“My” Sandusky

Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

“I sit on the sofa with my husband, watching news of Sandusky’s decades-long abuse of boys in his care and, at 60, am right back there in Dr. B’s bedroom, right back there in my helpless 13-year-old’s body. For me, and the late Dr. B, it is always the present tense. He may be long cold in his Chicago grave, and I may be a woman of a certain age who has not seen him in almost five decades but, when I remember him, us, it is always “now”; it is happening to me now.”—Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

Ruminant With A View

By Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

Sandusky in his element.
Sandusky in his element.

Elizabeth Boleman-HerringTEANECK New Jersey—(Weekly Hubris)—7/2/2012—Only once in my long career as an essayist have I written—and then only tangentially, while writing about Leslie Kenton’s systematic abuse by her father, jazz legend Stan Kenton—about my own harrowing experiences as the prepubescent victim of a pedophile.

And I’m a writer (who writes every day), the daughter of a psychoanalyst, a person who prides herself on being “hyper-conscious,” hyper-aware.

Realizing this longstanding fact of omission—can I truly call it a “sin” of omission?—has been a revelation for me, as not a day goes by now that I do not, in some way, recall my tormentor, my torment . . . and most acutely when the 24/7 news cycle trumpets the latest developments in the ongoing saga of Jerry Sandusky and his host of accusers; the burgeoning scandal of systematic pedophilia kept so long under wraps at such bastions of academic excellence as Manhattan’s Horace Mann School.

I sit on the sofa with my husband, watching news of Sandusky’s decades-long abuse of boys in his care and, at 60, am right back there in Dr. B’s bedroom, right back there in my helpless 13-year-old’s body. For me, and the late Dr. B, it is always the present tense. He may be long cold in his Chicago grave, and I may be a woman of a certain age who has not seen him in almost five decades but, when I remember him, us, it is always “now”; it is happening to me now.

Once violated, once traumatized, a young victim can never eradicate the probing fingers, and more, from within the most intimate folds of her or his flesh; her or his memory. The 60-year-old is, somehow, always 13, and the condition—mine—is now called PTSD, and I suffer from it as surely as does the returning, “shell-shocked” vet.

Dr. B and I are “married,” one flesh, till death do us part. He saw to that.

Dr. B was not always so much with me, however, at least not at the level of complete consciousness. Between the year the abuse occurred—over the course of the summer of 1964—and the year, almost 30 years later, when the toxic memories of those long-ago events finally burst back into my adult consciousness, with a rage as blue-white as a Bunsen burner’s flame, I had packed them away so deeply that they existed, for all intents and purposes, in a storage unit located outside my body; outside my mind.

I had stored those memories . . . where the sun don’t shine.

The fact of children’s burying memories of experiences too painful to address—gnawing off extremities, as it were, too infected to function—is now common knowledge and, in both traditional medicine (psychotherapy) and less “Western” approaches to repairing the psyche (“soul retrieval,” just one example) doctors and healers of all stripes now recognize and address the sealed-away traumas of childhood.

That we lop off parts of ourselves too shattered, too violated, too traumatized, and go on with “phantom limbs,” is now accepted. But that there are so many of us? That the institutions that “foster” such abuse continue to foster it in silence and tacit acceptance? That there is not an immense groundswell of public outrage at the fact that our children are still being systematically victimized by those who have power over them—older relatives, priests, teachers, professors, counselors, doctors? Well, what does this say about us, as a culture?

It says we are still not listening to our children; still not hearing them as they try to tell us there’s something wrong with Uncle Ed, something dark going on down at the church, something bad happening at school, something Dr. B shouldn’t be doing to us, but is. Over and over and over again.

There were 64 pupils in my 1968 high school graduating class. I am not on that list, as I had left, at 15, after junior year, to enter college. Against the prinicple’s advice, and with no diploma. I would receive my diploma from Francis W. Parker four years later, along with my B.A. with Honors and cum laude.

In 1967, my father, a professor at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, was relocating to Athens, Georgia, to teach at the graduate school there, and was unwilling to leave his daughter behind to finish out her high school career at one of America’s toniest prep schools.

It will always be a mystery to me just why he decided against leaving me behind at the home of trusted friends to finish out my senior year. But he made the right decision. The more distance I could put between myself and Chicago just then, the better.

The man who molested me, repeatedly, was not, I hasten to add, one of my teachers. Parker’s teachers, in my experience, kept the clearest of boundaries. Unless I am very much mistaken, in the years I attended that truly great private high school, we students walked safe and secure within its halls. Those who taught us were fully-functioning adults, as far as I know, well aware of the one-up/one-down nature of the teacher/student relationship.

But Parker’s faculty and parents—because the student body was so small—were often thrown together. There were many meetings, many gatherings, many celebrations. We students were in and out of one another’s homes, and I still recall with great fondness Tommy Nathan’s father, Lisa Holabird’s father, Jenny Schwab’s. They were “real” fathers: when I visited, it was always clear who were the adults—responsible and somewhat distant in their adulthood—and who were the kids.

Not so with the parents of one of my very closest friends, however. There were no “boundaries” in Dr. B’s world; his web. A physician and, I later learned, a back-street abortionist, he would readily use his authority—his one-upmanship—to violate, humiliate and utterly invade a child’s space, physical and psychological.

Looking back now, I feel he must, also, have violated the bodies and souls of his adopted children—one, my close friend. And how many other children at Parker? And what, precisely, did his wife know at the time? How could she not have known? Like Mrs. Sandusky, how could she not have known?

I have had no children of my own—to love and protect and nurture. But I know that, given my early experiences, I would not, like my own mother, have silenced any child of mine when she came to me trying, feebly, to explain what was going on in the bedroom of her best friend’s father.

I would have coaxed forth the stories . . . and taken swift, certain action. There would have been hell to pay.

Even now, knowing how cunning and calculating was Dr. B, and knowing there may still be other students at Parker who suffered at his hands, I have some hope that telling my story more fully here may free them to face their memories; force them to face what we all have so long been sweeping under the rug in America.

Supposedly, we all now coach our children “not to accept candy from strangers,” not to get into strangers’ cars, to scream and run if pursued or touched inappropriately.

But “strangers” are not the real problem. Strangers one can usually do something to avoid, flee, escape.

It is, instead, Uncle Ed, Cousin Jack, Msgr. William J. Lynn, Coach Sandusky, Doctor B.—the pedophiles we know, and trust, and entrust with our children’s bodies and futures—that we must keep closer watch over.

I tried so hard to tell my mother, the mother who, herself, had been molested as a prepubescent child in the rural south, by the owner of the candy store in Townville, SC, but she turned away from me, as though what I were saying made no sense; as though my words had been uttered in a foreign language.

Doctor B.? Kindly, old, arthritis-crippled Doctor B, who had just paid for me to spend an entire luxurious summer at his exquisite, palatial family ranch in Idaho?

No. That wasn’t possible. I must be confused. Let’s talk about something else.

Were there others, I will always wonder. Was I alone? How could I have been the only victim?

No, like Jerry Sandusky, Dr. B was very accomplished at isolating and pinning down—in the middle of nowhere—a victim who could not fight back, who would not fight back against a figure of authority and power, a medical doctor who obscured the nature of his abuse as “physical examinations.”

Perhaps the most damning thing he said to me—for a line of banter always accompanied his physical assaults—was that I was “defective,” somehow; that I would never, as a woman, be capable of orgasm.

It was the first time I had ever heard that word. From his evil lips. And the poison works still, half a century later.

Wake up, parents of children at tony, expensive prep schools. Parents with children on scholarship in elite athletic programs. Children still, in 2012, left alone with priests, doctors, teachers—any figures of authority who may well have gravitated to their professions, gravitated to children-in-need, children one-down from their one-up positions, for the sole purpose of abusing them. For, in the locker rooms of our great universities, and in the halls of our impossible-to-enter private schools—in the places where we stupidly believe such atrocities cannot happen, atrocities happen apace.

And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot right them once they occur: the damage is for life.

Elizabeth Boleman-Herring, Publishing-Editor of “Weekly Hubris,” considers herself an Outsider Artist (of Ink). The most recent of her 15-odd books is The Visitors’ Book (or Silva Rerum): An Erotic Fable, now available in a third edition on Kindle. Thirty years an academic, she has also worked steadily as a founding-editor of journals, magazines, and newspapers in her two homelands, Greece, and America. Three other hats Boleman-Herring has at times worn are those of a Traditional Usui Reiki Master, an Iyengar-Style Yoga teacher, a HuffPost columnist and, as “Bebe Herring,” a jazz lyricist for the likes of Thelonious Monk, Kenny Dorham, and Bill Evans. (Her online Greek travel guide is still accessible at, and her memoir, Greek Unorthodox: Bande a Part & A Farewell To Ikaros, is available through Boleman-Herring makes her home with the Rev. Robin White; jazz trumpeter Dean Pratt (leader of the eponymous Dean Pratt Big Band); Calliope; and Scout . . . in her beloved Up-Country South Carolina, the state James Louis Petigru opined was “too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.” (Author Photos by Robin White. Author Head Shot Augment: René Laanen.)


  • L. Kolb

    Many of us suffered abuse during the “silent era”.
    It will never go away-we can’t make it. We were young – we are damaged.
    You don’t get through life without being damaged .
    But, we can focus on putting it as far down in our subconscience as possible, and applaud those that speak and get retribution in some way,and are able, in their cases, to get some kind of relief. It won’t go away for them either.
    Life goes on, and there are good times to be had with those we love,that help to distract us from our subconscience demons. It’s not easy,but it’s not as hard as it seems, sometimes………..
    “Overcome” is a good mantra ,don’t you think :)

  • eboleman-herring

    Thank you for writing in, LK. We’re STILL living in “the silent era,” alas, and I believe lots and lots of sunlight is still necessary. That’s how the Greeks kill vermin: they put the sheets out in the blazing sun. :-) Just to show you we still have a ways to go, none of the major mags I write for would touch this piece due to its “Ick Factor.” We have to get past the Ick Factor if we’re going to keep our kids safe, and are kids are STILL not safe. Love, e

  • Danny M Reed

    They don’t consider it rape, molestation or sexual assault but my Divorce exhumed the feelings I had with several women 23 years older when I was a teenager. To be honest, at the time I was rather proud of myself, but the damage was like a time bomb because we did things I can’t repeat in a Family publication. It never really went away and now it feels like every detail happened yesterday. It’s sort of a smouldering Complex form of Posttraumatic Stress that went on for awhile.

  • Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

    Danny, in “A Farewell To Ikaros,” I wrote about the rape of a young man by a woman and man decades his senior: it took him 50 years to speak about it.

  • Danny M Reed

    My female psychiatrist at the time put it in my medical chart as multiple sexual assaults and nothing was addressed. There is a general perception that men are insatiable perpetrators and “lucky” when it happens to them because unripe men cannot be sexually assaulted by definition unless it is a man. We forget the vast majority of “Rape” is by someone the victim knows AND is NOT by use of force. Also, the term “made to penetrate” according to the Duluth Model is impossible. The Statistics show females are far more heavily represented as perpetrators of sexual assault in Juvenile and Adult Corrections according to the new definitions. I have the complete Federal Study findings on Yesterdays Tomorrow Today Web Log.

  • Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

    Dearest Danny, every comment you make enriches the discussion and moves it forward. Never fear, Dear Friend!