Hansen: Jerry Sandusky's abuse made student a victim, then others kept him that way - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 2:11 pm
Hansen: Jerry Sandusky's abuse made student a victim, then others kept him that way

You would think the worst things that happened to Victim No. 1 happened when the man he calls “the monster” trapped him in the basement.

You would assume the severe panic attacks, the suicidal thoughts came solely from the famed football coach slipping into the darkened bedroom again and again.

You would think Victim No. 1's pain, his victimization, started and ended with the man who is now the country's most infamous pedophile.

And yes, that pedophile turned Aaron Fisher into Victim No. 1. But that is not where the story ends, Fisher, his mother and his psychologist told an Omaha audience Tuesday morning.

Jerry Sandusky created Victim No. 1. Then a whole host of others kept him that way.

“The way I was interviewed and treated as a victim, it just seems extremely wrong,” Fisher, now a college student, told a crowd of social workers, children's advocates and attorneys gathered for a conference on child abuse.

“I thought people would be behind us,” says Michael Gillum, Aaron Fisher's psychologist. “But people were fighting to the death for (Sandusky). That's what it felt like.”

What happened to Aaron Fisher after Sandusky assaulted him, and after Fisher tearfully revealed that assault, was the focus of Tuesday's keynote address. The 90-minute speech, during which Fisher, his mother and Gillum took turns at the microphone, described a nightmare scenario in which a victim of sexual abuse courageously comes forward — and then everyone rallies to the side of his abuser.

First, the administrators at Fisher's school advised his mother against going to the police. There's no way this is true, they suggested. There's no way that Jerry Sandusky would do something like this.

Then, the state trooper who normally handles sexual assault cases didn't show up to interview Fisher, as Gillum suggested. The unexplained delay stretched to days and then weeks.

Finally, two other state troopers showed up, the psychologist said. They were the regular trooper's superiors. They had little or no experience in how to respectfully interview a child accuser. They treated Fisher as if he were lying, said both Fisher and his psychologist.

The case made its way to the District Attorney's Office. The district attorney recused himself. The Pennsylvania State Attorney General's Office took over the case.

The attorney general was closely tied to Penn State, Gillum said. He was running for governor.

“Let's just say he was concerned about arresting a Penn State hero,” Gillum said.

It is important to remember that in the years before Jerry Sandusky become a public pariah, he was an apostle to a football god in and around State College, Pa. He had been a longtime defensive coordinator for legendary coach Joe Paterno. And following his retirement, he had continued to get wildly positive — and seemingly well-deserved — publicity for the charity that he founded and ran.

That nonprofit, named Second Mile, specialized in taking in low-income boys from single-parent homes. Boys like Fisher, who were lavished with attention, trips to parks, sleepovers at his house, football tickets. Boys like Fisher, who Sandusky started regularly fondling and then assaulting while Fisher was still in grade school.

“Jerry Sandusky wasn't a stranger,” said Fisher's mother, Dawn Hennessy. “He was in our house. He had dinner at our house. I played with his dog. We knew him.”

And so it's not hard to see why a school official, or a prosecuting attorney, would initially doubt the allegation that Sandusky was, in fact, a monster.

Except that the allegations started to pile up. Other accusers started to come forward.

A secret grand jury was convened. Fisher took a deep breath and testified to 35 strangers about repeated abuse that he had kept silent about for years.

Nothing happened. They brought back Fisher to testify again. Nothing happened.

They convened a second grand jury. Fisher testified a third time. Nothing happened.

Jerry Sandusky was still a free man.

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

Fisher, his mother and Gillum finally got a meeting with the Attorney General's Office. During that meeting, they told prosecutors that they were going to the news media if Sandusky wasn't arrested. That did the trick.

In November 2011, three years after Fisher first spoke of the abuse, the police finally arrested Sandusky.

This did not end Aaron Fisher's problems.

A coach at Fisher's school outed him as Victim No. 1 to other teachers and students, saying Fisher was telling lies about Sandusky and that's why Sandusky could no longer volunteer to help coach the football team. Victim No. 1 — a label meant to protect Fisher's anonymity — gradually began to be recognized in the school hallways. The reaction was not comforting.

Fisher was forced to transfer schools midway through his senior year. Message boards lit up with angry comments defending Sandusky and questioning his accusers.

The psychologist, Gillum, received death threats and became so fearful for his life that he started carrying a firearm for the first time.

Fisher, then 18, received death threats, too. He believed them.

“I thought somebody would try to make it so I couldn't testify.”

Instead, he steeled himself, took the stand, stared at Jerry Sandusky — who often stared back at him and smirked — and offered testimony that helped put Sandusky in jail for the rest of his life.

And on days like Tuesday, he steels himself again, goes to the podium in packed hotel ballrooms and tells crowds of 500 people, like the one that assembled in Omaha, that he no longer wants or needs the name meant to protect him.

He's tired of being Victim No. 1. He's tired of being a victim.

“You can call me Aaron,” he says.

Contact the writer: Matthew Hansen

matthew.hansen@owh.com    |   402-444-1064    |  

Matthew Hansen is a metro columnist who writes roughly three columns a week focusing on all things Omaha.

Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
A voice of experience: Ex-gang member helps lead fight against Omaha violence
Church is pressing its case for old Temple Israel site
OPPD board holding public forum, open house May 7
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Saturday forecast opens window for gardening; Easter egg hunts look iffy on Sunday
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
The thrill of the skill: Omaha hosts statewide contest for students of the trades
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
When judge asks, Nikko Jenkins says ‘I killed them’
New UNO center strengthens ties between campus, community
Threat found in Millard West bathroom deemed 'not credible'
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Nebrasks health officials to advertise jobs via drive-thru
Coral Walker named Omaha police officer of the year
Sarah Palin, Mike Lee coming to Nebraska for Ben Sasse rally
Prescription drug drop-off is April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
NB 30th Street lane closed
State Patrol, Omaha police conduct vehicle inspections
Bernie Kanger formally promoted to Omaha fire chief
< >
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »