Saturday, November 12, 2011


File this one under Things That Make You Feel Bad.

BuzzFeed photo

Joe Paterno

Depressed for about a week, I buried myself in work, pushed off talking to friends, and told FD, "I have a headache."

And I did.

Appetite poor, everything physical that usually hurts, hurt more.  I started watching old episodes of The Office and Modern Family.

Not even associating the emotional low grade fever with the Penn State child abuse scandal, I thought it odd that I hadn't devoured the newspapers to learn everything possible about the  case, and worse, hadn't blogged about it. Usually when a story like this breaks, the keyboard heats up right away. Someone like me gets rabid to throw in her two cents.

Maybe it was that rape in the shower that got to me, that picture of the rape in my head. We have to call it a snapshot reconstruction because it isn't a memory, as in a snapshot memory. We weren't there to see it. But we form snapshots in our brains, reading the paper. We picture a grown man, a large grown man, raping a small boy in the university shower. And that picture is traumatizing.  No one reading about it, no one reconstructing it, could feel anything but . . . bad.

If you really think about it, if you think about the exploitation of children, any kind of exploitation, there's no other way to feel.  Except maybe angry.

A younger man, Mike McQueary, perhaps an assistant to an assistant coach ten years ago, witnessed the rape in the shower. He tells the head coach, the now infamous ex-head coach Joe Paterno what he saw, and the head coach forwards the information to the athletic director, Tim Curley, who tells then Vice President Gary Schultz, who tells President Graham Spanier, and trail stops there. No one calls the police.

Every social worker, every teacher in this country, every nurse, every doctor, every childcare worker, everyone but the officials at Penn State, apparently, knows that even the suspicion of child abuse means a call to a state agency like the Department of Child and Family Services or Child Protective Services. If you don't know the phone number, you call the police. Paterno didn't know, or didn't want to know, and neither did anyone else in the know at Penn State.

So yes, I buried this story, or tried to repress it, because sometimes things just make you too sad to talk about them. Then yesterday at the office I'm chatting with an older middle-aged couple, two people who like to spend at least a few minutes philosophizing about politics, religion, and social class injustices with me, important topics, before we say goodbye. Not seeing it coming, they pull the oh-by-the-way-doc.
Hey Doc, about that Penn State story. How does this happen? How does a man get caught in the act and then, nothing?
As of this morning, 21 felony counts for Sandusky, the ex-Penn State football coordinator and coach. Two perjury charges against university officials who may have lied about what they knew. Joe Paterno, history.

A mother talks about her child's trauma on ABC. "I want him locked up," she says.
Me, too.

There are so many reasons these things stay under the radar, I apologize to my friends. There just isn't enough time to talk about all of them right now.

Then I spend the next ten minutes talking nonstop. Maybe somebody paid off the family. Maybe the family didn't want to traumatize the child more, thinking the investigation a second rape. Probably the family didn't even know. Child victims are paid off in many, many ways, and troubled kids come cheap, with cheap gifts. They don't always have a male role model who loves them, they don't understand love, and they know far too much about sex. They hear that anything goes. They are blackmailed, their lives are threatened, the lives of their families threatened. Children fear authority and Sandusky is a big guy, imposing, intimidating. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who takes no for an answer.

We don't know what happened. Maybe Sandusky got down on his hands and knees, cried and begged forgiveness, vowed he would get help and change, would pay for the kid's education.

He's a pedophile.  This is pedophilia.  You can call it a sex addiction, if you want, but let's narrow it down, pedophilia. It's about children, and it is sick and criminal. Most of us can't say that about our disorders.

Bernie Madoff robbed hundreds of investors of millions, billions of dollars. We were sickened by his actions, disgusted, appalled, and he's in jail for life. People will argue, but losing life savings isn't even in the same ballpark, or should we say on the same football field, as losing innocence, integrity, and person-hood. Add to this that it is hard enough, working toward the goal, some of us have this goal as children, of one day establishing a loving, happy, satisfying, enjoyable, intimate, ever-lasting sexual relationship, maybe even with one partner. This is hard enough. Mix it with memories like these, and oy vey. It is complicated.

Therapists see the victims of child molestation and abuse decades later, usually, well after the fact, and we find our patients still aren't "over" it. Most haven't had the therapy they needed, of course, and stay stuck, developmentally, to the age of the assault, which is why perpetrators who are caught pay for this, therapy for their victims, for years. And they pay for the victim's formal education, something that is interrupted, or never begins, when you don't feel you are worthy of one, that you matter.

Sandusky probably had good enough health insurance to pay for his own treatment. And he spent years at college.

That he probably never sought help feels criminal to me. But denial, deception, and criminality characterize, if not define, pedophilia. Treat it in the family (when it presents as incest), and the prognosis for the offender isn't all that bad. When the offender strays beyond the boundaries of home, it is a more intractable disorder, harder to make go away.

That Sandusky founded a nonprofit agency, Second Mile, to "help" vulnerable, troubled boys, isn't surprising. The old adage, If you want to hunt pedophiles, go where the children are, applies.

Now, because this is a sensational story, joining the ranks of thousands of professionals and para-professionals who work with children, will be coaches, assistant coaches, head coaches and athletic directors. Everyone on campus, certainly, will be reading the university handbook, or will attend a workshop. They will learn, hopefully, that they can't let it go, can't pass the buck to their supervisors to call the police and sit tight, hope for the best. It is everyone's responsibility, protecting children.

Call it manning up.



The Writing Goddess said...

I think right now, any person who's ever been sexually assaulted, is reliving that experience. Every parent or grandparent who's ever been worried about a child, is angry and terrified.

A lot of people are saying, no way could I walk in on such a scene and LEAVE. Abandon a small child to a rapist. Hopefully we'll never have to be tested that way. And some good will come of this, perhaps, we can talk more about the rape culture that lets it be a game of pass the buck instead of protect the kids.

linrob63 said...

Wow. I came looking for your post for a few days. Thank you for this. When you wrote about being worthy and mattering, of course you pinpointed my challenge -- and that I am sure of every kid who ever negotiated adolescence and adulthood with the mathematical symbol for less than attached in the vey long wake of assault and abuse. You wrote about the loss of innocence, integrity and personhood. I would add the loss of potential -- due to the nagging, unrelenting belief that you are bad. Intrinsically bad. Irreparably bad. Irrevocably bad. This has been my challenge for 35 years. And in 1976, maybe it was expecting too much for people to be enlightened. But how does this happen in 2011? How is it that it was seen -- and known -- and allowed to continue. I ran across an article or two that noted Spanier had been a marriage and family therapist and founding editor of the Journal of Family Issues. Having been informed of Sandusky's behavior, how could so many have stood by silently while he continued showing up with young boys to football games and other university sponsored events. I have wept for the boys for days; I weep for them because I know their fears and their futures. But oh, how I hope I am wrong. Thank you again for addressing it -- and focusing on the children.

HubCats said...

...There are, in fact, many reasons why bystanders in groups fail to act in emergency situations, but social psychologists have focused most of their attention on two major factors. According to a basic principle of social influence, bystanders monitor the reactions of other people in an emergency situation to see if others think that it is necessary to intervene. Since everyone is doing exactly the same thing (nothing), they all conclude from the inaction of others that help is not needed. This is an example of pluralistic ignorance or social proof. The other major obstacle to intervention is known as diffusion of responsibility. This occurs when observers all assume that someone else is going to intervene and so each individual feels less responsible and refrains from doing anything.[6]
In one study the effects of masculinity and the bystander effect were studied. Subjects participated in a simulated group discussion via headphones. One member of the group apparently had a choking fit and called for help. Highly masculine subjects were less likely to take action to help the victim than were other subjects. Femininity and actual gender had no effect on likelihood of helping. Results are interpreted according to past research evidence that highly masculine subjects fear potential embarrassment and loss of poise, so they may be reluctant to intervene in emergencies....
Wikipedia, "bystander effect"

Counselor CEUs said...

So disturbing on so many levels. The sociological response has been upsetting. The low priority of protecting children in America has, and continues to be clear

Anna said...

Ugh. I keep turning off the TV, I just can't listen to it. In many ways, I am more mad at the grad student than Sandusky himself. Sandusky was clearly sick, he Had Problems. But this grad student, how could he just walk by? Push him, beat him, STOP that awful, awful thing. He has no excuse. None. The same for Joe Pa, although I am not surprised he tried to rescue his "baby," the reputation, the team instead of some generic kid. It doesn't make it right, though.

Ella said...

Yes, been waiting for this post but also a bit afraid of it, the affirmation that so much of the system and our insitutions fail to protect the vulnerable. And when the vulnerable are harmed, the institutions work to protect themselves first, handle the situation in the easiest way possible.
The teacher who was inappropriate with me, I found him last month and he's still teaching. But if I tell on him now, all I get is a boatload of sorrow, and he likely gets to walk away with "early retirement"

therapydoc said...

The fact is, that even if a kid tells, even when there's a firing, the kid is dealing with too many issues for one so young. It's totally overwhelming, really slows down development, for some, not all, of course. The social stigma, the attention, the interrogation, the guilt, the pain. All too much.

Ella said...

Yeah, I'm an adult now, with a therapist, and I still don't want to take it on, feels like too much.

When I was 16 I thought it was cool that he liked me. Why would I tell then...

therapydoc said...

Right, Ella. Still another reason to feel bad, get mad.

Thanks all for the comments. These are fabulous. I hear McQueary is now saying that he did stop the rape and did go to the police. So glad to hear that. But the system cover up, oy vey.

porcini66 said...

Hey TD. Reading about this is just ridiculously hard. How many boys did he get to...we will probably never, ever know. I quoted a statistic to a couple of my "normal" friends - the ones who didn't think stuff like this ever happened.

"In the adult retrosptective study, victimization was reported by 27 percent of the women and 16 percent of the men. The median age for the occurrence of reported abuse was 9.9 for boys and 9.6 for girls. Victimization occurred before age eight for 22 percent of boys and for 23 percent of girls. Most of the abuse of both boys and girls was by offenders 10 or more years older than their victims. Girls were more likely than boys to disclose the abuse. Forty-two percent of the women and thirty-three percent of the men reported never having disclosed the experience to anyone.
Source: Finkelhor et al., 1990."

My friends were honestly saddened and shocked - maybe this will wake ALL of them up...this stuff is out there and in places you never would expect it. My heart hurts thinking about it and it has reawakened many of the old hurts that I thought I had put away.

Anyway, I could ramble on, but then I'd feel like you should bill my insurance! LOL! :)

elder care charlotte said...

Thank you for posting this. My heart goes out to the victims of these crimes.

Syd said...

A similar situation is happening down here at the Citadel where a pedophile led a summer camp, sat around watching porn with the kids and masturbating. No one reported his actions to the police. Then, he went on to defile countless others. It is all so sad.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I have recntly "outed" one of my abusers to try and protect another child, the whole thing has blown up in my face. Incidentally it was triggered by this case. I blogged about it. Maybe you have some advice? Where do I go from here?

therapydoc said...

Patty, it usually does blow up, which is why so many people don't blow the whistle. Not knowing enough to counsel you hear, ask a professional nearby. But based upon what I'm hearing, it's always okay to let the dust settle for a few weeks, then see if a sympathetic ear has heard you. This is how community intervention begins. One person makes the initial stink, then a few others sympathize, and before you know it you have a watchdog organization and community education. It has to start somewhere. Thanks so much for writing.

Ella said...

I sat with my therapist today and called the school where the teacher works now. I hope it makes a difference for another girl. It was a really, really hard thing to do.

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts