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Please, No Excuses or Misplaced Empathy for Jerry Sandusky’s Enablers

Well, it’s already started. With the nation still reeling in shock over the child-rape scandal at Penn State, the excuses and misplaced empathy for Jerry Sandusky’s enablers have quickly usurped the public anguish, which should rightly be reserved for the child victims.

Victims? What victims? The nation’s eyes have become fixed on the ignoble fall of a noble man, Coach Joe Paterno, in what many see as an unjust end to a luminous, generation-enriching career.

We really ought only to be thinking now of the real victims. There are eight young male victims listed in the 40-count indictment against Sandusky. Two of these are listed due to eyewitness testimony, though their identities are still unknown.

The truth is we may never know how many victims there actually are.

Some are grown men, who may never come forward even when and if Sandusky goes to trial. Deeply embedded shame and chronic depression keep many victims of childhood sexual abuse in lifelong shadows. Some of these victims will never reveal, even to their most trusted intimates, that they were ever sexually abused. Yes, the shameful scars go that deep.

One or more of these victims may already be dead by his own hand, in one desperate act to stop feeling the torment that just won’t go away. Suicide — rather than vigilante violence against the attacker — is the more common outlet for helpless rage among victims of childhood sexual abuse.

Other victims commit suicide slowly through alcohol or drug addiction in a lifelong quest to numb the psychic pain. Even understanding why the pain is so intense, when the wounds are so invisible to others, provides enough psychic confusion to drive even the strongest soul to pure madness.

Some victims deeply internalize their sexual abuse and grow up to become abusers themselves, repeating the act of first sexual stimulation on the unwilling victims of a new generation. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Jerry Sandusky reveals at trial that he himself was once an innocent victim, as he pleads for mercy from the court of his peers. It’s no excuse and should be given no mercy. The vast, vast majority of sexual-abuse survivors never commit the crime of agony that was committed against them.

No, nearly all victims of childhood sexual abuse grow up and do the most harm to themselves, in a never-ending quest to numb that soul-wrenching pain and confusion which was sown so carelessly into their young psyches as their physical boundaries were so heinously violated. Childhood sexual abuse is truly a gift that just keeps on giving and giving and giving. And costing and costing and costing.

These are the things we should be thinking of now. The wrecked lives of the innocent boys violated by Coach Jerry Sandusky.

Next: Well, this shifting of focus away from the victims and onto the enablers is how good people become enablers of crimes against humanity, isn’t it?

But little has been written about the victims. A few former victims of other men have been interviewed and snippets of their stories highlighted by the press. Most of the coverage has now shifted to those who enabled the crimes to continue, and empathy pours out for the ruined careers and the football program endangered.

Well, this shifting of focus away from the victims and onto the enablers is how good people become enablers of crimes against humanity, isn’t it?

We fail to get our priorities straight. We give the wrong things the most weight in our judgments of the moment. We blind ourselves to the real suffering of a real victim, while imagining all the horrible things that might happen to ourselves or our great organization or institution or family or community, if we do what we know is right and tell the truth, and follow through to make sure the crime is stopped in its tracks.

In reality, there were probably a great many good people who turned a blind eye to this monster in their midst and allowed his crimes to continue.

Sandusky’s wife was in the home where he allegedly committed some of his crimes. His wife was closest to Sandusky, knew him best of all, spent the most time with him. Criminal pedophiles may be very good at hiding in plain sight, but I would bet my last dollar that right this very minute, Mrs. Sandusky is painfully remembering things that gave her husband away while she turned a willfully blind eye.

Then, there was the twenty-eight year old former Penn State player, then graduate assistant, Michael McQueary. It was McQueary’s eyewitness account of an anal rape against a boy — as yet unidentified Victim 2 — in the showers which finally brought this investigation to indictment. This rape McQueary witnessed occurred in 2002, nine years ago. How many boys did Sandusky violate in the interim? Enablers do far more harm than they think.

I was once a little girl, being orally raped, and abandoned by an eyewitness. So, I know a bit about how that boy — Victim 2 — felt. I know a bit about the rapes that follow in the wake of an enabler’s inaction. I know how greatly a pedophile is empowered by a witness’ nodding retreat.

I know how deep the soul is wounded by this sort of sexual penetration. I know about depression and drugs and suicide attempts, too.

And I can’t help but have a few questions for Michael McQueary.

What if that boy had been your son? What if that boy had been the grandson of Coach Joe Paterno? Would you have still walked out of that shower room “distraught,” and done nothing more than call  your Daddy? Would you, Mr. McQueary, have turned your big, strong, yellow back on that boy being raped by a coach, if he had been an “important” child to you?

What about you, Coach Paterno? What if that boy McQueary abandoned had been your grandson? Would you still have merely passed the buck and gone on about your business?

Personalizing crime has a way of clarifying the hazy zones of conscience, you see.

There is indeed a place for genuine empathy.

But we, as a society, don’t stand one chance in hell of preventing some of these crimes in the future if we can’t even put our empathy in the right place now.

So, please no excuses or misplaced empathy for Sandusky’s enablers. Save it for the victims, who rightly deserve it, and you just might be able to make the right decision if fate should ever put a crime like this at your own front door.

Update: See Also Bookworm’s Mike McQueary — Poster Child for Moral Relativism?


Check out Kyle-Anne’s previous PJ Steel Magnolia articles:

The Five Most Infantile Beliefs on Display at the ‘Occupy’ Tantrums Barry Honey, Let’s Do Talk About Jobs


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