Sandusky story should teach broader lesson

The China Post news staff

Last Friday, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts related to abuse of minors. For the majority of spectators, the jury’s verdict was a swift and unsurprising close to a trial with near-overwhelming evidence against the defendant. For many, it was also a reminder that “monsters” lurk even in a town that goes by the sobriquet of Happy Valley. “Penn State officials — including the dearly departed icon Joe Paterno — harbored the monster for years and years,” wrote Orlando Sentinel columnist George Diaz. Why wasn’t Sandusky stopped earlier? Part of the reason is some members of the Penn State University administration who allowed the fade-out of sporadic misconduct reports. But mostly, the public has pointed to Sandusky’s methods of predation — called “systematic,” “insidious,” and “highly manipulative” — by which he skirted capture for at least 15 years. “Sandusky lived a horrible dark secret life. He terrorized and sexually abused children. Children who trusted him. Children whom he carefully selected,” wrote a retired Chicago police officer, Peter Bella, in the Washington Times. Observing from Taiwan, columnist Lin Bou-wen (林博文) of the China Times underscored Sandusky’s finesse with boys’ psychology.

“Sandusky used boys’ adoration for athletes and desire to watch games for free to wreak havoc on innocent boys. Even his own adopted son was unable to escape his evil hand,” said Lin. The problem with this kind of rhetoric is that it paints the portrait of an intensely savvy, nearly superhuman serial predator. It’s an image that blocks the view of a broader culpability. If Sandusky is a monster who could not be fended off, then we don’t have to see how society and its constituents never equipped the victims to defend themselves. Take State College, Pennsylvania. Cases of regular and prolonged child abuse are often possible because the victim cannot identify how much human contact should exist in different types of relationships. This is commonly because the victim is young, but sometimes it’s also because society’s dictates are complex and appear bafflingly contradictory. In Sandusky’s State College, a boy grows up hearing the adjective “gay” used as a stand-in for “pointless” or “lame,” while he sees that homoerotic behavior is tolerated and sometimes encouraged in zones such as group showers, on the football field, or at the local bar. In such a milieu, it’s hard for a child to understand when male-on-male touching can be thought of as inappropriate.