Monday, November 21, 2011

A horrible secret

Although I usually write about national politics, I never forget that politics is not the be-all. So many things in life are more important than who wins an election-- a belief in the meaning of life, a chance to experience a joyful life, giving and receiving love and friendship.

This post is about something beyond electoral politics. It's about Mike McQueary, the assistant in the Penn State athletics program who witnessed Jerry Sandusky allegedly raping a boy in 2002. McQueary, shocked and uncertain, left the scene, and reported the incident to his father and to the head coach Joe Paterno.

There are huge, disturbing, painful questions.

The Perpetrator
How could someone who was respected as kind and generous ... also be a serial rapist of children?

A lot of players who knew Sandusky are shocked. Jon Ritchie, a former fullback, said:
I thought he was the most compassionate, altruistic, selfless man on the face of the earth. I'd known him since I was 14 years old.... We developed a relationship... I loved him. I thought that he was what I wanted to be...

I have just a bit of experience with child molesters. In the town where I live, we had a new high school principal. He was popular with the kids because he found some ways to make school more responsive to them. For example, they could pile up merit points towards pizza lunches or a free afternoon. The hall pass system was reformed in a simple way that made it a lot fairer. They weren't big changes, but the kids felt for once that they had an ally.

Unfortunately, there were a couple questionably incidents (without physical contact), and more thorough investigation revealed a strong possibility of past sex with middle school or high school boys. The man's foster son was removed from his home, and he was fired as principal. I don't know what became of him.

I did learn that it's possible that a molester really loves kids, but then crosses that strict line that you don't have sexual contact with them. Most adults don't have that problem. I love my kids, I love my neighbors' kids, and I don't have any sexual interest in them. It's the same for most people. But this principal loved kids more than an average parent or teacher. But he also crossed the line. I can't label him a monster, but what he did was still wrong and unacceptable, and I have no regret that he's gone.

The Witness
How could someone witness the rape of a child and not intervene or follow up to make sure that no other children were endangered?

Again, Jon Ritchie said:
My reality was Jerry Sandusky was Mother Teresa.... It's really hard for me to put myself in Mike McQueary's position.... I conceptualize my defensive coordinator ... doing what he is alleged to have done.... At that point in time, my mind would be gone, I would flee, I would run.... My world would be turned upside down.... Apparently that is what Mike had done.
Many molesters bind victims psychologically by heaping shame on them. Their shame, though not their fault, keeps them silent. It can be the same for witnesses. Since Mike McQueary didn't immediately stop Sandusky and turn him over to the police, he shared some of Sandusky's guilt. The shame of that might have paralyzed McQueary until it came time to tell the truth to the grand jury. Notably, university officials are being charged with lying to the grand jury, but McQueary isn't.

I don't excuse Sandusky in any way. I believe in harsh punishment for child molesters, but I don't think he was a complete monster. However, a partial monster is still a monster, and we need to remove monsters from society.

I have sympathy for McQueary. It's incredibly difficult to protect the small against the powerful and respected, and I've been the coward more than I've been a hero. The best way to help witnesses is mandated reporter laws with clear requirements of what witnesses have to do. Such laws seem to provide the higher power that guides us wavering souls down the right path.

"But I'll tell you this: when I was 16, I finally demanded my pedophile explain what he'd been doing to me.

"I believe, to the bottom of my soul, that he'd found ways to justify it for my good.

"And after the difficult time of processing this over the last week, I'm also coming to the realization that much of the good pedophiles do, which I'd previously assumed was to provide cover and gain access, is likely also to convince themselves they're good, not just evil. It's a horrifying feedback loop; the more good they do, the more they gain for their shortcoming."  --zic, a blog commenter

Update 6/22/12. Sandusky has just been found guilty of 45 counts out of 48. This feels like justice to me, but justice doesn't erase the evil he's done. Unfortunately, nothing does. It's one of the imperfections of our existence, that such wrong-doing can't be undone, not by the judicial system, not by apologies, and often not by penance. That's why we have to strive to do good and avoid evil. I hope I remember that every day of my life.


Anonymous said...

There's nothing good about this situation. NOTHING. Nothing redeeming for anyone involved, from the school to the students to the ones in the know.

We know someting happened but I don't think we can ever find out exactly what. Sandusky and his lawyers will argue in court that we don't know exactly what happened to support their case that nothing happened. It was all a misunderstanding, he and his lawyers will say.

McQueary might have been mistaken, or possibly he couldn't believe what he saw. I have some compassion for his circumstances because at least he reported it. He might have asked some people and Joe Paterno may have told him that he didn't see what he thought he saw. We'll never know. Maybe Paterno actually believed that.

It all adds up, unfortunately, to reasonable doubt even though it happened for sure. There's too much smoke for there not to be a fire of some sort.

So the only choice is to decide that they are all co-conspirators -- which they arguably are -- and look at the case that way in order to extract justice.

But there is also no lesson to apply to later situations, either. Co-conspirators -- even if they have different motives -- will always find a way to cast doubt on their actions in order to protect their motives. You see it every day in politics, business, relationships and on and on. It is human nature and there is a dark side to human nature that abhorant to look at.

Once again, a powerful man had his way with the powerless, and other powerful men protected him to suit their own designs. Old news.

ModeratePoli said...

@Anon, This seems to be deeply emotional for you too. With your emphatic statement that there's nothing good about this situation, I hope you didn't interpret my post as saying there was something good. I don't see anything good in child molestation.

There is a bit to be learned: the mandated reporting laws are not strong enough, but they will no doubt be strengthened.