Aaron Fisher is known to many people as Victim 1 in the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. But the 19-year-old is focusing on being a survivor, not a victim.
“I was inappropriately touched,” Fisher told children and their parents Sunday at the Dallas Child Advocacy Center. “And standing here now before you and telling you that is a lot easier than it was for me in the years past.”
Sandusky, 69, served as an assistant football coach at Pennsylvania State University for 30 years before his arrest in 2011. Police say he abused several young boys over a 15-year period, many of whom he met at his children’s charity. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison in 2012.
Fisher, the first victim to come forward publicly, was one of several who testified at Sandusky’s trial. He will be the keynote speaker at the 25th annual Crimes Against Children Conference, which begins Monday in Dallas.
Other speakers at the conference for law enforcement and child protection professionals will include emergency workers who responded to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
Fisher, his mother and his psychologist, who together wrote Silent No More: Victim 1’s Fight for Justice Against Jerry Sandusky, spoke Sunday at the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center. “A lot of our education has been to professionals, but we need to include the community and talk to parents and kids,” said Lynn Davis, the advocacy center’s president and CEO.
He said Fisher’s story is a powerful example of how speaking up can help begin the healing process.
One in four girls and one in six boys is sexually abused before they turn 18, according to the advocacy center.
“Only one in 10 of those kids will speak up, so if we can have someone like Aaron come and encourage one more kid to speak up, it helps,” Davis said.
Fisher’s mother, Dawn Daniels Hennessy, spoke largely to the parents in the audience.She said she had seen warning signs of abuse from her son as he began acting out, but she wasn’t sure. She said she had a gut feeling and began asking herself, “What if?”
“If you ask yourself, ‘What if?’ you need to be a detective for your child,” Hennesy said.
She encouraged parents to trust their instincts and research everyone involved with their children.
“Sandusky was a mentor for children, he ran a children’s organization, but does that make it safe?” she asked. “No, he wasn’t safe. So we need to teach our kids who is safe and who isn’t safe.”
Fisher addressed much of his speech to the children in the audience.
He said that even though he had an extremely open relationship with his mother, he could not bring himself to share with her the details of his abuse.
“The best thing you can do to protect yourself is tell somebody,” Fisher said. “In order for child abuse to stop, you tell somebody that you trust.”
Using his own experience as a guide, he urged children to stand up for themselves.
“When he put his hand on my leg, it creeped me out, but I didn’t think too much about it,” Fisher said. “But for the kids here I want you to think about it.”