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SUNDAY UPDATE: Family heals wounds
over molesting case, reaches out to others
BYLINE: By Margaret L. Knox Staff Writer
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta
Journal and Constitution
|SAVANNAH - Life was hard
the year Larry and Betty Martin pressed charges against a minister of their church for
sexually molesting their two sons. |
The wounds of the trauma
itself were fresh and raw, the legal and psychiatric expenses were
gutting their bank accounts and the cold shoulder from many former
friends in Clayton County was almost unbearable.
Jerry Sidell, the 26-year-old youth minister of the First Christian
Church of Jonesboro, was convicted in the fall of 1983 after
authorities said he confessed to molesting nine children, the
Martins were confident the schism in their community would heal.
"I like my house. I like my neighbors. I don't want to be
pushed out by anyone," Martin said at the time.
work out that way. While the minister is serving a 10-year
prison sentence, the Martins have entered a kind of exile from their
home of seven years.
They moved to a small duplex in
Savannah last January, Martin said, because they "couldn't take the
pressure." A rash of vandalism at their four-bedroom Jonesboro
house, which had never before been disturbed, didn't help, he said.
"But we're not bitter," said Martin. Today, as founders of
the Georgia state chapter of Society's League Against Molestation, the Martins consider
that year a crucial part of their education. "When we reflect, some
of the anger of those times comes through," he said. "But it's
directed more now at how slowly it goes to make things better."
They are thinking as much these days about pending
legislation, speaking engagements and other families' crises as they
are about their own private horrors.
"In every mess there is
a message," Mrs. Martin said. Through reading, course work and
family therapy, she has become an expert of sorts on the myriad
ramifications of sexual molestation.
hates a child molester until they know one," she said. "Usually,
it's someone close, someone they love."
So it was with
Sidell, who had helped many teens associated with the 400-member
church through crises, Mrs. Martin said. "But that doesn't change
what he did to those nine children."
The Martin children
have coped with that period in different ways, she said. Their
youngest son, now 14, and living with his natural mother in Atlanta,
prefers to forget, for now. Their daughter, now 18, who was not
molested but suffered with the rest of the family, chose to finish
her senior year in Jonesboro.
The Martin's other son, Chad,
who was molested for two years beginning at age 12, speaks on SLAM's
behalf to college classes, mental health agencies and church groups.
He said he is amazed at the number of teens who seek him out after
such talks to confide similar experiences.
"I'll think about
what happened to me for the rest of my life," said Chad, now 16, who
was molested during overnight outings and while touring the
Southeast with the church youth choir. "But I've come through it
stronger. I can help others."
Guilt and despair drove him
three times to attempt suicide before the minister's rape of his younger brother led him to
confide in his father and break the cycle, he said.
Afterward, there were frightening appearances before three
grand juries, he said. "Everyone asked, if I didn't enjoy it, why
did I let it happen?"
Chad had stopped growing physically
during the two years he was molested, his parents said. In the two
years since then, he has grown 13 inches, to a lean 5 feet 6 inches
tall. He earns good grades again, in advanced placement courses, and
is president of the Jenkins High School debating team.
going to be a lawyer, maybe a prosecuting attorney or a Supreme
Court justice or congressman," he said, smiling.
have written to some of their former friends at the Jonesboro
church, asking forgiveness if feelings were hurt, and trying to
clear up what they say is a misperception that they sued the church.
They say they only sued Sidell, in a case which the jury decided in
their favor but which was later overturned.
They also have
written to Sidell at the Dodge County Correctional Institute, they
said, explaining why they pressed charges.
"is like alcoholism, an incurable disorder which (the molester) has
to fight every day," said Mrs. Sidell, who is pressing for better
rehabilitation programs for child molesters. The Martins also want
special training for officials who deal with victims.
the public, Martin said, "The only real key to stopping this kind of
c rime is through education."