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Jerry Sandusky's Sanctuary of Abuse

Matt Pressberg |
November 18, 2011 | 1:45 a.m. PST

Staff Columnist

I cannot get the shocking and appalling alleged child rape (sex abuse is not a strong enough term) scandal at Pennsylvania State University off my mind. 

Photo by marsmet551 (via Creative Commons)
Photo by marsmet551 (via Creative Commons)

It was sad to see Joe Paterno’s legendary career end this way, but his cowardly chain-of-command sidestepping and shirking of true leadership when confronted nine years ago with an eyewitness account of his former top assistant, Jerry Sandusky, allegedly sodomizing a child in the locker room is inexcusable, regardless of resume. It’s an unfortunate end, but not an undeserved one.

The eyewitness to the alleged child rape, assistant coach Mike McQueary, reported what he had seen to Paterno the next day. According to his testimony before the grand jury, Paterno relayed this message to his superiors, saying that Sandusky was “fondling” or “doing something of a sexual nature” in the locker room showers to a young boy.

Sandusky himself has admitted, in one of the more nauseating television interviews in recent memory, to “showering and horsing around” with young boys.

To me, nine years of nothing said means nine years of anything goes. Not only does the entire staff need to be purged until there are no ties to the rotted Paterno-Sandusky coaching tree, but that shower room should be stripped to its drywall and concrete. Its existence in an unchanged form from its days as an alleged rape dungeon is an insult to the victims.

The future of the Penn State football program has and will be debated ad nauseam by those much more familiar with the program than I am. I’d rather talk about Jerry Sandusky, and how he was able to use our modern American cultural biases to create and sustain his child sex sanctuary.

Sandusky met the boys he allegedly abused through his The Second Mile charity, which according to its website, serves “children who need additional support and who would benefit from positive human contact.”  These children, often without a strong male influence at home, are especially vulnerable to an outsider assuming a father or coach (which is basically a surrogate father) role, and inherently seek approval from such a figure. 

Imagine you are a young boy from a hardscrabble central Pennsylvania town without a dad at home and a mom working two jobs to pay the bills. You get involved with the locally ubiquitous Second Mile charity and begin to bond with Jerry Sandusky, a coaching legend and truly revered figure in the region. Sandusky is the first male that seems to really care about you, giving you advice and motivation and opening doors that you never thought you’d be able to walk through. You’ve been on the field and in the locker room where your heroes in blue and white go to battle every day, and were led there by a man second only in stature to Paterno.

The last thing you want to do is disappoint him and have the window of opportunity slammed shut, so when he gets a little touchy in the car, you feel deep down that something is wrong but he’s a kind and successful man so you maybe start to question yourself and trust him. When he insists on showering together after running through some drills at the park, again you think it’s weird but go along with it the same, because, after all, he’s Jerry Sandusky.

I won’t go further with that example, as just getting to that point was hard to type. Sandusky assumed a fatherly role to underfathered children and used the powers of that position in the worst kind of predatory way. Many of these kids were neglected by their primary teachers and allegedly abused by the substitute. There are no words for innocence twice lost.

It’s easy and comforting to point to Jerry Sandusky as one isolated monster of a man, but sadly, that would be intellectually dishonest.  Pedophilia is unfortunately quite commonplace; we even have a cottage industry based on a television show that lures pedophiles into traps with staged web chats, where they are confronted by a snarky and condescending host for the amusement of millions of viewers.

Their excuses are often the same as Sandusky’s: I just love to be around kids. I’m a big kid myself. I’m here to mentor them. I shouldn’t have come over without a parent home but I never intended to have sex with a child.

They never admit to being sexually attracted to young boys despite showing the obvious symptoms. 

Pedophilia cloaked in “mentoring” is as repugnant as hate and bigotry packaged in piety.

Modern evangelical Christians who blame the pedophilia of Sandusky et al on the “homosexual agenda” are misguided. Sodomy of young boys by powerful adult men has little to do with gay sex and a lot to do with the demonstration of hierarchical male power.

I don’t want to come across a paranoid scaremonger, but acting like pedophilia is the domain of isolated crazy people ignores its pervasiveness in human history. Instead of being willfully ignorant (for completely understandable reasons due to the horror of this crime), it’s better to be more vigilant in screening the type of older men who have an unusual affinity for children.

I’m not painting all older men who like kids with the pedophile brush; I just find it odd that parents seem to be much more worried about their children being fed poisoned Halloween candy or snatched by strangers than being touched by Coach, when it seems patently obvious that the latter occurs far more often. 

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, victims of child sexual abuse “frequently know and trust their abusers.”  Sandusky allegedly, through his work with his charity, acted almost as if he was following a grand strategy designed to get the maximum amount of vulnerable young boys in his geographical area to both know and trust him. Reliable statistics on child sex crimes are hard to come by, but Childhelp, citing a Howard N. Snyder study, tells us that 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims know their attacker.

Parents freak out about the reclusive old man across the street fantasizing about their daughters yet drop a child off at soccer practice without a second thought. Wouldn’t someone who wanted to be around young children for sinister reasons try to engage in youth activities and earn the trust of parents (and subsequently, their children) rather than sit home alone, shaking a balled up fist at the window? 

Most youth coaches are in it for the absolute right reasons and have a profound positive impact on the children they work with. They are often father figures in the finest sense of the word. I played a lot of different team sports when I was younger and had nothing but great experiences with my coaches. However, just because I was personally never bullied does not mean bullying is not a problem, just as the fact that I was never touched inappropriately by a coach does not mean that kind of abuse is not pervasive and likely underreported.

California requires a license to cut hair, but anyone can volunteer to coach children. Are we too trusting of the inherent nobility of that specific action to where we overlook those who might use it as camouflage for bad intentions?

It’s horrible enough to be an opportunistic pedophile, taking advantage of children you happen to come in contact over the course of your day-to-day life. It’s much worse to have a nefarious plot like Sandusky, using the cover of a charity to seek out especially vulnerable kids to admittedly shower and engage in “horseplay” with and allegedly abuse. Others have made the highly relevant coach-priest analogy; both revered figures in a distinct social hierarchy who used precisely this to facilitate their child abuse lifestyle. 

Sandusky’s perch on Penn State’s organizational tree enabled him to build a nest which became his sanctuary, a place where his misdeeds were compartmentalized and both he and the program were protected by his elevated status.

Americans are fond of asking the “why?” question for the most inane things. However, when an older man wants to work with children, for whatever reason, we don’t think to inquire about his motives. Maybe we should.

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