WILKES-BARRE — He was only 8 years old when the sexual abuse began.
“My (relative) showed me what he wanted me to do. I couldn’t understand why he wanted me to do it, but I did it anyway. I made him happy. I remember him telling me not to tell anyone, and I don’t know why, but I felt dirty,” George Steltz told dozens of onlookers who attended a rally Wednesday in downtown Wilkes-Barre to support victims of sexual abuse and crime.
The Take Back the Night march and rally, organized by the Victims Resource Center in observance of Sexual Abuse Awareness Month and Victims’ Rights Week, followed a march around Public Square that ended on the lawn of Kirby Health Center on North Franklin Street.
Steltz, of Hanover Township, said his abuse continued — at the hands of his relative, then by boys in the neighborhood who also told him not to tell anyone, some of them threatening him if he did. “Grown men started using me, too,” he said. “I was a good target — quiet and submissive.”
In adulthood, the abuse plagued him. By 35, he lost his job, wife, children and house, started drinking and considered suicide, he said. Then a friend pointed him to the Victims Resource Center, where he learned a lot, but “most importantly, that it wasn’t my fault,” he said.
Now 47 and a math major at Luzerne County Community College, Steltz finally feels in control of his life. He urged those in the crowd, which included many King’s College and Wilkes University students, to “not be zebras. Let’s stand together, be vigilant and take back the night.”
Victims’ family members also spoke at the rally.
Donna Kanka, of Monroe Township, N.J., told how her granddaughter, Megan Kanka, was abducted, raped and murdered in 1994 at the hands of a twice-convicted sex offender who lived across the street with two other sex offenders. Neither neighborhood residents nor police knew of their background.
“If we knew, we would have (told) her not to go near those people (and) to be careful,” Kanka said.
A campaign started by Megan’s family spurred the New Jersey Legislature to pass Megan’s Law, which requires the registration of convicted sexual predators. Every other state followed suit.
Susan Hooper described how her brother, Robert Curley, died of thallium poisoning in 1991 at the hands of his wife, Joann Curley, who killed him for his life insurance. Joann Curley was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison.
Hooper and hundreds of others wrote to the state parole board every year after Joann Curley became eligible for parole, asking that it be denied — and it has been — but Hooper has long wished to address the parole board in person. “They need to feel the impact crime has had on victims and their families, not just read it on paper,” she said.
Hooper thanked state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, for sponsoring Senate Bill 508, which would permit a crime victim or a member of the victim’s family to testify to the parole board. The bill passed the Senate 50-0 and is in the House Judiciary Committee.
Citizens’ Voice reporter Mike Sisak described how difficult it was for victims to testify at former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s trial and reiterated why most of the victims didn’t report the abuse. Each one thought he was the only victim, said Sisak, who covered the trial last year.
Luzerne County Councilman Harry Haas said that becoming a father to his 1-month-old daughter changed his perspective. “Now I worry about her, and I worry about her potentially becoming a victim someday,” he said. “So I salute everybody who has come out tonight to not be a victim (and) also to protect those who can’t protect themselves.”