A Child Advocate’s Response on the Sandusky Verdicts

The once storied Penn State University Assistant Football Coach, Jerry Sandusky, sits alone in a jail cell today under suicide watch. The only cheering he hears are the taunts of fellow inmates. On Friday, in a stunning indictment, Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of child molestation. Sandusky is now a convicted child molester, for sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15 year period. The case drew international attention because of the mythological status of the Penn State Football Program. In order to prosecute the case, the victims (all from disadvantaged homes) and their families had to take on more than Sandusky and his defense team. They were pitted against Penn State’s powerhouse football community, and ostensibly, its beloved late footbal coach, Joe Paterno, affectionately known as “Joe Pa.”

My friend, Erin Runnion, whose own daughter was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and killed by a sexual predator in Orange County, California, has followed the case closely. Please read her thoughtful answers to my questions about the Sandusky verdicts.  Erin believes, as do I, that we ALL can be part of the solution  by standing up for the rights of children. Crimes against children are pervasive. Sandusky’s conviction proves that even the toughest case can be proven and won. #Children First

Erin Runnion is the Founder of The Joyful Child Foundation – In Memory of Samantha Runnion.

Were you surprised on the speed with which the verdicts were rendered?
 I was pleasantly surprised by the speed of justice in this case.  Seven months is ample time for counsel to prepare, but it seems that delays are often allowed in high-profile cases.  I applaud Judge Cleland for his inexorable adherence to protocol and fairness.  Just because the accused was once revered or because the cameras are waiting outside, doesn’t mean that justice cannot be delivered.    Having said that, the 2-year Grand Jury investigation clearly prepared an iron-clad case against this perpetrator and I can’t imagine any sane person informed of the testimony doubting his guilt.  I would imagine that those jurors were eager to deliver the verdict and probably would have done so even more quickly had there not been 48 specific charges.  My only concern with the speed is that it does give the prosecution a cane to lean on going into the inevitable appeals process; regardless, they don’t have a leg to stand on.
Does the case have a legacy for other victims of child abuse?
We will never know how many victims of child sexual abuse this case will help.  Statistically one in four-five girls and one in seven -ten boys are sexually molested before their 18th birthday.  However, experts agree that boys are significantly less likely to disclose abuse than girls mostly due to the social stigma around male victimization.  I pray that male victims everywhere share in a sense of vindication for their own suffering and also that they may find the courage to report crimes against them, no matter how long ago, so that even if there isn’t enough evidence at this time, perhaps in the future, when yet another victim speaks out, there will be a corroborating story that will help make a case and finally stop another perpetrator.  Most of all, I hope that the example of this prolific manipulative predator helps victims understand that they hold no blame for what happened to them.  Unfortunately, we tend to beat ourselves up for not fighting back, for not recognizing what was happening, but we are forgetting that as young people we don’t think the same way that we do as adults and socially, young people are not empowered to speak out.  Who can blame young people for not reporting sexual abuse when so often their claims are not taken seriously, and they are not only not better protected, but are often shunned.  I hope and suspect that the legacy of this case will be seen in communities and courtrooms across the country when young victims, bystanders and concerned adults everywhere resist the urge to pretend nothing happened, that it doesn’t really matter, or that there must be some explanation, and thanks to this example of justice, find the courage to report any reasonable suspicion of sexual misconduct with a minor.

How damning was the late word that Sandusky’s adopted son was ready to testify against his father that he too had been abused?
My understanding is that this information didn’t come out until after the jury was already deliberating so I don’t think the jurors even heard about it.  I hope that it will help deter progress with the defense’s appeal.

What far reaching changes would you hope might arise out of the case?
 Cases of well respected, trusted adults molesting children literally happen in this country everyday.  I hope that this case has made enough people take notice of this problem that we will see positive change.  Every adult must take personal responsibility for learning how to better recognize predatory behaviors and be pro-active in establishing personal and professional standards that will eliminate those opportunities and encourage everyone to report any potentially problematic situations or people.  Institutions and organizations are already changing policies, but ultimately it comes down to the courage of one person willing to report.
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One Response to “A Child Advocate’s Response on the Sandusky Verdicts”

  1. Marsha MacWillie Says:

    My gut feeling is that Sandusky will commit suicide. IF he served his time in the “general” population of the prison, he would last about 2 days. Hard-core prisoners don’t care if a person kills a drug dealer or another man, even some females. But do NOT hurt a child. I still think his wife knew, and if the DA could dig up enough info to prove it, she should be charged.

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