New Laws Won’t Stop the Next Sandusky

November 14th, 2011 at 12:33 am | 31 Comments |

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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett says he wants new laws to stop crimes like those that Jerry Sandusky is alleged to have committed. He’s wrong.

Terrible as former Penn State Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s alleged crimes are, there’s no case for new laws. In fact, insofar as Pennsylvania’s current procedures are inadequate, the governor himself already has all the power he needs to fix them.

Let’s look at the facts. Like all other states, Pennsylvania has a number of laws that, rightly, impose very serious penalties on adults who molest children. State law also already has punishments for people who actively participate in conspiracies that advance child abuse. If Coach Joe Paterno or anyone else actively and knowingly helped Sandusky do the things prosecutors say he did, then they should and will face criminal charges under current law. (In fact, two members of Penn State’s athletic staff already face perjury charges for allegedly failing to report a 2002 incident involving Sandusky.)

If procedures for reporting really are inadequate–and it seems like they aren’t since the people who allegedly failed to report offenses are already being charged criminally–then Gov. Corbett himself has all the authority he needs to issue an executive order requiring every agency of the Pennsylvania government to develop procedures for reporting allegations of child abuse to the proper authorities.

This type of task is exactly why executive orders exist. New criminal laws would either duplicate current laws or end up criminalizing bad judgment. If Paterno and others at Penn State simply ignored warning signs they should have noticed, then the punishment they have already received—job loss and personal disgrace—fits the offense in question to a T.

There’s little evidence that reporting procedures or current law were truly inadequate. A janitor, volleyball coach, or even professor who was caught doing the same things Sandusky is alleged to have done would almost certainly have been handed over to the authorities much sooner. Sandusky’s stellar personal reputation and position as an integral part of Penn State’s religion-like football program, on the other hand, allegedly allowed him to victimize children for much longer than he could have in another position.

The problem isn’t a lack of criminal laws—Pennsylvania already has enough of those—it’s the cultural factors that let an alleged pedophile to roam free for so long.

Recent Posts by Eli Lehrer

31 Comments so far ↓

  • roubaix

    It seems like bad legislation often follows extreme events. Basing policy on aberrations from historical norms can certainly backfire.

    • Fart Carbuncle


      Penn State will pay for their greed for a loooong time on their own with the shame, IMHO.

      Instead of retiring JoePa ten years ago when he became ineffective, they stuffed him in the booth and let the assistants run the game so he could pad his record to become “the winningest coach of all time”.

      We all see where that got them.

  • Graychin

    New laws aren’t needed.

    But we should pay attention to the common features of the scandal at Penn State and the still-unfolding scandal of child molestation in the Catholic Church:

    1) All-male environment.

    2) Perp has special status and power – priest of God, famous football coach.

    3) Easy access to kids.

    4) Institutional response that puts protection of the institution and the perp ahead of the welfare of past and future victims.

    When these factors are present, look out! It’s a good thing that the military doesn’t have much access to kids.

    • VA Shepherd

      You are allowing your anti-military bias to cloud your thinking. The key element here is access to children, not an all-male environment (which the military is not, btw). There are many cases of athletic coaches and teachers of both genders involved in child abuse. To malign an honorable institution for something it had nothing to do with is disgraceful, especially at this time of the year. Shame on you. I bet you hate the Boy Scouts too.

      • balconesfault

        For what it’s worth, Boy Scouts have very very strong rules in place to prevent this type of abuse. Every year an adult leader has to do a refresher on child protection training, and that includes stressing adherence to BSA’s “Two Deep” policy, where no adult can be one-on-one with a boy in a situation isolated from other adults and/or boys.

        The key is the age difference – and the military doesn’t have that. This wasn’t Sandusky molesting some 20-year old linebacker he was coaching – this was Sandusky molesting some youth in his training camps.

        I think the biggest tell is that these things keep happening in organizations where homophobia is rampant. The Catholic Church … college football … and yes, Boy Scouts. Homophobia ends up creating a barrier to people actually communicating when they sense something is amiss, and helps give the predator cover.

      • Ray_Harwick

        The key element here is access to children, not an all-male environment (which the military is not, btw).

        I have to agree with this. The most recent study I’m familiar with on the issue of WHOM the perpetrators are in cases of child sexual abuse was paid for the the Catholic Bishops of the United States. That was about 3 or 4 years ago. Their conclusion is consistent with the decades of research on child sexual abuse: the perpetrators are people with access to children.

        What we know from the major studies bears this out (Finkelhor’s study of 1200 day care centers; Massachusetts study of incarcerated abusers; Children’s Hospital of Denver study of victims of child sexual abuse). All of those studies point out that MOST children are molested by a family member (males overwhelmingly, very few females). So far as we know, Sandusky is a text book pedophile because he has a preference for very young boys.

        So, I tend to agree that nothing short of a major change in cultural attitudes is going to have an effect on this area. If you impose a law on people to make it a crime for not telling, I think it will have the same affect such a law has in most any area of crime, you criminalize someone whose family member is the perpetrator. Seems to me the better law would be one that ABSOLUTELY protects an individual from prosecution for blowing the whistle.

        This is really a tough area to deal with for me. My own husband was molested by a Catholic priest when he was five years old. I was sexually assaulted by a family member twice in my youth. In the case of both my spouse and myself, we never told anyone but for very different reasons. In my own case it was abhorrent to me to consider that my family member would go to jail. I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. In my spouse’s case, he had the dilemma many young children have – he enjoyed the experience. But that sense of enjoyment gets replaced by enormous guilt when the child understand it was wrong. What is common with both of our situations, and the thing that lasts a lifetime, is the sense of being betrayed by someone we trusted.

  • hisgirlfriday

    I couldn’t agree more about the Penn State culture after seeing this OTL piece with a JoePa interview from 2008 where he claims not to know or be responsible for what goes on in the athletic department or to be able to control players who barged into a campus apartment and beat up their fellow students to the point of putting them in the hospital. He also gets really combative with the reporter calling the whole story a “witchhunt.”

    That said, I think it’s too early in this case to say there’s no positive legislative reforms that could come out of this and that everything can be resolved by executive order. For example, an executive order can’t make any necessary extensions of the statute of limitations for either criminal or civil proceedings to enable all victims of this awful saga to seek justice in court.

    It also might be worth looking into legislative reform to suspend pension payments to retired employees accused of felonies and whether someone charged with as many felony offenses as Sandusky should be allowed to be released by a judge on unsecured bail (Yep, thanks to the judge who was a Second Mile volunteer who set Sandusky’s bail, he didn’t have to post a dime to walk free after his arraignment and only has to cough up $100,000 if he skips out on his court hearing

    • Slide

      Bail is set to ensure that the accused will show up for trial not to punish him. Sandusky is after all innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law. It is unlikely he is a flight risk and with all the publicity it is also unlikely he would have the opportunity to engage in the types of crimes he is being accused of.

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  • jorae

    I’m rather annoyed this is even a subject. Laws are in place…and this person broke the law. The law covers people in 3 people towns and people in areas of a million. Where is the beef?

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  • D Furlano

    It’s not “new Laws” like the title says. It is a change from “reporting an abuse” to “if you eyewitness the abuse, you have a direct obligation to go to law enforcement.”

    The Heartland Institute are obviously experts on child molestation. Or they just don’t care about child molestation and more about their ideology.

    Next from the Heartland “Child molestation; is it real?”

  • ottovbvs

    Laws can’t impose any moral sense but who knows maybe the knowledge that just meeting the minimum legal standard (which is what Paterno and co did) isn’t going to protect you in future might color people’s conduct. I’m inclined to the view that it will. The moral failure of Paterno and others is egregious. Totally egregious. Lehrer is being disingenuous when he blithely (without any source) says Paterno and others could be prosecuted under current laws. In fact I suspect they can’t or the state believes such laws are not such that they could make a case stick in front of a jury. Otherwise why haven’t such charges been brought?

  • anniemargret

    There were janitors and other school personnel from Sandusky’s background that goes back a long way. In fact, there are many, many people who knew directly, or surmised what he was doing.

    They ignored it, or hoped it would go away. Now, as a society THIS is the most important question. Why are people afraid to report it? That’s easy. Because they don’t want to get involved.

    Getting involved means personal scrutiny, names in papers, possibility of a job loss, glare of the media, families taunted, etc…

    Why isn’t there a safe network where people can report such things with the assurance that their careers and family life aren’t thrown into the media glare and their lives made miserable? The janitors in question (two of them) were terrified to report it, thinking it would take away their jobs, and one of them almost had a heart attack he was in such terror.

    I think it is easy to sit in our comfortable armchairs and point fingers. I am not excusing the irresponsibility of those involved or indirectly involved. But there’s another issue here that no one is adequately addressing.

    Like the Roman Catholic Church, there were many children, nuns, priests, school staff, that knew that Father So and So might be fooling around. So many so scared to speak out, they need a safe forum to do so.

    We need the same in these cases as well.

    • ottovbvs

      I agree entirely there are a vast network of pressures on people particularly those low on the totem pole to look the other way as happened here and in the Catholic church. To be honest I find more justification for a janitor looking the other way than I ever can for the more exalted, particularly Paterno who behavior was unconscionable. And yet he’s being feted by large numbers. I wonder if they’d feel the same way if one of their kids or siblings had been molested.

      • anniemargret

        Absolutely, totally agree, Otto. The nation is now looking more seriously how organizations, be they religious or sports, schools, businesses, etc…put their image over the harm for innocent children. And that’s good.

        I also feel that those in the power positions, like Joe Paterno and other officials around him, who knew and didn’t take the final step to oust this guy fast and furious are morally culpable, even to be considered accessories to the crime. Likewise, the bishops in the churches, the Cardinals, the Pope, etc…who also just shuffling these priests around would/should be considered the same.

        It is good we are discussing this phenomenon, how an image takes precedence over the harm of innocents and as society we must talk about it even more.

        But we need to go one step further, as I mentioned above. There is no ‘safe’ harbor for people to go to….many people because of their own self-protection for themselves and their families, are torn and many simply give up because they fear their lives would be upended.

        We need to have a safe place for people to go to, to assure them that their own dignity and that of their family, or that their jobs would not be in jeopardy and that their names would not be plastered all over the media…. this is just human nature and we should honor that. It would go a long way to helping the victims in these scenarios.

        In one way, I think we should all be thankful we live in an age where this horror is now coming out in the open. For decades (eons?) the Catholic Church hid its sins, not only to the detriment of the lives of the children they hurt, but also hurt the good priests’ by lumping them together. We are thankful that women who are in abusive marriages can get out, but we have to do more to protect them..

  • Frumplestiltskin

    it’s the cultural factors that let an alleged pedophile to roam free for so long.

    yep, and the parental factor is an issue too. Who lets their kids sleep over at a strangers house? Or lets them shower them with gifts and affection?

    now there is nothing you can do to get rid of all of this, but balcone is right, get rid of the homophobia and young people would not feel so conflicted, that if they would come forward they would be called gay and shunned by their friends.

    • ottovbvs

      “get rid of the homophobia”

      Balls. Sandusky didn’t assault these kids because of homophobia. And Paterno and the establishment at Penn State didn’t sweep it under the rug because of homophobia either.

      • Frumplestiltskin

        of course not otto, but he molested as many boys as he did for as long as he did because of homophobia. When I was a little kid I had a crush on a woman teacher, if I had sex with her I would have told all my friends and she would have been caught immediately. Granted that would not have happened so easily with boys but it is far more likely one boy would have said something much earlier if he didn’t have to worry about being shunned.

        • ottovbvs

          “of course not otto, but he molested as many boys as he did for as long as he did because of homophobia.”

          Total balls…homophobia had zero to do with the perpetration of the assaults or their subsequent cover up. Provide me with one shred of evidence to support this bizarre idea.

        • Frumplestiltskin

          “homophobia had zero to do with the perpetration of the assaults or their subsequent cover up. Provide me with one shred of evidence to support this bizarre idea.” Maybe because this bizarre idea is completely your own. You really need to check your reading comprehension.
          Here I will repeat it verbatim: it is far more likely one boy would have said something much earlier if he didn’t have to worry about being shunned.
          Again, it is not the perpetration it is the reporting of the assaults and the stigma attached in society to those that report the abuse. If homophobia had not been so endemic in our society then it is entirely likely that some child would have said something years earlier.
          How many kids kill themselves a year because they are persecuted for being gay? Or even for being called gay? How easy to you think it is for a kid to step forward and say he had engaged in this type of activity. Predators don’t even have to be explicit, they make the victims complicit as in “you don’t want anyone to know what you are, do you?”
          I have 3 sons, I make an effort to let them know that they can tell me anything, no matter how embarrassed they feel. If one is gay (they are all still young) I want him to know he will be loved no matter what and that his first experiences are age appropriate (the same with if they are straight)

          Need I also remind you that in Libya Gadhafi used rape as a weapon because of the stigma Arab society imposes on women who report rape. Even in the states many women feel this stigma and don’t report the crime. This goes to my point again, get rid of the stigma (and yes, that stigma still exists for women in America as in the “she asked for it, look at what she wore” ) and the reporting will go up. Teenage boys who have sex with older women almost always blab to their friends. Then why not boys who have sex with men? Homophobia. Or do you deny this?

        • ottovbvs

          Pure waffle about the general issue of homophobia and unsupported speculation (may have for godsake). And when you’ve got to bring in Ghadaffi to underpin your argument it’s over! Is homophobia present in our society. Yes. Was it a factor in this case. No.

      • hisgirlfriday

        And Paterno and the establishment at Penn State didn’t sweep it under the rug because of homophobia either.

        How do you know that homophobia didn’t have at least some part to do with Paterno sweeping this under the rug? I don’t find it that hard to imagine that Paterno might have done more but he was afraid of his football program getting branded as gay out of this scandal (because of the false equivalence/association many people make between homosexuals and pedophiles) and that would cost him recruits.

        The Penn State athletic department did have a horrible decades-long track record of supporting homophobia related to women’s basketball coach Rene Portland (who was hired by Joe Paterno when he was the Penn State AD), who would kick players off the team if she even suspected them of being gay. So there was already a culture of secrecy and fear related to sex in that athletic department.

        • ottovbvs

          “How do you know that homophobia didn’t have at least some part to do with Paterno sweeping this under the rug?”

          How about producing some evidence to justify this strange assertion? What happened here is very straightforward. Sandusky used his position at Penn and a charity he founded to prey on young boys and satisfy some extremely unpleasant sexual appetites. This was subsequently covered up for reasons entirely to do with money and prestige. Homophobia had absolutely nothing whatever to do with it. I cannot tell you how egregious I find both the failures of Paterno and the Penn establishment and just as bad these mindless morons who have zero moral compass who are defending the behavior of Paterno on the entirely specious grounds that this is about football. I’m generally a moral relativist but in this case there’s no place for it.

  • anniemargret

    I am not in the medical profession, but I would think this is a medical problem. Why do some men do this? Why do some men enjoy beating women? These are urges that come from deep within a person’s psyche and perhaps, some twisted hormones or crossed wires in the brain.

    We do know that if a person is abused at home they are more likely to commit abuse in their own life as well. That is an environmental factor, rather than a DNA one.

    But what about sexual predatory behavior. Let’s not forget that thousands of young little girls are also molested, raped and killed as well. What propels this behavior?

    This is a medical scientists dilemma. We need as a society to recognize that the human brain and body is subject to awful twists and turns. We recognize (now) that mental illness can lead a person to commit suicide or harm others in some cases, so we are now addressing this problem (not enough though) by good intervention and better drugs.

    So we need to do the same with sexual deviant behavior. There is a root cause somewhere and perhaps in the future we can see a day where it becomes rare and not widespread with intervention and drugs, hormonal changes, etc…

  • Houndentenor

    Yes, if the new laws were enforced and violators were prosecuted.

    It’s obvious that people think protecting the reputation of their church or school or organization is more important than protecting the safety and welfare of children. Only public humiliation and jail time for offenders will make them more afraid of NOT reporting these crimes to the authorities (NOT just someone up the chain in their organization).

  • nuser

    It never fails , mention a sexual deviate and then blame it on the homosexuals.

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    No new laws would prevent another Sandusky? Really?

    How about a law that requires any school employee who witnesses child rape to report that rape to both the school’s compliance department (as opposed to simply the employee’s boss) and to a law enforcement agency unaffiliated with the school?

    How about a law that prohibits anyone who’s committed child rape from using school facilities or having an office on a school campus?

    While these laws would not have prevented Sandusky’s first criminal acts, they certainly would have prevented the criminal acts he committed after he was caught raping a 10-year old boy.

  • Michigan Outsider

    I can understand not calling the police if you see a 18 year old drinking a beer, but with or without a law, shouldn’t you call the police if you see a criminal act involving violence committed against another human being? For that matter, shouldn’t you call 911 right away if you see someone that has been physically harmed (and it would seem that given media reports, the conduct in question would have caused physical harm to the boy in the shower)? Shouldn’t this be the case whether the victim is a minor or an adult?

    Why would you need a law to tell you what the right thing to do is?

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