Penn State Scandal Highlights Lack of Accountability, Family and Community Breakdown, and Disregard for Safety of Children

The country and Penn State University have been rocked this week with allegations of sexual assault by former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky. And now the scandal has resulted in the firing of an otherwise amazing man and winningest college football coach, Joe Paterno, ending an incredible 46 year career. (See http://msn.foxsports.com/collegefootball/story/joe-paterno-fired-penn-state-football-coach-president-graham-spanier-child-sex-abuse-scandal-board-of-trustees-meeting-110911?ocid=ansfox11.) 409 victories and 2 National Championships could not overcome this devastation of moral failure.

Sandusky has been charged with over 40 counts of molesting and sexually assaulting at least nine young boys, all having met Sandusky through the Second Mile Foundation, a charity founded by Sandusky in 1977 to improve the lives of disadvantaged children. The assaults occurred over a period of at least 13 years, though the Pennsylvania Attorney General has asked any other victims to please come forward. A Grand Jury released its presentment last Saturday, which described in graphic detail Sandusky's alleged assaults upon these victims. A link to the Grand Jury Presentment can be found here (please be warned of its graphic nature; courtesy of Beaver County Times): http://www.timesonline.com/news/police_fire_courts/jerry-sandusky-grand-jury-presentment/article_2e4c04d6-9f56-5dcb-895d-35a909e4b342.html .

There has been a firestorm of criticism revolving around the case due to what administrators and head football coach Joe Paterno knew or should have known regarding these incidents, and a lack of reporting or even taking minimal action to prevent future incidents. This story by Penn State Alum and current ESPN reporter Dana O'Neil concerning the affect of the scandal on the community reveals the devastation brought on by these events - certainly to the individual victims and their families, but to the entire community as well. Courtesy of ESPN: http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/7203559/penn-state-nittany-lions-scandal-stuns-community .

Sandusky apparently used his ties to and position of authority in his Second Mile Foundation to draw in and prey upon the youth whose familes trusted him as a community friend. The Second Mile Foundation, a charity designed to improve the lives of disadvantaged boys, provided Sandusky cover for misappropriating parental and community trust to satisfy his wicked desires.

The Second Mile Foundation has this to say on its website about its mission: "Many children face adversity even before they understand how to dream. The Second Mile, founded in 1977 in State College, Pennsylvania, is a statewide non-profit organization for children who need additional support and who would benefit from positive human contact." (http://www.thesecondmile.org/aboutUs.php ) The Second Mile has, despite Sandusky's actions, done amazing things for Pennsylvania's disadvantaged youth. This scandal should not downgrade the good that the organization has done. But, the reasons for the foundation existing in the first place, and the seeming disregard for child safety raises many serious questions.

Second Mile exists because children's home lives were already missing a positive atmosphere in which they could grow. Whether due to divorce, inattention, absence, or abuse, children today find themselves alone more and more. Family breakdown has led these children to seek refuge in the homes of others and to trust individuals who are not their parents. These troubles can be opportunities for predators to exist, build trust, and then take advantage of these children. A recent figure indicated that in as many as 93 percent of child sexual cases, the child knows the person who commits the abuse (See Child Sexual Abuse and Prevention Center: http://www.stopitnow.org/child_sexual_abuse_fact_sheet ).

Parents sometimes have no choice but to partially out-source the raising of their children for many reasons. There is no one to directly blame but the defendant in this case, but the fact that Jerry Sandusky was repeatedly caught inappropriately touching young boys dating back to the 1990's and was still participating in Second Mile events until 2008 is extremely disturbing. It seems as though these boys and their claims were marginalized by the other adults around them, and somehow portrayed as unbelievable when compared with Sandusky. Sandusky came under police investigation in 1998 for an incident with a young boy in a shower and nothing was done to prevent him from having more young boys sleep over at his home. During these sleep-overs, Sandusky would establish trust with the young boys and then "see how far they would let him go," according to the Grand Jury presentment.

Due to the young age of these boys, it is not known exactly who knew what about these incidents. Young boys subjected to these assaults would most definitely experience fear and agitation regarding the abuse and would be unsure as to what to do or who to talk to. Another recent statistic shows that 88% (!) of all sexual abuse cases are never reported to authorities. (See Child Sexual Abuse and Prevention Center, at http://www.stopitnow.org/child_sexual_abuse_fact_sheet ). Sandusky's portrayal of himself as a trusted adult figure to these children would only increase their confusion.

These victims have suffered immense psychological and emotional damage as a result of these assaults and will bear these scars for the rest of their lives. It is an immense tragedy that Jerry Sandusky was allowed to continue to be around children even after one allegation of inappropriateness with a child.

This country cannot simply give a person the benefit of the doubt when it comes to cases of this nature. The protection of our children must be paramount in cases such as this, but so many times, individuals in positions of power are allowed a free pass because of who they are, who they know, or the politically correct climate of our nation. There have been allegations that Sandusky was still allowed on Penn State's campus as recently as last week even though he has been under investigation since 2008. Additionally, after a 2002 incident with another boy in the locker room showers at Penn State, Sandusky's only apparent punishment was to tell him to stop bringing children onto campus. Nothing else was done. That failure in itself is abhorrent, and should raise serious questions about all aspects of this case.

The Penn State scandal highlights the need for trusted moral authorities in the midst of family and community breakdown faced by children. Any disregard for their safety is irresponsible, unacceptable, and cannot be tolerated under any circumstances.

[Thanks to David Vitto, Regent University School of Law Candidate for Juris Doctorate 2013, for this post.]


  1. I think anyone could agree that Sandusky's actions were wrong. Whatever did or did not happen, there is minimal chance that this guy could be as completely not guilty as he is likely to plead. That being said, what do these riots at Penn State really say about what students think about the situation?
    Some claim that students are blaming the media for the removal of "JoePa" from the coaching staff because reporters exaggerated his knowledge of Sandusky's actions. Others are saying he has become the unfortunate fall guy for a university system that really should have fired everyone as equally reprehensible. Is it possible that deep down students are upset because technically Paterno did everything he thought he was supposed to do in this kind of situation? He reported one such Sandusky incident to Penn State's athletic director after all.
    I think this whole case has a lot to do with technicalities. In our family law class, we read a case where a child went to the hospital on multiple occasions with signs of physical abuse. The hospital employees had a mandatory obligation to report their suspicions to child protective services. Officials investigated but never had quite enough evidence to remove the child from the home. The next beating left the child severely handicapped for the rest of his life. Was it enough that the hospital employees reported what they saw and moved on with life? Was it enough that officials were monitoring the situation? Technically they fulfilled their duty. In these kind of helping professions, it would be impossible to follow up on every instance of possible abuse every day for every child. You just do your best.
    Back to JoePa...Technically he fulfilled his duty by reporting. The students at Penn State understand this and don't understand why everyone else at the university is not equally reprehensible. I think the major issue that Paterno, other university staff, and students have to come to terms with is that they had the every day contact with Sandusky that social or hospital workers will never have with abusers or their victims. Just passing information along to a higher source might not be enough in this specific scenario.
    I suspect JoePa realizes all of this in hindsight, and I really sympathize with him because I don't know that in the same situation I might think that reporting it to a higher authority was enough. At the end of the day, however, we have a responsibility to protect the children in our society. This is a duty that goes beyond any legal or socially correct mandates about reporting or not reporting to authority. I know that I can learn from this situation that sometimes doing what is right requires going beyond the minimum and really showing active concern for the community in which I live.

  2. David- Thanks for your post. I have several close family members and friends who are Penn State alums and ex-faculty so I have been following this story closely and I can tell you that even though it's a campus of 42,000 students, it really does feel like a "family" when you visit the campus (much more so compared to some other large public institutions). The school and the town (“Happy Valley”) have a long, proud tradition of representing the Commonwealth as a pleasant rural environment in which to live and work. “A sleepy land grand University..” as one journalist put it, that has since expanded its facilities tremendously and built a respected athletic program on a strong foundation of wholesome values. I think that is precisely the reason why this scandal has so intensely rocked the university itself as well as the larger collegiate athletic and academic communities.

    The most disturbing part is not only the heinous nature of the crimes themselves (as evidenced by the graphic grand jury indictment), but the additional fact that the acts in question were more easily facilitated through the charitable foundation "The Second Mile” that Sandusky established under the purported mission of improving the well-being of disadvantaged youth. Although I am myself Catholic, and I hate to draw the comparison, I can't help but make parallels to the allegations made against high-level Catholic priests in recent years. Many commentators have suggested that child predators specifically seek out these positions of trust and respect because it allows them to carry out their deviant sexual fantasies under the radar of public scrutiny. Just as some have said about corrupt police officers that "The best place to hide from the law is behind the badge", from Sandusky’s perspective, the best place to take a child's innocence is in the locker room of the Division 1 stadium where you served as assistant coach.

    I tend to disagree with the many critics who have been citing an idolization of sports icons like Joe Paterno as the driving impetus behind these alleged assaults and in making this point in no way do I intend to throw my support behind Joe Pa or any of the others who were fired as a result of the apparent cover-up (as PSU undergrads were so anxious to do during their “Mini-Riot” on Beaver Avenue the night of Paterno’s release). It must be remembered that situations such as this will always be delicate matters in any organization. Whether the incident occurs in the form of sexual harassment at a company workplace, or child molestation inside of a church, the leadership is often required to make very difficult decisions in a short amount of time. The end-result frequently involves going public with the information and ultimately severely tarnishing the reputations of ALL individuals involved and the organization as a whole. People should consider these factors before being so quick to blame inherent defects in “the system” of college athletics in general.

    On a personal note, I would like to share with you a link to a news story about MY LITTLE LEAGUE COACH in Alexandria, VA who was featured on America’s Most Wanted this year and just recently sentenced to life in prison in a Fairfax County courtroom for things he did to MY TEAMMATES in the middle school parking lot where we practiced. A final word: Sandusky, Hamilton, and people like them are truly sick and manipulative creeps who deserve a very special place in prison (and Hell) for their actions.

  3. http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Ex-Little-League-Coach-Faces-Sexual-Battery-Charge.html


  4. I think it is a fair assumption to say that Sandusky's actions...are so beyond reprehensible that there are few words to describe his conduct. While he may be deservedly sentenced to life in jail, God will truly be the one to cast eternal judgment on him, and I have to agree with Jonathan, Hell is the likely destination.

    I know that there have been others at Penn State who were also brought up on charges of their own for their failure to act to prevent the extent of this tragedy (among other things). I also know that Joe Paterno is not one of them at this time. However, I am also a pretty big college football fan and I am familiar with the extent of Joe Paterno's influence at Penn State and within the NCAA system as a whole. Did he follow proper protocol when first learning of the incident? Yes...technically (like Amy said). Was he at the university for over 40 years, was he easily as powerful as the PSU athletic director (as evidenced by his simply saying "no" when PSU sought to remove him from his position for several lackluskter seasons between 2000-2004), was he made aware of the Sandusky situation on several occasions (and the "restrictions" placed on Sandusky), was he present in 2007 (after Sandusky was forced to leave several years before due to his "impropriety") when Sandusky brought one of his victims to a team practice? Yes...definitely. The simple fact is...and though hindsight is 20/20, as even Paterno recognizes...he could have done more, as could have others at PSU.

    I pray for the victims of these tragic circumstances and I think that sentiment is shared by many. PSU played my favorite team, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, this past Saturday - and this is an article about the joint team prayer that occurred before the game.