Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Repressed Memories Of Victim No. 7 In The Sandusky Case

Editor's Note: On May 11, 2017, Dustin Struble is scheduled to testify in a hearing before Judge John Foradora in a Bellefonte, PA, courthouse.  He is known as “Victim 7” in the Jerry Sandusky case.  

Investigator and science writer Mark Pendergrast is near completion of a book on the Sandusky case, The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment, which will be published late in 2017.  Because he thinks that some of the information he has unearthed is important to reveal now, he has allowed to publish excerpts from it. 

By Mark Pendergrast

Dustin Struble (eventually to be labeled “Victim Number 7”), born on October 10, 1984, was two years older than Zachary Konstas [the boy in the 1998 Sandusky shower incident].  The two had been friends since their Second Mile days.  The police contacted Struble in January of 2011, and after his second interview with police, he told them that he was entering psychotherapy on February 22, 2011.  Konstas would subsequently ask about Struble’s counseling experience during phone calls.  He wanted to know if he had “remembered anything more”, indicating that Struble was in the process of recovering memories during therapy.[1]  From the context, it is likely that Konstas was also trying to “remember” more during therapy sessions of his own.

Dustin Struble grew up with both parents and two sisters in Milesburg, Pennsylvania.  He was referred to the Second Mile program by a guidance counselor in 1995 and attended three Second Mile camps for three consecutive summers, beginning that year.  He said that he loved the experience, and he got to know Jerry Sandusky, occasionally spending the night at the Sandusky home.

In 2004, Struble wrote in his own handwriting on an application for a scholarship from Second Mile, “Jerry Sandusky, he has helped me understand so much about myself.  He is such a kind and caring gentleman, and I will never forget him.”  Struble attended Penn State football games and tailgating parties every year for fourteen years with the Sanduskys, until he was twenty-five.

On April 11, 2011, Struble testified at the Sandusky grand jury proceeding.  He said nothing about bear hugs, hair washing, or being dried off in the shower.  He said that Sandusky had put his hand on his waistband, but “I can say he never went the whole way down and grabbed anything.”[2] ·   He denied that Sandusky had kissed him and said that Sandusky had never touched his privates or fondled him at all over his clothes.  Indeed, Struble said that Sandusky had never had any physical contact with him at all in the shower.  When he did shower with Sandusky, also present were “other assistant coaches or players or there was a couple random people that were in there from time to time….they would just be passing through and say hi…”

After his grand jury testimony, Struble signed a contingency agreement with State College, PA, attorney Andrew Shubin, meaning that the lawyer would only be paid if Struble received compensation.  Lawyers in such cases typically receive from 33 to 40 percent of the total payment.[3]  Before the June 2012 trial, Struble met with Shubin from ten to fifteen times.  During his trial testimony, he claimed not to know the contents of the contingency agreement he had signed.

As late as January 2012, Struble apparently was still ambivalent about his feelings for Sandusky.  That month, when he ran into Todd Reed, a Sandusky protégé and supporter, he told Reed that he and his friend Zach Kontas were both “very shocked” by the allegations and that “Zach was crying on the phone [with Dustin Struble] because he was upset about Jerry Sandusky and this situation….Zach was upset because his mom was pushing Zach to accuse Jerry.”[4]

By the time of the trial, Struble had changed his story, asserting that Sandusky gave him bear hugs, washed his hair in the shower, and then dried him off.  He said that he had only disclosed these detailed to his attorneys and prosecutor Joe McGettigan a few months before the trial. Now he testified that Sandusky put his hand down his pants and touched his penis in the car, that Sandusky had grabbed him in the shower and pushed the front of his body up against the back of Dustin’s body, that Sandusky had touched his nipples and blown on his stomach.  Now he said that that he never saw anybody else in the shower area, implying that he and Sandusky were alone there. 

Defense attorney Joe Amendola challenged Struble, asking why he had changed his testimony so radically since the previous year.

Amendola:  But today now you recall that he put his hand down pants, Mr. Sandusky [did], and grabbed your penis? 

Struble:  Yes. That doorway that I had closed has since been reopening more.  More things have been coming back and things have changed since that grand jury testimony.  Through counseling and different things, I can remember a lot more detail that I had pushed aside than I did at that point.[5]

Struble went on to explain more about how his repressed memories had returned in therapy.  

“Through counseling and through talking about different events, through talking about things in my past, different things triggered different memories and [I] have had more things come back, and it’s changed a lot about what I can remember today and what I could remember before, because I had everything negative blocked out.  Now with the grand jury testimony was when I was just starting to open up that door, so to speak.”[6]

Further defending his changed testimony, Struble explained: “No, that testimony is what I had recalled at that time.  Through – again, through counseling, through talking about things, I have remembered a great deal more things that I blocked out.  And at that time, that was, yes, that’s what I thought but at this time that has changed.”[7]

During his testimony, Struble also revealed that he and Zachary Konstas had talked about how the repressed memory therapy was going.  “Zach would ask me sort of what happened to me almost -- I feel so that he could confide in me.  But he had asked me if I remembered anything more, if counseling was helping, just all kinds of random things.”[8]

When prosecutor McGettigan asked Struble why he hadn’t disclosed Sandusky’s abuse to the police during his first or second interrogation, Struble explained:  “I had sort of blocked out that part of my life.  Obviously, going to footballs games and those kind of things, I had chose sort of to keep out in the open, so to speak.  And then the more negative things, I had sort of pushed into the back of my mind, sort of like closing a door, closing—putting stuff in the attic and closing the door to it.  That’s what I feel like I did.”[9]

Dustin Struble was the only alleged Sandusky victim who agreed to speak to me on the record.  In October 2014, I spoke with him at length in his home in State College, Pennsylvania, with follow-up by email and phone, and he verified that he had recovered memories of abuse and that he thought the door to his abuse memories was still only part-way open.  He remained in therapy with Cindy McNab at The Highlands in State College.

“Actually both of my therapists have suggested that I have repressed memories, and that’s why we have been working on looking back on my life for triggers.  My therapist has suggested that I may still have more repressed memories that have yet to be revealed, and this could be a big cause of the depression that I still carry today.  We are still currently working on that.”[10] 

I tried to clarify how his memories came back, asking whether that happened during therapy sessions and whether his therapist used any form of trance work.  No, he said, “the memories come back instantly but fragmented, almost like a light bulb going off in your mind but with a sick feeling accompanying it.  Most of these triggers occur at random places/times and are utterly unexpected.  For me it feels like a giant puzzle that I seemingly stumble into key pieces.  However, I feel like there are a few more missing pieces that are needed to solve this particular puzzle.  When these events happen, I do discuss them with my therapist most of the time.”[11]

Late in 2013, Struble and four or five other alleged Sandusky victims met for weekly group therapy sessions over a three month period, which Struble found particularly validating and helpful in terms of triggering new memories.  “That helped me go back and confront memories from the past.  It had a big impact on me, hearing people echo what I couldn’t put into words.”[12]

I have to say that I liked Dustin Struble, who had just turned thirty, had bought a new house and car with the compensation money he had received from Penn State, and was planning to get married the following year.  Bored at home, he went back to working part-time as a cook at the Eat’nPark restaurant.  He considered himself an introvert and still struggled with depression.  He used to smoke a lot of marijuana but stopped after he was arrested for selling it, and then he lost most of his friends when the police coerced him into taking part in a sting operation.  “I take legal drugs now,” he said.  “I was on six but now just four -- Selexa is an anti-depressant, Xanax for anxiety, Aderal for ADHD, and Ambion to sleep at night.”[13]

It was very clear that Struble, a personable but troubled young man, now truly believed that Sandusky had abused him, based on his recovered memories.  I asked what he would have told me about Jerry Sandusky if I had asked him in 2010.  “I would have said I went to games with him and that we were friends.  At that point I was completely shut off to the negative aspects of it, wasn’t even aware of them really.”[14]

End of excerpt from The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment.  Below is an email Mark Pendergrast sent to Dustin Struble a year later, but he never responded to it:

July 2, 2015, email  Hi, Dustin – I am so glad that you are willing to read Victims of Memory and I mailed it to you today by priority mail.  I hope it gets there before you leave for your honeymoon.  In my cover letter, you’ll see I suggested that you start with Chapters 2 and 3, but I’m thinking that Chapter 1 is also very important because it explains how the repressed memory fad began in the 1980s and what the most important books supporting the idea of repressed memories were at that time, such as The Courage to Heal, so I suggest you start with it.  Here are some quick summary points for you to consider:

Sigmund Freud made this theory up (of repressed sexual abuse memories) in 1895, then changed his mind about it two years later, but the theory just won’t go away.  Most people still believe that humans can “repress” traumatic childhood memories and then “remember” them years later.
In fact, memory science tells us that people tend to remember traumatic events better than other events in their lives.  They may not remember them in perfect detail, but they do not completely forget abusive incidents that were perceived as traumatic at the time.

Repressed memory therapy became a fad in the USA around 1988-1998, but it was debunked by memory scientists, researchers, professional associations, and many court cases. 

But repressed memory therapy did not go away, it just went quietly underground.  Many therapists still believe in this theory and encourage clients to “remember” and believe in illusory abuse memories.  These therapists are not “bad” people.  They truly believe they are doing good.

People can come to believe in very detailed memories of sexual abuse even though the abuse never occurred.  Often therapists or their clients build on things that really did happen, such as a shower or wrestling around or a bedtime goodnight, and they get people to visualize additional things that did not happen during that shower, wrestling around, or saying goodnight, etc.

All memory is imperfect and subject to distortion, even without influential therapy.  We all tend to revise our memories to fit our current beliefs and emotions.  That could account for Mike McQueary’s changed memory of the shower scene, ten years after the fact, when he visualized seeing Jerry Sandusky behind a boy against the wall, when in fact that is not what he told Dr. Dranov or his father at the time of the incident.  At that time, he just said he heard slapping sounds that he interpreted as being sexual, then saw Jerry and a boy walking out of the shower.

I know that you remain convinced that seeing the mesh shorts and t-shirt triggered a real repressed abuse memory, as did seeing a man with lots of curly grey chest hair.  And this “explains” why you hated chest hair and shaved yours when you were in your late teens.

But consider that there is an alternative explanation that involves self-fulfilling expectations.  You were in a state of extreme emotional agitation and were convinced that Jerry must have abused you, and you had come to believe in the theory of repressed memories.  In such a state of heightened expectation, it is not surprising that were “triggered” by mesh clothing.  I don’t know why you shaved your chest hair, but this is the sort of “proof” that isn’t really proof, such as the woman I wrote about in Victims of Memory who didn’t like pickles and took that as evidence that she had been raped because pickles were like penises.

The bottom line is that it is unlikely that people can or do “repress” traumatic memories.  They remember them all too well.  They may not remember incidents in great detail, but they certainly do not consider someone to be a good friend and then discover, to their horror, that this person had sexually abused them for years without their conscious awareness.

There are many other well-researched books about the issue of repressed memories, such as Remembering Trauma, by Richard McNally, The Myth of Repressed Memory, by Elizabeth Loftus, Making Monsters, by Richard Ofshe, and Try to Remember, by Paul McHugh.  Also, Daniel Schacter has written some good books on memory in general, such as The Seven Sins of Memory:  How the Mind Remembers and Forgets.

Take care, Dustin, and good luck on your journey towards truth and healing.
--Mark Pendergrast

 For more information on Pendergrast and his books, see

Update: Victim No. 7's email to Mark Pendergrast become part of legal battle over whether Jerry Sandusky gets a new trial. Read the Centre Daily Times account here

Although the transcript of the Grand Jury testimony is not available to the public, defense attorney Joe Amendola had access to it, and these quotations from it emerged during his cross-examination of Dustin Struble during the trial.

[1] Trial Transcript, Day 3, p. 154.
[2] Trial Transcript, Day 3, p. 143.
[4] Lindsay lawfirm files, “Interview of Todd Reed,” May 4, 2012.
[5] Sandusky trial transcript, Day 3, p. 143.
[6] Trial Transcript, Day 3, p. 146.
[7] Trial Transcript, Day 3, p. 152.
[8] Trial Transcript, Day 3, p. 154.
[9] Trial Transcript, Day 3, p. 119.
[10] Dustin Struble interview; Struble email, Oct. 15, 2014.
[11] Struble email, Oct. 16, 2014.
[12] Struble interview.
[13] Struble interview.
[14] Dustin Struble interview.


  1. Interesting reading. Along with the lawyers who bring these claims seeking 'compensation' from organizations like Penn State or the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, there is another very interested contingent - the 'therapists' who are riding the gravy train to the very last stop.

  2. What I am not getting is that will all these victims and claimants, the Out Of Program Contact has never been addressed by the leadership of the Second Mile.

    Simply put - if there is no out of program contact - such as the sleepovers, the workouts, the shopping trips, etc - then these instances of abuse can't happen. Then there's no need to gyrate over the theory of repressed memory.

    What the hell was going on over at the Second Mile and why hasn't the leadership there ever explained why their oversight with clients was so shitty?

  3. Sandusky the most hated man in America?? What calculus arrives at that conclusion?( I thought it was Donald Trump). Micheal Jackson was far worse than JS. He built a ranch in Santa Barbara county for the expressed purpose of abusing children. Santa Barbara DA Tom Snedden called it a pedophiles dream. It cost him $33 million in 1995 to have the kids dissappear. For the next ten years, neither his family nor staff did anything to limit his access to 12-13 year old boys from disfunctional families. He was saved at his second pedophilia trial by Tom Consteneau, who pulled a coup fourre by casting Snedden and the disfunctional parents of the victim as people from the loony bin. Jackson's fans danced in the streets of Santa Maria, but Kharma came to haunt MJ and his drug use doubled, eventually leading to his death.

  4. While this column is interesting, the impact of the changes to Struble's testimony were nil. Sandusky was convicted for attempted indecent assault which was based on putting his hand inside Struble's waistband but NOT actually touching of the genitals.

    The additions to the testimony, especially additional details on showering, are a result of the prosecutor's intent to make the case about Penn State -- and deflect attention away from the failures of the state government in not arresting or stopping Sandusky sooner.

    In closing, Sandusky should be granted a new trial based on the chicanery of Frank Fina, Joseph McGettigan, and Judge John Cleland -- who all made sure that Penn State was convicted right along with Sandusky.


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