Friday night, as the Phillies were deciding between a three- or four-hour rain delay as the preferred method of draining as much from their suffering patrons’ wallets as possible, a thunderbolt came across the TV screen at the Local Watering Hole where I had hunkered down for the evening: The jury had reached a verdict in the Jerry Sandusky abuse trial.
A charge went through the assembled masses at a LWH. About a half-hour later there were cheers and shouts usually reserved for big Phillies moments–which are in short supply lately–as the news was announced that Sandusky had been convicted on 45 of the remaining 48 counts brought against him by the Centre County D.A. Justice had been served, but a celebration in this case was completely out of order.
Sandusky received what he deserved, of course, and his victims and their families can feel relief that he will be punished for his horrible deeds. But there is no cause for elation in this instance. Sandusky’s heinous actions have devastated the lives of his victims, and he could never serve enough time in jail to reverse the damage he wrought. The boys on whom he preyed have the satisfaction that he has been locked up, but that doesn’t erase the terror they endured at his hands. Not even the most Draconian punishment can do that. This is not as black and white as locking up the bad guy and moving on. For some of the victims, this is just the beginning of their healing–or a new chapter in the ordeals they have suffered to this point.
Many of us who have watched this from afar can’t fathom the nightmarish world Sandusky created. Reacting to the guilty verdict as if it were a touchdown or a come-from-behind victory lessens the gravity of the awful acts and equates it with far less serious events. We can’t do that.
Don’t forget about the other victims: Sandusky’s family. Although we have learned so far that only adopted son Matt was abused by his father, everyone else in his immediate sphere has been damaged by his crimes. They can never view their husband/father/sibling/uncle/grandfather/whatever again the same way, and their family name has been stained forever. The verdict may end the public airing of Sandusky’s disgraceful offenses, but his family must live with the aftermath and the public humility of their name.
It is good that Sandusky suffers for his crimes, but the far better result of this entire ordeal would be for our society to regard the accusations of abuse by children more seriously. No more can adults choose to ignore the anguish of a child. Statistics say that, on average, children must confide in eight people before one believes him or her. That trend must end.
If the Sandusky catastrophe has not taught us that sexual abuse of children is prevalent in our society, then we probably have lost the capacity to learn. The stomach-turning details brought out in the Bellefonte courtroom had better make us considerably more vigilant. We must understand that every person who comes into contact with children must be vetted carefully, and if there is any question, that person must not have access to the kids, no matter how inconvenient that may be. If we don’t protect our children, how can we consider ourselves civilized?
Every organization, from schools, to churches to youth sports to community groups–and beyond–must now establish new, stricter criteria to make sure children don’t have to suffer the torment Sandusky’s victims did. This sounds like basic, simple logic, but it’s not the rule right now. There are people who have direct contact with children who have no business being within miles of them. They identify the weakest among them and then prey on them through devious methods, leaving wounds that will take decades to heal, if they heal. That’s abominable.
Sandusky has received what he deserves and will never be free again. Any appeal his overmatched defense team mounts will be overpowered quickly, just as his case was dismantled in Bellefonte. We should all be relieved that justice has been served. But to consider the verdict and his subsequent incarceration reasons for celebration lessens the gravity of the situation. A monster has been thwarted, but this is no fairy-tale ogre. This is a man whose victims have suffered torment that I hope no one reading this ever comes close to enduring. Feel satisfied that no technicality, stubborn juror or prosecutorial mistake resulted in Sandusky’s going free, but don’t whoop and holler. Instead, get to work doing whatever you can to protect children from future harm. That’s the proper reaction to the guilty verdict.
This must never happen again.
When we have eradicated the sexual abuse of minors from the landscape, then we can cheer. Or maybe we can just consider ourselves fully human.