I’m not big on trigger warnings, since I think it’s hard to anticipate what readers might find triggering to read. But I want to say, up front, that reading the materials I’m about to discuss in this post, I literally felt dizzy and nauseous. So, yes, this is some shitty, shitty stuff I’m about to discuss.
I read the Sandusky grand jury indictment yesterday (pdf). And let me just say that almost anything you read about the indictment is mild compared to what’s in the indictment. It is literally page after page of “This kid was groomed and molested and sometimes anally raped and these people were made aware something hinky was going on and… next page… this kid was groomed and molested and these people were made aware something hinky was going on and…” repeated over and over until it ends with “victim 8’s identity is unknown.”
But, when you read the indictment, you don’t seem to be reading the behavior of a man who’s just trying out these things. His grooming techniques come across as very, very well-practiced, which means, basically, that there are more victims.
Sandusky sounds like a monster. But the thing that haunts me is just how many people knew something hinky was going on and did nothing. Only two people at Penn State–a grad student and a janitor who witnessed disgusting acts of molestation and rape–reported it to who they thought were the proper higher-ups. Some mothers seemed to suspect something wasn’t right and complained, but they also had very little power compared to Sandusky.
Everyone in a position to be believed with enough power to make an investigation happen seems to just repeatedly stare the truth in the face and be like “Um, just maybe don’t do that here.” He brings young boys he’s not related to everywhere with him, even to hotels before big home games. He’s constantly lavishing gifts on them, having their school administrators pull them out of class so that he can talk to them, being found “wrestling” with them, traveling with them out of state, etc. etc. etc.
And none of his peers seem to say “Hmm, that’s really weird bordering on not right. I wonder if those boys are okay?”
I mean, good fucking god, the grad student tells them a kid got raped in their locker room shower and they make NO effort to find out who the kid is.
It’s no wonder Sandusky was bringing kids onto Penn State’ campus and to Penn State’s games. His colleagues were constantly clearing the way for him to continue molesting children without getting caught.
To me, this is illustrative of the problems with combating the sexual abuse of children. I think it’s obvious that he picked victims whose accessibility was evidence of his nobility. Much like priests who molest young boys, he used his role as benevolent figure in the community to get near his intended victims. When people saw him with a bunch of boys he wasn’t related to, lavishing them with gifts, spending extra time with them, well, he was providing them with a father figure, wasn’t he? People are reluctant to accuse someone who’s doing so much good with doing something wrong. And when the difference in social status is so great, it’s easy to dismiss claims as being those kids just trying to get something from him.
Couple that with him having such a high status in the Penn State community, people with almost no status did report but didn’t have enough clout to make their reporting carry weight. People with enough status that their reporting would carry weight did not want to rock the boat. And so they downplayed what was going on. Made it seem to themselves that it wasn’t that bad.
I mean, my god, even his wife must have suspected something odd, since he had kids over to spend the night, put them in the basement, and then, at about bedtime, went down in the basement and spend considerable time down there. And if he had to spend the night before home games at a hotel instead of at home in order to focus on the game, fine. But if the idea is to focus on the game, why was he unable to do that with her company but able to do that in the company of children? I love my nephews, but I have to tell you, the times between age 8 and 14 seems to be nothing but them being hugely distracting. That set off no bullshit meter? And fine, fine, fine, I’m even willing to believe that you, in love person, were completely blind to the not-cool-ness of your husband. But when he’s arrested? You don’t try to get in touch with a victim before he testifies to the grand jury. Not if you’re not also hugely culpable.
So, here’s the thing–if people with enough clout to be believed and to make sure an investigation gets going and stays going can look straight at a guy like Sandusky, see him with his victims, catch him touching them inappropriately, be told that a subordinate has seen him raping a kid, hear complaints from mothers, and live in a house with him or spend time in hotels with him where they see him spending a ton of unsupervised time with children and each and every one of them can find some way to write this off, to believe it’s somehow less hinky than it appears and therefore they do nothing…
It makes me despair.
This isn’t one of those cases where no one knew. Over and over again in the indictment is evidence of how many, many people saw him with his victims and how many of them were in a position to say “You know, it’s weird that he shares a hotel room with little boys he’s not related to.” Or “you know, kids already know football exists and there are plenty of ways that they can be involved in football programs at their own level. Maybe it’s weird that he’s bringing grade-schoolers and middle-schoolers to college football practice and games all the time.” And yet, there wasn’t one of Sandusky’s peers or superiors who saw that behavior and moved to mitigate the potential harm to those children. The only harm mitigation they tried to do was for the football program.
If people can see something that wrong and deliberately turn a blind eye to it, how can we ever protect kids from it?