Crowds of people around the Bellefonte, PA Courthouse screamed and yelled in victory over the guilty verdict in the Sandusky Child Sex Abuse trial. In the news the next day, some reporters crucified Sandusky, labeled him a monster and reveled in his very public outing as a sex offender. The only things missing were torches and pitchforks.

Although it is very comforting to witness our judicial system work well to punish despicable criminal behavior and bring some closure and healing to the many survivors who testified, I suspect Sandusky is paying the price of another man’s crimes. Although the majority of survivors do not become offenders, 80% of offenders survived abuse themselves. Deep, old emotional wounds are often the well springs of unnatural desires. When a boy is damaged by sexual abuse (either experienced or witnessed), unable to recover emotionally and compulsively feeds those desires as an adult, the cycle continues until he is caught. When the abuser is a public figure, like Sandusky, the new generation of damaged kids (survivors) is revealed in a highly dramatic fashion, heavy on the “monster” characterizations and no one ever considers what could’ve caused the criminal behavior in the first place.

Why isn’t the “why” ever part of the story? This is how the cycle of abuse persists. Instead of asking, “Where did this criminal behavior sprout from and could this have been prevented?” we instead prefer the satisfaction of smiting an evil doer and looking upon the “hapless victims” with pity in our eyes. C’mon, do you really think Jerry Sandusky was born without soul? Criminals are like heroes: they are made, not born.

Emotionally healthy men don’t suddenly and randomly acquire a sexual affinity for young boys. It’s not like Sandusky woke up one morning in his twenties and thought, “I’ll marry a woman and secretly take young boys as my lovers.” Jerry Sandusky went to enormous lengths to feed and obfuscate his destructive compulsions. It would be much more productive as a society if after a successful conviction, we were able to make public the circumstances that created and nurtured those behaviors.

I hope this conviction helps create some sense of vindication for all of those young men that suffered such profound emotional turmoil at the hands of Sandusky. All of the survivors should be celebrated for having demonstrated one of life’s greatest challenges: don’t do unto others something you didn’t want done unto you.

The media made a point to highlight the fact that all of the survivors that came forward did not become sex offenders themselves. Their decision to come forward and tell their stories is helping to slow the cycle so it doesn’t repeat. If we, as a culture, can adopt an attitude of non-judgement and openness to all survivors and encourage them to unburden themselves of the corrosive shame they carry, perhaps we can actually prevent the sexual abuse cycle. In the meantime, instead of demonizing offenders, we could elevate the conversation by putting energy into celebrating the strength and courage of the survivors. They are amazing young men.

1 Comment

  1. Qaadira on June 25, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Maura, I appreciate your observations about the case and how people tend to respond to unfortunate events like this. You’re right, sometimes “the hurt, hurt others”.

    I, too, would like to see more exploration into how adults get to this point. To see more options for helping them to heal, before the compulsion escalates.

    But the demonizing of offenders is so deeply systematic that one of the common grant stipulations for organizations that provider services for adult survivors is that they can NOT offer services to perpetrators or they would lose that funding. I discovered this a few years ago in my work with adult women who experienced childhood sexual abuse.

    Much re-education would need to occur in order to change the way things are. Thanks for sharing what some might consider controversial thinking.

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