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The destructive power of denial in cases of child sex abuse

Posted in Sexual Abuse on Wednesday, November 12, 2014.

The Jerry Sandusky scandal has largely left the headlines (although his crimes have inspired more stringent laws in Pennsylvania for adults who want to work with children). The evidence against Sandusky was so plentiful and so strong that, once exposed, he was easily convicted. After the criminal trial concluded, many sexual abuse victims were able to obtain settlements in civil lawsuits.

Sadly, Sandusky has one outspoken supporter who refuses to be convinced of his guilt by any amount of evidence. That supporter is his wife, Dottie Sandusky. Earlier this month, she submitted an article to news agencies that was reluctantly published in the online version of The Patriot-News. In it, she critiques the documentary “Happy Valley” while trying to discredit her adopted son Matt and maintaining that her husband is completely innocent.

Her arguments do not need to be repeated or countered here. They are clearly flimsy and easily contradicted by the evidence presented in court. What her article demonstrates, however, is the frightening power of denial. As a woman who devoted her life and her love to Jerry Sandusky, Dottie Sandusky’s denial is an understandable self-defense mechanism. That being said, her denial must have become conscious and willful at some point. There is simply too much evidence for an honest person to remain skeptical.

When predatory child sex abusers are arrested and their crimes come to light, many wonder why they were not caught sooner. Surely, the argument goes, someone must have known what was happening.

Someone (or even many people) usually did know that something wasn’t right. That’s the power of denial. In some cases, it protects our minds from facing the devastating and traumatic truth. In other cases, it is used by individuals to absolve themselves from culpability for not intervening. But denial only works to a certain point. After that, it becomes willful self-delusion.

Dottie Sandusky’s comments are offensive and disrespectful to the potentially dozens of victims who were sexually abused by her husband. But her words also expose a difficult truth about those who commit such unspeakable crimes. They get away with it, at least initially, because those closest to them are also victims of manipulation.

Source:, “‘Jerry is not a pedophile and … he did not commit the horrible crimes’: Dottie Sandusky,” Nov. 3, 2014