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Panel of Survivors Kicks Off Sexual Assault Conference

by on October 29, 2012 12:36 AM

Three survivors of sexual assault turned activists were panelists at the first even of Penn State's first Child Sexual Abuse Conference: Traumatic Impact, Prevention and Intervention on Sunday night in Eisenhower Auditorium. 

The panel, made up of Margaret Hoelzer, two-time Olympic swimmer, Rep. Louise Williams Bishop, who serves House Democratic Chair of the Children and Youth Committee in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Christopher Anderson, executive director of MaleSurvivor and Dr. Cindy Christian, a nationally recognized expert on child sexual abuse. 

Each panelist told their story of how they came to be survivors. While each path was different, they had something in common – the person who perpetrated abuse against them did it through deceit, gaining not only the victims' trust but that of the family and the community. They were able to compare it to the crimes of Jerry Sandusky and how he was seen as a 'pillar of the community,' while behind the scenes, was depriving boys of their childhood. 

A question-and-answer session filled the bulk of the panelists' time on Sunday night, as questions came in from the audience in Eisenhower Auditorium, via twitter and email. 

Though they each have a unique experience and are on a personal road to recovery, each panelist wanted to nix the stigma associated with sexual abuse. It is never the fault of the victim, they said, and an assailant has a 'grooming' process that with time, causes the victim to be too scared to talk come forward. 

Sexual abuse needs to be seen as a serious health issue, the panel said. Statistics show that 1 in 4 girls will be sexually victimized before she turns 18 and the rate for boys is 1 in 6 – though the numbers may be 'conservative.' 

Hoelzer, a spokeswoman for the National Children's Advocacy Center, said she was honored to have been asked to speak at Penn State, expressing the hope that telling her story will help other victims to come forward and seek out the help they need.

"It's a raw, open wound," Hoelzer said on Thursday. "But every day, you're one more day farther away from it. It's a process."

Even with the wounds abuse leaves and the long road to recovery, Hoelzer said abuse doesn't define the person.

"I'm an Olympian. [Abuse] doesn't have to that rules your life," she said. "Sexual abuse is horrible ... you can still recover."

On Monday, Sugar Ray Leonard will headline the first day of the conference at 11:15 a.m. at the Penn Stater Conference Center and Hotel. Penn State President Rodney Erickson will deliver opening remarks at 8:30 a.m.  

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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