Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sandusky is a monster, but the media focus is right where it should be: On the enablers

(phtoto @ usatoday)

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
                                                                                                                           -Edmond Burke

If you somehow have not heard about the Penn State child sex abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, then you are currently still living in a world that is much brighter and optimistic.  For the rest of us stuck in reality, the events that have come to light over the past week have made us feel heartbroken, disgusted, and unable to properly digest food for extended periods of time after press releases.

Since this is primarily a humor blog (and I tend to poke fun at everything I write about whether it's intentional or not), I was a very hesitant to write anything about this situation.  However, after reading The Onion's hilarious yet scathing article on the matter, I figured that I should at least try and express how I feel about this situation.  My opinion may not be a very conventional or popular one with some people, but as a teacher and someone that works with a lot of young people, I hope that you will hear me out.

You may then resume screaming at me through your monitor.

Let's start by noting that the grand jury report in this case is one of the most disgusting things any of us will ever read.  I'm not going to link it here, but it's easy enough to find.  If even a fraction of what is in there is true, Sandusky deserves to rot in jail for the rest of his life.

That's the easy part.  It's easy to say that sexually abusing children is an awful and terrible thing (though some people still have trouble agreeing with this sentiment).  Sandusky is a monster, plain and simple.  Unfortunately, he is not the first, and he won't be the last.  Whether you believe that sociopaths (those that lack a sense of morality and or social conscience) are born evil, or a product of their environment, they will always exist.  Many of them will also have no qualms about hurting others and very convincingly lying about it to cover themselves.

What makes the Sandusky case really stand out is how much he was enabled by others that were NOT sociopaths.  It is these people, the enablers, that can hear a message and take something to heart through all this.  While a sociopath will simply try to cover his or her tracks more carefully, those that would enable their behaviors can be swayed by reason and the possibility of shame and guilt.

Let's take a look at some of the Penn State timeline to see how Sandusky got away with this behavior and how it could have and should have been stopped:

1998:  A boy tells his mother and his high school's administration that Sandusky took a shower with him and touched him inappropriately.  Sandusky admits this to the mother while investigators eavesdrop on the conversation.  After initially refusing to not shower with the boy again, Sandusky later relents and tells the mother he will not do so anymore.

Okay, let's stop the tape right here.  An old man is showering with a young boy, admits to touching him inappropriately, and then refuses to not shower with the child when the mother asks him not to....all done while POLICE WERE LISTENING.

       A lot of these should have been raised at this point.

Instead, no charges were filed and Sandusky continued to work for his youth outreach organization, The Second Mile.  Also, Sandusky abruptly resigned as defensive coordinator at Penn State and never coaches again.  It seems odd that a highly regarded, top level assistant coach in the prime of his career would suddenly retire after an incident like this, doesn't it?

2000:  A janitor saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the Penn State locker room shower.  He reports it to his supervisor and the rest of the staff, but no official report is ever filed.  In the meantime, Sandusky goes on to write his autobiography about how much good he had done in this world.  The unfortunate title:  "Touched:  The Jerry Sandusky Story."

No thank you, Amazon, I would rather not.

2002:  Graduate assistant (now assistant coach) Mike McQueary observed Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the Penn State locker room shower.  He reports the incident to head coach Joe Paterno, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz.  The police were never contacted and an ID of the victim was never attempted .

Pictured:  VP of Finance and Business, Gary Schultz
Not Pictured:  The proper authorities

I should also point out that Sandusky had kept some sort of weird emeritus position with the school.  It provided him with an office and full access to Penn State facilities...AFTER his abrupt retirement from football.

Even if the allegations of sexual abuse were not true, Sandusky had definitely not retired from inappropriate contact and showering with young boys.  What was Penn State's response to this besides not filing a police report?  

They told him he could not longer bring boys from his Second Mile program on campus...because nobody wants child sexual abuse going on in their building.  I guess they figured it was best for that type of thing to happen off campus.  Sandusky was still often seen on campus (even as late as last month), so I guess that was good enough for school officials.  Never mind that his Second Mile program (which was off campus) gave him plenty of access to many vulnerable children.

  WE ARE...also a dry campus.
Alcohol and child molestation is strictly prohibited in the dorms.

If you find any of this completely shocking and out of the ordinary, it is not.  People who are evil/sick enough to do these types of things depend upon others to look the other way and/or not believe what is happening.  Here are a few other examples:

-Traci Tapp was a high school gym teacher that systematically destroyed a student's life through sexual and emotional abuse.  This was despite many students and (allegedly) other faculty and administration at the school knowing about the situation.

-Timur Dykes was a Boy Scout leader and child molester.  He was allowed to stay on as a scout leader in 1983 after admitting to a superior that he had molested children in his care.  He continued to use his position to find new victims.

-Gary C Lindsey was an elementary school teacher.  When accused of sexual misconduct with a 5th grader at his first job, blamed it on a "lust of the flush."  He was then allowed to simply change school districts, where more allegation of sexual misconduct followed him for 40 years.

-John Wayne Gacey was suspected and even convicted of sexual abuse towards minors.  He continued to reestablish himself as an admired and respected man in different communities until multiple murder victims were found buried under his house.

-The Catholic Church has had multiple cases of sexual abuse in which the perpetrators were simply reassigned to a different location after their sexual abuse of children was discovered.

-Louis "Skip" Reville was a well known coach and Christian youth leader right here in my community.  He recently was arrested for multiple accounts of child sexual abuse.  When a camper under Reville's care at The Citadel made a report about his sexual misconduct in 2007, police were not contacted.

Quick footnote:  Reville helped referee a faculty vs. student dodge ball game at my school a couple of years ago.  He yelled at someone in my department (who is a mother of two and one of our best teachers) because he thought she was cheating.


In all of these cases (and most likely many more), people had to remain silent and/or complicit for the monster to continue hunting and hurting new victims.  This is where the fight has to happen.  Children have to realize that when they come to us as adults for protection, we will not fail them.

This is not to say that Joe Paterno or Mike McQueary are now officially terrible people.  Paterno has done a lot of good for the people around him.  A lifetime of good work and changed lives is not completely erased by one mistake, but he is definitely paying the (rightfully deserved) price.  

As far as McQueary goes, it is very easy for everyone (myself included) to wonder why he didn't go and beat the crap out of Sandusky when he saw him hurting that child; or at least go straight to police.  Keep in mind, however, that this is a man who witnessed someone that he held in the highest regard as a mentor and as a person doing one of the most disgusting and vile acts imaginable.  

Maybe his brain couldn't process it.  Maybe no one involved in the scandal could process any of it.  But if there is one good thing to take away from this horrible chain of events, it is that those who would stay quiet now have the fear of shame, ridicule, and guilt.  While the monsters among us may not care about any of those factors, the rest of us do.  The rest of us have always been charged with a universal and basic requirement to do what is right and not bring harm to children.  Now there is anther safety net for those children's protection:  It is the possibility of shame for those that would think to not meet their responsibility.

If that doesn't work, we'll pin one of these to your forehead.