Child Sexual Abuse: The Broader Picture
Heyl, Eric, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Judith Barr is a Connecticut psychotherapist and author of the book, "Power Abused, Power Healed." She spoke to the Trib about the continuing fallout from the Penn State child molestation scandal and its broader societal implications.
Q: From a psychotherapist's perspective, what lessons can be learned from the events that occurred at Penn State?
A: I think it's really important to pay attention to the fact that the institutional incidents of sexual abuse that we've seen -- the (Jerry) Sandusky incident, the private school in New York called Horace Mann, the incidents in the Catholic church -- mirror incidents of sexual abuse at the familial level. And (that) abuse can't be changed by laws; it has to be changed by healing.
Q: And how is that healing accomplished? Intensive therapy sessions?
A: In my experience with people who have been sexually abused, (I've found) people have to build their capacity to go back into it and through the pain of it so they are not having it inside them, haunting them, causing them to be terrified and freezing them from living full lives, from taking actions they need to protect themselves and fulfill the gifts that they have.
Q: In that regard, do you consider the witnesses in the Sandusky case particularly heroic because they had to publicly confront the circumstances of their molestations?
A: I think it was very courageous, especially since they didn't know how they were going to be responded to. One of the things with sexual abuse is that you don't know if the people who find out about it afterward are going to respond in loving ways, or in hardhearted ways, or in cool ways. So, yes, I think they were very courageous and I hope that for each of them, (testifying) did turn out to be part of their healing. …