Silence is secret accomplice in Jerry Sandusky case, others like it

The calls began to arrive shortly after the news broke last November.

Sad and desperate. Lonely and disturbing. Each a little different from the next, but all sharing a too-common theme of devastation.

These were the hotlines at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay after the first headlines appeared that revealed the sexual abuse allegations heard by a grand jury in the case of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

For two months, the frequency of calls spiked. They were unrelated to Sandusky except for the nightmares they invoked. The callers were seeking neither justice nor retaliation. They were not demanding charges be brought, or damages be awarded.

They asked simply for someone to finally hear them.

This is what should not be forgotten in the justice-affirming celebration of Sandusky's conviction on 45 counts of sexual abuse Friday evening.

It may seem as if the monster has been silenced and order has been restored, but that is just a small part of the story. For it doesn't take into account the number of years Sandusky was allowed to terrorize children. And it doesn't forgive the number of people who seemingly enabled him along the way. And it doesn't address the number of nameless and faceless victims the world will never know or help.

That's what the increase in crisis center calls hints at. That's what their untold stories suggest.

"It's when everybody turns their heads away from abuse,'' said Crisis Center CEO David Braughton, "that allows the Sanduskys of the world to do the things they do.''

In the end, that is nearly as revolting as the crimes themselves. Not just that one twisted individual would use children as his perverted play toys, but that he was given a free pass by so many otherwise upstanding citizens along the way.

In the satisfaction of his conviction, it is easy to forget just how long Sandusky was given access to children and university facilities despite too many warning signs.

Police and university officials were alerted to a potential abuse case as far back as 1998. Two years later, reports say a school maintenance worker witnessed a case of abuse. Two years after that, an assistant football coach saw another apparent case of abuse. Six years after that, a mother reported another case of sexual assault.

And still Sandusky was running football camps for children at Penn State satellite campuses.

"How in the heck could there be so many victims, including his own son, and nobody spoke up along the way?'' Braughton said. "It's an amazing example of how privilege and authority in our society allows these monsters to exist right out in the open.

"We have a certain view of these people as molesters, but we never think of them as the neighbor next door. And that's exactly who most of them are.''

More than 40 percent of all rape victims are minors. Let that sink in for a moment. And then consider that the overwhelming majority are attacked by relatives or acquaintances, according to statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Resource.

In the end, that should really be the lesson of the Sandusky case.

Not that one remorseless miscreant will eventually die in prison, but that family, friends, neighbors and co-workers allowed him to exist.

Silence is secret accomplice in Jerry Sandusky case, others like it 06/25/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 27, 2012 11:18am]

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