Washington, January 7, 2011 — As I sat listening to the pretrial hearing for former Penn State Officials Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, my mind was gripped by one compelling question “Why?”
Why did two men in the position to stop the sexual abuse of so many young boys simply do nothing? They are accused of failing to report the molestation of a child by former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I could not deride my anger as I watched Mike McQueary report the graphic details of what he witnessed in the showers of the Penn State Athletic Facility.
His detailed account left no room for confusion about what happened: McQueary saw Jerry Sandusky sexually abusing a child.
McQueary came under fire after the details of his grand jury testimony were revealed for taking little or no action both at the scene and in reporting the crime he witnessed. However, officials later revealed he spoke with Athletic Director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz and in stunning detail told them what he saw.
So why did two such powerful men – Curley and Schultz — walk away from investigating what was clearly a case of child sex abuse? The answer is a combination of ignorance, fear and ego.
I am not a psychologist, nor have I been in the position Curley and Schultz faced, but I have been exposed to similar behavior in my struggles against abuse in my own life. Child sex abuse is an ugly secret that, despite the scandal in the Catholic Church, has been pushed out of the spotlight and out of people’s minds.
That hidden secret saw light when Jerry Sandusky’s first accuser had the courage to come forward. It was the crack in the “Wall of Silence” that formed into an ever increasing chasm as it all came tumbling down. As a society, we have avoided the issue of child sex abuse because it has been too difficult to fathom the motivations of a pedophile or the trauma suffered by their victims.
Now we see the truth we fought so hard to avoid in the unveiling of Sandusky and others: pedophiles are not misshapen misfits but instead look exactly like our friends, neighbors and coworkers.
Curley and Schultz knew they had two options when then graduate assistant Mike McQueary told them explicit details of Sandusky’s sexual abuse of a young boy in the showers of the Penn State Athletic Facility. They could launch a full investigation which would tarnish the image of Penn State or cover it all up and tell Sandusky to stop bringing boys into the Athletic Facility. They choose the latter, and for purely selfish reasons. Curley and Schultz took a page from the “playbook” used by the Catholic Church, closed their eyes and hoped it would just all go away.
McQueary also reported Sandusky’s abuse to former Penn State Head Football Coach Joe Paterno. Paterno waited a full day after McQueary told him what he witnessed to contact Athletic Director Tim Curley, who then brought in then vice president Gary Schultz. Paterno told a grand jury earlier this year he delayed contacting Curley and Schultz because, “It was a Saturday morning and I didn’t want to interfere with their weekends.”
This brings into focus one of the first factors explaining why this tragedy continued for so long: ignorance. For those who have never suffered the effects of childhood sexual abuse or had someone close to them suffer the effects, their view is strictly one dimensional. They simply do not understand the devastation sexual abuse wreaks on a person’s life and the ripples it generates from the victims loved ones to the Emergency Room doctor treating a suicide attempt. They simply cannot “wrap their minds around it.”
Curley and Schultz demonstrated this theme by waiting ten days to speak with McQueary.
This brings us to the second factor in their decision making process: fear. Fear for Curley and Schultz existed on not one but two levels. First, they were worried about their own job security. The second level is much more complicated and is a common thread in bystanders to child sex abuse. Their minds cannot accept that someone who looks and acts like them could be capable of such horrific acts. It is the single most compelling reason people stand on the sidelines and allow children to be victimized. They cannot accept the horrendous nature of what has happened when they have to look in the mirror and see someone who looks just like the pedophile.
The third and final reason for such a travesty of justice is ego. This is probably not what you think. What drives grown men to minimize the rape of a child is the failure to come to grips with their own vulnerability. It is damaging to the male ego to embrace the concept that they are powerless in any situation, and in the case of child sex abuse such an acceptance can be like swallowing poison.
When all of these factors collide, individuals lock this knowledge away in the recesses of their mind and find some faulty rationalization for doing so. However, there are no locks strong enough to keep the knowledge of child sex abuse contained from one’s own conscience. Deep in the minds of Tim Curley and Gary Schultz the image of a young child, alone in the showers of the Penn State Athletic Facility being held down by Jerry Sandusky would not rest.
The forces that shape history are as mysterious and elusive as the depths of our imagination. The Penn State Scandal has torn down the wall of silence and like the fractured Germany, a new union has emerged and the marriage of the victim to their voice will not be shaken.
We live in a time when accountability is at an all time low.
From scandals on Wall Street to crime on main street, people have taken a position of apathy. We have to let the Penn State Scandal be our call to action and leave our place on the sidelines for a better view on the world. Speaking up about what we know is wrong is a matter of facing our own fears and realizing that our conscience thrives on the truth. We have to educate ourselves to recognize the signs of child sexual abuse and work as a community to end the tragedy of stolen childhoods and vandalized happiness.
Organizations like Stop the Silence, RAINN (The Rape and Incest National Network) and Male Survivor are working to educate teachers and families about child sex abuse. They need our help to bring people into the discussion so that we can all work to find an end to this terrible crime.
We have come to a time when humanity cannot hide from itself and we have to succeed to our “better angels” as Lincoln said in his first inaugural address. In the end we are not only saving the foundation of a child’s hopes and dreams but the future of our humanity.