Opinion

Opinion

Young victim’s courage shames adults

December 29, 2011

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Former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky may have waived his preliminary hearing in the child sex-abuse case, but two former Penn State officials charged with perjury and failure to report a crime had their first day in court a week ago.

The hearing featured two hours of testimony from Mike McQueary, the former Penn State graduate assistant who, in 2002, claims to have witnessed Sandusky raping a boy in the football locker room showers. While what McQueary saw — and said — is being challenged, one thing we know is that no Penn State official called the police in 2002.

No, the alarm wasn’t sounded until six years later, when a high school student courageously went to his principal and said he was victimized by Sandusky. He is referred to in the grand jury summary as Victim No. 1, not because he was the first to be victimized but because he was the first to come forward.

As a result, there are now a total of 10 alleged victims and 50 charges of abuse pending against Sandusky. (And if the allegations are true, it strains credulity to believe there are only 10 victims.)

But where would we be without Victim No. 1?

That’s what I kept thinking while reading minute-by-minute tweets last Friday on the preliminary hearing for former athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz.

As everyone now knows, McQueary saw something on that Friday night. He told head coach Joe Paterno the next day. Paterno then reported to Curley, and subsequently McQueary met with Curley and Schultz — a meeting McQueary said lasted only 10 to 12 minutes. So what did McQueary say?

Last Friday, he testified that he told Curley and Schultz: “What I had seen was extremely sexual, extremely wrong,” according to the media reports. (No transcript has yet been published.)

“I would have said that Jerry was in there in very close proximity with a boy with his arms wrapped around him,” McQueary said, according to the Harrisburg Patriot-News. “I would have said that it was extremely sexual and that some type of intercourse was going on.”

Thomas Harmon, a Penn State campus policeman, testified that he had told Schultz about an alleged incident involving Sandusky in 1998.

John McQueary, father of Mike, also took the stand, testifying that Schultz told him in 2002 that there had been other allegations involving Sandusky, but that investigators never came up with anything they could “sink teeth into.”

Schultz’s grand jury testimony was also read at the hearing. Most significantly, he testified that although he knew police were involved in the 1998 incident, he didn’t contact them in 2002. (Schultz also testified that he didn’t know much about the 1998 incident.)

So what is the takeaway?

That Penn State police were aware of a report of abuse by Sandusky in 1998. The matter was referred to the district attorney, who declined to prosecute. Four years later, McQueary reported what he saw in the showers to the vice president in charge of campus police — a man who was in the loop on the claim just four years before. McQueary’s report should have sounded the alarm bells and led to a full investigation. It didn’t. Instead, six more years passed, and it wasn’t an adult who sounded the alarm. It was a young man who reported being victimized.

He has paid a price for his courage. Besides the personal emotional toll, he has been bullied for coming forward, so much so that he had to change high schools in his senior year.

Without that young man, the abuse might still be continuing. Once he came forward, others did likewise. Others, who, until that moment, were presumably suffering in silence.

As the Patriot-News said last weekend regarding Victim No. 1:

“His story gave others the strength to come forward, to share their stories with authorities. Together their testimonies have built a mountain of evidence against Sandusky and led to the fall of men once thought untouchable.”

We are learning many lessons from this sad story. One just might underscore the need for expansive statutes of limitations in both criminal and civil matters of child abuse. That nine alleged Sandusky victims did not come forward until Victim No. 1 did is heavy testament to the penalty that society exacts from abuse victims. Moving forward, every allowance must be afforded them to step into the public light whenever they are ready to face their attackers.

We ought to take a moment and reflect upon how a brave young man confronted an alleged evildoer at a time when cowardly adults had simply closed their eyes and shut their mouths. The grown-ups at Penn State, it seems, can learn a lesson in personal responsibility from the children they are supposed to be protecting.

— Michael Smerconish writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer. His email address is www.smerconish.com.

Comments

grammaddy 3 years, 7 months ago

Thank you LJW for featuring this piece. Thank you Michael Smerconish for writing it.

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