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Ashes of Empire [Nov. 11th, 2011|11:54 pm]
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Some of this post comes from the post I made last night over on SFFnet, combined with things I learned today about the Penn State mess, and ruminations about what country it is that the veterans we honored today went out to save.

There's a timeline on events at Penn State, taken from the grand jury presentment, at The Prodigal Blog.   If you haven't looked seen it, and find yourself locked out of direct access to the grand jury's statement itself (server overload, now requires a password--don't know if that will continue or not), you should take a look.   I bookmarked it for reference.   Also read the comments, as some commenters felt that Finlay went beyond the bare bones into opinion.   For the record, I am going well beyond the bare bones into my opinion.

Football programs are, within university culture, their own empire.   They cost more, but if they are successful they bring in a lot of money and create a lot of prestige and support   The Nobel Prize-winning chemist, the Pultizer Prize-winning historian,  the research lab that discovered fundamental principles of genetics, or invented new technology...they can't compete and most alumni could not name even one.  But everyone knows the head coach and often the entire football coaching staff.    Winning is everything, and everything accrues to the winners: privilege, power, and money.  The colleges that are home to "great" teams get the TV contracts and the ticket money and the alumni support.  So there's a new larger stadium, and lush practice fields and equipment rooms and highly paid staffs, from "athletic director" down to the people who maintain the uniforms.  Whatever it takes to keep the athletes winning.  

And what it takes to keep teams winning--like what it takes to make an insane amount of money--is a willingness to do anything and the ability sweep the less acceptable fraction of "anything" under the rug while smiling and looking people straight in the eye. 
Insider trading, downright Madoff-style fraud, or child rape...that won't help the bottom line, so it has to be covered up.

The supposedly sacred mantle of "sports" has repeatedly allowed high-performing athletes and coaches to fly under official radar where sexual misconduct (and other misconduct) is concerned.  In the case of coaches, if they're married and have a "good reputation" (as winning coaches, primarily, but church membership is another coat of whitewash) then of course--because they are "dedicated" to helping the young, they're not scrutinized with the same care when they take in foster children or involve themselves in exactly the kinds of organizations that sexual predators try to infiltrate.  Sandusky had a foundation supposedly to help troubled boys,  and "mentored" those boys.  And if there's a suspicion, or even certainty...a gentleman's agreement to take early retirement will prevent the need for any publicity and the reputations of both can be maintained.

Four instances involving Sandusky in the showers with an underage boy on Penn State property--in the showers of the athletic facility--occurred in 1999, 2000, 2002, and 2008.   In the first instance, the boy told his mother, and his mother told the University Police, who did investigate, including the city police and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.  Sandusky admitted to being naked in the shower with young boys and touching them inappropriately, but promised never to do it again.  The university counsel advised that no action need be taken.  The district attorney refused to prosecute, and the case was closed.   Sandusky took early retirement, but retained full privileges of access to the athletic department's facilities.   In 2000, a janitor saw Sandusky forcing oral sex on a boy, reported to a fellow janitor and then to his supervisor.  The supervisor declined to pass the story on up, even though he went with the janitor to be sure of Sandusky's identity.   In 2002, a graduate assistant in the department saw Sandusky raping a small boy anally.   He "panicked" but told Paterno the next morning.  Paterno told two administrative employees but described the act to them as "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy".  These individuals did interview McQueary, the graduate assistant, who said specifically it was rape, but meeting with Paterno  "They agree that nothing sexually explicit was described, that the allegation is not that serious, and that no crime had occurred.Sandusky was allowed to retain his keys and full access to university facilities in which he had already sexually abused boys.  In 2008,  a boy Sandusky was mentoring--including taking him out of classes at school--became reluctant to go with him, and told the school administrator about the sexual abuse.  That administrator immediately informed the boy's parent, the police, and child welfare authorities.   That triggered the grand jury investigation which led to uncovering the other incidents.  

But for at least ten years--and probably longer, given the typical behavior pattern of child sexual predators--from 1998 to 2008--Sandusky had preyed on boys using Penn State's facilities.   Failure to proceed with an indictment on the first reported offense allowed him to have the time and the space and (via his Second Mile foundation) access to boys  and just about ensure that more would be assaulted.  Paterno knew about the first incident.  Paterno knew about the Second Mile foundation and that Sandusky worked with the boys there.  Paterno knew about the third incident.  Paterno (and the rest of the university administration and police) did nothing to protect children from a sexual predator.  
Paterno and the rest swept it under the rug.

The kind of money a big, famous, successful athletic program brings in makes a comfortably thick rug to sweep problems under.   It affords the best lawyers, the influence with the press, payoffs to any victims that are inconveniently verbal.   A lot of dirt can be stored under that thicker rug.  And the longer you get away with it, the thicker the rug feels--all those nasty secrets flattened by time to the point where, surely, no one will remember the inconvenient details well enough to testify in court.   Sometimes...sometimes the truth never has a chance, at least not until the guilty are safely dead with their reputations intact and monuments in place.

"The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small..."

And sometimes it happens that a stubborn little lump refuses to lie smooth and quiet under the heavy plush of wealth and power.    Another of the several brave boys in this story found the right person to tell, and suddenly the  rug was jerked aside, and there they are--preserved as if in a block of crystal--the nasty secrets, the decisions to sweep them under the rug, all still there, still alive and wriggling.  Not gone after all. 

What was once a mighty football empire, a name to reckon with, a name to be proud of, headed by a legend with a spotless reputation....is gone, burned in the fires of revulsion, disgust, shock, horror, amazement.  And what's left, after all the maneuvering to hide one pervert's insatiable lust for children?



Was it for this that veterans served?   Those aging survivors of D-Day and Bataan, of Iwo and Italy, those survivors of Korean winters and the long agonizing retreat, those who wasted away in prison camps, those who carried the wounds of war to their graves or live with them still?    The Vietnam vets--did they slog through the paddies and toil up the hills for this kind of country, where money can buy anything, including a child's innocence and a man's self-respect?   Is this what today's active duty service members and recent vets though they were sent into danger for?  For Sandusky to have his little boys, for a man like Paterno to choose dishonest secrecy?  

I don't think so.   That wasn't the country I joined up to defend.  


And finally...one of the things emphasized in good military training is doing the right thing when you see it needs doing.  Initiative aimed in the right direction.   Ritual disclaimers about nobody and no system being perfect.  Bad apples in every warehouse.  Still...athletic training is often said to produce character.  But the evidence here is that it doesn't.   Instead, it inculcates hero-worship and reputation-worship.   Putting "the team" above everything means defending wrong if done by someone on the team.  Why did the young, fit, strong young man who saw Sandusky anally raping the boy "panic" instead of intervening?   Probably for the same reason given by a young sportscaster who, as a teenager, had known Sandusky as a Penn State coach and admired him--had stayed in touch with him, who revered him--a man who admitted he would have run away (but thinks he would have contacted the police later.)    How do you confront a legend, even when the legend has morphed into a horror?  

First you have to have the moral understanding that what you're seeing is abuse and needs to be stopped.  Not just reported--stopped.  He's hurting a child.  You're the person who sees it.  It's up to you to stop it.   That's your mission: stop the rape, rescue the child.  From here it's all  straight out of training.   Fast tactical assessment: one adult raping one child.  No weapons.  Empty room.   Go for it.  You're not going to miss the target; he's not prepared to fight an adult; you've got advantage in surprise, commitment, being fully clothed, and (if you know anything at all) skill.  Chances are high that you'll be able to disable the rapist at least temporarily and get the child out and then to safety and medical attention and legal investigation.  Had that been done in 2000, the 2002 and 2008 attacks would not have occurred.  Had charges been filed in 1998, the next three (and possibly more, unknown) attacks would not have occurred. 

The men who saw Sandusky abusing children--the two janitors and the graduate assistant, two different victims--all knew something bad was going on.   They understood it was sexual abuse of a child.  One of the janitors and the graduate assistant knew it should be reported.  But they didn't think of stopping it cold, right then. 
And they did not commit to reporting it to the proper authorities themselves.  It may be that many young men (or older men) do not know what they should do or how to do it.   Maybe no one ever told them "If you see a rape in progress, stop it; if you can't stop it (many assailants), report it at once."   It's time we told them, from boyhood.  It's time that rapists--of children or adults--came to expect  that other men won't ignore, won't walk on by, won't panic...but will intervene to rescue the victim.  Will call the cops on them.   I know plenty of women who would have charged into that shower room and gotten those kids out if they'd been in the position of those janitors and that graduate student.  It's time for men to, as they say, man up.  


[User Picture]From: paksenarrion2
2011-11-12 07:27 am (UTC)
If anyone is looking to see the entire Grand Jury findings, USA Today has it posted here. Warning-it is pretty graphic and disturbing to read.

And I think John Scalzi put it very well in this blog post Your first response every time should be to call the fucking cops.

I agree-when Sandusky retired abruptly in 1999, after the 1998 incident where he admits to showering naked with a ten year old. And the DA decides there will be no criminal charges filed?? You know very damn well that the powers in charge at Penn State went to Sandusky and forced him to retire. Before that, he was on the fast track to replace Joe when he retired. Football coaches don't retire when they are 55.

Paterno had to have been in the know on this-he was one of the most powerful men at the college. But Sandusky was still allowed access to the college facilities? God, the PTB at the college were just as bad as those in the hierarchy in the Catholic Church that transfer priests that abuse children from parish to parish. When McQueary came to Paterno in 2002 with his accusations, the only thing Joe did was report it to his supervisor? Maybe legally he was covered but morally he was in the wrong.

Sorry, I didn't mean to rant in your journal but the whole thing just sickens me. Some people that are doing everything to paint everyone but Sandusky as innocent people caught up in his horrible crimes just make me angry. It was their inaction or outright covering up his crimes that allowed these crimes to continue to happen. They are complicit in allowing this to happen and should feel guilty for the rest of their lives.

I do hope that this will; make people take a good look at things and realize that if they see a child being abused that they need to take action. Step in and intervene or call a cop. Children can't always stand up for themselves and may not have an adult in their lives that can do it-or worse, the adult that is supposed to be standing up for them is the one abusing them. It is up to everyone of us to protect them if we see them being abused.
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[User Picture]From: forestcats
2011-11-12 09:25 am (UTC)
Thank you for a succinct connecting of the dots. I read the Grand Jury report earlier today and it is a specter not dissimilar to that of the German people of WWII who chose to ignore the stench from the local internment camps (There were over 300 camps so how many Germans didn't know). Children do not have adequate ability to discern what to do when being pressured by adults with authority.

I too know plenty of women who get tagged for being nosy that out the wrongs around them. 30 years ago at a party a young man took to beating his girlfriend. Not one man/boy stepped forward. I was on crutches and I got across the room and started beating on him with my crutches and called him out and then I turned on the entire room as that their inaction made them twice as guilty. Girls got up and went to the aid of the girl and the abuser stormed out calling me plenty of interesting names.

Humanity is all in this together.
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[User Picture]From: catsittingstill
2011-11-12 01:14 pm (UTC)
I wonder if part of it is just never having thought about what to say or do in a situation like that?

Sure it's obvious in a cold state--I like to think I would say "You get away from that kid RIGHT NOW." and follow it up by dialing 911, setting my phone down and charging. But right now I am safe at home and clearheaded (as clearheaded as I get at this hour on a Saturday).

I also know that when something happens out of the blue sometimes I am shocked and paralyzed and not reacting very effectively. This is why people in the military train for how to react to things--people shooting at them, for example.

I wonder if we could train for this. Maybe it wouldn't take much; split-second reaction isn't necessary--a couple of seconds, or even ten, to react would be better than what we've got now.
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[User Picture]From: starshipcat
2011-11-12 01:49 pm (UTC)
I think there's something deep inside the prerational part of the human brain that still believes that if you don't look at something, it'll not only go away, but not be anymore. Person permanence -- the concept that people continue to exist when they're out of sight and hearing -- appears to be a learned concept, not something that's hardwired into our brains. There's a point at which babies figure it out -- but it's something that operates at a conscious, rational level. If the gut-level reptile brain is still operating on a system that says that only things that are immediately perceivable are real and when they move out of your range of perception they cease to exist, it's quite possible that, when confronted with an abomination that completely unseats their view of the world, people will try to force it out of their world by flight rather than confrontation.

Which means that the only way to overcome it would be to drill people in what to do if they see a sexual assault until it becomes as automatic as any learned behavior, much as we train soldiers to throw themselves into dangerous situations when all their hardwired responses are telling them to flee. Which would mean having to acknowledge that these situations are sufficiently common that we need to prepare ourselves to deal with them, rather than just using magic thinking to wish it away. There are a lot of people who still want to pretend that rape is an incredibly rare aberration -- I remember reading a discussion of the HPV vaccine in which, when someone pointed out the risk of rape, one mother basically shoving it away in a "not in my world" huff.
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[User Picture]From: drewkitty
2011-11-13 01:50 am (UTC)
The repetitive nature of CPR training is necessary precisely to overcome this contextual resistance. I use non-working replica phones to teach the muscle memory of dialing '9' '1' '1' 'SEND' and then dialogue to practice answering questions from an emergency dispatcher.

The average person discovering two (or more) people having sex is disgusted, curious or both. The question of "Is this consensual?" rarely crosses people's minds unless they have some reason to wonder.

People who want to leave crime up to the police are often the kind of witnesses who walk past, walk away, and/or don't even notice. I find it revealing when security guards are trained to call their supervisor(s) instead of calling the police. I don't want to even get into the problem of campus police helping cover stuff up -- let's just say there was a reason for the Clery Act. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clery_Act
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[User Picture]From: gifted
2011-11-13 01:32 am (UTC)
Thanks for another great post, Elizabeth. Young people really do need to be receiving full education about rape and sexual abuse, beyond inappropriate touching, and 'expressing no' as a victim.
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