I am grateful to the ten brave young men testified against Jerry Sandusky, and relieved that Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse. Perhaps now we will truly open our eyes to the real and present danger of child sexual abuse. The young men who testified were so courageous to step up in a situation that is so painful and potentially full of shame and bad memories. Even though they did nothing wrong, we can only imagine how difficult it was for them to testify. By stepping up so courageously, these men have made it possible for this predator to be finally put away. The system failed them on so many levels as boys, I can only hope that the conviction of Sandusky will bring some peace to the boys who were assaulted by the coach, as well as preventing future abuse.
There has been so much written and reported about this trial, so I just want to highlight a missed opportunity that really sticks in my mind: Back in May 1998, fourteen years ago, an 11-year old boy (who testified in this trial as Victim #6) had a disturbing encounter with Sandusky in the Penn State athletic facilities. The boy blacked out his memory of some of the encounter. But he told his mother when he got home, “If you’re wondering why my hair is wet, it’s because we took a shower.” That is what disclosures often sound like, a somewhat strange comment that is a little bit oblique, but if a parent is really paying attention they will realize it is something to follow up on.
This boy’s mother DID hear what her son said, and did follow up, calling in Penn State police. The boy was interviewed by police and social workers. But then the system broke down and failed:
Retired Penn State police officer Ronald Schreffler testified about his investigation, which included a ruse in which Victim 6′s mother lured Sandusky to her apartment and confronted him about the shower incident.
The boy’s mother and Sandusky had a lengthy conversation in which Sandusky admitted showering with her son, and near the end told her, “I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I will not get it from you. I wish I were dead,” Schreffler said.
He said he presented evidence to Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar, who declined to press charges. Gricar vanished in 2005 and was declared dead last year.
Sandusky could and should have been stopped fourteen years ago. Think about how much suffering that would have prevented. Penn State had enough information to shut Sandusky down right then and there, if they only would have paid attention and acted on the signs of his predatory behavior, taking place right there on the Penn State campus.
The Sandusky abuse case is heartbreaking, and we should let it break our hearts. But then we need to gather our strength, get educated, and take action, wherever we see dangerous situations taking place, and working our way up the chain of power: climbing the ladder of change to create a culture of safety.
Many excellent resources on abuse prevention, and what to do if you suspect sexual abuse, can be found on the websites of the educational nonprofit organizations Kidpower and Darkness to Light. These organizations are independent from one another, but both are recommended by Amy Tiemann.
Schedule an interview: Dr. Amy Tiemann is a frequent guest expert on parenting websites, national radio tours, magazines from Redbook to Glamour, and TV including ABC News, the CBS Early Show, and NBC’s Today Show. To schedule an interview, please contact her publicist Jill Dykes, firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-749-8488