WARNING: Triggers and mature content are discussed.
This is a blog about survivors, my preferred identification rather than the more commonly used word, victims. It's about predators and the abuse of children; not misconduct or inappropriateness.
Because the real stories I am about to reference were experienced by survivors of childhood sex abuse, including my own at five years of age.
It changes you.
Depending on the age of your abuse, which can go on for years and years, you may not be able to articulate what happened to you until you're older. You take on responsibility for things you can't control and try to protect others, since your predator promised "to kill your family if you said anything." You suffer in silence because your predator said "you'd get into a lot of trouble if anyone found out," "it would break up the family" or "it's our little secret." If you were outgoing and playful before the abuse, you may become withdrawn and unsocial for fear of saying (or remembering) too much. You skip the class where the younger sibling of your accuser sits next to you and your grades plummet or avoid school altogether because you can't stop your mind from thinking thoughts that you want so desperately to stop.
And everyday, for the rest of your life (even with great therapy) your experiences can still trigger shame, anger, anxiety, depression, PTSD, flashbacks, nightmares, suicidal thoughts, mistrust and disinterest in relationships, especially of the sexual nature. The stress effects your immune system and you come down with all kinds of illnesses like strep throats that wont go away, mononucleosis and diseases that aren't usually seen in children, like shingles. And you are exhausted from the energy it takes to pretend everything is alright when nothing is.
Your life is miserable as you sit at the opposite side of the sickness that gives the abuser so much pleasure.
And when you are able to get on with your life, triggers catch you when you're not expecting them. Triggers like #MeToo, Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein and now Jerry Harris bombard you. There they are, whenever you go on social media, watch the news or Entertainment Tonight. It's discussed on Good Morning America and CBS This Morning and you see a clip or a photo while you sit in a doctor's office with the television's sound turned down or you're in the middle of a wonderful date and for seemingly no reason, the memories hit you like a punch to the chest.
It's everywhere, so why not in cheer?
As reported in CheerMAD ten days ago, the entire All Star world was rocked on September 14, 2020 when USA TODAY reporters Marisa Kwiatkowski and Tricia L. Nadolny broke the story: USA TODAY Reports Jerry Harris under investigation for sexual misconduct of a minor. Several other stories have been published since that first article which was picked up by many national and international publications and news outlets. More stories are expected.
I've been monitoring the news and social media reaction within the cheer industry. At first there was public disbelief, victim-shaming and out-right denial of the abuse. For the most part, the comments were defending Harris because of his positive attitude and team building "Mat Talk" highlighted in January's Netflix docuseries CHEER.
"This can't be the Jerry I know," "He would never do this," "The kids are lying," "The mother only wants money," are direct quotes on social media of cheer folk.
According to USA TODAY reports, Harris remains in a Chicago jail in his home state of Illinois. As a result of the FBI's investigation, he has been charged with producing child pornography. According to reports in USA TODAY, federal court records reveal Harris admitted to agents that he solicited and received explicit messages on Snapchat from at least 10 to 15 individuals he knew were minors, had sex with a 15-year-old at a cheerleading competition in 2019 and paid a 17-year-old money in exchange for nude photos.
While the abuser might be someone you admire it still doesn't deflect from the fact that they are a predator, defined as a person or group that ruthlessly exploits others or an animal that naturally preys on others.
I know from my own experience and those of close friends and family members who have spoken to me about their abuse that the predatory behavior was premeditated and ongoing. Like an animal, waiting for the best moment to attack and take away someone's innocence or sanity.
Predators prey. Survivors pray.
So for the defenders of the predators, disbelievers and those who look the other way, I try to understand that you and others:
Haven't heard the whispers and sobs of the abused
Haven't been held through the night because you are too afraid to fall asleep, lest the nightmare comes again
Don't have to come up with excuses to miss gatherings where the abuser will be
Didn't accompany someone to hours and hours of therapy, for years and years
Never watched a blossoming girl whither as she entered a womanhood interrupted by the flashbacks
Looked into the eyes of a mother who knew she was delivering them to the devil because she needed a baby-sitter
Refused to sit next to grandpa at holiday dinners for fear they would be dessert.
Don't avoid the local store, church and even school lest you run into their predator or its family member.
Many, many thanks to USA TODAY and reporters Marisa Kwiatkowski and Tricia L. Nadolny for their professionalism and guts to take on the secrets of our beloved cheer industry. In the last ten days, many have asked me "is this the end of All Stars?" I'm an optimist at heart and reply "The crud will sink to the bottom and the cream will rise."
I believe it's time for the cream to rise.
Marisa Kwiatkowski''s Twitter account (@IndyMarisaK) invites you to share your story:
"We will be continuing to investigate misconduct in cheerleading, and you can help. If you are an athlete, parent, coach, gym owner or someone else with a connection to cheer, we want to hear your story: USA TODAY INVESTIGATION "
If you are a minor and a victim of ONLINE sexual harassment, abuse or sexploitation you should report it directly to the FBI 1-800-CALL-FBI and your local police. If you are a minor and a victim of sexual abuse contact your local authorities, start with calling 911.
Also, the FBI is asking the public to help identify other potential victims of Jerry Harris. The agency is seeking those who were under 18 and asked by Harris to produce or view sexually graphic videos or photos or engage in sexual conduct. FBI Seeks Potential Victims of Jerry Harris