*** Trigger warning for discussion of rape.
Back in January, The Line discussed the Penn State scandal in a blog post about rape culture:
It is the worst fear of every person, a trusting figure who has contributed countless hours and monetary donations to create a safe space for foster children, turns out to be a child molester. Jerry Sandusky, former assistant coach of the Pennsylvania State University football team was charged with 40 counts of sex crimes involving eight boys, occurring between 1994 and 2009. This would of course be awful enough on its own, however we then discovered that head coach Joe Paterno had knowledge of Sandusky raping a 10 year old boy on the Penn State premises via graduate assistant Mike McQueary, and Paterno did not report to the police.”
On Monday June 11, 2012, Sandusky’s trail began. He face 51 charges (previously 52, but one charge has been dropped) of sexual crimes against children. The trial, which is taking is Bellefonte, Pa., is expected to last three weeks.
The first week of trial consisted primarily of testimony from the so-called “The Sandusky 8,” the alleged victims of Sandusky’s crimes. The often emotional testimony of 21 witnesses described a range of experiences involving Sandusky: showers wrestling, having rasperries blown on their stomachs, receiving ‘creepy love letters” (CNN), groping, being forced to give and/or receive oral sex, and anal rape.
In addition to feelings of shame, confusion or guilt, the public treatment victims received from Sandusky contributed to their hesitancy to come forward all these years. According to CNN, Sandusky showered the boys with favors; he “supplied the boys with tickets to football games, locker room visits with the team, athletic gear and, perhaps most important of all — attention. He bought several of them gifts, including sports gear, jerseys, games and computers. He even bought one boy dress clothes so he could accompany the Sandusky family to church.” This pattern, of targeting children (Sandusky founded The Second Mile, a charity to care for underprivileged youth) befriending them, and then molesting them is common for sexual crimes involving minors.
Victim 4 even “signed a series of bogus Second Mile performance contracts,” establishing that he would receive spending money in exchange for things like working out and getting good grades. He said the agreements seemed designed to guarantee he’d spend more time with Sandusky, and that he signed them “to shut him up.”
On June 12, the second day of the trial, a key player was brought into the prosecution’s case: assistant coach Mike McQueary, who witnessed Sandusky raping a naked boy in the shower in 2001. As the only third-party witness to one of the accused crimes, McQueary is a particularly important witness.
On Monday, June 18, the defense began to make their case—Sandusky has admitted to showering with boys but denies anything more. Though the prosecutors have the power of numbers on their side, this also means that “their case relies heavily on the testimony of those accusers, and lacks forensic evidence to back it up,” wrote the Times. The Detroit Free Press reported that in the hopes of reframing “Sandusky’s interactions with children as misunderstood and part of a lifelong effort to help, not victimize, them,” the defense will likely try to show that there are inconsistencies in testimony of the victims and suggest that the accusers could be making up or exaggerating their stories for financial gain:
“One of the keys to this case, one of the keys to your perception … is to wait until all the evidence is in,” said Sandusky’s lawyer Joe Amendola. “Some of it will be graphic … it’s going to be awful. But that doesn’t make it true.”
Another strategy the defense seems likely to pursue is blaming Sandusky’s behavior on a psychiatric condition: histrionic personality disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, this disorder “a pervasive pattern of excessive emotionality and attention seeking” and “often characterized by inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior” and rapidly shifting emotions (Huffington Post). On Friday, Judge John Cleland decided to allow an expert to testify about a psychiatric condition that his lawyer says explain the letters he wrote to his accusers and other actions construed as him grooming victims. This may not be successful: “That diagnosis, if he has it, would be completely irrelevant to anything having to do with criminal responsibility for acts of pedophilia,” said Dr. Glen Gabbard, clinical professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and an expert on personality disorders.
Sandusky’s attorneys have also called colleagues of Sandusky to the stand “who testified that it wasn’t unusual for football coaches to share showers with young boys at football and youth camps,” according to MSNBC. Additionally, the defense has taken advantage Sandusky’s otherwise stellar reputation, calling witnesses like Brett Whitmore, a teacher and former social worker who said he learned from Sandusky the importance of trying to help hard-to-reach children.
Sandusky’s lawyers have complained that the charges against him are difficult to defend because they lack specific dates and locations, leaving Sandusky unable to use alibis to prove that he was somewhere else.
It is possible that the jury will reach a verdict by Thursday, and though a guilty verdict may seem like the obvious outcome to most, the same was assumed of the O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony trials. Though murder is not the accused crime in this situation, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Sandusky committed the crimes. Our legal system, at least in theory, makes it so one is innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around — even with crimes as heinous as the ones Sandusky is accused of.
Victims of sexual abuse and/or violence are often asked why they did not come forward immediately. Their responses reveal the strength of rape culture in our society, a culture that instills blame and guilt upon the victim for having ‘let’ the abuse occur or ‘deserving’ the abuse somehow. “Who would believe you?” one victim in the Sandusky trail asked in his testimony on Thursday. “He’s an important guy. Everybody knows him. He was a football coach. Who would believe kids?”
Having a society in which a victim is afraid or discouraged from coming forward can even go as far as medical problems: according to MSNBC, Victim 9 didn’t seek medical attention even when his anus bled from forced anal sex with Sandusky.
What it comes down to is this: events like these do not happen in a vacuum. They are not the result of deviant individuals who exist outside of mainstream culture or society. It could even be said that our culture, with its glorification of sports and encouragement of male sexual entitlement, facilitated the Sandusky scandal. If we are truly as outraged as we say we are, we will take this opportunity to open a dialogue about rape culture and work towards making our country a safer place for everyone, whether they are transgender/transsexual individuals, wives, young women out at parties, or teenage boys.