The Christmas season is here and I want to share a message of hope and peace with my hometown. I was raised in Fairfield, surrounded by family and friends with good schools, plenty of sports and activities and the advantages of a successful family. I excelled. My high school record garnered a spot at an elite college. I've enjoyed a successful career. I have a wonderful wife and four children. It's been a privileged, blessed, good life.

And yet I've harbored a secret. I was the victim of sexual abuse as an adolescent at the hands of a trusted family friend. It happened in my early teens over a period of years. The exact circumstances are unimportant. It happened. No one close to me knew or suspected anything. I kept it to myself for decades before sharing the memories with people close to me. In so doing, I discovered another had suffered the same fate. The betrayal of trust, the shame of the experience and the sadness over innocence lost and tragedy shared is still with me.

Seeing the revelations from Penn State, I am compelled to share my experience My situation is eerily similar to the testimony in the grand jury report. The access to boys, the perpetrator's community standing, the suspension of parental alarm as a result; all contribute to the predators' schemes. Once perpetrated, the shame and power locked the story away.

Both tales share the complicity of our institutions. Success, social position, club memberships, philanthropic interests can blur the reality of a person's true character. The evil can hide. And often, there's an unwritten code of silence that causes us to miss or dismiss the warning signs of aberrant behavior. In my case and that of Penn State, that code compounded the pain.

Sorting out the impact on me has been a complex pursuit. Now, these many years later, I'm looking for relief from this burden -- for myself, for my family, for others who may have yet to speak out and for all victims like me.

I wish for peace of mind in knowing that it wasn't our fault, that we couldn't have known what to do as children, but we are grown now and safe. I hope our loved ones, those we know and those who are aware, can understand our pain and our confusion.

I offer a prayer for my tormentor. He knows what he did. He may wall it off or drown out the noise, but he knows. I hope he can find a way to seek forgiveness from those he betrayed and those he abused.

Finally, I pray we all take a moment to reflect on what more each of us can do. There are times we glimpse human meanness or neglect or abuse. In this season of hope, let's recommit ourselves to shine a light in these dark corners and take action. At the same time, let us offer protection and support to the young and vulnerable around us, wherever they are. We owe it to them, our families, our communities -- and ourselves.

Douglas M. Ireland

Piedmont, Calif.