How They Let Sandusky Get Away for 15 Years

NPR has an insightful timeline of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation allegations that spans fifteen years, from his time as defensive coordinator for Penn State football to founder of a charity servicing at-risk youth called The Second Mile. Sandusky allegedly met his eight victims through the organization. The first complaint was brought before officials in 1998 (although Victim 7 allegdes that abuse occured in 1994) but nothing was done until 2009.

Gerry Sandusky

How could this happen?  This is yet another situation that proves how institutions fail at policing themselves. Five Penn State employees in positions to stop the abuse did not– from the head of campus security who told the DA in 1998 to drop the investigation, which he did, to the grad assistant who witnessed Sandusky raping a young boy in the shower but walked away “distraught” and called his father instead of the police, to the athletic director and vice president who not only knew about the shower scene but about previous reports of Sandusky’s questionable behavior.

It’s also a classic example of how our understanding of who a predator is continues to fail us. In his New York Times article, columnist Frank Bruni reminds us how most accused molestors have: 

“…occupied a position of trust, identified and gravitated to children who were especially vulnerable, made them feel special and was by all outward appearances their champion, which many molesters indeed believe themselves to be. In their own minds these molesters aren’t predators. They’re people whose affinity for children just happens to have a sexual element, the satisfaction of which they’ve convinced themselves isn’t such a big, harmful deal.”

According to the Grand Jury report, Sandusky doted his victims with gifts, including “golf clubs, a computer, gym clothes, dress clothes and cash.” In addition, these victims were also privy to going to charity balls and football games and other events Sandusky was invited to attend because of his emeritus status. Steven Turchetta, head football coach and assistant principal of Victim 1’s high school, described Sandusky as “controlling”, “clingy”, and “needy” towards the boys attending his charity. School officials, friends, and family witnessed this, yet there is no account of anyone coming forward to question the behavior.

“Parents face a tricky challenge,” Bruni writes. “They need to be watchful but not paranoid.” They need to be “conscious.”

As one reader Robin McBride wrote: “I think that everyone of the adults connected to this dropped the ball and failed to protect our youth… I have a son playing high school sports and now I am going to be extremely vigilant about the time spent with any adults there…” Another reader Mohan Simha posed the disturbing question: “How rampant is this today in the world of football or any other collegiate sport?”

Time will tell.

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