Editor's note: Don Lemon anchors CNN Newsroom during weekend prime-time and serves as a correspondent across CNN's U.S. programming. He is the author of the memoir "Transparent."
By Don Lemon, CNN
(CNN) - I don’t remember exactly when it started for me.
It was before the first grade. I must have been 5 years old, maybe 4. My mother was divorced and worked during the day. My grandmother was my sitter. She watched over my sisters and me as much as she could, but even her watchful eye wasn’t enough to keep me out of the hands of my abuser.
He was an older teen: the son of one of my mom’s friends. He and two older teen boys, almost in their 20s, preyed on me and some of the younger boys in my neighborhood. The "incidents" - as I referred to in therapy for years - happened up until I was 12 or 13 years old. It was easier for me to call it the "incidents" then because calling it molestation was just too hard, even for me, a survivor of child sex abuse.
So, I imagine it’s difficult for people who haven’t dealt with abuse to confront it, face it, or, for that matter, know what to call it. But if the events at Penn State are to teach us anything, it should be that we can no longer turn away from something so ugly just because we struggle to define it or accept it exists.
So, let’s just call it for what it is: rape.
Rape is what former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky is accused of doing to at least one boy in a university shower. But because the victim is a boy, under Pennsylvania law, Sandusky is charged with deviant sexual behavior. If the victim had been a little girl, in fact, the law would call it rape.
The acts are the same. So what’s the difference? The difference, according to a friend and former FBI agent specializing in child sex crimes, who is also a survivor of child sex abuse, is that laws are just as antiquated as our feelings. Rape, he says, is typically defined as penile penetration of a female. The same behavior with a male victim is typically defined as sodomy or deviant sexual behavior. In prosecuting cases like Penn State, my friend says, just by definition, the laws unwittingly remove the sting from the accused wretched acts.
Sandusky would have been 59 at the time of the 2002 alleged shower rape. He’s a big guy, at least 200 lbs and more than 6 feet tall. He’s big and burly enough to have once played defense on the Penn State football team. The boy looked to be 10 years old, according to then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary, who says he witnessed the rape.
Pause for a second, please, and imagine what a 10-year old looks like. Ten-year-old boys are usually prepubescent, weigh around 85 pounds, are only about 5 feet tall and are usually in the fourth or fifth grade. The physical pain as a grown man forced himself on him was no doubt excruciating.
According to the grand jury report, McQueary “saw a naked boy, Victim 2, whose age he estimated to be 10 years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky. The graduate assistant was shocked but noticed that both Victim 2 and Sandusky saw him. The graduate assistant left immediately, distraught.”
Whether McQueary intervened and exactly what he told Penn State Coach Joe Paterno is up for debate. The truth will be revealed as the case unfolds. But by leaving, what he did do was abandon a 10-year old kid in the hands of an accused pedophile. By possibly not being clear in describing what he saw, he increased the likelihood the little boy and others like him would face the same fate again.
Now imagine, if you will, that 10 year old as a girl. Do you think any grown man would leave a 10-year-old girl with a grown, naked man in a shower? What if McQueary had said these words to Paterno: “I saw Jerry Sandusky raping a little girl.” Is there any doubt that getting such a report would have spurred Paterno and officials to take quicker and more aggressive action? Think about it. It is too difficult and disgusting to even conceive.
But as painful as it is for us, as far removed as we are, no matter how much we may want to put it out of our minds, no matter how much we want to turn away, we cannot and should not. Our inability to view and talk about male and female rape in the same way might have permitted a man to continue his alleged depraved behavior for decades. Rape is rape no matter the gender of the perpetrator or the victim. Pedophilia is wrong no matter the gender of the perpetrator or the victim
As a survivor of childhood sex abuse, please listen to me: We must stop turning a deaf ear to this issue. If you don’t open your ears and minds because of my plea, do it for the eight little boys whose manhood was shaped early on by, quite possibly, a monster.