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June 26, 2012


Sandusky: No closure, healing in verdict

I haven’t posted much about the Sandusky case.  And I made the decision not to read the testimony from the trial, since I had read some earlier descriptions from victims and the realistic language in them had made me wish I could “unhear” the words that then echoed in my head. For a number of days I couldn’t get it out of my mind—and that’s only appropriate. But I prefer not to dwell on something that I can do nothing about personally.

Over at ESPN, a writer says something I think is accurate but not particularly profound:

The language of the law, so compelling and so descriptive in so many cases, fails to describe the crimes of Jerry Sandusky. Words such as “deviate” and “indecent” and “corruption of children” are not enough.

Even when we add lawyers’ courtroom rhetoric with nouns such as “monster” and “atrocity,” we do not begin to describe what this former Penn State coach did to so many boys, and we do not begin to measure the actions and inactions of those in the Penn State football program who enabled Sandusky to rape children again and again in football facilities, before and after football practices, and on football trips.

As we struggle to find the vocabulary that will work, we will use words such as “closure” and “healing.” The verdict Friday evening will not produce closure, and it will not produce healing. If it does anything that is positive, it tells us that the legal system has concluded the most important part of its work on Sandusky. That’s it. There is nothing more to it. Much more remains to be done before we even begin to discuss healing or closure.

Over in another article a writer seems to attempt some soaring rhetoric that rather sweepingly demands an answer to “why did no one stand up to stop Sandusky in the community.” He opines all sorts of reasons, mainly about conspiracies to “protect institutions.”  And while I’m sure that there were a few involved in discussions and actions to “protect our beloved institution”—there always are—the shorter, less grandiose answer to why Sandusky wasn’t “stopped” by “somebody” is because it’s awfully hard to stop people from doing bad things!

There are a few instances where actions might have been taken—although even taking such actions don’t mean that Sandusky is “stopped” by “somebody” in the “community.” The witness to the shower incident could have popped Sandusky in the face, rushed over to the nearest school administrator’s house, raised holy hell, and personally called 911. But often people do what they think they should do—pass it on to a higher person in authority—and make assumptions.

But other than a *few* people having a bit more opportunity to “do something”—most people can’t go to the police and say “hey, police, I think there’s a guy that’s sexually molesting children.”

“Oh? Why do you say that?”

“Well—I’ve heard some rumors. And where there’s smoke there’s fire. And I know he takes showers with the boys after football practice—like all the other coaches do. But I think he may have touched a boy inappropriately—at least I heard that once.”

“And do you have a name?”

I’ve got a friend who tried to explain to her mother and the church elders that she thought a church elder was molesting his daughters. She didn’t get very far—he had perfectly good reasons for the few odd things she’d noticed—at 14—and the girls didn’t say anything.

Eight or nine years later, it all came out, quite horribly.

Why didn’t “somebody” do “something” to stop him?

Well—it’s mighty hard to get evidence against sneaky people who are doing bad things, that’s why. I don’t think it’s much more than that, except for a few people who also cared about “the institution” and also engaged in a coverup.  But basically, it’s more incompetence, unsurety, insecurity, muddleheadedness, and some willful denial that prevents somewhat-less-bad people from stopping somewhat-more-bad people from doing really bad things.


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11 comments

But basically, it’s more incompetence, unsurety, insecurity, muddleheadedness, and some willful denial that prevents somewhat-less-bad people from stopping somewhat-more-bad people from doing really bad things.

That’s such a telling indictment of the human condition.

The Shoah Foundation at my alma mater is doing some fresh research on factors that enable or resist genocide.  The fact that mass slaughter is a recurring human reality is testimony to many millions of the kinds of daily compromises described in your last paragraph.

[1] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 6-26-2012 at 08:21 AM · [top]

In all the years that I took gym class or was involved in athletics (from the 1960’s on), I don’t remember a coach EVER showering with us. They had their own locker room, and I don’t know of anyone of us ever going in there.

Our local YMCA does not let boys into the men’s locker room.

But, when I was in the 7th grade, I do remember that the male gym teacher, an ex-Marine, would invite some of the more “developed” guys into his office for extended periods of time. I don’t know what went on in there, but I do know that he had Playboy and Penthouse magazines all over his desk.

From the number of homosexual fantasy stories about “coach” that are out there on the Internet, I can only speculate that what Sandusky was doing isn’t unique.

This guy is simply yet another predator, doing what predators do and have been doing for thousands of years. And, as is usual, he was surrounded by people who (for whatever reason) were pretending that nothing was happening. If someone hadn’t had the courage to blow the whistle, he’d still be doing it.

May prison life give him the opportunity to recognize his sins, repent, and be forgiven.

[2] Posted by Ralph on 6-26-2012 at 09:58 AM · [top]

I remember a coach who would toss each of us a towel as we came out of the shower. The coach said it is was because people were taking more than one towel, and we were running out of towels too soon. Yes, the coach did go to our church, had a family, and seemed like a nice guy (unlike some of the overtly cruel and sadistic coaches I had). You never know what goes on behind someone’s outer mask. This is where I start thinking more about the notion of our total depravity, that evil is at our doorstep, and when we start calling another a monster, we need to also be aware of our own monsters which need to be confessed to our Lord so that He can forgive us.

[3] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 6-26-2012 at 10:33 AM · [top]

The “appropriate measures” we have in our society and communities for Everyday Things That Go Horribly Wrong, often don’t provide direct and meaningful closure.  Even when they run without a hitch. 

I doubt if, five years from now, any of Sandusky’s victims would consider sharing an address with hundreds of criminals whose diet is mostly beans, as a just punishment.  There are crimes which you can punish, and then there are crimes where you can only “punish” the perpetrator by wasting their time.  The proverbial wet noodle. 

So, there will be some comfort that the appropriate measure was effective.  The comfort being, that it would have been much worse otherwise. 

May God grant them the grace and strength to forgive.  May they pass on good instead of evil.

[4] Posted by J Eppinga on 6-26-2012 at 10:43 AM · [top]

Moot, unless Sandusky is kept in strict segregation, he won’t be alive in five years. However heinous other prisoners may be, child abuse is somehow absolutely not tolerated and is punished. Remember the guy, Dahmer(?), who killed so many boys, cannibalized them, and kept all kinds of things in his freezer? He lasted a couple of years before someone stuck a blade in him.

I cannot think of a penalty too severe for this kind of low-life. Our priest molested our 7-year-old son, even in our own house, and our son didn’t come forward until he was 35, after being treated for alcohol and sex addiction. I just can’t find forgiveness for this kind of person.

desert padre

[5] Posted by desertpadre on 6-26-2012 at 12:59 PM · [top]

Excellent observations.

I would add that the psychiatric community and others did not help by pursuing a rash of ill founded “repressed memory” cases, starting largely with the now discredited “Sybil” story. A false accusation is also a sin that can ruin a life, and creates an environment of skeptisicm that can keep legitimate cases from coming forward.

[6] Posted by Going Home on 6-26-2012 at 02:47 PM · [top]

I just saw Sandusky was convicted on 45 of 48 counts.  So many lives ruined by that predator.  So terribly sad.

Predators can spot others to take advantage of - they just can.  They know they can manipulate others.  They know they will generally get away with it.  This is why we must stand up and be counted when we know of or suspect evil - otherwise it just continues to spread. 

DesertPadre - I can’t even begin to imagine how you feel.  But for your own sake I pray you can, with Jesus’ help, find forgiveness for that priest.  I am so so sorry this happened to your son and your family.  I will be praying for total healing and forgiveness.

[7] Posted by B. Hunter on 6-26-2012 at 03:21 PM · [top]

RE:  “I cannot think of a penalty too severe for this kind of low-life.”

I cannot either, including the penalty of being subjected to a life with criminals that will forgive a murderer but not a chlld molester. 

RE:  “Our priest molested our 7-year-old son, even in our own house, and our son didn’t come forward until he was 35, after being treated for alcohol and sex addiction. I just can’t find forgiveness for this kind of person.”

I am a survivor of a heinous crime committed against my family too.  Like your son, my brother in law suffered from misplaced trust. Unlike your son, he did not survive to tell the tale. 

I think you and I both know that you -must- find forgiveness. 

For me, forgiveness has been made easier by God’s promise about vengeance.  I confess I’d be little bit more satisfied if the murderer was in prison or well, -something- that was imposed by the government.  Unfortunately, he’s on the lamb.  So, I have to take it on faith that he’ll get his cumuppance someday.

[8] Posted by J Eppinga on 6-26-2012 at 03:27 PM · [top]

Sarah, you’re totally right about the necessity and difficulty of constructing human justice.  The sea, outer space, even much of the social jungle—it’s not the predators that will get you but the cold indifference of the vacuum.  Evil as the “privation of good.”  And good points about the subjective incompleteness of legal language (which can also be grounding) and the danger of the “norm of niceness” that checks our responses against predators.

That said, there’s huge healing and some “closure” (that’s a silly American concept half the time) in the verdict for the victims and society.  Consider how much worse the alternative of watching Sandusky walk would be.  What the court did was incomplete, very much, but still an occasion for thanksgiving and a major step forward on a long road for the victims and society.  Off the top of my head, the victims have received some serious social recognition of their mistreatment and a black cloud of secrecy, blame, and shame has been clearly lifted from their shoulders and placed where it belongs.  That’s a big deal for people suffering in isolation.  Society has chosen them over this loser.  They’re also in a much better legal position for (still stressful) civil litigation.  They don’t have to worry about prevention; they don’t have to internalize heavy secrets on behalf of their worst enemy, and hopefully, they can begin to focus more on themselves and their lives rather than on this sicko.  Their lives and identities can be about so much more.

Of course, I don’t want to minimize their complex trauma in any way or the severity of Sandusky’s wickedness.  They still probably have some serious, unfair work to do in terms of mourning, integrating their pain into their lives and psyches, and in finding meaning or equally important a lack thereof in their trauma.  That’s hard for adults, let alone kids, but good care can make a big difference.  Let’s find hope in the power of God and in human resiliency.  All kinds of new psychology research demonstrates that people often underestimate resiliency.  I was amazed to see a study a while back on how successful Holocaust survivors were in their careers and families.  Of the kids who survived the death camps and almost always lost their multiple family members, a huge percentage went on to successful careers and raising large families.  Yes, they had higher morbidity rates for some problems especially with stress and food, and a minority really struggled tragically, but many went out and seized the day as adults to their credit.

It’s a dark day, but it’s getting brighter.  There’s healing in the Light.  On a much lesser scale, I’ve known it, thank God.

[9] Posted by The Plantagenets on 6-26-2012 at 04:46 PM · [top]

I suspect that “closure” is very rarely achieved by any sort of punishment available through the legal system, nor through extra-legal means (private vengeance). I read something a few months ago that suggested that the better alternative is something that has been eradicated from the criminal justice system for most crimes that are not explicitly fiduciary in nature. The subject quotation, contained in a footnote in a more general work, also reminded me that “justice” was not always a matter of punishment, but instead involved some form of restitution. I seriously doubt that “punishment” ever brings closure, whether that punishment is imposed by the state or is meted out by the victim or the victim’s surviving family. Long before reading the quotation, I had independently come to the conclusion that restitution was likely a preferable alternative to punishment. The more recent reminder causes me to think that my idea is not that far from the truth (ellipses in original): <blockquote>”The idea of primacy for restitution to the victim has great precedence in law; indeed, it is an ancient principle of law which has been allowed to wither away as the State has aggrandized and monopolized the institutions of justice .... In fact, in the Middle Ages generally, restitution to the victim was teh dominant concept of punishment; only as the State grew more powerful…the emphasis shifted from restitution to the victim, ... to punishment for alleged crimes committed “against the State.” ... What happens nowadays is the following absurdity: A steals $15,000 from B. The government tracks down, tries, and convicts A, all at the expense of B, as one of the numerous taxpayers victimized in this process. Then, the government, instead of forcing A to repay B or work at forced labor until that debt is paid, forces B, the victim, to pay taxes to support the criminal in prison for ten or twenty years’ time. Where in the world is the justice here?”<blockquote> I think the history encapsulated in that quotation bears some serious and thoughtful consideration, and I believe that the answer may also contain an alternative to the idea of capital punishment.

Pax et bonum,
Keith Töpfer

[10] Posted by Militaris Artifex on 6-26-2012 at 05:06 PM · [top]

“...and I believe that the answer may also contain an alternative to the idea of capital punishment.”

Restitution?  Okay, on one hand, you have a productive member of society, a son, a fiance’, a future daddy, loved by his town.  On the other .. you’ve got a n’r do well who would make the people who produce slasher films, blush. 

Ah, yeah..  Most victims families are apt to decline such restitution.  I know I would decline, and I know my in-laws, some of the best people I’ve ever met, would also decline. 

The “good news” is tha we can warehouse them;  and failing that, we can let God warehouse them. 

But yeah, the concept of justice really doens’t apply sometimes.

[11] Posted by J Eppinga on 6-26-2012 at 05:55 PM · [top]

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