“I knew it wasn’t right. There wasn’t anything I could do.”

Matthew Sandusky, who will speak at the Carl Perkins Center’s Dinner and Auction next Saturday night at Covington High School, said that to Oprah Winfrey on her prime time television show in 2014.

It was the first time he had talked to the media about the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State assistant football coach who was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse against boys.

Over the past several years, the dinner and auction’s entertainment has ranged from a dancing competition to lip syncing.

Nicole Caldwell, director of the center in Covington, saw Matthew Sandusky speak at the National Exchange Club Symposium last July in Reno, Nev. It moved her so much she booked him to speak.

“I thought, ‘What a wonderful way to bring him around to hear because he’s never been to Tennessee,’” said Caldwell, who got choked up recalling his story. “He sends such a great message and really explains how perpetrators work and how they start with the grooming process. He really spoke about how people pushed him back to his perpetrator, saying he was a really good guy. They didn’t really understand what goes on behind the scenes, the grooming and how they earn your trust.”

Matthew Sandusky first met Jerry Sandusky when he was a 7-year-old who attended a camp sponsored by The Second Mile, an organization set up by Jerry Sandusky to help troubled boys. Matthew said he suffered abuse from his biological family as well.

Sandusky started with putting his hand on Matthew’s knee and other inappropriate touching. Matthew, who was eventually adopted by Jerry when he was 18, moved in with the Sandusky family a few years after first attending the camp.

When he was tucked in at night, according to Matthew, Jerry forced the boy to perform oral sex on him and vice versa. The abuse continued into his high school years.

Matthew was one of many boys Jerry was convicted of sexually abusing. Eight victims testified during his trial and 32 came forward with similar stories. Matthew stuck by Jerry for years. In the middle of the trial he came forward with the truth and many believe that was a big reason Jerry was convicted and sentenced to 30-60 years.

Now 40, Matthew went through therapy for years after the trial. After he spoke with Winfrey, a speaking engagement opportunity presented itself and he eventually made a career out of it.

He’s been speaking for various child advocate groups around the country for four years. He and his wife formed Peaceful Hearts Foundation, which helps victims of child sexual abuse.

During a phone interview on Thursday, Matthew said while sexual abuse education is the primary goal, it also helps him work through his issues.

“It’s definitely part of the experience each time I get to speak,” he said. “It has been part of my healing process ... I took a risk and a shot at doing it. I got such amazing feedback, not only from organizations, but from other survivors themselves and how important it was to them to hear another voice. That really helped me grow into where I’m at today.”

Sandusky will tell a difficult story Saturday night. Ultimately, though, it’s about hope.

“I really talk around the issue of child sexual victimization and try to educate while also trying to deliver a message of hope to survivors.”

What: Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse Dinner and Auction

When: Saturday, April 27 at 6 p.m.

Where: Covington High School

Tickets: Call the Carl Perkins Center at 476-1515 to purchase tickets, which are $50 each. Sponsorships and tables are also available.

Jeff Ireland is The Leader's sports editor. To contact him, call 901-476-7116 or email jireland@covingtonleader.com.​

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