Lessons from Sandusky

The trial is over. This sexual molester of children has been found guilty and is in jail awaiting the official life sentence he will shortly receive.  The talk of a legal appeal by his lawyers who have admitted to wanting off the case seems to be just so much prattle. The shock, as some in the media have called it, for the residents of Pleasant Valley, Pennsylvania is gone and they are trying to prepare for the onslaught of civil lawsuits against the University that are bound to come. Seeing him led away in handcuffs helped some of the abused heal but as one mother of a victim said “There are no winners.” There are, however some important lessons to be gleaned from the trial especially for people beyond State College, Pa and the United States.

            It is important to make a distinction between a pedophile and a molester. Pedophiles are people who fantasize about sex with children. Pedophilia is considered a mental disorder but not all pedophiles are molesters. Molesters act on their fantasies and that is more than a disorder it is a crime. If pedophiles can be diagnosed earlier in their lives and treated the rate of molestation may decrease. In the transition from the disorder to the crime there are predictable and discernible patterns some of which are glaringly obvious in this case.

Jerry Sandusky was an assistant coach for the college football team but he opened a charity for young boys who were needy. He showered with the boys, took them on college football trips and slept with them in the same rooms. He took them into his home and down to his basement where he also abused them even while his wife was upstairs. Studies show that most molesters of children do very similar things. They insinuate themselves into environments where they work with children and then carefully select those children they wish to victimize. If  a molester is married they are likely to have partners who are codependent and will excuse much if not all of the abusers aberrant behaviors. And as we have seen with Dottie Sandusky, Sandusky’s wife, codependent partners will be quick to make excuses to outsiders to protect themselves and the molester they live with. 

There is no look of a molester. Molesters wear no external warning signs. Sandusky himself is a tall relatively handsome individual who was described as friendly, outgoing and generally helpful and respected. At the college where he worked he was seen as a trusted coach. Neighbors and friends still find it hard to believe that he molested despite the gripping and emotionally painful testimony of his survivors.  That disbelief is also a reinforcer for a molester. Molesters count on skepticism to create a smokescreen that will protect them from being caught and charged for their crimes.

One molester can and often does molest many children. In this particular situation only a handful was willing to take the stand to testify against Sandusky. It is very likely that because of the access he had he abused and molested many more boys. Some research estimates indicate that a single molester of children can abuse as many as 50 or more children over the course of years that he or she molests.

The most important message to be gleaned from this case is the fact that abuse can and does happen everywhere. Conservative estimates are that about a quarter of all women and at least 15 percent of all men are sexually abused. There is no community that is exempt from these attacks and some estimate that the percentages of molestation may be even higher in those communities where the approach is one of denial or cover up of the possibility that abuse is occurring. That makes a great deal of intuitive sense. Denying abuse only emboldens the molester whose modus operandi is to find children to groom to be victims and then isolates them with threats to maintain their silence.

Silence, avoidance and cover up only reinforce an abusers belief that he or she will never be caught. For this reason it is imperative to report any reasonable suspicion of abuse to the proper authorities. In Sandusky’s case early reports were covered up or ignored which only indicates that if you have any reasonable cause to suspect abuse you report it, more than once if necessary. Research shows that the rate of confirmed cases of abuse may be declining. The only possible reason is that more people are reporting and more molesters are being prosecuted.

About the Author
Dr Michael Salamon, is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and a 2018 APA Presidential Citation Awardee. He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications) and "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America). His newest book is called "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."