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Friday, July 13, 2012
Freeh report should be just a first step

By Jane McManus

Chris Anderson was in the Pennsylvania courtroom as the victims of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky struggled to give their testimony. Anderson, a man who was molested as an 8-year-old, said the details bore a chilling similarity to his own experience.

For Anderson and many other victims of sexual abuse, what happened in Happy Valley is intensely personal.

Sandusky was found guilty on 45 counts of abusing 10 boys. Numerous voices have joined to condemn the behavior of Sandusky and of those at Penn State who knew about him and looked away. On Thursday, the investigation that Penn State commissioned to look into who knew what when, led by ex-FBI head Louis Freeh, issued its findings.

Freeh's report made clear that former coach Joe Paterno and other Penn State officials must bear a large portion of responsibility for harboring a sexual abuser of children in their football facilities through their inaction.

But the solidity of those findings doesn't make things easier for Anderson, now the executive director of MaleSurvivor, a support group for men who were abused as children.

"It's a momentary victory," Anderson said. "It's symbolic and it's very important. But there have been articles that suggest things are really different. This is not the time to run stories saying it's better now. We're only just beginning to be at a place where we can start talking about this as a culture."

There were some positive signs Thursday that people sympathize with Sandusky's victims. Joe Paterno's son Jay may have characterized the damning findings against his father as "an opinion," but even in his defensiveness he showed concern for those sexually abused by Sandusky.

"I cannot even begin to imagine what it's like to walk in their shoes," Jay Paterno said Thursday. "I think about them, I feel for what they've gone through and I hope that with each day and each moment and each step in this process they can begin to feel more healing. But I'm in no way naive enough to think there will ever be complete healing. This is always something that's going to be with them, and I regret that."

That is the start of a conversation. Many young people are sexually abused at the hands of trusted elders, usually relatives or family friends. It is a unique and horrible crime, forever changing the course of a young life.

The Freeh report recounts all the boys known to have been molested after Paterno and other members of the Penn State staff learned of a 1998 incident involving Sandusky and a boy in a shower. The report is explicit that Penn State officials vowed to treat Sandusky "humanely," but showed no such concern for the boys he forced into sexual situations. Who was the boy Mike McQueary saw in the shower? It wasn't a question officials asked in 2001. He still has not been found.

Joe Paterno
Penn State must show that it cares more about Jerry Sandusky's victims than Joe Paterno's legacy.

Anderson knows all too well what happens to those discarded boys when they grow up. Victims of child sexual abuse often end up in therapy, have broken marriages and deal with depression. He knows that many of Sandusky's victims likely had to seek healing years after Penn State officials like president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley had talked themselves into forgetting.

Anderson has spoken to hundreds of men who were abused. Sports, with its combination of discipline and overnight trips, is sadly a perfect environment for a predator of children. Especially when the child comes from a troubled background, as many from Sandusky's charity, Second Mile, did.

"When you find someone who believes in you, he takes an active interest in you -- a teacher, a coach or a priest -- it's the most amazing feeling," Anderson said. "It's blood in the water to a shark. They know which kids to go for."

Anderson listened as Sandusky's victims were characterized as liars hungry for a payday. A payday into some happily ever after? It's a damaging fiction for us to think that any amount of riches could bring victims peace.

"The only thing survivors want is to heal," Anderson said.

The men at the top at Penn State had a responsibility to protect kids from those sharks, and Curley, Spanier, Schultz and Paterno knew exactly what they were dealing with.

Commissioning the report was one step. But Anderson would like the Penn State board of trustees to take more definitive action.

"What we know cannot be debated," Anderson said. "The culture that existed before abetted these crimes."

It was a culture that put football first, that wanted authority kept in-house and that valued secrecy over justice. And it wasn't just administrators: Outraged students rioted after Paterno was fired -- even though they knew what the allegations against Sandusky were.

Anderson notes that the university has donated money to several groups that work to prevent sexual abuse of children. But Anderson wants to see signs of real and pervasive change.

If football Saturdays come to Happy Valley this fall, complete with cheers in front of Joe Paterno's statue, there again is the message that football is king in this Pennsylvania town. That protecting the shred of Paterno's legacy once again trumps those victims, named and unnamed.

"If they just want to donate and maybe have a blue-shirt day in the fall, that's not enough," Anderson said. "It is incumbent upon them to show what they're doing to change things."