Penn State and Pride
How does Jerry Sandusky plan to defend himself against the forty criminal charges that he raped or otherwise sexually abused eight children? There were eight children identified in the indictment, that is—as the Times reported, since Sandusky’s arrest, ten more alleged victims have reached out to investigators, and the grand jury’s findings are scattered through with hints of other boys. The grand jury designated the first ones Victim 1, Victim 2, and on through Victim 8. Sandusky’s lawyer, Joe Amendola, in an interview with Bob Costas, had another way of labelling them: “those so-called eight kids.” (Costas also spoke to Sandusky; more on that below.) Which part is he trying to question with that “so-called”—the number, their place in the story, their status as children? All of them, maybe. When Costas asked Amendola what, “in broad terms,” the defense would be, he said
we anticipate we’re going to have at least several of those kids come forward and say this never happened. This is me. This is the allegation. It never occurred. In fact, one of the toughest allegations—the McQueary violations—what McQueary said he saw, we have information that that child says that never happened. Now grown up… now the person’s in his twenties.
There are several problems here—rational, legal, human. First, the grand jury’s findings were based, in part, on the word of “several of those kids”. This case first unraveled not because an adult saw something–although a disturbing number did–but because one of the children, Victim 1, spoke up. Five others gave testimony, too.
Two of the children are only known, in effect, by accounts of the crimes. Victim 2, the subject of what Amendola calls “the McQueary violations,” is the child, about ten years old, whom Mike McQueary told the grand jury he saw Sandusky raping in 2002. Costas said, “we were told that that alleged victim could not be identified”—Penn State officials did not even try to find out the name of the boy. “We think we have,” Amendola said. It must have been a complicated task, logically as much as logistically, to find a man who could say that, while it appeared he was being raped when he stood naked in a shower as a child with a man fifty years older, it was in fact some sort of optical illusion. (In another interview, with “Today,” Amendola said that Sandusky was already talking to Victim 2 about what investigators might ask back in 2002. He also suggested that alleged victims might be after money.) Victim 8, name also unknown, is a boy whom a janitor said he saw Sandusky performing oral sex on in 2000: how did the defense even know which “so-called” child this refers to?
The grand jury findings describe the way Sandusky inveigled boys, whom he’d found through a charity for children who needed help, with presents and promises, football games and coaching, money and clothes, and then, gradually, made sexual demands a part of the routine. The grand jury noted that Sandusky called one of the victims dozens of times after he said he tried to break away. (The boy hid in the closet when calls came.) Sandusky also allegedly had no hesitation about enlisting other adults—parents, school administrators—in bringing the children back into his orbit when they tried to distance himself. There was an ugly assertion of ownership there. One hears its echo in the phrase, “we’re going to have at least several of those kids.”
The prosecution may not need to worry so much: when Sandusky spoke to Costas, he said that he was “innocent,” but then gave a glimpse not of his exculpation but of what happened to those children:
Costas: Innocent? Completely innocent and falsely accused in every aspect?
Sandsuky: Well, I could say that, you know, I have done some of those things. I have horsed around with kids. I have showered after workouts. I have, I have hugged them and I have touched their legs, without intent of sexual contact, but, um, so if you look at it that way, uh, there are things that, that, um, wouldn’t, uh, you know—would be accurate.
Amendola has a client who thinks that showering with and groping small children constitutes innocence. (Costas has rightly been praised for the interview; there was also a long pause and stumbling answer when he asked Sandusky if he was sexually attracted to children.) So, as a lawyer, he may not have much to go on. But his “so-called” defense is a reminder of some larger, awful truths: reporting this sort of crime is in no way easy, and exposes a person to insinuations, as well as pain; and children who have been abused can be set on difficult paths. Nor does the abuser always disappear into the night. When one child became a teen-ager, Sandusky allegedly bribed him with, or offered the oblivion of, marijuana. Does he now see that as leverage, rather than a further crime?
That is one of many reasons why the failure of adults who were in a position to, at the very least, strongly suspect what was going on, and get children help or counseling, is hard to get over. Jack Raykovitz, the head of the Second Mile, has now resigned; by his own admission, he heard, nine years ago, that someone had seen Sandusky doing something with a child that made that person uncomfortable. (By other accounts, he heard much more.) He apparently didn’t act, even though he was the leader—the so-called leader—of a charity devoted to helping vulnerable children.
David Brooks, in a column in the Times today called “Let’s All Feel Superior”—is that actually the title he picked, or was it an agenda item left over from an editorial meeting?—says that he finds such criticisms tiresome: “the vanity is the outraged reaction of a zillion commentators over the past week.” His logic isn’t so much better than Amendola’s, but it comes down to saying that since ordinary people let the Holocaust happen we shouldn’t be so mean to everyone at Penn State. One would think, of course, that we learned a few things from the Holocaust, among them that there is no vanity as insidious as the condescension directed toward those who express outrage when the weak are hurt, and no gesture as violent as a shrug can be. (Brooks’s solution is a return to a “Puritan” sense of sin, which, oddly enough, is also pretty much his formula for addressing inequality in America.)
Brooks talks about the “bystander effect.” It is fair to ask why people who just happened to be passing by fail to insert themselves these scenes. At Penn State, though, there were too many officials who were not “bystanders” at all; they worked with Sandusky and helped enable his access to children—stood by him. They inhabited the same circle of self-congratulation. The pride that was the problem at Penn State was not that of pointing fingers. It was of keeping quiet about people whose names one knew, and not learning the names of children whose stories were disruptive. But there are no so-called children here, or anywhere; only real ones, who deserve better.
Photograph: Andy Colwell/AP/The Patriot-News