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A Prayer for the Sandusky Eight

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The news cycles have moved on, but have the Sandusky Eight? It is hard to imagine how they can recover from the kind of abuse they endured, what some would call the ultimate betrayal and wounding of the spirit. Can these men heal? I say yes.

History teaches us that humans have an incredible ability to overcome adversity and rebuild their lives after devastating tragedies. Resilience is this capacity to withstand the unimaginable and find a way forward. We know that some survivors of trauma find that resilience. Knowing we are not alone helps. For those who have experienced sexual abuse, full disclosure is one step among many on the long journey back to ourselves.

When I was in my 20s, I decided I had to reveal the secrets of my own childhood. It was time to tell a little piece of my history. I wasn't sure how much I would say -- if I would tell how my alcoholic stepfather used to watch me shower, if I would tell how he molested me in front of my older brother, if I would tell of other seemingly unspeakable experiences.

It was before dawn, still dark outside. I stood at the back of the church, tears flowing, and I asked for a confession from Father Bill, a young priest. As I confessed, many of my locked away secrets began to cascade, and he reached out, held my hands and said, "Hey, hey, hey. Hold on here. These are not your sins. This is not your shame." And the journey I had been on shifted in a dramatic way. I know, without question, this young priest saved my life. I count myself very fortunate. I am one of the very lucky ones.

There was little, if any, awareness or discussion of child sexual abuse when I was growing up. Like the Sandusky Eight and multiple other victims who may never choose to come forward, there was no early recognition or training available to teachers, law enforcement and other professionals who might have saved us. Those in my own life were simply oblivious. The Sandusky survivors have the added pain and anger to resolve that many adults were well aware of their experiences and shamefully looked the other way.

Fortunately, some child abuse survivors are now placed on a much earlier path to healing in a Children's Advocacy Center (CAC), a warm environment in which they can safely speak their truths, release their shame and begin to find their resilience -- while they are still children. In many communities, law enforcement, child protective services, district attorneys, medical professionals, interviewers and therapists work together in CACs to ensure that cases are carefully coordinated and that children receive what they need. Every day, expert therapists look children in the eyes and say, "This is not your fault."

I know in the depths of all that I am that healing is possible. I also know that many will not find their way. Many children will not recover and will turn into adults who cannot or will not find that resilience. They will turn to drugs, alcohol, future abusive relationships or suicide. They will have teenage pregnancies or fail to be employed to their full potential. They walk among us believing they are worthless, damaged, dirty and incapable of love, and those beliefs play out in their actions against themselves and others. Many will line the halls of our nation's prisons. Some simply cannot find their way. And more often than not, most children don't receive the services of a CAC because they are hiding in their shame, adults are oblivious to their pain, or professionals who should be more aware do not receive the training they need to properly prevent, investigate or prosecute these highly sensitive cases.

Even though some progress has been made, we are only reaching a small percentage of the children who need help. Most CACs are woefully underfunded. When times are tough, budgets suffer, leading to even fewer children served.

How many scandals will be enough? Isn't it time for all of us -- whether conservative or liberal or the many steps in between - to come together to do better for our children? Surely we can all agree that our children deserve better. They deserve to be cared for; they deserve to learn and grow; they deserve immediate, compassionate attention if they are molested and traumatized by people who are supposed to love and care for them. They deserve better.

I will admit that even though that young priest saved my life, I didn't quite "take" as a Catholic. I am decidedly Unitarian Universalist with what my husband calls "wifty" Buddhist tendencies. But whether I am in meditation or sending nice energy or praying into the Universe, I don't think it matters much. To me, it's just variations of language describing the same thing. My thoughts, my heart, my good wishes, my positive energy, my love, my compassion are with the Sandusky Eight and other brothers and sisters on the same path, and this is my prayer:

May you find peace; may you know that you are not alone in your journey.
May you find the help you need in order to process your shame and anger.
May you come to know that what happened to you is not "who you are."
These are not your sins. This is not your shame.
You are not your story.

Whoever hurt you did not reach the essence of who you are.
You are whole. You are complete.
You are not damaged.
You are not alone.
And whether or not you believe it right now, you can heal.
May it be so.

Ellen Magnis is chief of external affairs at the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center in Dallas, Texas, and an OpEd Project Public Voices fellow at Texas Woman's University.