The provocative picture and suggestive title of this blog post are fully intentional. Jerry Sandusky and the various issues about his crimes are very much in the news. But the saturation of the media with mindless election blurbs and endless analysis right now threatens to obscure a lot of real issues that face us today.
The tag line of a news item I recently read stated, “Fears that Sandusky may be abused in prison”. My gut reaction initially is something like, “not soon enough”. But less than a moment’s reflection makes it clear that this is not a strategy that civilized people use nor is it the model for handling this issue.
The perpetrator, still loudly denying all charges, is now in prison. His victims are increasingly coming forward and sharing their pain, their sense of betrayal. The sentence, which I hope will not change substantially on appeal, is essentially a life term in jail. And people who perpetrate such crimes especially upon children should be segregated from society. But they should also be treated by the golden rule, “do unto others…”. We as a society need to model the behavior we wish others to follow. And here is an opportunity to do something about a problem that plagues our society. If we want to strike a blow for family values we have the opportunity to use this high profile case to address the problem of sexual abuse in our prisons and in our society.
The Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts and countless others have demonstrated a desire to repress, deny and potentially encourage such behavior. But here is an opportunity to change that. Not a one time solution and not a cure-all but a way to begin real change.
In the ideal world the perpetrator will admit his crimes and make an attempt at apology. But the pathology of sexual perpetrators suggests that this will not be forthcoming. And I hope that the solution to this is not to provide some sort of special protection for this man. Once highly regarded for his coaching skills he now sits in prison for his betrayal of children by his sexual crimes. And those who care about the issue of sexual abuse and those who care for the image of the once loved coach can deal with the concern over Sandusky being abused by addressing the issue of sexual abuse in our prison system.
I think that we can all likely agree that sexual abuse is a heinous act that should not be perpetrated on anyone. And it is generally known that sexual abuse and rape are common in our prisons. Very little has been done about this and this, I believe, is largely due to the fact that the victims here are seen as somehow less deserving of justice, less than human perhaps. Indeed I have heard people say that this is part of the punishment.
Well perhaps we can take advantage of this moment to start some serious prison reform around this issue. Rather than keep Jerry Sandusky separate from the population and acknowledging his celebrity status, suggesting that he is somehow more human or deserving of protection than others.
I think this is the time to initiate serious change in the system. By advocating for those incarcerated people who have no voice we can demonstrate compassion by addressing the issue of sexual abuse and indicate that we believe it should not be allowed to happen to anyone whether old or young, white, black, latino, asian, etc. And by not giving special protection to this faded celebrity the message is sent to the effect that our concern is not limited to those with a high profile.
This strategy has the potential to make real change, to demonstrate an actual commitment to family values. And Mr. Sandusky might even consider taking part in such activism. By supporting an initiative like this he could also be protecting himself.
If he ever gets out from behind his denial he could find this a useful role in his life. So rather than whining to the press and to his lawyers I suggest the coach take it up the ladder to the administrators of the prison system and offer himself as part of the solution.