Thursday, July 26, 2012

Due Diligence - The Sandusky Verdict & Aftermath

The Trial of Jerry Sandusky has ended, the x-coach found guilty by a jury of 45 counts of child molestation. He is awaiting sentencing. Experts predict that he'll get a life term. Given that he's 68 now, that would probably mean something like 10-20 years, depending upon how long he lives.

The Sandusky affair--which dates back at least to 1998, when complaints about the Assistant Coach's involvement with young boys began to surface--has caused a national media fire-storm of controversy and indignation, leading to the dismissal of the Penn State University President, Vice President Gary Schultz, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and late Head Coach Joe Paterno, each of whom was heavily implicated in a coordinated cover-up, designed to limit publicity and protect the reputation of the lucrative and popular Penn State football program, perhaps the most successful such organization in the country.

It had to have been apparent to Paterno, as well as others with direct involvement with the team, in and around team headquarters and gymnasium, showers, etc., that Sandusky had had a "problem" with small boys, for years. Victims coming forward during and after the trial have reported abuse dating as far back as the 1970's. It strains credulity to imagine that Sandusky's activity could have gone on undetected and unconfirmed for almost four decades. Sandusky's activities, following the initial investigation in 1998-99, became so brazenly open that he seemed to be daring his colleagues to out him.

Sandusky had been involved in charity work for disadvantaged kids, and had used this to gain access to his victims. A classic pedophile, he would seduce the boys by taking them on trips, buying them gifts, and offering them rewards for cooperating with his sexual advances. A married man, Sandusky and his wife had no children of their own, but adopted six children, at least one of whom, Matt Sandusky, now claims to have been molested by his adoptive parent.

Penn State University has been severely sanctioned by the NCAA, and the university itself hired X-FBI Director Louis Freeh's firm to investigate the whole affair, and following his recommendations, have instituted sweeping changes in their regulations and practice with respect to the athletics programs, particularly their varsity football program.

The Sandusky Affair, and the public's reaction to it, raise a number of interesting questions, by no means confined to the officially, politically correct, sentiments so far expressed. Contemporary morality officially condemns what it regards as impermissible sexual behavior, but how this is defined in law, and how it is perceived in the general culture, differ significantly. Sandusky was found guilty of, for instance, "involuntary deviate sexual intercourse," unlawful contact with a minor," "indecent assault," "corruption of minors," and "endangering the welfare of children." All of these constitute chargeable crimes, which can be prosecuted in open court, punishable by varying terms of imprisonment--at least in Pennsylvania State Law. "Molestation" apparently is a lay term, not used to define sexual abuse crime directed at children.

On its face, Sandusky's behavior looks wholly culpable, and I have no doubt that he is guilty of the crimes with which he has been charged, but the nature of his crime, and how society goes about defining what is and is not, for instance, "involuntary" or "deviate" sexual activity, goes to the heart of our hypocrisy about ethical behavior and the appropriate response to perceived mischief.

We know that minors--that is, boys and girls under the age of 18--are routinely engaged in all kinds of sexual activity. In certain minority cultures, in the U.S., young girls as young as 10-14 are routinely subjected to non-voluntary sexual exploitation. In many "primitive" or non-Western, and even in some remote Western, cultures, the practice of "child-brides" is a common tradition. The so-called "age of consent" means little in circumstances where, absent any legal authority or defined body of conduct, both men and women are regularly subjected to many different kinds of sexual assault. In Mormon subculture, for instance, multiple female marital partnerships often occur with girls in their early teens.

In the wider contemporary homosexual culture, "man and boy" relationships are coming to be considered just as common as man and girl relationships. The usual stereotype of "statutory rape" victims is of a young girl becoming involved with an older man. But in homosexual culture, the absence of the risk of pregnancy does not make what is otherwise an identical kind of violation any different, in theory or practice. Accounts of sexual initiation usually focus on events happening when individuals are still technically minors. While society officially frowns on young girls engaging in sexual acts in early puberty, unofficially it is tacitly acknowledged that many, if not a majority, of them actually do. Why should it come as a surprise that homosexuals are in fact "initiated" to what is called "deviate" sex in the same way, and at the same tender ages?

What would have happened had Sandusky been raping young girls? Supposing a female coach of the girls' basketball team (Penn State does have one) were to have been implicated in the sexual exploitation of players? Would society, and the press, have shown more indignation and shock at these sorts of "crimes," or less. There are countless reported instances--no doubt the very tip of the iceberg--of male athletes leading illicit sexual lives, often with very young women. We think of these kinds of activities merely as predictable bad behavior, though society is coming more recently to demonize people who exhibit this behavior, and to pursue those whom it regards as criminals.

It is perfectly understandable that Paterno, faced with the probable scandal that would ensue, had he chosen to go directly to school authorities, to the public media, or to the police, would naturally tend to want to shield his storied team and program. He would certainly have realized the consequences of any kind of such disclosure. Did he believe that the "crime" of which Sandusky was guilty, rose to the level of harm or perceived evil that revealing it justified the destruction of a program he had given his life to build? In a large organization such as a big college football team, which competes on the national stage, and commands millions of dollars annually in revenue, and directly involves the lives and careers of hundreds of men each year, a scandal which involves, at most, a handful of people (less than a dozen, say), can have catastrophic effects on nearly everyone else, all of whom are, in fact, innocent.

A lot of sentiment in the press, and in the court case, has been built around the idea of "abuse of authority"--as if the fact of Sandusky's connection to Penn State, to his charity for young boys, made his crimes more heinous. He was acting "in a position of trust" (as it is often put), by exploiting his access and presumed higher moral standing. But we know that people in position of authority or trust are no more likely to be sexually decent than others. In fact, the stress of high office, and the character traits likely to lead to advancement in employment in any walk of life, would suggest that it may indeed be more likely that leaders and climbers would be aggressively "sexual"--more prone to engage in extramarital affairs, more apt to pay for sex, to have multiple partners, and more likely to act out the so-called various "deviant" sexual roles. Sandusky's behavior, in the context of this kind of authority-role profile, seems actually to have been predictable. According to his official biography (on Wikipedia), Sandusky was friendless in high school and college, had a childless marriage (with only adopted children), and as his career progressed, spent more and more time pursuing his little "hobby" of buggering boys.

But if the occurrence of sexual exploitation of minors is as common as we now generally acknowledge, certainly Sandusky's problem was in his relentlessness, indulging repeatedly and regularly, to an obsessive degree, the sexual exploitation of those who were sexually innocent, and powerless to resist him.

We ordinarily think of sexual maturity in legal terms, but we all know that sexual awareness, sexual desire, and sexual activity, occurs prior to attainment of majority. Everyone matures at a different rate, both physically and mentally (emotionally). As I discussed in my piece on sexual morés in The Lolita-Complex in the World of Jock Sturges (January 7th, 2010)--

". . .we know without any doubt that what we think of as settled society and culture is a very late (new) human development. Our ancestors didn't begin living in "permanent" communities until very late in the game. Life expectancy in pre-civilized circumstances (tribal and/or nomadic), which went on for hundreds of thousands of years, was short, perhaps 30-35 years. It is generally assumed that sexual activity began much earlier in "pre-civilized" human society than it commonly does these days. Girls reaching puberty at age 12-14 began to bear children immediately, experiencing multiple pregnancies, accompanied by many lost infants, by their mid-twenties. What this means in real terms, is that what we now tend to regard with surprise and perhaps revulsion, was probably the behavioral norm among primitive human societies. The idea of regardng very young girls as potential sex objects, desirable and ripe for indoctrination and mating, is a much older and more common "tradition" than the customs, laws and habits which have developed over the last 4000 years. Age-of-consent debates, and various controversial religious precepts regarding procreation notwithstanding, cultural notions of prescribed social and sexual interaction between individuals have undergone changes over time, and there are significant differences among present-day cultures--primitive, residual and "modern"--which suggests that there is no hard and fast definition across the spectrum of human society that supports a single interpretation . . . ."

Faced with the clear evidence of our natural proclivity towards sexual activity prior to legal notions of maturity, we are coming more and more to expect, and even to tacitly accept the idea that sexual activity in puberty is a completely natural behavior. In a Puritan culture like that of the early Euro-American period, strictly defined (and governed), sexual behavior has traditionally been regarded with a kind of hypocrisy. On the one hand, our morality acknowledges the tendency innate in human character to engage in sexual experimentation, while on the other it resists incorporating this reality into official practice and duty.

Over the last century, there has been an increasing liberalization in the definitions of "normal" and "permissible" behavior. In America, as in many other "civilized" countries of the world, homosexuality, lesbianism, transsexuality, and--perhaps now--man and girl, man and boy, woman and girl, even woman and boy relationships are coming to be an expected and tolerable form of sexual feeling and expression. In homosexual culture, in particular, arguments in favor of sexual activity involving under-age boys are being served up with brazen audacity. Much of the literature of so-called "deviant" kinds of sexual behavior involve fantasy projections involving children. Any science which merely "describes" such kinds of "deviant" behavior--rather than proscribing it--risks being thought immoral simply by being disinterested. In science, outcomes are of utmost importance; they constitute the proof which is the basis of the formulation of laws. If every kind of sexual behavior is ultimately "normal" simply because it "exists" in some measurable proportion in the larger sample, then it must be tolerated. It is, by definition, "natural."

In law, we like to say that "involuntary" or "forced" interaction constitutes the measure of crime. If a 12 year old girl, say, in Utah, voluntarily enters into a marital "relationship" with a man of 50, joining three other women who also began their life as "wives" when in puberty, then this is "okay." But a determination of "okay" is ambiguous in the context of a specific culture. If you are raised to expect to be married by, for instance, age 14, then the sexual relations you have with a man older than yourself are by definition, completely ethical and sensible. If a rich man has intercourse with his (ethnically minor and underage) maid, this is permissible if neither party is married, and if the issue is accommodated by the superior party. If a Gay boy has sexual relations with a much older and experienced man, this is counted tolerable if the younger one consents. But the line between "consent" and "obedience" or "coercion" can be very grey, depending upon the case.

If Sandusky is a freak and a monster, what of other older men and women who secretly, or even openly, fantasize about, or even actively pursue, minors as sexual objects? Today we are asked to accept that anal intercourse is just another "variation" on the sexual menu for a certain segment of the population. Whether we accept this as a scientific description, or as the eruption of a new kind of moral degeneracy, one must admit that the implied schism cannot be simply resolved either through law, or custom alone. On the one hand, we spit vituperation and abuse on those whose behavior or feelings we condemn as deviant or just sick. But then we entertain notions of public tolerance which bleed right into the same areas of conduct and belief. We say that there should be no prejudice or persecution of those whose tendencies have traditionally been regarded as wrong, but then pretend to be surprised and "shocked, shocked!" when presented with the actual evidence of their "secret" behavior.

Sandusky himself, who had admitted in print that he liked the "risk" of challenging boundaries, may have actually felt a growing sense of permission after 1999. Taking boys into the public gymnasium shower and buggering them, may have seemed to him to be somehow "okay" if actually crazy, in retrospect. "Oh, that's just Jerry, horsing around in the shower again." If Sandusky's behavior had come to be accepted, albeit reluctantly, by Paterno, and Curley, and Schultz, and President Spanier, as an unfortunate footnote to the success of the Penn State football tradition, it may be that it was a consequence of the atmosphere of tolerance which we have increasingly been expected to condone. Sandusky was a "good man" with professional credentials as a successful coach, physical education teacher, the founder of a recognized charity, a family man. A model citizen. A man who had let his secret fantasies and desires get the better of him. Who had liked "little boys" all his life and found them sexually irresistible. He couldn't help himself. He needed help. He was abnormal. He was sick. He was a criminal. He was all these things.

And yet, we know that's not the end of the argument. We know that sexual "deviance" isn't uncommon, and we know that sexual feeling may be channelled into many different kinds of behavior. For thousands of years, we've frequently treated women with little regard for their autonomy, and that brand of persecution and exploitation continues today. We can shake our heads in consternation and distaste over someone like Sandusky, but we know that his kind of sin is just another form of the same old abuse of power and authority. Ultimately, what is sexual activity between older and younger individuals? Society provides definitions for preferred outcomes, but it can't regulate behavior until it resolves the contradictions inherent in its underlying assumptions. And those assumptions mostly go unremarked, or unexamined. If anal intercourse is wrong, for instance, it must be wrong not just for Sandusky and his young boys, but for everyone, under all conditions. If taking a woman of 12 as a wife is wrong, it should be wrong whether you are Mormon, or Catholic, or Jewish.

We would like to think that Paterno is an immoral man, who sacrificed the welfare of young boys on the altar of his vaunted athletic program. But in the larger scheme of things, he was able to justify his silence by excusing behavior which he found unpleasant, probably, but not rising to the level, say, of kidnap or murder. Is it worse for soldiers in a war to rape women, or for an assistant football coach to bugger 13 year old boys in the shower? What is the difference between an older man, like Sandusky, persuading a 13 year-old boy to have oral sex, and a man seducing a 14 year old girl to have unprotected intercourse? No difference, you say? So what is the context? It may all come down to how you are raised, and what your preconceptions are about human behavior. "Training," after all may consist of initiations of one kind or another. A lot of religionists will counsel silence and prohibition, but fail to acknowledge the importance of unlicensed kinds of experience. If the majority of young people today are "experimenting" with sex, then it should come as no surprise that those experiments won't be limited to one kind of expression. It may be that children are a lot more cognizant than we give them official credit for. Once you understand the mechanics of sex, and of the probable consequences of different kinds of practice--such as anal penetration, or unprotected contacts with multiple partners--you're much less likely to indulge in risky behaviors, no matter who is advocating them. The real crime in the Sandusky case was that his "victims" were uninformed and powerless, not that they were simply young. They didn't have a chance to make a choice. It was forced on them. And yet, any one of them could grow up, as many do, feeling as if their first encounter was their original sin, and they become themselves homosexuals, or pedophiles. Which is how many people come to see their own sexuality, as a consequence of their initiation, their special fate. At what age is any one truly responsible for choosing who they are? And what is the correct kind of training? And when should it be applied?


Conrad DiDiodato said...


an interesting post. I was just watching a television ( "Vision" network)program on the sexual abuse of young Hasidic youth from their own Rebbes, occurring in prestigious Jewish schools in New Jersey. Working on pretty much the same 'in-house' policy of cover-up, denial and control characteristic as has been practised by the Roman Catholic church, their own Tribunals have had oftentimes to resort to intimidating young victims, through brutally humiliating tribunal interrogations,into recanting or denying allegations altogether. I recall one leading Jewish religious figure even going so far as to say that no one religious group does more to address a type of sexual deviancy that is, in his estimation, natural to the human race. Here's a case of the Paterno logic as found in even the strictest, most orthodox religious institutions.

Organized sports, like organized religions, with their own hierarchies, ritual 'group think' and private internal controls, are always prone to this way of justifying deviant sexual behaviour among its high priests. The analogy is not a fanciful one and the Paterno case bears me out. A friend of mine, who'd once played basketball at Virginia Tech years ago, once told me that across the women varsity basketball organization male coaches having sexual relations with athletes (sometimes even in shower rooms)were par for the course.

Curtis Faville said...

There's a weird kind of moral relativity when you enter the arena of absolute guides to conduct.

I see Sandusky's sins as relative to the context and conditions of his actions, rather than an absolute sin.

I once wrote in an undergraduate paper, discussing Oedipus, "his religion was his fate"--for which the professor gave me an A.

I think there's a lot of truth in that. What we believe, and teach our children, becomes the law. One could imagine a primitive society in which a shrewd witchdoctor would have access to all the best looking young girls in the tribe. In that context, Sandusky's kinds of actions would have a completely different spin.

For me the central contradiction is between how we view acts like his publicly, and the PC positions we find ourselves taking, when pushed into a corner. I'm no more likely to accept an argument in favor of buggery if Gore Vidal says it, than I am if Jerry Sandusky says it. And yet most people do just that, living with both "truths" as if they were completely compatible.