Posted on Fri, Nov. 11, 2011
last updated: August 17, 2012 03:58:43 PM
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — While the grand jury investigation into child sexual abuse at Penn State revealed that university authorities had knowledge of crimes allegedly committed by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, it also showed that others knew, too, and didn't call police.
"There's plenty of responsibility to go around on all fronts," said Pamela Pine, the founder of Stop the Silence, a nonprofit group in Glenn Dale, Md., that calls attention to child abuse. "We should all be kicking ourselves."
Much attention has focused on officials who have in the past week left the university, including head football coach Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier, who were dismissed by the board of trustees earlier this week, and athletic director Tim Curley and the school's vice president for finance, Gary Schultz, who were indicted for failing to report the alleged crime.
On Friday, the football coach who saw Sandusky allegedly raping a boy in the Penn State locker room shower in 2002 and told Paterno, Mike McQueary, was placed on administrative leave amid a public outcry that he, too, failed to stop the assault or call police.
But the grand jury presentment shows that janitors, teachers and parents had direct or indirect knowledge of Sandusky's alleged crimes. As the investigation goes on it is likely to emerge that still others had at least some inkling that something was terribly wrong but remained silent.
Among those could be the university police officers who investigated a 1998 complaint against Sandusky that identified a second victim but which was not prosecuted by the district attorney, Ray Gricar, who later disappeared and was declared legally dead last summer; other district attorney staff who might have reviewed the police report; and any university legal staff consulted in the case.
"It's so easy and tempting to vilify a handful of wrongdoers when there are almost always many more who deserve blame," said David Clohessy, the director of SNAP, a network of survivors of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests. "One or two or three officials knew, but many more suspected abuse, and virtually none took action."
For example, the grand jury presentment said that a janitor allegedly saw Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy in the shower area of a campus football building in the fall of 2000. The janitor, Jim Calhoun, told at least two other people what he saw, including a fellow janitor and a supervisor.
The supervisor, Jay Witherite, described Calhoun as "very distraught" by what he witnessed and feared that Calhoun would have a heart attack. Witherite testified that he calmed Calhoun and advised him on how to report the incident, if he chose to. Neither man, however, reported what Calhoun saw, according to the grand jury testimony.
"With suspected child sex abuse, the easiest, safest thing to do as an adult is nothing at all," Clohessy said. "But the victims need from us courage and compassion and action and persistence and risk taking."
Nicholas Cafardi, a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, said that even if reporting abuse was the right thing to do, these witnesses were simply looking out for their own interests. The janitors likely feared for their jobs if they reported what they saw, and likely worried that no one would believe them because Sandusky was a powerful figure.
"They were probably thinking of their kids, and where their next meal was coming from," he said. "Who could say how we would act if it affected our job?"
Paterno ultimately lost his job, but Clohessy said he would not have lost it if he had reported the sexual abuse allegations as soon as he learned of them in 2002. And maybe that's what others thought: How could Sandusky's longtime boss, Paterno, not do something about Sandusky's alleged behavior if he knew about it?
"The easiest assumption to make is that someone more knowledgeable and powerful and directly involved will do the right thing, so I don't really have to," Clohessy said.
Actually, parents of two of Sandusky's alleged victims did complain to authorities about the inappropriate behavior they suspected. According to the grand jury presentation, the mother of one victim confronted Sandusky in 1998. Sandusky admitted to having close physical contact with the victim while they both showered, apologized and said he wished he were dead, according to the grand jury's report.
But a full decade passed before police began another investigation into Sandusky after another mother reported Sandusky's alleged behavior to a school, Central Mountain High School, where Sandusky was a volunteer coach and her son was a freshman.
The school, which is near Lock Haven, Pa., about 40 miles from State College, immediately barred Sandusky from school property and reported the behavior to authorities, which led to the investigation and Sandusky's indictment.
It's still unclear, however, who the school told that Sandusky had been banned — and why — in the three years between the initiation of the investigation in November 2008 and the announcement of his indictment a week ago. During most of that time, Sandusky remained active with The Second Mile, a program for at-risk boys that Sandusky founded in 1977 and where prosecutors say he found his victims.
Asked who'd been told of Sandusky's 2008 banning, the Keystone Central School District issued a statement Friday saying it would be "inappropriate" to comment.
News of the grand jury investigation, which was undertaken by the state attorney general after the district attorney in State College claimed a conflict of interest, did not break until March of this year.
"All the predator needs from us is silence and inaction," Clohessy said.
Cafardi, the Duquesne law professor who's a co-author of a report on child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, said child sexual predators are able to get away with what they do for so long because they are very skilled at placing themselves in situations where they can be alone, unsupervised, with their victims. And they also know, instinctively, who's the most vulnerable.
"Predators have a way of picking out the weakest among us," he said.
Pine said that even good parents sometimes fail to tell their children what kinds of behavior are inappropriate and that they can resist unwanted advances.
"The bottom line is we as a society don't know what to do," she said. "The fear and shame that surrounds this issue precludes people from reporting it."
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