Penn State’s Shame

I'm knee deep in kids this week. Yes, more school vacations. Frankly, I am very grouchy right now about all this parenting. I keep thinking that my skills are not being used to their highest capacity at this moment. 


So, Wendy has requested a Penn State thread. I don't have much to add to the discussion other than a heave of disgust at the students who protested Paterno's dismissal. Wendy shot me a good link that somewhat explains the students' behavior

Open thread. 


31 thoughts on “Penn State’s Shame

  1. The Penn State thing came out just as I was finishing up teaching The Bluest Eye (by Toni Morrison), which asks about the complicity of the community in the rape of an 11 year old girl. Morrison’s concerns aren’t exactly the same as the issues in the Penn State case, but the idea that certain values (about beauty, self-worth and race, or about the importance of a football team) held by a large group of people can lead to choosing those values over the needs of an abused child is certainly relevant.

  2. I don’t have any particular fondness for child abusers or rioting undergraduates, but I do think that most undergraduates have trouble appreciating the wrongness of having sex with someone below the age of consent, having recently been engaged in that sort of activity themselves. Of course, ten is very young, but when I was in college I certainly would not have perceived the wrongness of having sex with a 15-year-old.

  3. …when I was in college I certainly would not have perceived the wrongness of having sex with a 15-year-old.
    You went to law school, right?

  4. The boy was ten. Ten.
    I thought it was kind of odd that someone was suggesting shutting down the Penn football program (the op Ed in the times). But I’ve changed my mind. The school and football clearly have a serious problem with priorities and should get a serious wake up call.

  5. It’s an interesting case study in variations of moral wrong.
    Sandusky: moral monster. We all agree on that.
    McQueary: under fire but people are ambivalent about how he should have acted when he saw the rape happening
    Paterno: under fire but people are ambivalent about how much responsibility he should have taken (though legally he seems to be in the clear)
    A lot of people say Paterno did the right thing and reported it. But we have a weird situation where the responsibility for reporting/dealing with the crime is assigned to people further and further up the chain, away from the person who observed the crime. Are we having a case of “telephone” here?
    Should everyone be punished for saying “Football is everything!” and thus making it very hard (though not impossible) for people in charge to take a stand and punish wrongdoing? Should the football fans/donors etc. look at themselves and wonder what they would have done if Sandusky was arrested in 2002 and whether that would have been better for the program than what happened now?
    And having been involved in college sports journalism and knowing there were a lot of gray areas, I’m fascinated by all this.

  6. “DA Ray Gricar went for a drive in 2005 and was never seen again
    “Gricar’s state computer was found in river, too damaged to read”
    Yeah, that’s starting to remind me of the British TV mysteries I’m addicted to.
    I think we can never overestimate just how skilled somebody like Sandusky is at what they do. When your whole raison d’etre is being with and abusing boys, you’re going to get really good at making sure that you have access to them and at manipulating children and the adults that stand between you and them.
    There was a very good piece in the Washington Post by Sally Jenkins on the Sandusky case:
    “According to Lanning, who spent 35 years profiling pedophiles, 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.
    ““How do we say to kids, ‘The only way these people differ is, they will be nicer to you than most adults?’” Lanning says. “They will listen to you, and shower you with attention and kindness, and so I want you to watch out for this evil bastard.’”
    “Until we rid ourselves of the myth of the “predator” in the raincoat preying on angelic victims, our discernment will continue to be clouded, says Lanning, who wrote a Justice Department-sponsored manual, “Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis.” And so will our judgment.”

  7. There’s also the possibility of blackmail (which came up at least once during the Catholic scandals). It’s standard operating procedure for abusers to compromise a child victim with some sort of behavior that the child would not want to be disclosed, and the same technique can be used on adults who would normally be your supervisors. For instance, Sandusky could have encouraged some shady operating practices in the football program, which he could then have held over the heads of his supervisors, threatening disclosure. Or, he could have used Penn State’s light treatment of him in 1998 (?) when there was less clear evidence as leverage in 2002, when his guilt couldn’t have been clearer. It’s all very perverse, but psychologically plausible.
    I’ve been remembering Valmont’s technique in seducing Cecile in Dangerous Liaisons. Cecile has given Valmont a key to her room to help him pass on secret letters from the man she loves, but Valmont uses the key to let himself into her room and rape Cecile. Cecile could stop the whole thing at any time by yelling for help, but she has been compromised by the fact of her secret correspondence and by giving the key to Valmont, so she keeps quiet. And then Valmont is able to use the initial encounter as leverage for a continuing relationship (if that is the right word) with Cecile. Cecile could have kept either her good name or her virginity, but she had to choose.

  8. Aside from the football angle, there’s a very long and sordid history of colleges attempting to handle crime in-house. I think that has gotten better (we get email bulletins from my husband’s college whenever there’s a robbery or assault or fugitive on the loose), but there is a history.

  9. I thought it was kind of odd that someone was suggesting shutting down the Penn football program (the op Ed in the times)
    We UPenn grads are a touchy bunch in normal circumstances (“Not Penn State” shirts are common around campus.
    This doesn’t help.

    Very good summary of what’s now known about the case(s).
    These dates spanning 13 years share two common threads that run through the entire grand jury presentment. At each stage, boys voiced concern or pain or alarm at the conduct of Jerry Sandusky — or adults witnessed behavior they found troubling or alarming.
    And at each stage, other adults dismissed, minimized or failed to act upon those concerns.

    It would have been much better for Penn State, had they taken decisive action to protect children in 1998. I think the Trustees acted appropriately when they fired both Paterno and Spanier. We should hold the people in positions of responsibility to a high standard. Following the letter of the law is not sufficient. They may not be legally culpable, but they are morally culpable.
    I find it interesting that a retired college football coach can so easily arrange access to boys. The victim whose complaint finally broke the chain wasn’t 10 years old. He was a freshman in high school.

  11. That’s fascinating stuff, Amy, about the behavioral traits of predators (also thinking of the Peter Sarsgard character in An Education, who also exhibited similar characteristics). Makes me glad that we are, pretty much genetically, a distrusting bunch in my family.

  12. “Makes me glad that we are, pretty much genetically, a distrusting bunch in my family.”
    Yeah, there are advantages to having kids who aren’t eager-to-please and quick to make friends. Nobody’s going to persuade my oldest to go looking for a lost puppy.

  13. I have nothing wise to say beyond that if I ever saw an adult “allegedly” raping a ten year old child, I would be physically ill immediately. I can’t imagine walking away without getting help.

  14. That link is off-base.
    State College’s 3 largest employers are:
    1. Penn State
    2. The State College Area School district 3. The two super-Walmarts book-ending each end of town.
    There’s always been a contrast between the liberal, highly educated non-natives who teach at the university and the top-notch public schools and the less educated, more conservative natives who are farmers and small business owners, or work at Walmart or the state prison down the road.
    What united the region was always their admiration of Joe Paterno and his squeaky clean, storied, and successful college football team. The team’s motto was “success with honor” and until this point none of the public had a reason to question that. They market themselves as “The Greatest Show in College Football,” and it’s true. Penn State, led by the football team, is overwhelmingly the main source of area identity and pride. They have the biggest college football stadium in the country. The area has incredible fine arts events, a fantastic public library in addition to the tremendous PSU library Joe helped build, one of the top-grossing concert venues in the East. His wife’s name is on the huge Catholic educational center. Paterno put State College on the map and helped make that small town “a great place to raise a family.” There’s a low cost of living, low crime, and rural beauty, but the university brings in terrific cultural events and speakers and the public schools are incredible, sending lots of kids to the Ivies. People recognize that Joe has made their town what it is. And until last weekend, it seemed idyllic.
    Random other bits to keep in mind:
    1. The Attorney General did not charge Joe with wrongdoing, and he’s in fact a star witness for the prosecution.
    2. At 84, Joe is from an era where this kind of stuff was swept under the rug.
    3. Joe did report this crime to the Athletic Director AND the head of university police. He could have said nothing.
    4. After 61 years of service, Joe was fired over the phone.
    5. All retired PSU coaches get an office in the football building, not just Sandusky.
    6. The Lanning research cited earlier absolutely applies here. As does the fact that Joe must have realized any whiff of this would destroy the team/reputation/school/small community he’s lived and died for for 61 years.
    7. Out of all the people named in the Grand Jury report, Joe’s the only one who has apologized. All of the people who were actually charged with a crime are maintaining their innocence, including Sandusky.

  15. According to Wikipedia, Sandusky started a charity program called Second Mile for troubled kids since 1977 (it started initially as a foster group home). He also raised six adopted kids.
    Some of the features of Sandusky’s biography would make you think, wow, what a great guy–if you didn’t know the rest of the story. It’s an uncomfortable fact that the same facts could either point to him being a great guy or a manipulative abuser. Fr. Bruce Ritter of Covenant House is a similar case (although it looks like Ritter’s target audience was a bit older).

  16. One of the victims was 10.
    Last August, Johns Hopkins University held a conference on “normalizing” and “decriminalizing” pedophiles. One of the proposals was lowering the age of consent to 10 or 12, “especially for boys.” Academics from Harvard, U. of Illinois, the London School of Economics and others attended. There was virtually zero outrage.
    Much more here:
    The Vagina Monologues, performed on hundreds of college campuses every year and considered a major feminist event, glorifies the rape of a 13 year old girl. Check out the Wikipedia article:
    The idea that pedophiles are a mis-treated, under-appreciated group has been around in academic and lefty circles for a long time. Remember when the ACLU defended NAMBLA?

  17. Another thing–having seen a lot of stories over the years about abusers who specialize in “troubled youth,” I always prick up my ears when I see that that’s a man’s driving interest. That’s very unfortunate, because somebody has to work with troubled youth (and boys desperately need male role models), but gravitation toward vulnerable youth is part of the classic pattern. Fr. Paul Shanley of Boston is another example.
    “Shanley first gained notoriety during 1970s as a “street priest,” catering to drug addicts and runaways who struggled with their sexuality.”

  18. The Vagina Monologues have what, exactly, to do with Joe Paterno’s failure to act in a meaningful way in this situation? It’s a play. No actual girls, of any age, were raped in the writing or performance of the monologue, and the play decries violence against women. It’s also a controversial work, having received criticism as well as praise from feminists and others. Likewise, a conference at which some academics discuss pedophilia has no bearing on this case; it only establishes that there is a small minority who does not believe sexual contact between adults and children is wrong.
    The attorney general has not yet charged Paterno with anything. It may be coming, which is why he has retained a prominent criminal defense attorney. Pennsylvania, like many states, has laws about mandatory reporting of child abuse. Whether Paterno, as a coach at the university level, was a mandatory reporter is a question for the authorities; they’ll also determine whether his report to his superior was sufficient (in NY, it would not be). In New York, teachers (all school officials, as well as others, from social workers to dental hygienists) are mandatory reporters and are subject to criminal and civil penalty if they intentionally fail to report reasonable suspicions of abuse to a child abuse authority. We’ll see how the PA law is interpreted.
    I understand very well the context that allowed Sandusky to operate freely, and allowed Paterno to willfully ignore his responsibility, but the excuses StateCollegeNative makes for Paterno—he’s from a different generation, he devoted his life to the football program, and anyway he said he’s sorry—are pitiful. He had the power to put a stop to the abuse and he failed to do it. Whether he is criminally responsible is a matter for the courts, but you cannot rationalize away his moral culpability.

  19. Related:
    There’s a video here of a woman at Occupy Portland instructing a crowd that if they witness a sexual assault, they should not notify the police. They should notify some sort of committee at Occupy Portland and the committee will tell the police if the victim (in their parlance “survivor”) doesn’t want to tell the police. (What could possibly go wrong with that plan?) The audio is fuzzy, so I can’t tell if they had figured out what to do in the case of a minor victim, which you would think would require somewhat different handling.

  20. Sorry. I should have said, “The committee will tell the police if the victim wants the police to be told.”
    It’s a little bit too easy to imagine a scenario where the committee convinced the victim not to talk to the police, for the sake of the cause. In fact, I think there has been at least one Occupy site where the organizers were counseling people not to report rapes to the police, but to deal with them internally.
    The urge to handle this stuff “internally” is close to being the root of all evil, in whatever kind of organization.

  21. I just can’t imagine a scenario where I would walk into a locker room, see an adult having sex with a child and I do nothing to stop it. Reporting it later seems like a day late and a dollar short. Really. Scream, cry, help the kid, call 911.
    It seems everyone along the way was waiting for someone else to do something, while they did the minimum to cover their ass.

  22. …waiting for someone else to do something, while they did the minimum to cover their ass.
    That could be the position description for 50% of the white collar jobs in America.

  23. Reading accounts of the long history of incidents, I suspect many people witnessed other incidents. It is so rare for any child abuse case to have adults witness attacks [i]in flagrante delicto.[/i] The showers at Penn State seem to have been open, public places. I have to wonder if Sandusky was enjoying the power he had over adults in the system as well as children.
    For all the criticism of the adult witness who reported the assault, there were many adults (janitors, and who knows who else) who witnessed assaults, and DID NOTHING. Blaming the bringer of bad news is a known human tendency. What of those who chose not to speak up?
    As does the fact that Joe must have realized any whiff of this would destroy the team/reputation/school/small community he’s lived and died for for 61 years.
    The coverup will turn out to be extremely damaging, as it was for the Catholic Church. I think the victims should sue Penn State, as it’s obvious that officials at the school chose the football program over human decency.
    A football team forfeits any claim to greatness when its leaders turn away from the destruction of children. For all the claims that sport builds character, in this case, it destroyed character. The institution deserves every bit of shame is receives.

  24. I’m not clear on the exact chronology, but it’s ironic that the 2002 Sandusky episode was right around the same time that the archdiocese of Boston (among others) was going up in flames over long-buried abuse cases. With that happening in the background, Penn State could probably have gone public with the Sandusky case and suffered relatively little.
    We had a child abuse case at a local public school a year or so back where it was really hard to figure out what was going through the heads of the administration. The local paper has since padlocked the stories, but as I recall, it was a bilingual male early elementary teacher who had been recruited from Latin America. He was eventually accused of molestation by several children and went to prison. The school administration bobbled the investigation and left the accused teacher in the classroom during the investigation (if I remember correctly), but two administrators were ultimately fired from the school due to their handling of the case. As I said, I can’t easily access the old stories, but from what I remember, the behavior of the administrators was puzzling. The whole thing was dumb from beginning to end, but I think that’s not unusual in these abuse cases that people in positions of authority suddenly seem to have no sense of judgement at all. You get the feeling that the situation is like an iceberg, with 10% visible above the surface, and 90% unknown. Why did they do it? And note that once again, it was a guy who just happened to wind up working with children and families who would likely find it difficult to communicate worries or accusations to the authorities.

  25. Rod Dreher has been covering this story really well, from his perspective as a reporter on the clergy abuse cases. Via him comes this Washington Times article.
    Matko’s vigil continued. “The kids are what this day is about, not who wins or loses,” the sign resting against his jeans read. “Or who lost their job and why. Honor the abused kids by cancelling the game and the season now.”
    A passer-by kicked it.
    “You’re going to get your a— kicked, man,” a man bellowed.
    “That’s bull–-, guy,” another said.
    Abuse flew at Matko from young and old, students and alumni, men and women. No one intervened. No one spoke out against the abuse. Over the course of an hour, a lone man stopped, read the sign and said, “I agree.” Those two words were swallowed by the profanity and threats by dozens of others during the hour.

  26. I do. Just because someone doesn‘t love you the way you want them to, doesn’t mean they don‘t love you with all they have.
    Schools want to know as early as possible so they can give your callback to someone else.

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