When a story like the Jerry Sandusky child sexual-abuse case erupts in your own backyard, the barrage of sordid testimony day after day is almost too much, even for a hard-core reporter who has covered bad news for longer than I want to admit.
As a mother, I would rather stick pins in my eyes than read about the alleged rape of children.
"I can't take this," I told my husband as I cringed through the victims' horrific testimony as reported by my colleagues last week.
Hubby looked me dead in my pin-poked eyes and replied, "As a parent, you'd better read it."
He's right once again. Still, it's been hard to digest the graphic details of the abuse Sandusky allegedly inflicted on his 10 young accusers. Victim 5's account of Sandusky placing the boy's hand on the coach's erect penis. A Penn State janitor's description of seeing Sandusky "lick that boy's privates." Former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary hearing "slapping" noises against the shower stall — the sound of a child being raped.
As hard as it is to fathom, the only way we as parents can possibly find out whether our children may be victims of abuse is by reading between the lines of what they do tell us.
Then we question them about what they don't.
No, it won't be easy to hear. But we better ask.
Victim 9's mother, testifying Monday, sobbed on the witness stand, admitting that she should have asked about what she felt was wrong.
She was questioned about why she did not quiz her son after noticing that his underwear kept disappearing after he spent time with Sandusky.
"I didn't really want to hear what happened to him," the mom, a bar manager, tearfully told prosecutor Joseph McGettigan. "Not that I didn't want to hear, [but] I knew it would be really tough for him to tell me."
So in an effort to protect him, she stuck her head in the sand and allowed her son to continue to spend time with an alleged predator.
"Do you feel responsible?" the prosecutor asked her.
"Yes," she said, covering her face with her hands.
Oh, if turning off our troubles were as easy as turning off the TV, not reading the paper, avoiding the question.
Sadly, some folks don't have that luxury. Forget about hearing no evil. They have to live with their nightmarish memories every single day.
"Those young men up in Bellefonte who are telling their stories represent the next wave of change," says Rhett Hackett, a sexual-abuse survivor. "This is groundbreaking. If [Sandusky] is found guilty, you'll find an influx of people come forward because somebody has paved the way."
Hackett says he has been able to beat back his demons by speaking up. His 2010 appearance on The Oprah Show about men who were sexually abused as children freed him and gave him the coping mechanisms he needed to help other victims, he says.
Still, says the 43-year-old circulation sales manager for The Inquirer and Daily News, "whenever I see or hear anything [like the Sandusky trial], I automatically reflect back to when I was victimized. Everything that [allegedly] happened with those boys with Sandusky is the same thing that happened to me."
An elderly neighbor, who lived down the street from Hackett's family in the quiet Shore community of Lacey Township, victimized him for five years, starting when he was 12.
Hackett suffered in silence for years, until the Catholic Church's pedophile-priest scandal broke several years ago, triggering emotional turmoil so deep that he sought professional help.
The married father of two told his parents around that time.
Understandably, "they were devastated," Hackett said.
And even though it was hard to hear, he added, "they totally listened."
Which is what we all have an obligation to do.