Did Penn State officials ignore sexual abuse allegations?

Penn State football coach, Jerry Sandusky, who helped cement the school’s reputation as 'Linebacker U' before retiring, is accused of assaulting eight boys and young teens.

By , Staff writer

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    In this photo provided by the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, former Penn State football defensive coordinator Gerald "Jerry" Sandusky is placed in a police car in Bellefonte, Pa. to be taken to the office of a Centre County Magisterial District judge on Saturday. Sandusky is charged with sexually abusing eight young men.
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Pennsylvania authorities are now offering an increasing amount of details about the child sex abuse cases rocking Penn State and its storied football program.

According to an indictment, mythic football coach, Jerry Sandusky, who helped cement the school’s reputation as “Linebacker U,” is portrayed as using trips to bowl games, gifts of athletic equipment, and access to Penn State facilities as a means to control the young children. 

One young teen was told he could become a walk-on Penn State football player, was in a video featuring Penn State linebackers, and was photographed with Mr. Sandusky for a Sports Illustrated article.

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Sandusky, who had formed a charity, The Second Mile, to help disadvantaged youth, is accused of assaulting eight boys and young teens over 15 years.

But, probably what stands out the most is that even after Penn State’s famed coach Joe Paterno told the university’s athletic director about one of the encounters, the police were never informed about the attacks. Instead, the indictment paints a portrait of a university administration that took only small steps, such as banning Sandusky from bringing children into the football facilities.

On Monday, Pennsylvania state police commissioner Frank Noonan, at a press conference, called it “a case about children who had their innocence stolen from them and a culture that did nothing to stop it.”

To some independent lawyers, it appears as if Penn State was trying to cover over the problem without involving the police.

“The way the story is being told, they had a choice to go to the police and decided not to,” says James Keneally, a partner at Kelley Drye & Warren, a New York law firm.

For example, in 2002, in one of the most graphic of the charges, a graduate student allegedly saw Sandusky having sex with a young boy. He reported the event to Mr. Paterno who then passed the information on to Tim Curley, the athletic director. Mr. Curley informed Gary Schultz, a senior vice president at the university who had responsibility for the campus police.

It wasn't until two weeks later that Curley and Mr. Schultz spoke with the graduate student about the claims. Only then did they go to the president of the university, Graham Spanier, and tell him it was an incident involving horseplay, according to the indictment.

“They kind of bent things, said it was not sexual assault but horseplay,” says Mr. Keneally after reading the indictment. “So, the president of the university is being told by Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz that it is horseplay and he is being led to believe nothing else is necessary.”

Mr. Noonan of the state police says he has never seen anything like that before. “I don’t think I have ever been associated with a case where that kind of eyewitness identification of sex acts where the police were not called,” he said.

Both Curley and Schultz were indicted by the grand jury for perjury after testifying that they were not told by the graduate student about the sexual assault.  

According to the grand jury report, the alleged assault should have been reported to the police or Pennsylvania Department of Welfare. A failure to do so is a violation of the law.

Through his lawyer, Sandusky maintains his innocence and is out on bail. Curley has taken a leave of absence from Penn State and Schultz has retired. Both men also maintain their innocence.

Child-advocacy experts say the purpose of such laws is to either clear the individual of any charges or ensure justice is done.

“You don’t want to ruin someone’s life if there is some explanation,” says Ernie Allen, director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va. “But, the only way to break the cycle of victimization of people is to take the reporting requirement seriously and ensure an investigation.”

Mr. Allen says only about a third of exploited children will report abuse. “That means there are two-thirds we never find out about,” he says.

Allen says this incident also illustrates how people charged with child abuse rarely match most people’s stereotypes of evil-looking people intent on harming a child. “What we find is that most people who abuse children run the gamut from businessmen to doctors, lawyers, volunteers in youth organizations, and coaches. They overwhelmingly win the confidence of the children and then abuse them.”

The allegations in the Sandusky indictment illustrate the same point. He would take the children to football games, let them walk the family dogs and even travel to bowl games. But, then he allegedly would suggest they shower together or he would suggest “cracking” a teenagers back or massaging a sore muscle.

“The coercion is subtle,” says Dr. Stephen Ajl, a child advocate at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York. “It’s not like seeing a coed and grabing her and raping her,” says Dr. Ajl. “There is an inordinate amount of control and power, that is what sexual abuse is all about.”

In addition, says Ajl, the families of the victims usually know the person doing the abuse. “It could be a trusted uncle,” he says. “In my world of child abuse, I see children where maybe a parent gave them a whack and broke a leg, but in a way this is more insidious because it’s about trust that has been taken away.”

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