What if it wasn’t rape?
Amidst all the horrific stories in the grand jury report about retired Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged sexual assaults on boys he met through his Second Mile charity is the somewhat less sensational story of “Victim 6.”
This boy was 11 years old in 1998 when Sandusky picked him up at his home, rubbed his thigh en route to Penn State, briefly worked out with him (but not hard enough for the boy to break a sweat), and then insisted they shower together.
“While in the shower, Sandusky approached the boy, grabbed him around the waist and said, ‘I’m going to squeeze your guts out.’ Sandusky lathered up the boy, soaping his back because, he said, the boy would not be able to reach it. Sandusky bear-hugged the boy from behind, holding the boy’s back against his chest. Then he picked him up and put him under the showerhead to rinse soap out of his hair,” the report says.
What if it was your child?
The boy testified that the incident felt “very awkward.” When he went home with wet hair, his mother questioned him about it, reported what happened to Penn State police, and later confronted Sandusky with a university police officer listening in the next room. Sandusky confessed to the disturbing and suspicious behavior, but there was no arrest.
I pull this story out from the more vile ones in the report because it illustrates what kind of behavior and outcomes most mandatory reporters face, and because it’s important to highlight the fact that it mattered a whole lot that one mother stood up to Sandusky and Penn State, thereby establishing an initial record of an alleged sexual predator’s deviant behavior.
What if it was your best friend?
At The Washington Post, columnist Sally Jenkins provocatively asks readers to forgive Sandusky’s boss, coaching legend Joe Paterno, for not reporting his assistant to police, because, she reasons, Paterno’s friendship with Sandusky blinded him. A friendship that close probably would have blinded you too, she implies.
As former FBI agent and pedophile profiler Ken Lanning tells her: “A hallmark of ‘acquaintance molesters’ is that they tend to be deeply trusted and even beloved. They are not strangers, but ‘one of us.’ They are expert at seducing children and are almost as expert at seducing adults, including parents, into believing in them.”
I’ve seen this happen. That it does isn’t an excuse for Paterno or anyone else who fails to act; it may just explain their initial self-deception. (Men’s Health editor Bill Philips suggests some other possible explanations here.)
What if it was your institution?
Amidst a bevy of posts on this story, American Conservative blogger Rod Dreher said the situation “causes us to reflect on the meaning of loyalty, and the meaning of courage.”
“Loyalty is only a virtue depending on the object of one’s loyalty. A mafioso is loyal, but his is a criminal loyalty,” he says. “The difficulty comes when one is asked to be loyal to a worthy cause or institution that is perpetuating or harboring evil.”
What if it was your culture?
Then Dreher turns the inquisitor’s lamp on himself and compares the Penn State situation to 1950s Jim Crow racism in the Deep South, where he grew up.
“I am seeing every day black people discriminated against, by law. Do I stand up against it? I am sorry to say that I am virtually certain that I would not. To have done so would have required going against … well, everybody in my own community.” But then Dreher imagines how he might’ve reacted had he witnessed a white man raping a black boy. “I think it almost certain that … I would have intervened, even violently,” he says, before confessing candidly: “But unless I was confronted directly with something that heinous, I probably would have euphemized and abstracted the evil away, because I couldn’t have faced my own moral responsibility.”
What if it wasn’t so blatant?
It’s easy to condemn a large, muscular man who doesn’t rip a rapist off a child, and other self-serving bystanders who fail to act. It’s much less clear what to do when the man’s behavior, like Sandusky’s thwarted attempt at “grooming” Victim 6, is wrapped in a fuzzy blanket of ambiguity, friendship, and good deeds.
What would you do?
Ask yourself: Would I have reported that?
As a Penn State alum, I had to stop reading the news reports. The details were so graphic, I felt like I needed to protect myself from the images they evoked. Also, it’s hard to listen to the armchair indictments as though there aren’t real, flawed human beings involved in the story. I asked similar questions in my piece about knowing when to speak up. Thank you for this.
“When he went home with wet hair, his mother questioned him about it, reported what happened to Penn State police, and later confronted Sandusky with a university police officer listening in the next room. Sandusky confessed to the disturbing and suspicious behavior, but there was no arrest.”
I wonder why there was no arrest? Maybe Sandusky lied and convinced them that although it looked suspicious, there was no harm meant. If that was the case, then he was left free to continue his activities. It should however have raised the radar enough that someone should have been monitoring him. I mean, even Michael Jackson was tried for his questionable activity with children.
Pat, Someone asked that question on my Facebook page when I posted the article. My guess is that either the university police didn’t inform local authorities or there wasn’t enough to charge him. Indecent exposure was suggested as a possible charge, but I wonder if a local prosecutor would be willing to charge a decorated coach who runs a charity and has no prior history on record for showering with one of his charges. I tend to think not.
“I wonder if a local prosecutor would be willing to charge a decorated coach who runs a charity and has no prior history on record for showering with one of his charges. I tend to think not.”
And THAT’S the problem. We’ve got to start taking risks. I would hate to falsely accuse someone, but at some point the potential of real victims has to rise to the level of importance.