Herman Quoted in USA Today

Herman Quoted in USA Today

Penn State case brings other victims forward

By Marisol Bello, USA TODAY

The Penn State scandal is encouraging victims of child sexual abuse to come forward and share experiences they’ve kept hidden for years, lawyers and advocates for victims say.

By Matt Rourke,, AP

In support of the victims: People hold a candlelight vigil last Friday in front of the Old Main building on the Penn State campus in State College, Pa.

“It’s a collective empowerment for victims,” says Jeff Herman, a Miami attorney who specializes in sexual abuse cases. “Many feel isolated and alone. Then they see all this press and all of a sudden, they see victims standing up and taking on institutions.”

He says he has received three to five calls a day from sex abuse survivors since Nov. 5, when Penn State’s assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with 40 counts of abusing eight boys over 15 years.

The case has led to the firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno, perjury charges against two high-level university officials accused of covering up the allegations, and the ouster of the university’s president.

Sandusky has denied the allegations through his attorney and in an interview Monday with NBC.

That interview made victims angrier, Herman says.

“When Sandusky denied the abuse, it’s almost like victims can’t stay silent,” he says. “Victims know what happened to them, and they feel like they owe it to other victims to come forward.”

Irwin Zalkin, another attorney who specializes in child sex abuse cases, says his office has seen a spike in phone calls — four to six a day versus the usual two a week.

“It’s emotional,” he says. “It strikes a nerve. It’s difficult for the uninitiated to understand how difficult it is for victims to come forward. They have to muster the courage.”

He says victims feel embarrassed, guilty or ashamed.

The lawyers say they have been receiving calls mostly from adults who were abused as children by Catholic priests, Boy Scout leaders and foster home officials. They want to know what recourse is available to them.

Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul attorney who has represented clergy-abuse victims, told The Associated Press that he has been retained by several people he described as Sandusky victims.

“There’s a great deal of fury and confusion,” particularly because Sandusky is free on bail, Anderson said. “Getting (them) help and cooperating with law enforcement is our first priority.”

The “time for reckoning,” in the form of civil suits, will come later, he said.

Anderson declined to say whether his clients are among the eight boys in the grand jury report.

Organizations that provide services to victims of sexual abuse say they expect hotlines to see an increase in people seeking help.

“When stories like this break, people don’t call immediately,” says Karmen Carter, executive director of Denver’s Rape Assistance and Awareness Program, which runs a 24-hour rape crisis hotline. “They need time to think about it.”

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network has seen a 50% increase in the number of people turning to its online hotline for help and advice, says hotline director Jennifer Marsh. The group started a social media campaign after the Penn State story broke. About 1,000 people made contact online in the first two weeks of November, twice as many as in that period last year.

Yesenia Romo, director of sexual violence and support services for YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, says her agency hasn’t yet seen a big increase in people calling its hotline, which averages about 77 calls a week.

Still, Romo says counselors are preparing for an influx.

“Sometimes when a person feels helpless, seeking help does not seem possible,” she says. “But all the media attention is triggering reactions.”

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