Penn State scandal went on for so long because child sexual abuse is still a taboo subject

November 16, 2011

To all the self-righteous folks who are outraged by the Penn State sexual abuse scandal and pontificate about what they would have done in the same situation: It's hard to confront an abuser and it is harder still to report one.

Jerry Sandusky was confronted in 1998 by the mother of one of the alleged victims. An investigating police officer from the university eavesdropped on her exchange with Mr. Sandusky. That confrontation reads like a tragicomic tale with the victim's mother trying to worm it out of Mr. Sandusky if his contact with her son in the Penn State locker room showers was sexual in nature. Mr. Sandusky played the poor woman, asked for her forgiveness without actually admitting to much and was ultimately ordered by a university police officer to refrain from taking showers with young men. Remarkably, Mr. Sandusky was neither arrested nor charged with a crime at that time.

People who should report these crimes when they come face to face with them are at first shaken with disbelief and fear. They wonder if they have been tricked by their own minds. They can be embarrassed by what they have witnessed or confused by it, especially if they are not acquainted with the dark side of "upstanding" culprits. They can also be terrified of consequences for themselves, as was the case with some members of the janitorial service at Penn State, one of whom reported becoming distraught upon seeing Mr. Sandusky engaging in a sex act with a victim in the shower. Yet, he and his superiors never went further for fear of losing their jobs.

It is natural for those who witness heinous child abuse incidents to fear that if the victims or their relatives don't come forward to corroborate the assault they could not only be undermined as witnesses but also face civil defamation charges.

Moreover, the behavior of law enforcement and various state child protective services does not inspire confidence in those who might come forward on behalf of victims. Time and again the system set up to protect our most vulnerable citizens has dropped the ball. Scores of people who have been burned by the system simply have lost faith that it can intervene to stop sexual abuse in its tracks.

Mike McQueary, the graduate assistant who broke this case in 2002, is already paying the price. He has received threats, and Penn State placed him on leave. The distraught janitor is currently demented and institutionalized. For sure he won't be a witness for the prosecution. And Ray Gricar, the tough district attorney from central Pennsylvania who decided not to prosecute Mr. Sandusky because of a lack of evidence in 1998 has been missing since 2005.

Although his disappearance is described by investigators as a coincidence, reporting, prosecuting and convicting child sexual molesters is a complicated and treacherous business.

Now Mr. Sandusky is out on bail although he has been charged with 40 criminal counts. He is not considered a flight risk or a danger to the community. His defense attorneys, will no doubt argue that he is an innocent victim of the imaginings of disturbed and neglected boys.

Child sex abuse is still a taboo subject. Even decent people in power want to avoid it and act as if it will go away if they do nothing. That may be as big a problem as the cover-ups, conspiracies and athletic department greed revealed by this scandal.

Usha Nellore, Bel Air

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.