Graham Spanier, former President of Penn State University, was convicted of one count of misdemeanor child endangerment on March 24, 2017. This is a first degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania, and Spanier could receive up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. In my mind it is far too little and far too late, especially for the many victims of Jerry Sandusky, a child predator who was allowed to use the Penn State football facilities as a place to molest as many as 30 vulnerable children. This article at PennLive provides additional details of the conviction.
When this horrific situation first came to light, I tried to imagine what I would do. You see an adult male naked in a shower with a naked child that he appears to be touching or groping or something. I hope that I would have screamed at him to get away from the child, wrapped the child in a towel and called the police. I can understand (but do not condone) why football graduate assistant Mike McQueary who saw this scene did not do anything on March 1, 2002. He was young, and Sandusky was revered by the football department. This does not excuse the fact he did nothing for this child at the time he saw this incident. However, McQueary did tell his father what happened and reported it to then Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and then Penn State Vice President Gary Schultz.
Curley and Schultz both plead guilty to one count of misdemeanor endangering the welfare of children and agreed to testify against Spanier. They also face up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Curley has stated: “I pleaded guilty because I felt like I should have done more,” and Schultz stated: “I felt I had been deficient in not reporting it myself.”
Curley and Schultz discussed the Sandusky situation with Spanier, and they all decided to basically do nothing. They characterized what was seen as “horseplay”. Seriously? How is a naked adult with a naked boy alone in a shower not a red flag for possible sexual abuse of a child? Curley, Schultz, and Spanier were seasoned administrators; they had a responsibility to that child, to every child who was assaulted after that date, to McQueary, and to Penn State to have done something about the situation in 2002. Instead, nothing about this ongoing sexual abuse became public until 2011.
I have heard people say that this could not have happened at their institution. I am sorry; they are naïve, delusional, and just plain wrong. This could happen at any institution; as long as people are willing to turn their heads and ignore or cover up wrongdoing.
Just ask Baylor University, a conservative Baptist University. Sports Illustrated wrote a detailed timeline of the problems at Baylor, which include allegations of sexual assault, domestic violence and other acts of violence involving several Baylor football players. Baylor’s situation could not have gone on so long without the collusion and cover up by the University and especially by the football program. Art Briles, head Football Coach, and Ken Starr, University President, were both eventually fired for their roles in this scandal. Technically, Starr resigned; but it is clear that was a forced resignation.
I have been a prosecutor; and as an Assistant Attorney General, I argued and briefed criminal appeals. I have read the trial transcripts for murder cases, sexual assaults, and child sexual assaults. I have seen the testimony of an entire family that they all slept every night on the floor of their teenage daughter’s room after she was sexually assaulted. The perpetrator threatened her by telling her that he would kill her family if she told anyone. She was too afraid to go to sleep because she was terrified for her family, so they all slept in her room.
I argued a case where a very small child’s testimony proved insufficient to prove that her stepfather sexually assaulted her. Between the trial and the Nebraska Supreme Court argument, the child’s mother committed suicide.
Terrible, horrific things happen, but these cases can only be prosecuted if someone comes forward to testify. If people look away or refuse to get involved, there can be no prosecution and no justice for these victims. And if these criminals are not prosecuted, they may go out and commit crimes against new victims.
My previous blog post discussed the proposed cuts to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which could prove disastrous for victim services.
So I ask each of you, will you look away, or will you be fierce and speak up?