now estimate that the number of Sandusky victims may reach more than 18. The Pennsylvania State police are in the process of vetting victims' stories.

Pictures: Who's who in the Penn State child sex abuse scandal

Pennsylvania's state child abuse hotline ChildLine reported 4,832 calls the week following Sandusky's arrest- more than double the average, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Advocates are not surprised that the recent scandal is encouraging people nationwide to seek support. The Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation's largest sexual violence organization, has experienced twice the demand for their online hotline compared to the same period last year. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has seen visit to its website increase 74 percent since the Penn State story broke, with particularly high traffic on pages that detail statues of limitations for sexual abuse cases.

"For victims of sexual abuse, one of the biggest issues they face is the fear that they are alone, and that no one will take their story seriously," says Katherine Hull, a spokesperson for RAINN. "In the Penn State case, we are seeing positive support for these victims....that it is taken seriously and investigated and will go through the criminal justice process."

The number of visitors to RAINN's online hotline that self-identify as male has remained constant, about 10% of total calls. Jim Hopper, a clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, says that men are less likely to report sexual abuse. "There are issues of masculinity, these men went to sports teams and other organizations as safe places to show that they were men, and then they were abused." Since the Penn State story broke, Hopper has had a significant increase in calls and emails from victims acknowledging past abuses for the first time. "Memories are coming back to them, things they hadn't thought about in 20 or 30 years. And some of them are taking action."

  • Sarah Fitzpatrick

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