Pioneer Press: I have a few bones to pick about some of the reaction to the mushrooming Penn State University sex-abuse scandal.
But first, a quick summary for the uninformed.
According to a grand jury presentment, Mike McQueary, then a graduate assistant of the college football team and now an assistant coach, saw Jerry Sandusky, a longtime former assistant coach and PSU booster, sodomize a 10-year-old boy in a school shower in 2002. He informed legendary coach Joe Paterno, who acknowledged this week he was told that the incident involved fondling of a sexual nature. Paterno alerted Tim Curley, the athletics director. The end result is that none of these three men called child protection or the law.
Nine years passed until this week, when a grand jury indicted Sandusky, who ran a foundation for disadvantaged kids, on 40 counts of sexual abuse involving eight child victims over a period of 15 years.
Sandusky was probed by police in 1998 for allegations he sexually molested another boy in a shower. But the district prosecutor declined to press charges. That prosecutor mysteriously disappeared without a trace in 2005, adding more intrigue to the burgeoning scandal.
The grand jury also indicted Curley and another administrator for perjury and failing to report the incident to police. Both men resigned and were placed on administrative leave. The board of trustees canned Paterno and the school’s president Wednesday evening. Nothing has happened to McQueary, who testified
before the grand jury. But he will not be on the sidelines Saturday for the team’s final home game of the season because of fears for his safety.
WHAT ABOUT THE VICTIMS?
Now tell me if I’m wrong here. Some students reacted to Paterno’s firing by holding tearful, impassioned vigils in front of the coach’s home. Others staged a mini-riot, including setting fires and venting their rage at the news media by overturning a TV van. Yes, like Herman Cain, it’s the media’s fault.
Yet there was no vigil, no riot Wednesday night in support of the true victims in this sordid mess – the alleged child sex victims. This whole thing is not about Paterno’s tainted legacy or PSU’s public-image black eye. Far from it. This is about the victims. They will have to live forever with the nightmare of their alleged victimization at the hands of a trusted adult. Yet they have become the subject of jokes, according to the sister of one of them.
“I’ve been going to minimal classes, because every class I go to I get sick to my stomach,” the young woman, a PSU junior, told the Harrisburg Patriot-News newspaper. “People are making jokes about it” and others have coined the term “Sanduskied” to describe the alleged shower rape.
Now, the university is understandably deep in public-relations crisis minimization and liability bulletproof mode. Lawsuits are inevitable after the criminal prosecution plays out. Hefty and quick settlements likely will be in order. The last thing the school wants is to take this mess into court.
CIRCLE THE WAGONS
Once again, the Penn State scandal brings to light one more revered institution whose first priority and instinct, it seems, was to protect itself and the alleged offender rather than coming to the rescue and defense of innocent victims. That’s outright shameful. But not surprising to me or to others.
“Every institution protects the powerful among them and puts the institution above the well-being of kids,” said Jeffrey Anderson, the St. Paul-based attorney most known for going after the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Latter-day Saints and other religious orders on behalf of child sex abuse victims.
“It’s about power and preservation,” added Anderson, whose name, I wager, will pop up again in this ongoing scandal.
“The more powerful the institution is, the less child protection and the harder for them to do the right thing,” he added. “If there’s any good news here, it is that it places a mirror in front of them. They need now to devote the resources and training to prevent this the same way they devote themselves to teaching tackling and winning football games.”
Victor Vieth, executive director of the National Child Protection Training Center at Winona State University, said the Penn State inaction is hardly an isolated case.
“Twenty years of research confirms what every child protection professional already knows – that most people most of the time will not intervene to save a child,” Vieth told me Thursday. “This is true even when the evidence, as in the Penn State case, is clear.”
Vieth, however, added a thought-provoking hypothetical:
“Think of your best friend or your brother or sister,” he said. “If you saw someone you care about, even love, raping a boy in the shower, would you protect your friend or loved one, or would you protect the child? Until all of us can say to ourselves, and actually put into practice the principle of children first, kids don’t have much of a chance.”
IF YOU SEE IT, REPORT IT
Vieth agrees with Anderson that more training is needed and added that U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is working on legislation to allow his school’s mandated child-abuse reporting curriculum in as many as 500 universities in the next 10 years.
Although Minnesota and many other states have laws listing who is a mandated reporter, Pennsylvania is one of about a half-dozen states where the protocol for staff members of schools is to notify the person in charge in the event of suspected child abuse. That superior is then legally obliged to report to the authorities, according to the Associated Press.
Doesn’t matter in the least to me.
If I saw what McQueary said he saw, I would hope my first reaction would be to stop the rape any way I could, then inform the cops and then the football coach. When something like that happens, I’m sorry, we are all mandated reporters at that moment.
Ruben Rosario can be reached at 651-228-5454 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.