Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Lessons learnt from the Sandusky trial

I have been following the Sandusky trial and I believe there are a number of lessons that can be learnt from it.

1. Sandusky was a good guy

What was not to like? He was the benevolent football coach with the goofy grin, the founder of Second Mile - a program for at-risk youth. He loved children and children loved him. He even received an "Angels in Adoption" award in 2002.

He was not creepy. Children were not visibly afraid of him. No one reported getting a feeling that "something was off" when meeting him. No one suspected that he was a sexual predator.

Lessons learnt

  • Don't count on being able to tell that someone shouldn't be trusted. Sexual predators are complex people. They can be "good" people in other ways, and are often generally liked. 
  • Don't trust someone with your child just because he seems to be a good guy.

2. The warning signs were there, but no one seemed to notice

Over the years, there were many accounts of inappropriate behaviour by Sandusky towards the boys in his Second Mile program, but no one ever said anything about it.
  • A grown man taking showers with pre-pubescent boys.
  • Special favours - trips to football games, gifts, etc - all classic grooming techniques.
  • Sleep-overs, shared rooms on trips, etc - ample opportunity for sexual abuse.
  • Multiple allegations that weren't properly investigated.

Lessons learnt 

  • Be vigilant. Know the warning signs. Know what constitutes healthy sexual development and age-appropriate sexual behaviour. 
  • If something looks inappropriate, it probably is. Don't assume its harmless because it's someone you know and trust.

3. Sandusky claimed innocence even after sentencing

He never admitted to doing any more than "taking showers with kids". He never admitted to anything inappropriate. He claimed that it was all a big conspiracy, and that the victims who testified were in it for the money. He even recorded a soppy audio-testimony from jail, lamenting about how many people have suffered due to "false allegations", and saying that he hopes some boy who would have been abused wouldn't be, because of the publicity around his trial. He also re-iterated that the boys in his program had "issues", insinuating that these "issues" somehow lead them to make false accusations.

Lessons learnt

  • It's no use confronting someone you suspect and asking them if they have molested a child. They won't admit it, even if they did.
  • Sexual predators are often very good at manipulating not only children, but also adults. When confronted, this will likely be his first weapon of defence. 

4. Both an unnamed janitor and Mike McQueary saw it, but nothing happened

McQueary saw Sandusky raping a boy in the showers and reported it to the head-coach (Paterno) He didn't give explicit details, out of "respect for Sandusky". He also spoke to two administrators. He never went to the police, assuming that, since Schultz (one of the administrators) had overseen the campus police department, it would be investigated. The administrators spoke to Sandusky, and ordered him not to bring boys from his Second Mile charity to campus again. Nothing further came of it.

The janitor told only his colleague, making no attempt at instigating an investigation.

Lessons learnt 

  • If you report something, report it to the police, as well as anyone else you might deem appropriate. 
  • Follow up, to make sure your report was noted correctly and is receiving the necessary attention.
  • Give details. To hold back details is to compromise the investigation. Don't feel that you have to prove your allegations - that is what police investigations are for. If the person is innocent, an investigation will prove that. It is better to offend an adult than to assist in the destruction of a child's soul.

5. The adults who knew didn't know what to do, or simply didn't do anything

I have never met an adult who didn't claim that they would step in and "do something" if they suspected abuse. However, when faced with this situation, many people don't know what to do. McQueary reported it to the administrator, leaving out significant details. The janitor did not report it at all. Victim 6's mother reported it to the University, but didn't pursue criminal charges.

Lessons learnt:

As adults, we should be prepared to deal with the situation if we discover child abuse.

  • Do you have a clear concept of what is ok and what isn't, where it concerns behaviour towards children?
  • If you suspected, or knew of abuse, do you know what you would do? Do you know who you would talk to, what you would say, and how you would follow up? Have you thought of the words you would use?
  • Are you willing to offend a friend of family member, in order to potentially save a child from a lifetime of suffering?

Let's be prepared to stand up, step in, and protect not only our own children, but all children we come into contact with on a daily basis. 

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