Can We Learn Anything From the Sandusky Trial?

By now almost everyone is aware of the Jerry Sandusky trial. Even for those who tend to tune into ESPN instead of the evening news, there was no escape, thanks in large part to the role Penn State University and their football team played in the saga. To put this into context, the verdict was read at the same time as the NHL draft, less than 24 hours after the NBA crowned a new champion, and during the College World Series; however, the lead story on SportsCenter that night was the 45 individual guilty verdicts handed down by the jury. There is still a lot that we don’t know about the whole situation, and some things we will never know, such as what did the late Joe Paterno know about Sandusky’s actions. One thing we do know, barring a successful appeal by Sandusky’s legal team, is that Sandusky will die while in the custody of the Pennsylvania prison system. He is 68 years old and facing a minimum of 60 years of incarceration.

This story is far from over….there may be more victims out there who have yet to come forward (during the trial we found out that Sandusky’s foster son, who is now in his 30s, has said that he too was abused as a child); there will most likely be civil suits filed against Sandusky, Penn State, and school officials; and currently there are former school officials facing perjury charges stemming from the investigation.

Is there anything to learn form this case?

First, we know silence is what allows people like Sandusky to keep victimizing children. It’s almost like fuel on a wild fire. There are many reasons why victims of these types of crimes do not come forward (shame, fear, guilt,¬†embarrassment, etc….), and we can not blame them for staying silent for so long. I spent over a year of my professional career prosecuting people like Sandusky, and unfortunately his story is not unique. Often these monsters prey on vulnerable children and make threats to keep them silent. It is important for victims to know they are not alone, which is one reason why once the story broke last November many victims broke their silence, realizing they were not the only ones who went through the nightmare.

Second, monsters like Sandusky can blend in with everyone else, its not always just the stereotype of a strange man driving a window-less van. A lot of times we find out that these criminals are the people who society trusts; in recent years there have been numerous stories involving teachers, coaches, and church members. In fact, on the same day and in the same state as the Sandusky verdict, a jury found Monsignor William Lynn guilty of Child Endangerment for his role in covering up alleged sex abuse in his church. A lesson to be learned by parents is to never let your guard down. This does not mean to be suspicious of everyone and accuse people of crimes, but to just remember that you never truly know who a person is and how they act behind closed doors. So, just always be alert. Talk to your children often and make sure they are comfortable talking to you.

Third, there are no witnesses. Sandusky, like most other sexual abusers, was calculated in what he did. Even though there was one incident were a young assistant coach happened to walk in and see something inappropriate, these people typically attack when they know there is no one around. This makes prosecuting these cases difficult, because ultimately it comes down to the victims’ testimony, which is often times years removed from the actual crime. Technology and the “CSI effect” give the jury the mistaken belief that there should always be some type of forensic evidence to prove what happened, which is another hurdle prosecutors face in trial.

Even though the victims and their families will never fully recover from their physical and emotional scars, hopefully knowing that other children are now safe from this monster can help them begin to move forward. At some point, this news story will fade away from national attention. At some point, Penn State University will get past the black cloud which is now placed over their campus. At some point, we may all forget about this trial. But always remember, at no point will the victims be completely whole again. Sandusky took away an innocence from each one of his victims that can not be returned. Remember, that for the victims, this nightmare will never truly be over.